Initiative proposes more inclusive senate


Photo credit: Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

The Faculty Senate is working to implement a new initiative that would allow contingent faculty members to serve and vote on the senate, the governing body for Trinity faculty. As of now, contingent (non-tenure-track) faculty members are not allowed to serve on the committee.

At Trinity, there are several categories of professors, each of which determines pay, benefits and job security. Categories include professor, associate professor, assistant professor, visiting assistant professor, visiting professor and adjunct professor.

One major difference between these types of professors is whether they are tenure-track. Professors and associate professor positions are tenured. To have tenure means that a professor can’t be fired for reasons related to their academic endeavors, though they can be fired if they violate parts of the faculty handbook.

Rachel Joseph, associate professor of human communication, received tenure last year, changing from an assistant professor to associate professor. Trinity has a tenure commission made up of tenured faculty members who decide who makes tenure.

“Basically what tenure means is that a professor has academic freedom to teach what they think is important in their field and to be able to have free speech and to be able to teach in a way that they feel is right for the subject,” Joseph said.

Assistant professor positions offer the possibility of tenure. Assistant professors are required to apply for tenure in their sixth year of working at Trinity. According to Emilio de Antuñano, assistant professor of history, tenure track positions bring the possibility of job security.

“The most important thing is that there is the possibility and the promise of a regular position or of a steady position. In that sense, it’s very important because that’s what gives you the peace of mind, the research time, the salary to do research and to prepare classes which is the thing I enjoy doing,” de Antuñano said.

Visiting professors and visiting assistant professors are hired on a yearly contract basis. They must reapply yearly to stay at Trinity and are expected to teach the same number of classes as a professor, though they are not on a tenure-track. Adjunct professors are paid per course and are hired on contract. Duane Coltharp, associate vice president for Academic Affairs concerning curriculum and faculty development, described how benefits and payment are determined for faculty members who are hired on contract.

“A true part-time faculty member who’s only being paid on a per-course basis, they would typically not receive metrics at all. To some degree, the logic is going to be similar to the way we determine salary and benefits for a full-time tenure-track faculty member in that it’s driven to some degree by market pressures, so there are some disciplines where people get paid more than others,” Coltharp said.

At Trinity, full-time faculty are guaranteed the national average salary for their position due to the median faculty salary initiative. This does not apply to contingent faculty members.

“There we were looking at the three ranks of tenure and tenure track faculty members, so assistant professor, associate professor, professor. You can determine what is the median salary for faculty members across the country in each of those three ranks and then we made the determination that we were going to bring full-time faculty salaries for those three ranks up to the national median,” Coltharp said.

Judith Norman, professor of philosophy and member of the faculty senate, believes that the tendency for universities to hire adjunct or contingent faculty members has become a problem in universities.

“Universities hire people to work part-time to fill in the classes. So somebody leaves the department mid-year and you want to hire a replacement, but in the meantime, you hire somebody just to fill in their classes,” Norman said. “So universities have long needed to hire part-time people who would just teach a class or two. Universities have become increasingly reliant on part-time people, and this is part of a broader economic demographic shift that has institutions hiring people with fewer benefits and less pay who are less expensive to hire and not relying on full-timers with loyalty and longevity who the institution would be loyal to.”

To help alleviate this problem, Norman is using the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors to change the Faculty Senate. Still in the beginning stages, Norman hopes to bring contingent faculty more leverage in the university by allowing them to sit and vote on the Faculty Senate, which decides policies that affect faculty at Trinity.

“I think lots of people think that contingent faculty should participate in these decisions both in terms of voting for senators and serving as senators. Once contingent faculty help participate in university governance and have a seat at the table basically in decision making, then they can advocate for themselves,” Norman said. “I think it’s important that full-time faculty not say ‘contingent faculty want this and that’. I think it’s important that contingent faculty are the ones saying ‘we want this and that’. I think it’s important that contingent faculty are able to advocate for their own needs.”

Coltharp believes that there are differences between faculty members in terms of their commitment to the institution.

“When it comes to faculty governance, like who has a right to vote in a particular context or who has the right to vote on a particular elected body, there are some reasons to make distinctions. A person that has given their life to the educational mission of the university, a long-time tenured faculty member, just has a different relationship to the university than someone who is hired to teach occasionally on a per-course basis. So, I would be cautious about throwing all distinctions away and saying anybody who teaches any class has the same governance rights as anyone else,” Coltharp said.

Additionally, Coltharp believes it is important to keep in mind faculty senate members made the rules that contingent faculty members should not serve on the Faculty Senate.

“I would note that in fact, the Faculty Senate went through a process just a couple of years ago about defining all manner of faculty ranks and faculty appointments and defining the place of each one of those appointments in the faculty structure,” Coltharp said. “So actually, the faculty is on record as saying not all faculty appointments are created equal when it comes to their place in the governance structure. Some people have a right to serve on this particular elected body and some people don’t.”