Sunday, July 18, 2010

Multi-year contracts for faculty?

In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education (click here to read it), Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus offer several things colleges and universities can do to improve the bang for the buck for students and to reduce costs. Some of them are nice, but hard to imagine how they'd be implemented. Others seem at least worth a thought.

One is to do away with tenure and instead sign on faculty with multi-year contracts. They don't go into much detail into how this would work. But I imagine there are some merits and demerits of the plan, some of which depend on how they are implemented. Merits:
  • It would open up opportunities on the academic job market and end the lifetime entrenchment of faculty.
  • It would both increase accountability of faculty members while at the same time reducing the pressure on non-tenured junior faculty.
  • Contracts, depending on how they are drafted and how they are offered, might open a way for people who are today adjuncts to sign on for a little stability.
  • It would potentially open the door to invidious discrimination against, say, older professors and against professors who have a lot of family obligations--people who may not be able to take on the tasks that younger people with fewer ties can take on. I would say, however, that the current system, at least at research oriented universities, already have such a bias against newly minted people on the job market who are older or who have a lot of family responsibilities. The pressure on junior faculty to publish and to serve on committees is, I hear, intense and carries with it no necessary guarantee of tenure.
  • It could make such items as student evaluations inordinately determinative in who gets a contract, or at least a second contract. I'm not against the idea of student evaluations per se, but they can be misused.
These are only a few thoughts. I'm still thinking about the issue, and there's a lot I still don't know about academic hiring or the idea of multi-year contracts.

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