College bucks national trend away from tenure

by Allyson Bennett | 11/30/07 3:12am

While a recent analysis conducted by the American Association of University Professors concluded that nationwide tenure-track faculty hold a minority of positions at universities, Dean of Faculty Carol Folt says that the number of tenure-track positions at Dartmouth is actually increasing.

In the 1970s, only 43 percent of professors nationwide held adjunct positions -- either part-time positions or full-time positions without tenure. After studying data released by the federal Department of Education, the association concluded that approximately 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities now hold adjunct positions, according to a recent New York Times article.

Financial pressures and institutions' desire for increased flexibility in hiring, firing and course offerings may have contributed to this trend, the New York Times reported.

Dartmouth, however, has increased tenure-track positions by converting previously non-tenured positions into tenure-track positions and by raising funds for new professorships through the capital campaign, Folt said.

Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Humanities Katherine Conley said that the steady growth in the number of tenure-track faculty members at the College represents Dartmouth's commitment to undergraduate education because tenure-track faculty are generally required to have higher qualifications than non-tenure track faculty.

"We put a premium on giving the best quality education that we can to our students," Conley said. "It's a top priority."

One reason why the College may add tenure-track faculty positions is if student interest in that department exceeds the department's capacity to meet demand, Conley said. Such departmental growth will be largely incremental, according to Conley, because the College must believe that the increased popularity of the department will persist before it hires new tenure-track faculty members.

"[Adding new faculty] is a slow process because sometimes there are higher enrollments in one field at one time, but it's not a steady change," Conley said. "It's a very measured decision."

Conley said that language departments may be particularly prone to fluctuations in student interest, as students' desire to study a particular interest is often based on the political and economic circumstances of the time, citing the current demand for Chinese and Arabic language courses as an example.

If a department believes that the increased interest may be a temporary phenomenon, it may be more likely to meet student need by hiring non-tenure track faculty rather than tenure-track.

"A tenure-track position is a lifelong commit," Conley said. "It's a lifelong commitment to an individual and to what the individual teaches, so it's a big decision. It's not made lightly or easily."

In addition to the reasons given by Conley, Folt said that Dartmouth may also hire non-tenure track faculty to cover for tenure-track faculty when they are on leave or when the College is searching for new faculty to replace a professor who leaves the College.

The number of non-tenure track and visiting professors and the number of classes taught by such professors varies every year depending on the College's need and on each professor's course load, which can range from one to six classes.