MU faculty vote to give voting rights to nontenure-track faculty members

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 7:30 p.m. CDT; updated 7:13 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 4, 2013

COLUMBIA —  Nicole Monnier called it momentous. Clyde Bentley called it a great feeling.

They were talking about the results of a vote to expand the definition of faculty at MU. Pending approval next week by the UM System Board of Curators, this will allow nontenure-track faculty members to vote on campus issues except those exclusively concerning tenure or faculty who are tenured and tenure-track.

"For a lot of NTT faculty on campus, it's a real morale boost," said Monnier, an associate teaching professor of German and Russian studies. She and Bentley, an associate professor of journalism, were among those pressing for the change.

Only tenured and tenure-track faculty members were allowed to participate in the vote, which began March 19 and ended at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Sixty-five percent, or 396 votes, were in favor of the proposal, Faculty Council Chairman Harry Tyrer said in an email announcing the results. Thirty-five percent, or 212 votes, were against it. Ten ballots cast did not have a vote registered and were not counted.

Nontenure-track faculty members teach 24 percent of credit hours at MU. They are full time, have a title that includes the word "professor," cannot receive tenure and, depending on their academic affiliation, are hired under one- or three-year contracts. Most of the Missourian's editors are nontenure-track faculty members.

The four nontenure-track faculty members on Faculty Council have not been allowed to vote in campuswide issues. There is not another council at MU on which nontenure-track faculty members are represented.

About 50 percent — 618 of 1,235 — of the tenured and tenure-track faculty members voted, said Monnier, who chairs the council's Academic Affairs Committee.

The voting turnout was high, Bentley said. By way of contrast, about 35 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty members voted on a proposal to introduce a diversity requirement in 2011.

The recent vote was administered electronically using the Qualtrics survey software through MU's Division of Information Technology. This is the first campus vote that has been administered electronically, Monnier said.

A ballot oversight committee formed by Faculty Council handled a few minor issues with the election, but the issues would not have affected the result of the vote, Tyrer said.

The proposal passed does not affect tenure, Bentley said.

History of the proposal

Bentley has worked to get nontenure-track faculty representation since he joined the Faculty Council six years ago. He took the position because the person elected to represent MU's School of Journalism was a nontenure-track faculty member and could not serve.

Bentley said he took on the issue because he thought the lack of nontenure-track faculty representation was a diversity issue. He thought tenured and tenure-track faculty and nontenure-track faculty performed similar duties and found it unfair that nontenure-track faculty couldn't participate in shared governance.

A resolution was passed to allow four nontenure-track faculty members, who observed council meetings, to sit at the table with the tenured and tenure-track faculty and participate in discussion. Missourian city editor Katherine Reed is among the four.

They still were not allowed to vote on campus issues, though, because MU's Collected Rules and Regulations did not include nontenure-track faculty members in its definition of faculty.

The council's Faculty Affairs Committee has made creation of the proposal a priority since 2011. Bentley chaired the committee in 2011-12.

The proposal was introduced at a council meeting in October, and council members supported itThe council approved it at a meeting Nov. 8.

Concerns about the proposal

The proposal was not popular with some tenured faculty, Bentley said.

A letter to nontenure-track faculty members after the Nov. 8 meeting listed the following concerns:

  • Nontenure-track faculty might be more vulnerable to pressure from administrators.
  • Including nontenure-track faculty would decrease faculty and Faculty Council authority.
  • Considering nontenure-track faculty as faculty would increase faculty numbers in some schools and colleges, increasing their influence in campus elections and eventually on Faculty Council.
  • Clinical faculty are not truly teaching faculty and have less of a claim on faculty status.
  • Nontenure-track faculty have more specialized duties and thus do not have the same broad insight into campus issues as tenured and tenure-track faculty.
  • Forming a separate nontenure-track council might be better.
  • If the faculty defeated the proposal, it could be difficult for a similar proposal to be passed in the future.
  • Nontenure-track faculty might eventually want more than four representatives on Faculty Council.
  • People being hired for designated ranked nontenure-track faculty positions might not always fulfill the requirements for that position.

The council held a forum in February so faculty members could learn more about the proposed changes. Nearly all faculty members who spoke at the forum were in favor.

The election was scheduled to be held March 4-8. The council voted at its Feb. 28 meeting to postpone the vote until the week of March 11 to examine ways to tighten the voting process and re-examine the ballot language.

The election then was postponed another week because council members were still determining which online system to use.

Beyond MU

Final approval of this proposal would make MU the second campus in the University of Missouri System to allow nontenure-track faculty members to vote on campus issues.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City also allows nontenure-track faculty members to vote, Deputy Provost Ken Dean said at February's forum.

Although the discussion about allowing nontenure-track faculty members to vote might almost be over at MU, similar discussions continue across the country.

In November 2012, the American Association of University Professors released a report that recommended that nontenure-track faculty members be included in the definition of "faculty" and that they be allowed to vote on campus issues.

On March 18, New York University's College of Arts and Science faculty voted, for the first time, to not allow nontenure-track faculty members to vote in the college's faculty meetings, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Nontenure-track faculty members can vote on most governance issues within 11 of the university's colleges and schools, but they have never had any standing in the universitywide Faculty Senators Council.

What's next?

UM System curators must approve the proposed change at their April 11 meeting, Monnier said.

If it is approved, the four nontenure-track faculty members on Faculty Council will be able to vote in future meetings.

Monnier said as a nontenure-track faculty representative on the council, she has always felt she was part of the discussion process. She said it will be satisfying, though, to be able to vote, especially on issues regarding the Academic Affairs Committee.

But the biggest change is being recognized as a faculty member by the Collected Rules and Regulations, she said.

Monnier said she thinks the next question will be whether to give nontenure-track faculty members a greater voice that's more proportionate to their representation. Another future discussion might be about nontenure-track faculty contract lengths.

Bentley said he thinks there's more work to be done about nontenure-track faculty rights, including allowing departments to choose to elect nontenure-track faculty members as regular Faculty Council representatives.

But on Wednesday, he was elated.

"I am proud to be a member of the School of Journalism faculty, period," he said. "And I am proud to be a member of the University of Missouri faculty, period."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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