Saturday, November 3, 2012

Portland State University: New Academic Titles

Portland State is going round and round about new academic titles.  They are adding all sorts of new ranks for people like me, non-tenure line faculty, that now that we do most of the work.  The OARs that define the new titles are here.  There are now instructors, lecturers and clinical faculty, and, well the list goes on for a lot of letters.

The Portland State University senate will be discussing this at the meeting on November 5th.  You can find the meeting materials here. I would speak on this issue, since I feel like I may be screwed in the process, but I have a Parkrose board meeting to attend.  Thankfully, I know someone in the senate that I can pass letter to -- Bob Liebman.

I passed him these two letters and told him that he could use one or both of them.  The first is earnest the second is satirical.  While I could put 'Sincerely' at the end of the first, the best I could manage was 'Very Respectfully' on the second.  That is what you use when addressing a superior.  I hope they get that jab.

Letter One

I've read the OAR and it allows the institutions to use these ranks as appropriate to hiring and retention of their faculty members as it relates to their institutional mission.  (3)(5) allows us to keep our current system of academic titles if we wish.

I urge us not to make changes to our current system.

This new taxonomy takes a very simplistic view of both what fixed-term faculty do and why some people are on a tenure line while other are not.

Some very good people are not in tenure-line positions simply because of the market was bad when they finished degree, or because they have limitations on were they can move.

Many tenure-line positions are held by those that have retired in place at an early age, or by those that have ignored one of the three components of their jobs  -- either research, teaching, or service.

Being tenured or on a tenure-line is not a perfect indicator of quality. These new ranks would make fixed-term status a much more permanent state, like a negative tenure.  They will leave a mark on a resume that can't be erased.

Moving from an academic title and then being, apparently, demoted to lecturer will lead to questions about why.  Was there an ethical violation?  Did it involve a student?

This ties the individual to the school, making it harder to get a tenure-line appointment at another school or even industry appointment.  That is my primary concern, it takes temporary second-class status and makes it permanent across all institutions.

My second concern is that the taxonomy views fixed-term faculty as much more specialized into teaching, research and service than we often are.

My contract is written as being the same as a tenure line faculty member with the all the same research, teaching and service requirements.  I do have a significantly lower salary and a higher teaching load, but tenure is the only difference.

It feels like this is a ploy to pay me for one of functions and get the benefits of me doing the others for free.
If I am a lecturer and I publish, do I put PSU down as my institutional affiliation or do a create a non-profit to hold that honor? If I get a grant, will the indirect costs be forwarded to an institution of my choice or will PSU still collect those?  I think PSU is very likely to claim the credit and the cash even though those two things are not part of my job description.

I would be just uncomfortable if PSU had declared that they would only pay me for every third minute even though I would clearly work during the intervening two.

Under this new system of ranks, it is unclear where I would fit. Will I be transferred from the instructor to lecturer ranks depending on course load?  Will an excess of grants or publications suddenly turn me into research faculty?  I have dual appointments in Economics and Urban studies, will I be a lecturer in one and research faculty in the other?

Finally, I would have to leave the school before I was demoted to one of these new titles.  I don't want to sit through an interview and have to explain that I didn't sexually harass a student and that they new title was an administrative decision that save the school a little money.

James Woods

Letter 2

The OAR allows the institutions to use these ranks as appropriate to hiring and retention of their faculty members as it relates to their institutional mission.

I believe these changes don't go far enough, and I encourage the administration to press for further modifications to OAR 580-020-005. The distinctions made in the non-tenure track faculty titles should be applied to tenured faculty members.

This is clearly necessary given market conditions. There is a surfeit of Ph.D. in all fields. PSU has traditionally restricted itself to hiring tenure line faculty that had strong research potential and could shape their disciples. We can now hire candidates that can excel at teaching, service and research.

This is a clear benefit to students. Placing the careers of our faculty above those of our students is wrong. We should be granting tenure only to those that can show excellence in all three areas and not to those that show excellence in research and only adequacy in teaching or service.

The tenure review remains a noisy signal of quality. After tenure some faculty members have shown themselves to be deficient in one or more areas. New titles are necessary to clarify the relationship between these individual and the institution.

The traditional academic ranks should be reserved for those tenured faculty members that have very high current research output, strong current service commitments, and some of the highest graduate and undergraduate teaching commitments in their departments.

Tenured faculty that rarely teach graduate course and do minimal research would fall into the tenured instructor sequence. A current Full Professor would have the title 'Tenured Senior Instructor II' should their research output drop below an acceptable level. Those that continue to teach at the graduate level would of course be a 'Tenured Senior Lecturer II'.

Tenured faculty that have devoted themselves almost purely to research, buying out several courses, would enter the ranks of the Tenured Research Faculty. An Associate Professor that bought out three classes through grants would then be a 'Tenured Research Associate Professor'.

Tenured faculty that focus on service, e.g., our department chairs and senate committee members, with below average teaching or research output would be placed in the Tenured Professor of Practice ranks.

These new title would enable the institution to make contractual distinctions between the post tenure performance of faculty members and compensate them appropriately. This should help alleviate some of the tension in some departments and would go a long way toward identifying the true causes of the disparity and improve the educational experience for ourselves and, most importantly our students.

I urge this body to press for these changes.

Very Respectfully,
James Woods