New breed of faculty emerging

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New positions are being created at some colleges nationally for “professors of practice,” which are full-time faculty members who receive benefits and can qualify for multiple-year teaching contracts, but are not eligible for tenure.

According to Harold Hellenbrand, CSUN provost, if a professor is on tenure-track, it takes six years for she or he to obtain tenure, after which professors are reviewed annually by their department chairs, deans and college committees. The reviews each year are meant to evaluate their performances and serve as an opportunity for committees to assess the work professors have done, he said.

Hellenbrand said a tenured professor enjoys many privileges, including a review process every five years, rather than annually, and an inherent protection of academic freedom.

According to Hellenbrand, the professor of practice position is a new trend that few institutions have started using.

According to Jonathan Knight, director of the academic freedom and tenure program at the American Association of University Professors, the number of full-time, non-tenured track faculty at U.S. colleges and universities is still small in comparison to the total of full-time faculty members. He said the actual number of professors of practice is unknown, but is also thought to be relatively small.

Knight said the problem with professors of practice is that although they have similar responsibilities, privileges and benefits as tenured professors, there are no assurances of job security, which can limit their academic freedom.

“Professors of practice are not eligible for tenure,” Knight said. “There’s no assurance. If the institution wants to let them go, (it) can.”

Nazaret Dermendjian, assistant professor of civil engineering and applied mechanics, said he does not see the difference between tenured professors and professors of practice. When someone is tenured, (she or he) has job security to a certain extent, but is still reviewed after a certain amount of time to make sure the person is meeting job requirements, Dermendjian said.

Dermendjian, who started out as a part-time lecturer for many years, has been at CSUN for 12 years and is now on tenure-track. He said he hopes to be tenured someday, not necessarily for the privileges, but for the fact that it is an acknowledgment of his hard work.

“The way I look at it, we’re here to help students, no matter if we’re tenured or not,” Dermendjian said.

Professors of practice are eligible for multiple-year contracts, but if the institution wants to let them go after their contract ends, they can do so without question, Dermendjian said. Tenured professors cannot be terminated as easily, since they must undergo a lengthy review process before any decision is made, Knight said.

According to Knight, some people believe it will save money to have professors of practice positions because there is no pressure to keep these professors on staff, and contracts do not have to be renewed.

Hellenbrand said data shows there still exists a large number of part-time faculty members, such as lecturers. He said that the budget often forces the university to hire people at less expensive rates.

One of the benefits of having more lecturers is that they have a particular expertise that other professors do not often have, Hellenbrand said.

Hellenbrand said a negative aspect of the professors of practice positions is that they limit the time professors have to conduct research. For example, if they have a contract of 3 to 5 years with an uncertainty of renewal, they may not have the opportunity to finish their research, which typically takes longer than five years, he said.

“A university shouldn’t be about short-term,” Hellenbrand said. “(Tenured professors) have continuity in a society like ours. It’s important to have that continuity.”

Knight said there is the bigger problem of academic freedom, which he said is ultimately what all professors should have.

“(Professors of practice are) making a significant contribution to the university,” Knight said. “(They) should have the right to academic freedom.”

According to Knight, professors of practice are expected to engage with students to the same degree as tenured professors. He said, however, that they do not have the security of academic freedom that tenured professors have. Without this academic freedom, professors of practice cannot freely express themselves if they have a strong opinion on an issue, he said.

“(Professors) shouldn’t feel they need to watch what they say,” Knight said.