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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

Position title affects paycheck, not student approval

University treats non-tenure-track professors better than other schools do, profs. say

Students may not pay much attention to their course instructors’ official titles when picking classes, but faculty members said their tenure-track status influences their work experiences.

At Brown, professors and associate professors are tenured, which means that they are entitled to guaranteed job security and additional benefits at the University. Assistant professors are on the tenure track and, in most cases, are given eight years to earn their tenures. Non-tenure-track faculty members include lecturers and senior lecturers, while non-regular faculty members, such as visiting and adjunct professors, are hired on a temporary basis. Just 9 percent of regular faculty members are not on the tenure track, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.

“I do see a divide between the tenure-track faculty and the non-tenure-track faculty,” said Catherine Imbriglio, senior lecturer in English. “I do not feel that non-tenure-track faculty have as much status and respect in the University in practical terms, such as monetary and retirement compensation.”

Even among non-tenure-track faculty, divisions arise between regular and non-regular faculty members, Imbriglio said. Poor treatment of non-regular faculty members is “a problem in higher (education) that should be addressed,” she added.

Adjunct lecturers who are not hired on a full-time basis are not eligible for sabbatical or scholarly leaves, Imbriglio said. These faculty members are also not eligible to receive funds for travel and course development.

But many faculty members did not characterize the division between tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty as problematic, with several saying that the University cultivates strong relationships regardless of position.

“Brown treats (non-tenure-track faculty) very well,” said Susan Resnick, visiting lecturer in English, who is currently on a full-year contract. “We are treated with kindness.”

Being an adjunct or visiting professor at other institutions is “very tough” as those professors often receive low pay and do not get offices, Resnick added. But the University pays adjunct and visiting professors “one of the highest (salaries) per course across the country,” she said.

Non-tenure-track faculty members tend to stay for long periods of time, said Luther Spoehr, senior lecturer in education, who has been at the University since 1996.

Though contracts with non-regular faculty members only last for short spans of time, they are easily renewed from year to year, Imbriglio said, noting that some non-regular faculty members have been teaching at Brown for as long as 18 years. Lecturers and senior lecturers do not receive promotional benefits, such as salary increases, when they renew their contracts, she said. “It’d be great if such issues are addressed,” Imbriglio said.

Several faculty members highlighted a difference in the types of courses taught by tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members.

In the Department of French Studies, non-tenure-track faculty members teach language courses and tenure-track faculty members teach literature and civilization courses, said Lewis Seifert, professor of French studies and chair of the department.

Along the same lines, non-tenure-track faculty members usually teach introductory science courses and writing courses, Imbriglio said.

The two types of faculty have different responsibilities, Imbriglio said, noting that non-tenure-track faculty members do not have a research obligation.

Though faculty members may teach different types of courses depending on position, some administrators and course instructors praised Brown’s across-the-board focus on the quality of teaching.

“I am not convinced that there is a difference in the level of teaching quality between tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty,” said Kevin McLaughlin P’12, dean of the faculty.

“At Brown, teaching is a large part of the culture,” Spoehr said. “Tenured-track (faculty members) spend a lot of time on teaching.”

The University describes itself as a “university-college,” which suggests that the school is “not just about research,” Spoehr said. “Research-oriented tenure-track professors spend less time on teaching, but when they are teaching, most of the time they are quite effective.”

“Among the best teachers I know, some are in tenure-track positions, some are in non-tenure-track positions,” said John Stein, senior lecturer in neuroscience. Teaching quality “is not determined by their positions,” he added.

“Professors who are engaged in research actively want to teach undergraduates and are very concerned about their quality of teaching,” Seifert said.

But Imbriglio said she does not think “the University values teachers as much as it could.”

Students said faculty members’ titles and tenure status generally do not make a difference in their course selection.

Haley de la Rosa ’17, an intended education concentrator, said her two favorite course instructors are Zoe Langer GS, a teaching assistant in ITAL 0200: “Elementary Italian,” and Margary Martin, a visiting assistant professor in education, who is considered a non-regular faculty member.

“She is a very available professor,” Rosa said of Martin. “She matches every student with a mentor, and reaches out to the Providence community for youth events.”

“My professors who are doing research are much less engaging and don’t take ownership of the material they teach,” wrote computer science concentrator Susan Goldblatt ’14 in an email to The Herald.

“Sometimes it’s clear they didn’t make the slides they’re presenting or they haven’t programmed the languages they are teaching for many years,” she added.

Naishad I ’17, a history concentrator, said he did not know the difference between his professors’ titles, though he was aware that his Arabic instructor, Visiting Lecturer in Language Studies Alla Hassan, is not on the tenure track.

“If the professor is engaging, you become more interested in the subject and you will learn more,” he said.


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