BY MARTIN KICH
Not all stories are big stories, but sometimes the small stories are illustrative in ways that bigger stories cannot be because as the scope of a story becomes narrower, the implications can be seen in a more personalized way.
In the Music Department at Pacific Lutheran University, changes have been proposed that, on the whole may seem like a good thing. Several new tenure-eligible positions have been created to fill needs previously met by contingent faculty. In addition, the compensation for contingent faculty in the department, long calculated in a disadvantageous way, has been brought into line with the compensation paid to contingent faculty throughout the rest of the university.
So, on the surface, these developments would seem to be quite positive.
But there are several elements of the changes that make the situation more disquieting.
First, the Department of Music includes contingent faculty who have taught at the university for decades and hold the rank of Senior Lecturer. That rank provides benefits to faculty with course loads above half of the full-time equivalent teaching load. That rank and the benefits that come with it are being phased out over the next academic year.
Although the rank does not exist elsewhere in the university, there clearly has been a reason for its existence in the Music Department: that is, the department clearly wished to retain and succeeded in retaining contingent faculty, despite the fact that they were being paid less than contingent faculty in other departments within the university.
So, in effect, although these faculty will be paid more per course, they will almost certainly be offered fewer courses and will have to pay for their benefits out of the increased compensation that they are receiving per course.
The university has not indicated that these faculty are precluded from applying for the new tenure-eligible positions, but, at best, long-time colleagues will be competing with each other for those positions and, at worst, none of them, despite lengthy records of service to the university, may end up being selected for the positions.
Paradoxically, if the positions are understood to be intended to meet the long-term needs of the department, as most tenure-eligible positions are, then most long-term contingent faculty will, in effect, be precluded from consideration–t—ugh no one will, of course, admit or even imply that.
So, a small group of committed professionals are being reminded very painfully, and late in their careers, just how precarious contingency is.
I suspect that many of their departmental colleagues are genuinely sympathetic, but, let’s face it, their contingent colleagues who had course loads that did not provide benefits are getting somewhat significant increases in their compensation. And it is very difficult for tenured faculty to object to the creation of new tenure-track lines.
Hillary Clinton was right when she said that the details matter a great deal to the individuals who are most affected by a situation, even if they don’t seem especially important to the rest of us.
And, yet, to circle back to where I started, these sorts of stories that may not seem broadly illustrative are, in most cases, exactly that—illustrating the ways in which our institutions have been exploiting contingent faculty by giving little more than lip service to the contributions of even those who have served our institutions very effectively and professionally over long periods of time.