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MU Faculty Council to discuss voting rights for non-tenure-track faculty

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | 7:37 p.m. CDT; updated 3:20 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 25, 2012

*CORRECTION: The School of Health Professions has the largest percentage of non-tenure-track faculty at MU; the School of Medicine has the third-largest percentage. An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect ranking.

COLUMBIA — Right now, about 36 percent of full-time assistant, associate and full professors at MU are not allowed to vote in decisions affecting university policies, according to data from MU Institutional Research. 

On Thursday, the MU Faculty Council will discuss a proposal to expand the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations' definition of "faculty" to include these non-tenure-track, or NTT, faculty.

This change would allow a revision in the Faculty Council's Rules of Order, allowing the NTT faculty representatives to vote in council matters.

It also would allow NTT faculty to vote in campuswide decisions previously limited to tenured and tenure-track faculty.

The Faculty Council is an elected body that represents all MU faculty to the public and university administrators, including the University of Missouri System Board of Curators. The administration and faculty share governance of the university, with the faculty having primary responsibility over curriculum and scholarly matters.

The Collected Rules and Regulations give the council authority to propose revisions to the faculty bylaws, refer any matter to the full faculty for a vote and appoint special committees.

Non-tenure-track faculty members are those who were hired under one- or three-year contracts and don't have the potential to get tenure. This portion of the faculty has grown in recent years while the number of tenure-track faculty has not increased.

NTT faculty teach 24 percent of student credit hours at MU, according to Institutional Research.

Rights vary by campus 

The discussion around this issue has been going on at MU for years, but this is the first time a formal proposal has been brought to the council. MU and the University of Missouri-St. Louis don't allow NTT faculty to vote; the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Missouri University of Science and Technology do.

Gary Ebersole, chairman of UMKC's Faculty Senate, said non-tenure-track faculty there have been voting members for 25 years. At UMKC, any faculty member eligible for benefits is considered full faculty and allowed to vote.

"To exclude them just doesn’t make sense to me," Ebersole said. "They work hard. If they, being low-paid, want to participate in shared governance, they should."

At the end of 2011, MU had 1,949 full-time faculty members; 708 were non-tenure-track, according to MU Institutional Research.

The MU School of Medicine had 334 non-tenure-track faculty at the end of 2011, significantly more than any other school. Robin Kruse is a non-tenure-track associate research professor and chairwoman of the School of Medicine Faculty Affairs Council. She said she learned the details of the proposal Tuesday and is generally positive about it.

"We discussed changing the definition of faculty to be more inclusive," Kruse said, referring to the School of Medicine's council. Many members had positive views of a more inclusive definition, she said, but there were a few concerns about the erosion of tenure and what it means to be faculty.

Current NTT representatives

Under the proposal, NTT faculty would continue to have four representatives on the MU Faculty Council. Current representatives stand for different categories of non-tenured positions.

  • Nicole Monnier represents the NTT teaching faculty. Monnier is an associate teaching professor of Russian and director of undergraduate studies in the German and Russian Studies Department. She has been at MU since 2000 and serves as chairwoman of the council's academic affairs committee.
  • *Katherine Reed represents clinical and professional-practice faculty members who work directly with students in a more hands-on environment. Reed is an associate professional-practice professor in the School of Journalism, which has the second-largest percentage of non-tenure-track faculty behind the School of Health Professions. She also is an editor at the Columbia Missourian.
  • Sam White represents faculty in MU Extension, where he is an assistant professor in the Labor Education Program. Extension focuses on outreach in areas such as nutrition and agriculture.
  • Richard Guyette represents the NTT research faculty. Guyette, a research professor of forestry, directs the Missouri Tree-Ring Laboratory and teaches courses in the School of Natural Resources.

Balance of representation

Although the four NTT representatives to the Faculty Council support the proposal, Monnier said she would like to see more discussion about the representation part of the proposal in the future. More than one-third of faculty are non-tenure-track, but the four seats represent 11 percent of the seats on the council. Right now, according to its website, the council has 36 members, 29 of whom vote.

"I'm generally optimistic that there's going to be support for extending voting rights on campus to non-tenure-track faculty," Monnier said. "I don't know what's going to happen with the other part, what non-tenure-track representation is going to look like."

Kruse said she supports the proposal as it is, but would ideally like all representatives to be chosen based on their credentials, not their titles.

Monnier said she would like to see NTT faculty participate in the same nomination process as tenure-track, in which all Faculty Council seats would be open to all faculty. However, Monnier said it is more likely the resolution will pass with the current setup.

Job protection

Part of the concern regarding non-tenure-track faculty is that they don't have tenure to protect what they say about campus issues. Tenure is unique to academia; it is a permanent position created as job protection so faculty can speak freely in an academic setting.

The concern is that if non-tenure-track faculty members were too outspoken or voted a certain way, there could be retaliation in their contracts. Fear of repercussions might prevent them from voting impartially.

"There’s a real concern for the vulnerability of NTT folk — that we are not protected by tenure, academic freedom issues, the fear that we are more vulnerable to pressure," Monnier said.

Stephen Montgomery-Smith, a mathematics professor, is chairman of the committee that drafted the proposal. He shared this concern but said the possibility of being influenced extends to all faculty, even those with tenure. 

"I see voting as a responsibility rather than a right, and it needs to come with a certain measure of job protection for the people wielding the vote. Otherwise, the vote could be threatened," Montgomery-Smith said.

"On the other hand, tenured faculty, in my opinion, have not exercised that responsibility terribly well," he continued. "It would not surprise me if the NTT faculty actually did a better job."

An example he gave of poor faculty participation was the vote to introduce a diversity course requirement in May 2011. Despite support from the council and positive feedback from the campus, only 35 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty voted for or against the proposal. It was defeated by 23 votes.

Some prioritize research

Although the proposal hasn't come before the council yet, it has received the support of faculty members in the School of Journalism. At the school's October faculty meeting, a vote in favor of the proposal was unanimous among the 48 people there.

"It’s not at all surprising to me, but very heartwarming, that the Journalism School was able to pass that resolution," Monnier said. "In Arts and Science, it’s a different ball game. There are a lot of us in A&S, but I don’t think we necessarily command the same respect."

Monnier said that because MU is a highly recognized research institution, some faculty think the research mission takes priority over teaching and service.

"There are faculty who believe that research is what defines faculty status, that if you're not a researcher and contributing to that larger scholarly mission, then you are not fully a part of the faculty," Monnier said.

A letter from the four NTT council representatives was sent to all NTT faculty at MU on Tuesday explaining the proposal.

"As your NTT reps, we need to be able to represent your interests," the letter states. "We also need to rely on you for a sense of your own faculty and the likelihood of their support for any of these proposals. Ranked NTT faculty are treated differently by division, and even by department within those divisions."

Monnier and Montgomery-Smith both said they hope the conversation is honest and productive. The meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in Room S-203 in Memorial Student Union.

If the measure is passed by the Faculty Council later on, it will go to tenured and tenure-track faculty campuswide for a vote.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

MU filled its academic ranks with non-tenure teachers over the past decade. These nonpermanent teachers, who now constitute 36 percent of the faculty, may receive the right to vote on campus legislation, pending a vote by the MU Faculty Council. Below are statistics on the work and growing presence of non-tenure teachers at MU. Matthew Schacht/Columbia Missourian


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