Faculty Senate leveraging recognition for part-timers

Nearly a third of WSU’s faculty members have been working without recognition, representation or job security, but the Faculty Senate is laboring to change that. As a result of current discussions, temporary faculty members stand to gain both a voice and a vote by electing eight representatives to the Faculty Senate over the next few years.

When professor R. Wes Leid arrived at WSU in 1980, there were very few temporary instructors (in 1988 the percentage was 20 percent). Now chairman of the Faculty Affairs Committee, Leid says instructors on temporary appointments make up almost a third of the teaching and research faculty, and he doesn’t see the numbers going down any time soon.

That matches the national trend over the past 20 years toward fewer tenured positions and increasing use of nontenured faculty. WSU’s 428 faculty members on temporary appointment (the equivalent of 321 full-time persons) often teach in key positions with significant impact and influence on the quality of education at WSU. They make up a large part of the first two years of education students receive at WSU and teach all beginning composition courses.

Reasons for temporary hire
Deborah Carlson, associate budget director, cited several reasons why departments might need the flexibility of temporary hires, including:

• filling in for professors on leave
• teaching overflow in introductory classes
• making use of short-term available funds
• biding time while interviewing candidates for a tenured position.

Fran McSweeney, vice provost for faculty affairs, says, “I assume that there are many more reasons than just budget (for hiring temporary instructors), but I don’t think we’ve ever tried to systematically categorize the reasons for their hiring.”

WSU’s faculty manual specifies a maximum number of years per appointment (usually three to five), although appointments can be renewed or “rolled” indefinitely. That’s how Barbara Nasralla, curriculum coordinator for the Intensive American Language Institute, and her co-workers have managed to be “temporary” for 12 or more years on a string of one-year, nine-month or two-month appointments.

Leid calls this “a human tragedy” that is repeated in universities across the country. An instructor in the English department calls it “academia’s dirty little secret.”

Issues of respect
Earning half of what their tenured colleagues earn is just one of the problems. Some teachers don’t know until two weeks before the semester if they have a job or not, making it difficult for them to rent an apartment or buy a house. With no promise of a permanent position or promotion, WSU’s “academic migrant workers” often feel marginalized and second-class. One senior instructor says he thinks “there must be something wrong with me.”

Lack of cohesion due to their nontenure-track status frequently leads to personnel erosion as skilled teachers leave their dead-end jobs for universities that can promise them a future.

“The designation ‘temporary faculty’ coupled with a less than stellar salary just reinforces a strong desire to sing a duet with Aretha Franklin on R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” said Nasralla. “Don’t get me wrong: I love my students, enjoy what I do for a living, and am very grateful to be employed. It just would be very sweet to get a little respect.”

That’s just what the Faculty Senate is hoping to develop through a three-step process of recognition, representation and contract stabilization. Recognition has already begun with the names of temporary instructional faculty listed in next year’s course catalog. “This is just one avenue for improved esprit d’corps,” says Leid. Adding eight representatives to the Faculty Senate next year would give temporary faculty a 10 percent voice. While it’s not enough, Leid concedes it’s “along the pathway to improving the situation. Across the system, temporary instructors do a lot of teaching and ought to be represented.” He emphasizes, “It’s a fairness issue.”

Faculty cohesion
Next year work will begin on contract stabilization. Leid and Chuck Pezeshki, chair of the Faculty Senate, both think this is not a contentious issue for tenure-track faculty. Most of them recognize that temporary faculty members are making a huge contribution and need to feel they are part of the academic team.

“What really matters is faculty cohesion,” says Pezeshki. “That’s what we have to work on.”

Longer appointments may be perceived as reducing departmental flexibility, but Leid believes departments know their course demands far enough in advance that they could fill most positions with long-term contracts. He would like to see a minimum one-year contract, but he prefers three-, four- or five-year contracts and better financial rewards.

Pezeshki says recommending constitutional change is a big step and may take time, but he believes in the process that must be followed. “The task of enfranchising temporary workers is like attacking a large beast: you can’t do it overnight,” he said.

The Faculty Senate is hopeful that its efforts will help boost faculty morale, warm up the campus climate, and keep a significant group of dedicated educators in WSU classrooms.

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