Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fixed Term Faculty At Penn State--A State of Incoherence Veiling a De Facto Policy That Avoids Faculty Engagement in the Adoption of Formal Policy

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

One of the most frustrating forms of engagement at public universities is the increasing tendency towards an engaged passivity by senior administrators that help mask the move toward policy decisions that avoid the need for the traditional engagement with university stakeholders, especially faculty. This strategic passivity reaches its most popular and pernicious form when the "market" is invoked as an "invisible hand" that directs action for which policy is unnecessary but which effectively produces policy in function if not in form.

Nowhere is this form of strategic passivity more in evidence than in the context of the attack on tenure from policies that produce an increasing willingness to hire fixed term faculty. Here both the budgetary needs of administration, and perhaps more, the move toward "made to market" education (e.g., Made to Market Education and Professionalization in University Education) has pushed administrators to view tenure and a permanent faculty as an impediment toward quick and responsive programmatic changes in education delivery to serve its new masters: wage labor markets and student demand. Not that these ought not to be important, but when they become the excuse that veils administrative decision making undertaken without strong consultation with faculty, then they exert a perverse effect not merely on shared governance but on the quality of education delivered. 

The Penn State Faculty Senate Intra University Relations Committee has undertaken a long term engagement with the issue of fixed term faculty as part of a new mix of faculty at public universities. The engagement has sometimes strained relations with the administration, and sometimes sought to mollify it. Now comes a new Intra University Committee Report that is well worth reading for what it has to say about the way in which university administrations have confronted the issue fo fixed term faculty. A recent report produced by this Committee follows. Your reactions are solicited.

Striking the Right Balance of Faculty Appointment Types at Penn State
Implementation: Upon Approval by the President

Summary of Past Senate Reports

In 2001, the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) presented an Advisory and Consultative report regarding the increased use of fixed term faculty versus standing faculty. We echo their sentiment here:
The impact of faculty not pursuing tenure on the professional development of tenure track faculty and on the academic climate is highly variable throughout the University. Some units have no non-tenure track positions while others have significant numbers. From this pilot study we conclude that hiring faculty off the tenure track often gives the unit needed flexibility to address short-term problems. This has the positive effect of allowing expansion and contraction of faculty based on enrollment and new course requirements. In addition, these individuals often relieve the teaching obligations of tenure track and research faculty. The positions have budgetary advantages because they reduce personnel and research costs. These positions can also bring professional relevance to the classroom for those who have significant careers outside the classroom. In many cases these faculty have contributed significantly but too often they are under-valued, under-committed to the University and have an overall negative effect.

However, use of FT-I and FT-II faculty often creates a two-tier faculty with two cultures that can adversely affect morale – especially the morale of some non-tenure-track faculty. In some units the turnover and degree of commitment of faculty hired off the tenure track are perceived to have an adverse effect on continuity for students, courses and the curriculum so that academic quality might be compromised. The Faculty Affairs Committee believes that the recommendations we have put forward will foster a positive environment for non-tenure track faculty where they will be embraced as valued colleagues and their professional development will be encouraged. 1
Their recommendations from that report also deserve repeating here; to wit, Recommendation 6 predicates this report and earlier reports that monitor these trends.
1.) Individual units should evaluate trends in the use of their fixed term faculty with the goal of defining how to balance meeting the needs of new programs, research, enrollment, and budget constraints with the need to maintain the academic environment and its standards. The Provost should develop a means to oversee the trends across the University for a perspective on their impact on the educational and academic environment of the University as a whole.

2.) In its strategic plan, each academic unit should describe its goals for hiring faculty off the tenure track in either full-time (FT-I) or part-time (FT-II) positions. The plan should describe how the different kinds of faculty help achieve or contribute to the unit’s goals and objectives.

3.) Whenever a faculty member is hired, whether on or off the tenure track, the letter of offer should include the new hire’s responsibility to the unit and the unit’s responsibility to the new hire. In an effort to promote inclusiveness, the expectation is that the new hire and other faculty in the unit will understand how the new appointment is relevant to the unit’s strategic plan. Adequate resources should be allocated to support newly hired faculty in accordance with his/her qualifications, experience, and expected contribution to the unit.

4.) Each unit should establish guidelines to promote achievement of fixed-term faculty. The expectation is that, for appropriate appointments, this will include ways to promote faculty development, ways to reward and recognize achievement, and guidelines for promotion under appropriate circumstances.

5.) Whenever a faculty member is hired off the tenure track, whether FT-I or FT-II, University policies and guidelines are pertinent to the position should be communicated to the new faculty member. These policies and guidelines are HR-05, HR-36, HR-61, HR-21, HR-24, HR-40 and Administrative Guidelines for HR-23 (Section 5E). Policies relating to benefits are in Attachment 2.

