Statement on Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members

The following statement grew out of an action taken by the 2002 Delegate Assembly. It was prepared by an Executive Council subcommittee composed of council members Michael Bérubé, Rosemarie Scullion, and Domna C. Stanton. The full council approved the statement at its October 2003 meeting; the 2003 Delegate Assembly endorsed it in December 2003.

In 2002 the MLA was presented with the question of how to address departments that may be converting non-tenure-track faculty lines to still-less-secure appointments such as one- and two-year lectureships. The MLA has recently called for NTT lines to be converted to tenure-track positions whenever possible but has not, to date, issued guidelines for the ethical treatment of NTT faculty members whose lines cannot be so converted. This document attempts to address this problem. For the purposes of this report, "NTT faculty members" ("NTTs") shall refer to full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members.

The relevant section of the "Final Report of the MLA Committee on Professional Employment" reads as follows:

To ensure the educational quality of English and foreign language courses and programs, maintain the integrity of the profession, and improve employment opportunities for new PhDs, administrative reliance on part-timers for course coverage should be drastically reduced, and additional full-time positions should be created to meet the instructional needs currently handled by part-timers. Ideally such positions should be tenure-track, but even full-time non-tenure-track positions would have the advantage of offering regular benefits and would allow those hired to participate fully in the work of the department.

Accordingly, we recommend that departmental and campus administrators make every effort to convert an optimal number of part-time positions to full-time—preferably tenure-track—positions. (Gilbert et al. 1172)

This section does not mandate regular benefits and full participation for NTT faculty members and leaves open the question of whether a department could convert part-time positions to NTT positions instead of tenure-track positions while claiming adherence to MLA guidelines for best practices. The Executive Council, therefore, wants to make sure that departments cannot make personnel decisions on the basis of financial exigency, eroding the limited job security enjoyed by NTT faculty members, while citing MLA committee reports to imply that MLA-recommended practices are being followed.

Different kinds of NTT faculty members may be classified as "full-time" by their departments. The subcommittee distinguishes three such kinds: external postdoctoral fellows, internal postdoctoral fellows, and more permanent NTTs, the last of whom go by almost as many names as there are institutions. External postdocs, we determined, did not require the formulation of MLA guidelines, since their terms of service were reasonably well established by individual universities or foundations, and they had no expectation of regular review and reappointment. Internal postdocs and NTTs, by contrast, pose a serious ethical question for the profession: on the one hand, the creation and maintenance of these job categories weaken the institution of tenure and effectively establish a second tier in the faculty, with higher teaching loads and lower pay scales than those of the tenure-track tier, thus providing administrators with a reserve army of the NTT that can be drawn on whenever budget constraints so dictate. On the other hand, some NTT faculty members (artists, consultants, etc.) do not and some realistically cannot seek full-time tenure-track employment; such employees tend to be far more interested in job security and health benefits—both of which entail the institutionalization of an NTT tier—than in access to the tenure track, on the grounds that a routinized and regularized form of NTT employment is far better than the year-to-year, course-to-course "freeway flyer" model of employment increasingly common among adjunct faculty members.

On the basis of the Executive Council's discussion of the matter in May, there seems to be some agreement that internal postdoctoral positions should not exceed a term of two years. If indeed these positions are being created on the understanding that many PhDs do not get jobs in their first year on the market and in the hope that greater teaching experience will strengthen their credentials in future years, then it would seem that a two-year "protection plan" would suffice for the purpose of assisting new PhDs; beyond that, departments would no longer be providing postdoctoral fellowships but would instead be hiring their own PhDs to serve as second-tier, medium-term faculty members with higher teaching loads and lower salaries. Apart from the question of whether doctoral institutions should undermine their own faculty members in this way, there is the question of whether PhDs who serve in such positions beyond two years will remain attractive job candidates elsewhere.

