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Does San Francisco Theological Seminary point the way to the future of theological education? With more than seven part-time or adjunct teachers for every full-timer on its faculty, an astonishing ratio, its statistics couldn’t be overlooked among the replies to In Trust’s new survey of tenure practices in North American graduate theological schools.

SFTS, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) school, grants tenure protection to its senior faculty, and thirteen of its twenty-two full-time professors are tenured. But those thirteen are a tiny cohort stacked up against the 158 part-timers.

Tenure: An In Trust Survey

Tenure continues to be the dominant system of employing senior faculty in North America’s graduate theological schools, according to findings of a new In Trust survey. The survey was answered by 194 of 232 schools with faculties, a response rate of 84 percent. Only a handful of schools indicated they are currently reevaluating their employment practices. As the charts show, the use of tenure is most prevalent in mainstream schools, larger schools, and schools that are divisions of universities. (For this analysis, In Trust counted seminaries associated only with an undergraduate college as “free-standing.”)
Tenure: An In Trust Survey charts
 Tenure-Track Faculty charts

Thirty-one of the adjuncts work in the Master of Divinity program on SFTS’s San Anselmo, California, campus, according to a notation on the school’s response form by registrar Mary P. Coote. That number, however, is dwarfed by the forty-three employed in SFTS’s Southern California program based in Claremont, the thirty-seven in Korea, and the forty-seven associated with the SFTS Doctor of Ministry program. These numbers bear out the observation made elsewhere in this issue of In Trust by Daniel O. Aleshire of the Association of Theological Schools that schools rely more and more on adjunct faculty as they launch programs away from their home campuses.

Overall, as is shown graphically in the survey charts, the responses to the In Trust survey suggest that for the moment the tenure system remains the dominant pattern in North American graduate theological education. But the more that schools open auxiliary off-campus programs, the greater is the number of teachers who are likely to end up outside the tenure-track system.

Robin Wilson, author of the article that begins on page 14, reports that many colleges and universities are deliberately hiring only nontenure-track teachers, thereby beginning the process of eliminating tenure by attrition. By relying more and more on part-time adjuncts some theological schools may have launched themselves on the same course without formally deciding to do so.

In Trust’s survey showed that on average seminaries were restrained in their use of part-timers: 1.4 part-timers for each full-time teacher in schools with nine or fewer full-timers; 1.1 part-timers per full-timer in schools with ten to twenty-five full-timers; and 0.6 part-timers per full-timer in schools with twenty-six or more full-time teachers.

But other respondents gave signs of moving in the same direction as San Francisco Theological. Eastern Baptist Seminary reported that eight of its ten full-time teachers are tenured, but that it also has fifty-four part-timers, a ratio of 5.4 to 1. Ten other responding schools reported ratios of 3 to 1 or higher.

The tenure system is seen by some institutions as an important source of stability, a viewpoint argued in the article by Thomas B. Caswell, Jr., that begins on page 12. Its critics argue, on the other hand, that it promotes teacher indolence and dangerously limits the financial flexibility of administrations.

And interestingly, tenure is not always seen as a desirable status by teachers themselves. When the University of Seattle’s School of Theology and Ministry was established in 1996, the eleven full-time faculty members of the predecessor Institute for Theological Studies turned down the offer of tenure. “Many of the theology faculty have moral and theological reservations about tenure as a system...,” noted Loretta Jancoski, the school’s dean. “This faculty feels secure without it. New faculty in the future [who will be offered tenure also] may have a different sense. I think some of us wonder what it will be like when some are tenured and others not. We’ll find out, I have no doubt.”

All In It Together
Hiring Tenure-Track Faculty Only

by Thomas B. Caswell, Jr.

This article by Thomas B. Caswell originated as a report to the Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities from its Academic Committee. The board accepted the report and continued in force the school’s policy of extending tenure protection to senior full-time members of the United faculty.

Tenure is a flashpoint on nearly every campus,” wrote Jean Keffeler, regent emerita of the University of Minnesota, in Trusteeship, the journal of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. Lest we think that Keffeler’s participation in the recent, very hostile public debate over tenure at the University of Minnesota makes her see national trends where, in fact, none exist, we are now informed by Newsweek, “In an effort to fight skyrocketing costs, many schools have cut back on the number of professors hired in tenure-track positions”; and, “The tenure wars (emphasis mine) are no longer limited to faculty clubs.”

