Running the Faculty Off the Tenure Track

Money isn't everything, but Massachusetts Board of Higher Education Chancellor Stanley Koplik is betting that it is. Koplik proposes that all Massachusetts state universities offer two options to newly hired faculty: the traditional tenure track or a nontenured, multiyear contract. For those who willingly leave the tenure track, Koplik is offering a pay increase of 8%.

And what does the university get in return? According to Koplik, the rapidly increasing role of distance learning, student demands for up-to-date and relevant information, and competition from nontraditional educators demand a fluid, and nontenured, university workforce. "The university must be able to move its resources into new areas, but all our costs are in tenured faculty," says Koplik. "It's a kind of paralysis."

Whether this "paralysis" can be cured by offering a second professional track is unclear. When asked by Next Wave if he could provide an example of a specific instance when tenured faculty members could not respond to needed changes in the educational system, Koplik allowed that he could not. "But in 25 years [in education], I have seen the process of removing an incompetent tenured professor tie a university in knots," he says. "We need a complete reexamination of the tenure system."

Psychology professor and faculty union vice president Patricia Markunas of Salem State College has no doubts about the purpose of the new proposal. "I think they are trying to cut back tenure," she says. Referring to the board's claims that the percentage of tenured faculty is "too high" in the Massachusetts system, Markunas replies, "They have created a problem." And if they wanted to solve the problem in a "dignified and respectful way," she argues, "they would have accepted our proposal for an early retirement program. But the governor has vetoed it four times."

Despite the union's criticism, Koplik is convinced that there is a demand for multiyear contracts among new faculty. "Many younger people prefer the contract route," he tells Next Wave. "They are more confident in their marketability."

But not all young scientists agree. "I think it's terrible!" says Thomas Baumgarte, a postdoc in astrophysics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "Really, that would make it a well-paid postdoc."

Koplik also sees the contracts as attractive to faculty members who are primarily interested in teaching or those in high-demand fields like information technology and health. Markunas agrees: "The only person I can imagine taking that deal would be someone with an outside job."

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