Thursday, December 13, 2007

 

Halfway

This week I ran into another of those “the policies make sense, but the application is silly” scenarios. A wonderful, well-credentialed, hardworking, and well-respected leader of the full-time staff asked me about redefining her job so that it would include a half-time teaching component in her field of expertise. (It's a relatively specialized area, and her academic credentials are more than good enough. She has taught courses for us on an adjunct basis, and done an outstanding job.) We're currently doing a search in her field of expertise, so it wouldn't involve creating a job out of thin air.

Under our current system, it can't be done. You can be faculty with release time to do some admin work on the side, or you can be admin/staff and teach as an adjunct. But you can't be half and half. (That's why deans here don't carry faculty rank or tenure. When I teach a class, it's on an adjunct basis.) Your primary function has to be on one side or the other.

Grumble.

Tenure is the single biggest sticking point. Under our system, any full-time employee for whom teaching is a part of their regular job – as opposed to something additional – accrues credits towards tenure. At a certain point, that employee is either awarded tenure or fired. Someone whose job is half faculty and half staff would get tenure in half her job (or get fired from half her job). If the other half of her job didn't work out, she'd have half a job, but with full benefits and lifetime security. From the college's perspective, that doesn't work.

There's also an issue with dual union membership. The staff has one union, and the faculty another. (Each is affiliated with a different larger union, too.) Someone who is half-and-half would be under separate and sometimes conflicting contracts. (She'd also have to pay two sets of dues, though I file that under 'her problem.')

Defining workload would be tricky. It couldn't just be a matter of setting aside, say, six hours a week from the office job to teach. Full-time faculty teach fifteen hours per week, yet get full-time status. We don't count teaching hours on a one-to-one basis towards workload. I don't begrudge that; having been faculty, I understand that class prep and grading and committees take time. As long as someone is purely in a faculty role, it's really a non-issue. But straddling the two camps means having to convert – literally, mathematically, convert – class time to total hours of worktime per week. Nobody really wants to have that conversation, since there's no elegant way to do it. Do you only count semester weeks, or do you factor in summer and winter vacations, too, since staff don't get those? What about preparation days? Sabbaticals? I get a headache just thinking about it.

(These issues don't arise when the staffer works a full-time staff job, then picks up an adjunct course at night. In that case, the adjunct course is paid at the adjunct rate, and that's that. She has done that, but is trying to avoid it to avoid a crushing overall workload.)

The shame of it is that, in many ways, it's a great idea. The students would get the benefit of learning from someone in the field. We'd get the benefit of keeping a great staff person who is also excellent in the classroom. She'd get the benefit of doing what she loves and still getting home at a reasonable hour. And over the long term, I suspect the college as a whole would benefit as some of the negative stereotypes that faculty and staff have of each other would melt away.

But nooo.

The optimist in me says that 'halfway' positions like this make too much sense not to happen eventually. But the realist in me isn't holding my breath.



Comments:
If a full-time person teaches 30 semester hours per year, then if your staff person teaches 15 per year, her staff job should entail 20 hours per week -- all year. I know my "breaks" don't actually exist as a faculty member, the students just go away.

The tenure part is much more difficult. Couldn't you arrange to pay her at the full-time rate for the courses she's teaching, with the expectation that she do .5 of the regular non-teaching faculty reponsibilities? She wouldn't be earning tenure -- but she would be teaching.

I suppose the tenure could be earned, but only used if the person's job converts to full-time teaching.

I don't suppose you could play budget games to convert her staff position to a release-time obligation and then hire her as a full-time faculty member with a 50% release?
 
I looked into doing this myself at my institution. Everyone was willing to negotiate the terms of the agreement, though we didn't get into the nitty gritty. As I thought about it, though, I thought that both sides would simply take advantage of me. The English department would have me teaching classes no one else wanted to teach and not in my exact field (since we don't really do composition) and my current department would have me doing grunt work that I hate since that's easier to divide up. If I could get release time in my department to teach the one class a year I usually teach, that would be nice. I'm paid at the adjunct rate, but then I'm expected to continue a full time work week for just my regular job. If I could even get 5 hours/week release time that would help.

We have the benefit of having continuing non-tenure track positions, which is what I would qualify as. A lot of the full t-t people don't like these positions but they're useful for just the kind of thing you're talking about.
 
The dual union membership isn't really "her problem." Because there are other issues besides two sets of dues (overlapping benefits, for example) it is something that should be worked out in the collective agreements of both unions.
 
At my SLAC, a number of Deans and Provosts continue to hold Faculty appointments (usually Chairs) and teach a course or two a semester. This works out great for all parties involved: they still get to teach (which they love) and the students get the benefit of top-notch faculty.

Not sure how all of the union stuff works, but I know that it's the case for more than one faculty member here...
 
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