So, if boiling around us are cauldrons of impasses, flashpoints, and even wars, it is no wonder that the Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has asked its Academic Committee to consider the use of tenure at the seminary. This report is intended to be part of the committee’s response.

In order to understand United’s present and proposed tenure policy, it may be instructive to differentiate between tenure-track and contract faculty. The former are hired with the provision that they will be eligible to apply for tenure at prescribed times, which tenure, if granted, essentially means that employment may not be terminated by the institution except for specific reasons. The latter are generally hired for specific periods of time, with no expectation of tenure or permanent, continued employment.

At United, all regular full-time faculty members are hired in tenure-track positions, which means that, if tenure is granted, United cannot terminate employment except for specific reasons. The only faculty hired on a nonregular, full-time, or contract basis are related to the offices of the president and the director of the library and adjunct faculty or faculty hired in conjunction with a time-specific foundation grant, wherein employment generally terminates at the conclusion of the grant funding.

A result of this policy is that United, typically, has about 70 percent of its faculty as tenured. Historically, this has varied between 62 percent in the academic year 1992-93 to 83 percent in 1989-90. Projections for the future (see table on page 13) show similar percentages. Retirements and resignations should maintain flexible balance.

The arguments against tenure usually take several forms: lower cost can be achieved by the use of contract teachers, greater flexibility, and a resulting increased ability to respond to changing academic and financial conditions may be achieved in an institution wherein a majority of its faculty is not “guaranteed” a continuing job. As Keffeler notes in her article, tenured faculty tend not to have as much allegiance to their institutions as those whose jobs are less secure.

Given the above, we submit that the issue this committee and the board need to address is not that of tenure in the abstract but rather that of tenure in the particular contexts of the need to restrain escalating costs, the need to remain flexible, and the concern over institutional loyalty. The appropriateness of any tenure policy at United, therefore, is determined by how it influences these larger contextual issues.

In this analysis, it is essential to remember that United Theological Seminary is very different from most postsecondary educational institutions. While we acknowledge that every school tries to paint itself as unique, we submit that United actually is. The most obvious fact is that it is, relative to most colleges and universities, a small institution. While most colleges and universities, which are those organisms concerned about tenure, have faculty numbering in the multiple dozens or hundreds, United has eleven! This fact of our small size colors everything we are and all our plans. For example, one of our great hopes and goals is to increase the size of our faculty by a mere two people.

We also suggest and conclude that the ethos of United Theological Seminary that has helped United embody and symbolize, as James Waits, former executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, said, “by every measure ... the good to which we should aspire” is one consequence of United’s historic commitment to inclusivity. We believe that in some large measure this is a direct result of our equally historic commitment to the hiring of only tenure-track faculty. We believe that the development of the very inclusiveness cited often and publicly as one of our unique (there’s that word again!) strengths by nearly every analysis of United simply would not have occurred without a faculty composed of able and gifted scholars and teachers committed to an inclusive and professionally egalitarian faculty—free of the divisions and fractures inherent in a two-tiered system composed of the tenured and the temporarily contracted within such a small faculty. Larger schools well might be able to survive and, indeed, to prosper with such a two-tiered system. We doubt that United, because of the overriding fact of its very small size, could.

We suggest also that the problems noted earlier (financial, inflexibility, and loyalty) often seen as caused or exacerbated by the existence of tenure, interestingly, actually are assuaged in United’s case by the very existence of tenure. The reason again has to do with our very small size and with what we see as an underlying principle in our consideration of tenure at United: a single-track (tenure) faculty at such a small school has a substantial sense of ownership of the school and in the long-term health of the school. United has a history of its faculty being deeply involved in and concerned for the total life of the school in ways that demonstrate that the institutional commitment to the faculty inherent in the granting of tenure clearly is reciprocated by an equal commitment by that faculty to the financial and programmatic well-being of the institution. One of the great blessings of this place is that very unique sense that “we are all in this together.” This simply could not have occurred in such a small institution where a two-tiered faculty exists because, in fact, they would not have been in it together; there always would be a sense of “us” and “them.”