6.) The Senate Committee on Intra-University Relations should continue to provide periodic informational reports to the Senate on the use and numbers of faculty on and off the tenure track at various locations. Future reports should include data from the College of Medicine and the College of Law which were omitted from the last report.2
Since the presentation of that report in 2001, similar reports have been periodically written, though, to our knowledge, the College of Medicine and the School of Law have never been included during data collection. Reports were written in 2004 and 2006 by the IRC. In the 2004 informational report, now a decade ago, the authors urged that these trends “have many implications for academic life at Penn State and these trends merit the attention of the faculty senate as a whole.”3 Later, the IRC presented a 2008 report to Senate Council that was sent back to committee. Also in 2008, the FAC presented an Advisory and Consultative report titled “Rights and Responsibilities of Fixed-Term Faculty: Promotion and Governance.”4 Another report, titled “Trends and Patterns in the Use of Full and Part-time Fixed-Term Faculty 2004-2010,” was presented in January 2012 by the IRC.5 Most recently, during Fall 2012 an Advisory and Consultative report that the IRC submitted to Senate Council requested that Administration begin to formally ask the question, what is the ideal balance between standing and fixed term faculty? Further, that report requested that the Administration determine a limit of some kind to the twenty-year trend of increased use of fixed term faculty. This was meant to be open-ended, depending on how different units incorporated fixed term faculty. Senate Council did not accept this as an Advisory and Consultative report. Instead, Council suggested that it be cast as a Forensic report, which the IRC complied with in October 2012 and the Forensic report was delivered in December 2012.6 As part of that report, IRC noted that in 1992 standing faculty outnumbered fixed term faculty by more than six to one. If one uses the data presented in the 2004 report referenced above, that ratio dropped in 2002 to less than three to one, and in 2011 it has dropped yet further, to less than two to one. The questions discussed at the forensic were:

1. Should an acceptable limit for the ratio of standing faculty to fixed term faculty be established?
2. Should an acceptable limit for the ratio of FT-M to FT-I be established?
3. Should limits that do not increase reliance on FT-II positions be established?
 Lastly, we summarize the questions raised a decade ago by this (IRC) committee and we voice with great frustration that these questions have yet to be answered in a straight-forward manner by the Administration. From the spring 2004 IRC report:

Penn State needs to ask itself what the implications of a two-tiered faculty system are for the students, faculty, the larger academic community, and other stakeholders within the university.

What’s really driving the changes?

What is the impact of different incentive structures on the quality of education and the quality of new knowledge generated?

Is there an effect on academic rigor and standards?

In the age of budget driven decisions, do the benefits of increased savings and flexibility in the use of fixed-term faculty outweigh the costs of decreased attachment, voice, and the generation and preservation of the integrity of knowledge production based on the guarantee of intellectual freedom?7
These questions have largely remained unanswered, despite the reality that since they were originally asked the fraction of standing faculty as compared to fixed term faculty has steadily declined. Over the last 20 years, this decline has become significant. For the past decade and longer, the IRC and the FAC have tracked, benchmarked, cited external references, and have openly discussed nearly all of the potential consequences of a lower fraction of standing faculty on the Senate floor. All of these reports are a matter of record. The lack of action in response to these repeated requests to the Administration has produced a form of de facto policy.

As a standing reflection of this concern, from Appendix L of the January 28, 2014 Faculty Senate Agenda, in a Senate Council Report on Fall 2013 Campus Visits, it is reported from discussions with faculty that:
Faculty at all locations expressed concern regarding fixed-term, part-time, and adjunct faculty replacing tenured faculty over time. When tenured faculty are replaced, the search is delayed and often fewer tenure-track faculty are hired. Some campuses experience a higher turnover among non-tenure track faculty, although others noted excellent, long-term contingent faculty. Faculty noted that one-year contracts do not promote stability or attract and retain the highest quality faculty. There is concern that some adjunct faculty may tend to be less engaged than permanent faculty in campus activities beyond the classroom such as advising, outside classroom engagement, student research, and assisting student organizations. Additionally, faculty are concerned that they are not involved in adjunct hiring. One campus noted that the number of tenured faculty has been reduced by half over the past twenty years. There is also a strong objection to the perceived notion that tenured faculty are not needed to teach general education courses.8
Brief Analysis of Trends from 1992 to 2012

