Magazine Article

The new workload problem—deteriorating tenure density

By Dorothy D. Wills
Chair, CFA Membership & Organizing Committee
Geography and Anthropology, Cal Poly Pomona

It is not a secret. We all know. Tenured and tenure-track professors have more work than we used to.

Some of it comes from increased class sizes, which is explained variously as:

(a) A necessary accommodation to decreasing academic budgets (as though the latter were a force of nature rather than a policy decision),

(b) Tolerable because of enhanced technological capacity (though no one has demonstrated that larger classes with or without tech wizardry are better), or

© Not a problem for instructors (this is only claimed by administrators who never grade papers, try to have discussions in large classes, or advise students).

Unfortunately, class size is not the only thing that has gotten too big. Tenure-track faculty must conduct the routine business of their programs and departments, sit on college and university committees of all sorts, participate in shared governance, perform fund-raising, community outreach, student recruitment, curriculum design, all sorts of reviews and evaluations, attend many functions of university and professional organizations, advise student clubs, advise students in their majors (beyond advising those in their too-big classes), and so on.

Tenure-track faculty are expected to conduct research and produce scholarly books and articles (or the artistic equivalents). For this, in the CSU, we get no credit (in the currency of WTUs, which “account” for our
teaching and assigned duties.)

There are two main reasons for the growth of this administrative and service workload for people whose primary contribution is supposed to be teaching, advising, and research.

The first is that the administration of universities has also grown some 200 percent since the early 1990s. Every time a new VP, AVP, Director, Coordinator, etc., comes into existence, they spawn initiatives, committees, and programs that become their own raison d’être. Who staffs these activities? Tenure-line faculty.  

The second is that the percentage of a department’s entire teaching faculty that is tenure-track has gone down over the years. In some academic units, it stands at 30 percent, the remainder being com-prised of part-time, temporary Lecturers. Non-tenure-track faculty are not paid to do anything beyond teaching students and ad-vising the ones in their classes. Hence, they sit on no committees, conduct no program reviews, maintain no advising load, attend no organization functions, participate in no searches, and have no role in decision-mak-ing for their department, college, etc.

If ancillary work grows, and the number of faculty eligible to do it decreases, voilà, you get a workload problem.

The California Faculty Association opposes this state of affairs, this gross imbalance between the tenure-track and Lecturer faculty. It is not good for anyone—not the Lecturers, not the tenure-track, and not the students—except perhaps the administration, who now have a large pool of lower paid, impermanent, and precarious faculty. The situation gives management the “flexibility,” low-cost personnel, and efficiency that they prioritize over all other considerations.

The nostrums about quality of education and our mission of excellence are laughable in the face of this choice. Lecturers have no opportunity to become the ‘teacher-scholars’ so prized by the university, nor to meet the stringent tenure and promotion standards, assessment requirements, and other performance expectations placed on tenure-line faculty.  

How is it not a problem that people teaching over half the classes in the typical department do not participate in the life of the academy on an equal basis?  

Furthermore, the proliferation of poorly-paid, insecure Lecturer positions and dearth of tenure-track ones assures the eventual diminishment of the faculty pool in most disciplines, for what aspiring anthropologist or French literature special-ist wants to spend years and thousands of dollars on graduate school only to face such a job market?  

CFA does not, however, have a voice in determining the hiring policies of the university, though we have stated our opposition to the practice of hiring twice as many Lecturers as tenure-track professors. Even the CSU agrees that the ideal ratio of tenure-track faculty to Lecturers is more like 3:1, but their committee devoted to

“Tenure Density” has done nothing, and the past academic year saw the part-time faculty hiring spree intensify.  

CFA advocates for Lecturers, as for all faculty. That doesn’t mean CFA thinks it will be fine if the university continues on the course of hiring mostly Lecturers. We need to solve several interrelated problems of tenure density, workload, and lack of true academic freedom for contingent faculty.

We can let our legislators know the tenure density issue is a serious one, affecting students as well as the faculty. They, and all of us, should stand behind the CFA Bargaining Team as we negotiate with the Chancellor on the workload issue.