TBR: ETSU has lowest number of tenured teachers in system

Nathan Baker • Jul 21, 2014 at 10:39 AM

In the midst of a multi-year budget squeeze, East Tennessee State University’s proportion of teachers granted tenure status is the lowest among four-year institutions governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, but administrators say that’s attributable to the medical and research colleges associated with the university.

Percent of total faculty tenured:

Austin Peay State University60.061.060.0
East Tennessee State University54.054.054.0
Middle Tennessee State University59.461.463.2
Tennessee State University75.170.871.7
Tennessee Tech University76.671.169.2
University of Memphis63.055.055.0
At the TBR’s quarterly board meeting last month, the regents examined and approved tuition rates and faculty tenure recommendations for each of the schools under the board’s purview, among other things.

Included in the information packet given to the regents and published on the TBR’s website were the percentage of tenured faculty members at each college, with ETSU at the bottom of the four-year universities at 54 percent.

As public higher education funding has shifted away from state contributions over the course of the last few decades and landed more squarely on the shoulders of students in the form of tuition increases, professors have more frequently decried institutional reliance of part-time, or adjunct, faculty to fill roles formerly held by tenured, and therefore higher paid, teachers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the proportion of tenured staff at public four-year universities in the U.S. fell from 56.3 percent in 1993 to 47.9 percent in 2010, a trend highlighted on the Johnson City campus last year when rumors of cost-cutting measures at ETSU led custodians and other staff to fear for their jobs.

“There are so many adjunct faculty who are not given the increase, and they’re increasing the lecturer positions, they’re not hiring new tenure-track faculty and they’re encouraging online teaching,” Slocumb Galleries Director Karlota Contreras-Koterbay said during an October rally for the university’s custodians.

But ETSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Bert C. Bach said Friday that the numbers presented to the TBR last month are skewed lower because of the medical functions of the university.

According to TBR policy, faculty members can be on tenure track, which provides a higher amount of employment security once tenure is granted, or they can be on clinical or research tracks, which aren’t counted in the provided statistics, but can later be converted to tenured positions.

“If we added the numbers of faculty members in those types of positions, which are not characteristic of universities that don’t have the same health mission we do, the percentage of full-time tenure track faculty positions increases to 73 percent, which is identical to the school with the highest percentage,” Bach said.

Those clinical- and research-based positions account for approximately 150 position at ETSU, he said.

ETSU does employ a number of adjunct faculty and lecturers, he said, but that proportion must stay within a certain range to meet TBR and other accrediting bodies’ standards.

“Obviously, as we look at budgetary challenges, our departments are going to look at their staffing plans and the costs associated with adjunct or temporary faculty verses full-time faculty members,” Bach said. “Having said that, we’re still responsible for meeting the (Commission on Colleges) standards as well as those of specialized accrediting agencies.”

Bach said the use of temporary professors varies from year to year, based on ETSU’s needs.

During the TBR’s June meeting, he pointed out, the regents approved tenure for 26 faculty members recommended by the university.

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