One thing that becomes clear as a result of the 2012 IRC Forensic was that the raw numbers of standing faculty have increased, but that the numbers of fixed term faculty have increased more rapidly. A more careful look at these numbers is presented here. Please note that these numbers are counts and that counts present these data in a different light as compared to ratios. These numbers are for resident instruction – full time equivalent, and are also found in a report titled “Student Credit Hour Production by Appointment Type and Age Distribution of Penn State Faculty” produced by the Office of Planning and Institutional Advancement. The increase in the number of standing faculty between 1992 and 2012 at University Park was 117, which is 77.5% of the total percent increase, while the increase for the Commonwealth Campuses over the same period was 34, or 22.5% of the total percent increase. Interestingly, the enrollment at University Park increased by 6978 students, which is 77% of the total percent increase in enrollment, while the increase for the Commonwealth Campuses was 2082 students, which constitutes 23% of the total percent increase university wide. However, if we consider the same counts for fixed term faculty, we see a different picture. The increase of fixed term faculty (FT-I and FT-M) at University Park over the same 20 year period is 458. If we assume this will fall in line with what we see for standing faculty (i.e., roughly a 77-23% split between UP and the campuses), then this might lead one to predict that the commonwealth campuses would have then increased by 130 or so. Instead, the numbers for fixed term faculty at the Commonwealth Campuses increased by 381. Thus, while the increase in enrollment at the Commonwealth Campuses contributes approximately 23% of the total percent increase, the campuses account for more than 45% of the total percent increase in fixed term faculty. It seems reasonable to speculate that this corresponds to the emergence of four-year programs at the campuses. This suggests that trends may need to be examined more finely, perhaps as narrowly as by unit or by campus. In any case, trends for the campuses should be examined separately from University Park. Clearly, the reasons for the trends as well as the magnitude of the trends are unlikely to be identical.

The Continuing Trends

Below, we include the same tables from the 2012 IRC Forensic report, which track the composition of Penn State faculty replete with updated data for 2012. Please note that these numbers are ratios and that ratios present data in a different light as compared to counts. The tables include ratios of standing to fixed term faculty (FT-I and FT-M) and student credit-hour production (SCH) by appointment type for the University. Some tables also include “other,” which refers to graduate students and employees or adjuncts not included as teaching faculty. SCH production is further broken down to include percentages for University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses. For the purposes of this report, no distinction is drawn between FT-I and FT-M positions. The downward trend for the ratio of standing faculty to fixed term faculty continues from 2011 to 2012 at both the campuses and University Park, though we surmise that the rate and reasons are different. The same is true for student contact hour production – that is, a higher percentage of student contact hours are being taught by fixed term faculty university-wide.

Table 1: Ratio of Standing to Fixed Term Faculty (Resident Instruction – Full-time Equivalent).

                                                   1992     2001    2011    2012
University-wide                          6.17     2.82     1.97     1.91
Commonwealth Campuses         5.45     1.99     1.62     1.55 
University Park                           6.67     3.77     2.25     2.20


Table 2: University-wide SCH Production by Appointment Type.

                                                   1992     2001    2011     2012     percent change (1992-2012)
Standing                                     58%     46%     40%      39%     –33%
FT-I&F-TM                                12%     25%     36%      38%    +217%
FT-II                                           18%     19%     17%      16%     –6%
Other                                          12%     10%       7%        7%     –42%


Table 3: University-Park SCH Production by Appointment Type.

                                                   1992     2001     2011     2012     percent change (1992-2012)
Standing                                     59%      50%     42%      40%     –32%
FT-I&F-TM                                11%      25%     39%      41%     +273%
FT-II                                           12%        9%       8%        8%     –33%
Other                                          18%      16%      11%      11%     –39%


Table 4: Commonwealth Campuses SCH Production by Appointment Type.
                                                  1992     2001     2011     2012     percent increase or decrease
Standing                                    57%      41%      37%      36%       –37%
FT-I&F-TM                               12%      26%      32%      35%     +192%
FT-II                                           29%      32%     29%      28%        +3%
Other                                            2%        1%       2%        1%       –50%

If no action is taken to address these trends, they will likely continue. If we choose not to be persistent as a Faculty Senate, then we are, in effect, complicit in the expansion of our shared dependence on contingent faculty. Assuming that this is not the case, we make the following preliminary recommendations: 
1. the Administration take a firm stance, one way or the other, on this more than two decades trend and clearly communicate its stance to the full body of the Faculty Senate. By firm stance we mean for them to answer questions such as those asked by the 2004 IRC report. For example: What are the implications of a two tiered faculty system for all stakeholders? What is driving this trend? What is the impact on quality of education and new knowledge generated? Is there an effect on academic rigor? Do the benefits of savings and flexibility outweigh the costs of decreased attachment, voice, and the generation and preservation of the integrity that knowledge production based on? How does this trend impact the guarantee of intellectual freedom? Do we plan to slow, reverse, or advance the trend?
2. We recommend that the Administration detail a plan for action and time-line for achieving the goals of its stance given in Recommendation 1.

3. We recommend that the Administration determine and communicate to the Faculty Senate what they believe to be an ideal combination of faculty types. That is, what is the right balance of faculty appointment type at Penn State? We make particular note here that we recognize that ratio may be different across units. In all, where do you plan to lead us with regard to the right balance of faculty appointment type at Penn State? We are heading in a clear direction now, in the absence of any plan or policy.



1 See “Report on the Impact on Faculty Development of Hiring Faculty off the Tenure Track” available at:
2 See “Report on the Impact on Faculty Development of Hiring Faculty off the Tenure Track” available at:
3 See “Trends and Patterns in the Use of Full and Part-time Fixed-Term Faculty” available at:
4 Available at:
5 Available at:
6 Available at:
7 See “Trends and Patterns in the Use of Full and Part-time Fixed-Term Faculty” available at:
8 Available at:

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