Confirmed and anecdotal evidence abounds that this sense of institutional ownership afforded, in some large part, by the existence of a single-tiered faculty results not in the exacerbation of the institutional problems cited by critics of tenure but, actually, in their alleviation and, often, avoidance. We are hardly an inflexible institution. James Waits, in the speech noted earlier, speaks for the many others who have observed and commented on United when he notes that we have “contributed new models for the way we do—and think about— theological education,” have “innovative curricular experimentation and design,” and that we are an “exciting institution” marked by “vitality and dynamism.” More personally but no less important, a professor has a heart attack, so two other full professors (not some graduate assistant or new adjunct) take over his classes, while the full professor holder of an endowed chair in “Church and Economic Life” volunteers to take over much of the teaching load of a retired professor of ethics. This is not the stuff of institutional inflexibility or lack of institutional loyalty! These are the clear marks and evidence that, at least at United with its distinguished history of faculty concern for the whole of the school, the commitment of tenure is returned similarly, at least in part, out of a shared vision of institutional ownership.

At United, tenure also does not necessarily exacerbate financial difficulties but, instead, often assuages them. Clearly, the tenure policy allows faculty to be dismissed in the case of “financial exigency.” This is a formal response to those concerns; the real, existent, and true response again can be seen in what actually has transpired in the recent life of the school, caused, we suggest, by a faculty of truly dedicated people recognizing, owning, and responding to the needs of this small school with the same kind of commitment conferred by tenure. Difficult economic times meant that, for a couple of years in a row, essentially no increases in pay could be provided. No one left, but even more significantly, when raises again became possible, the faculty insisted that the greater share of the available monies go to relatively lower paid support staff people! This was not the first instance of this kind of concern for the total institution. Nothing more needs to be said, except United truly may be unique.

Another reason for the support of tenure, obvious but requiring mention, is simply to be able to attract the kind of faculty excellence this place historically has enjoyed. There’s nothing complicated about this. Without providing the opportunity for tenure, we simply cannot compete for good teachers and scholars.

A concern often expressed seems to suggest that United, somehow, should avoid a situation wherein all of its faculty is tenured. While this never has happened and while no current projection anticipates its occurrence, it does raise an interesting question. If all of the foregoing is correct, what problems are suggested by that concern? We see none.

Is it possible that the hiring of contract faculty could reduce costs at United? Perhaps, at least for the short term. But we believe that such a policy would do irreparable harm to this school, in which we enjoy a sense of collegiality and common ownership perhaps almost unparalleled in educational institutions. Those of us who have been involved with United as students, staff, graduates, and trustees know this to be an exceptional and quite remarkable place. The preservation and enhancement of that singularity seem to be our clear priorities.

Thomas B. Caswell, Jr. is a graduate and trustee of United Theological Seminary. As chair of the Academic Committee, he submitted this paper to the Board of Trustees in December 1997.

Two-Tier Campuses
Mixing Tenure and Contract Professors

by Robin Wilson

The short list of colleges that do not grant tenure has gotten a little longer. Westmark College signed on in May. It won’t fire its tenured professors, but it won’t hire any new ones, either. In thirty years or so, when all of Westmark’s tenured faculty members are gone and the professors who remain are on annual contracts, tenure there will be dead.

Although university presidents on most other campuses are not announcing an official end to tenure, many of them are signing up full-time professors who will work on contract instead of on the tenure track.

Richard Chait, an expert on tenure and an advocate of reform, calls the current mixture of tenured and nontenure-track appointments “unprecedented.” The development may come as a surprise to most professors, says Chait, a professor of higher education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. “This is happening without any repudiation of tenure in most places, so it’s stayed below the radar line.”

What has captured people’s attention lately is the proportion of part-time and adjunct professors on campuses. Part-timers now make up an estimated 42 percent of instructors nationwide, compared with 22 percent in 1970. Growth in the number of part-time professors, however, has begun to slow down. The increase in full-time but nontenured appointments is not nearly as pronounced, but it is expected to continue for some time.

