From Seattle U Catalyst:
I have been thinking about faculty with contingent contracts for well over the last decade, when it became increasingly clear that the President and Provost of Seattle University began to hire an increasing number of faculty with precarious short-term contracts. Of course, SU is not alone in this move. A quick look at recent articles published in both the mainstream press such as The New York Times or specialized publications such as The Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed will reveal a very troubling trend. The arbitrary establishment of a two-tiered faculty has not gone unnoticed by professional organizations, with the lead taken by the Modern Language Association and the American Association of University Professors in trying to stem the tide and protect the integrity of the profession.
Like many colleagues across the country, I have come to conclude that this is bad for all universities, but it is particularly pernicious here at SU. Our very weak faculty governance bodies have made faculty vulnerable to all sorts of initiatives that weaken the university. Faculty can only advise, complain, and simmer while decisions such as the move to Divison-1 athletics to the termination of the German program affect our work, our lives, and the futures of our students.
And so, faculty stood by largely powerless while more and more faculty were hired on at-will temporary contracts. And we are powerless again while the university administration tries to solve its “budget shortfall” by cutting back on the faculty with contingent contracts. This action is ethically dubious. Most of the part-time faculty members who supported the move to unionization last year are the very people who face unemployment next year. It is illegal to target a single person who publicly supports a union and fire her or him, but it is OK to plead poverty and then not rehire (legally distinct from “fire”) the whole lot of them.
This is bad on so many levels. First, it implies that professors don’t matter, that we are a “dime a dozen,” that we can be hired and fired at will, that there will be a ready and willing supply of new professors waiting to take our place. This may sound odd, coming from a Professor who is both tenured and promoted. Why should I care? My job is safe. Well, I care because to disrespect one group of faculty—and we are all faculty, regardless of rank or tenure—is to disrespect us all.
It is disrespectful of students, too. It tells you this: send us your money so you can take classes from Professor Staff. You came to SU because you value small classes taught by top-notch professors. You will get a top-notch professor, but you may not ever see that person again. When you need a letter of recommendation, Professor Staff who thought your work was excellent, may not be around anymore to write that letter. She or he has moved on. And that department program that you came her for? Well, that may be gone, too. Top-notch universities are not fly-by-night, they know that a good education takes years and that means investing your tuition money in hiring and promoting professors who are here for the duration and who have a stake in making the university stronger, better, healthier.