University must address problems of non-tenure track


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

At last week’s general faculty and staff meeting, Chancellor Everts touched on a number of topics that are no doubt relevant to students: mental health, diversity, sustainability and plans for investment in academic facilities.

There was one important issue, however, that Chancellor Everts did not touch on: the situation of non-tenure track faculty on campus. Unlike some of the things the chancellor did talk about, this issue is far less visible to students but is still relevant to us.

As the name suggests, non-tenure track faculty are faculty members without tenure. What that means in practical terms is that these professors are often paid low wages for their work and are employed on a year to year basis, making job security a major concern.

Their numbers have been growing nationally for some time now. About 76 percent of faculty in the United States now hold non-tenure track positions.

These professors often face economic difficulty. A study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education found that 25 percent of part-time college faculty received public assistance.

Mirroring the nation, Appalachian State University has its own non-tenure track problem.

A report by the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Committee released over the summer reveals the university’s growing reliance on non-tenure track faculty. The report found that 43.4 percent of all student credit hours in the 2014-15 school year were generated by non-tenure track faculty. This is up from 35 percent in the baseline 2006-07 school year.

This is well beyond the recommendations of the committee’s 2006 report that the university place limits on the number of non-tenure track faculty credit hours at 15 percent overall and 25 percent at the departmental level.

Aside from the obvious fact that many of these non-tenure track faculty members are our teachers, the connection between students and non-tenure track faculty goes even deeper.

Diminished state funding, a major determining factor in how much we pay for our education, also plays a large role in the lives of these faculty members. The financial pressures placed on universities make it attractive to rely more and more on this low-paid, expendable source of labor.

In many ways, their cause is ours as well.

Chancellor Evert’s attention to areas of concern on campus is encouraging, and this is one area that deserves attention and action. And it should not just be these professors, but students as well, speaking up for basic fairness for non-tenure track faculty.

Just because systemic forces might restrict the ability of administrators to do some things does not mean that should be an excuse to do nothing.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.

All opinions expressed on this page are that of the writer and not of The Appalachian as a whole.