I was given a position at a time when the mandatory retirement age was 65, and I was happily looking forward to a 35-year career as an established faculty member. In 1982, the age of 70 became the mandatory retirement age. Then, starting in 1994, there was no longer any mandatory retirement age for faculty members at all. My 35-year-old opportunity just got even more amazing!
Running for office, as every faculty member knows, is stressful. It usually entails a detailed assessment and evaluation of the faculty member’s teaching, scholarship, and service in the context of the long-term needs of the university in question – criteria often under the control of the faculty who qualifies for the position. These standards focus on the demand for faculty in the respective discipline, especially full-time and follow-up faculty. What is the supply of these faculty members? What are the needs in other disciplines? What does registration look like in each major and above all? What are the priorities of the college or university? Much of this is subjective and subjective, and open to interpretation.
In my case, when I got a job in 1975, all full-time faculty in economics became static – and this was at a time when both departmental enrollment and total enrollment were worrisome. What solidified our position was that many faculty members were nearing retirement, which provided an opportunity to hire new faculty, whether on a full-time track or not, and to fill those positions, even if students’ demand for discipline did not increase. This, along with optimism for the future, has made a difference in standards.
Today, however, tenure at all stages of higher education is clearly at risk, as is our ability to develop the knowledge base and ensure that academic freedom is preserved. Besides traditional long-term needs, the academic side of a college or university now competes for resources with many other institutional areas – including, among others, student scholarships, health services, counseling and other student support, and diversity/inclusion/ Equity programs, legal guidance and athletics, technology and cybersecurity – in an expanding world.
The fixed faculty are the heart of this universe, and a large number of them remain after the time that was time to leave their posts. In this continuing series, we can find faculty with 25 years of service, 30 and 35, 40 and growing numbers with 50. These senior faculty members command higher salaries and fringe benefits that increase the cost over time; In fact, their pay is often double or more than what new faculty members earn. Many of these faculty remain outstanding in all areas – teaching, scholarship, and service. Others aren’t great at one or more topics, and some are on autopilot (or worse).
A Posttenure review should, in theory, highlight both the great and the not-so-great and provide impetus for change. But these reviews, after promotion to full professor and excluding sabbaticals, which often focus only on scholarship, have been limited in their effectiveness. Being a full professor, and having seniority, still provides great privilege and authority. Often the desire to teach only during certain hours or courses, or to carry out only certain administrative responsibilities, is a manifestation of this privilege and authority. And on a personal level, how do you give a negative opinion of your roommate, your coffee buddy, and your co-worker for decades? And what would that person say next when evaluating you?
Higher education leaders are aware of the situation but often do not deal with it. Instead, they hire fewer full-time, contract and adjunct faculty members who are usually less expensive—providing more resources to meet the many other needs their organizations face. The changes so far have been dramatic. When I started teaching, approximately 75 percent of the faculty in the United States was either in an appointment or in an established track, and now about the same percentage Not Fixed or on track of possession.
But while the financial savings are obvious, the costs involved are not so obvious. The adjunct faculty do an excellent job, but with a completely different commitment to the time and effort associated with their working conditions. Assistants are often not expected to provide advice and guidance to students and participate in curriculum reform, governance and the like, although such initiatives are needed in order to create an excellent learning experience. And while research is required in order for each discipline’s knowledge base to stay alive, contract and post-faculty faculty are often not trained or focused on scholarship.
We are in a difficult situation. Mandatory retirement age is not an option – we cannot address our problems through age discrimination. We also cannot solve it by reducing the number of persevering and following faculty members; In fact, we must stress its importance. We also need to acknowledge that maintaining and restoring possession to its level of prominence will require an adjustment, which, under my scenario, takes the form of a return to the traditional advantages that accompanied the tenure. Consider, what if you were given your tenure of service for a fixed term — say 35 years — regardless of your age at the time you received it? Isn’t a 35-year contract a great long-term opportunity? Age is no longer a factor, and “permanent appointments” are no longer possible. How great is productivity at the end of a “permanent” date? It is important to note that the 35 years of service (the term) will still work if you change institutions. Just as previous service can count toward a probationary period, previous service can also count toward a 35-year term.
With a service life of 35 years, not all concerns are resolved, but corporate planning is possible. We will know when the appointed faculty members are due to leave, and we can plan replacements accordingly. We would still have to advocate a more objective Posttenure review system, but even in the absence of such a program, additional rotation would be included in the system.
In implementing this tenure system, we also need to include a commitment that, as resources are provided, they are reinvested into the permanent path faculty in those areas of demonstrated need. Just as we can determine appropriate class sizes by discipline and course and adhere to, we can also determine which classes of full-time faculty should be best taught by discipline and what departmental or college level responsibilities need to be undertaken to maintain quality and invest in the future. We can also incorporate short-term demographic data and plan what the potential impact will be. Therefore, we can define our needs in terms of both full-time faculty and, more precisely, full-time and permanent-track faculty. We should be intentional in these selections, rather than filling in or not filling in those holes that just happened.
For decades, accrediting agencies have used these variables to determine employee needs, which they often translate into requirements. We can extend this type of analysis to identify the need for faculty in a similar way across the board.
What if, after these 35 years, a faculty member wishes to remain, or the institution wishes the faculty member to remain? Should there be exceptions? Not in my opinion. But a faculty member should have the opportunity to apply for one-year contracts with annual reviews, so it won’t be an entitlement but a merit-based opportunity. Merit, which usually works well as a person stands for position and promotion, should work more prominently in the later stages of a person’s career.
This type of membership program can take up to 40 years after it is first implemented to bring maximum benefit into additional lines of full-time faculty. However, the benefits will be continuous and accumulate over time as we approach a better situation. Meanwhile, the consequences of not changing the system are further eroding the core of the system. If we look back and take back what worked better than what is happening now, we will at least make much-needed progress.