The Executive Council has concerns about how to proceed with regard to full-time NTTs who are not postdocs. Understandably, some tenure-track faculty members fear that any discussion of guidelines for NTTs will amount to a professional endorsement of an NTT faculty, thus undermining the MLA's recommendation that NTT faculty members be converted to the tenure track whenever possible. This fear, however, has come up against two problems. The first is that NTTs are a "fact on the ground" and that in the absence of guidelines for their treatment and review, individual universities will devise drastically divergent policies governing their terms of employment. The second is that we need to acknowledge that the disparity between NTT and tenure-track faculty members practically ensures that when NTT lines are converted to the tenure track, the individuals occupying the NTT lines, especially if they have held the position for some years, will almost inevitably be less attractive to hiring committees than new PhDs. The MLA thus needs to acknowledge that because NTT faculty members typically are "teaching" faculty members with high course loads, often assigned to introductory or lower-level undergraduate courses, they are often at a significant professional disadvantage with regard to "research" faculty members and that the MLA cannot simply endorse the conversion of "an optimal number" of NTT lines to tenure-track lines without addressing the question of what will happen to the people currently teaching in NTT positions.

The Executive Council therefore has adopted a revised version of the guidelines promoted by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) with regard to contingent faculty members ("Statement"). Specifically, the MLA recommends the following:

  • NTT faculty members should be hired by means of long-term planning whenever possible, to provide for extended terms of appointment consistent with institutional needs, thereby also providing sufficient job security to encourage and support continuing involvement with students and colleagues. NTT faculty members should ideally be hired on three-year contracts with full benefits; after six years, they should be eligible for longer-term review; past six years, they should be given longer (five- or six-year) contracts and be allowed to participate in departmental governance regarding NTT lines.

  • NTT faculty members should be incorporated into the life of the department to the fullest extent possible, short of participation on department committees pertaining to the evaluation of tenure-track faculty members. They should have regular offices, mailboxes, access to departmental communications, telephone and computer access, parking permits, library access, after-hours access to buildings, and access to departmental staff.

  • NTT faculty members should be considered for tenure-track jobs alongside new PhDs whenever plausible and practicable. NTTs should additionally be given equal consideration for jobs at their home institution (presuming that their home institution is not their PhD-granting institution) whenever that institution converts NTT lines to the tenure track.

  • NTT faculty members should be fully informed of their terms of employment and fully aware of the possibilities and consequences of departmental review. Each appointment should include a clear contractual statement of expectations and assignments, including in-class teaching and such other responsibilities as course preparation, student advisement, and service. Each appointment should be made in a timely fashion that allows NTT faculty members adequate time for course preparation.

  • NTT faculty members should be provided with orientation, mentoring, and professional support and development opportunities, including campus grant programs, access to sabbatical opportunities, support for travel for research, and support for participation in professional conferences.

  • NTT faculty members should be reviewed annually with regard to salary levels and opportunities for professional advancement and promotion. Evaluations should be conducted in accordance with established, written criteria for departmental review, and departments should establish procedures for appeal or grievance in the event that an NTT faculty member alleges substantial violations of such criteria.

Finally, the MLA recommends that departments should regularly review the status of NTT faculty members and their relation to departmental governance. NTTs should ideally be reviewed in relation to the specific educational goals of the departmental unit employing them. In departments of English and the modern languages especially, this recommendation entails the ancillary recommendation that all full-time faculty members teach at all levels of the undergraduate curriculum, as recommended in the report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Staffing and by CAW (Smith; "Statement").

Works Cited

Gilbert, Sandra M., et al. "Final Report of the MLA Committee on Professional Employment." PMLA 113 (1998): 1154-77. Modern Language Association. 11 July 2003. MLA. 5 May 2004 

Smith, Philip, et al. "Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Staffing." ADE Bulletin 122 (1999): 3-26. Association of Departments of English: The Organization for Department Administrators. 17 Mar. 1999. ADE. 5 May 2004 

"Statement from the Conference on the Growing Use of Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty." American Association of University Professors: Academic Freedom for a Free Society. Amer. Assn. of U Professors. 5 May 2004