Data analyzed by the American Association of University Professors bear out the trends. Among full-time professors on campuses nationwide, 52 percent held tenure in 1995, the same proportion as in 1975. But the proportion of full-time professors working on contracts climbed from 19 percent in 1975 to 28 percent in 1995, while the proportion of those on the tenure track fell by 12 percent.

Mary Burgan, AAUP’s general secretary, believes the trend is evidence that college officials are increasingly treating higher education as a business. “You hire and fire at will,” she says.

She’s right that administrators are looking at the bottom line. “Institutions are very concerned about the long-term costs of a tenured appointment and the need to maintain flexibility,” said Jack H. Schuster, who, along with two other academics, has written about the phenomenon in The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation. Administrators, he added, use nontenured employees to respond quickly to the ebb and flow of interest in various academic programs.

As a rule, appointments off the tenure track cost universities a lot less in salary and benefits than do those within tenured ranks. On some campuses, many of those who fill such positions hold only a master’s degree and would not be eligible for a tenured post. But nowadays, with the glut of Ph.D.’s in many disciplines, colleges are also able to sign contracts with people who once could have expected tenure-track positions. As a result, although many college officials say they don’t want to create second-class positions, that is precisely what they have done. “These people come cheaper than a tenure-track hire,” acknowledges David L. Potter, provost at George Mason University, where 30 percent of full-time faculty members are off the tenure track.

The contract system is not new to higher education, and at least forty institutions around the country have adopted it over tenure. Most institutions, however, are holding onto the tenure system and merely adding nontenured faculty members to the mix. The Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, for example, recently moved in that direction to gain more flexibility than was possible under its previous faculty handbook, which had allowed for only one kind of untenured position: a five-year visiting appointment. In its place, the president, James P. Gallagher, and the Board of Trustees created a system of multiyear contracts for full-time professors that allows them to stay so long as both parties are satisfied.

Not surprisingly, tenured faculty members on this campus aren’t happy with the new arrangement. They voted forty-one to twenty in April to send a letter to the board, asking it to reconsider the use of multiyear contracts.

So far, the college has agreed to the new multiyear contracts with sixteen people already on the faculty. Matt Baker, who runs the three-year-old program to train physicians’ assistants, says its nine faculty members consider their new contracts an excellent deal. “They came from the clinical world, where there is no contract above one year.”

The college has placed no cap on the number of professors who can be hired on a contract basis. Gallagher won’t speculate about what the future will bring, but he does say, “I think this model will be the norm ten years from now in higher education.”

From the looks of some other campuses, it already is. At Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, the number of tenured professors fell slightly from 1996 to 1997. But the number of full-time faculty members with nontenure-track positions rose by 17 percent.

William M. Plater, executive vice chancellor at the university, says it doesn’t make sense to put every new hire on the tenure track. He envisions a “diverse” group of teachers that includes “a core faculty who have tenure and have accepted responsibility for the greater good of the whole.” But there is also room for faculty members who lack tenure and have a narrower set of responsibilities, he believes.

George Mason University has hired lots of full-time nontenured instructors lately—230 of its 749 full-time faculty members are on fixed contracts. “There is a concern that we are overdependent on nontenure-track faculty,” acknowledges David L. Potter, the provost. “But our feeling is we get a lot of energy out of nontenure-track people.”

Using nontenured faculty members gives a college or university the flexibility to define a job in a way that suits the institution, not the faculty handbook. George Mason, for instance, is hiring people for “hybrid” positions, posts that include both teaching and administrative duties. The university has also used thirty nontenured professors in its School of Management, which was formed recently by combining two other schools. “We don’t want to commit tenure lines until we sort out what direction the school is headed in,” the provost says. He does expect to put some of the jobs on the tenure track eventually.

Because instructors who are off the tenure track are teaching large, introductory courses, tenured faculty members enjoy more time for their own scholarly work. Some professors wonder how many nontenure-track instructors can be appointed before tenure itself is put in jeopardy. “These appointments support the privileges of tenure-line faculty,” acknowledges Barbara Melosh, co-chair of the English department at George Mason. “But are we really signing our own death warrants here?”

This article was abridged from Robin Wilson’s, “Contracts Replace the Tenure Track for a Growing Number of Professions,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 12, 1998). Reprinted with permission.

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