Making Tracks: Using Nontenure Faculty Tracks to Attract Skilled Professionals and Boost Job Satisfaction

Article excerpt

TENURE-TRACK POSITIONS at higher ed institutions are not always the most sought-after jobs on campus. At least, not lately.

Highly skilled scientists, researchers, and other professionals are opting for nontenure track positions, which enable them to focus on research instead of teaching and avoid the "publish or perish" lifestyle stresses. These positions carry titles like assistant or associate professor and boost their status with peers, while offering life balance and expanding their abilities to obtain top research grants. Some universities are only too happy to oblige.

Back in June 2008, the University of Iowa implemented a nontenure track for research scientists, says Tom Rice, associate provost for faculty. The estimated 30 researchers in the track can't teach a class or chair a graduate dissertation. But they can guest lecture in their area of expertise or work side-by-side with graduate students. Just as important, their new titles carry weight with funding agencies and open doors to win prestigious grants.

"This track is available to our 11 colleges," explains Rice, adding that the colleges of medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy voted to offer it. "There was some opposition to the track in our faculty senate. They had a natural concern about the growing number of nontenured track faculty ... that the influence of tenured faculty on campus would diminish."

Officials tackled those concerns by implementing new policies. For example, Rice shares, each track is capped at 10 percent of the tenured faculty in the college. Since these faculty can't teach, there aren't any more fears about them snatching classes away from tenured professors. What hasn't changed is the need for strong academic credentials. Whether tenured or nontenured, job requirements are the same. "We're taking this step by step," he says. A recent questionnaire found that most are happy with the track but want job expectations m be further defined. "There really are no significant downsides.... It makes [them] more competitive for outside [grant] money and gives them prestige in their lab that they were lacking as research scientists."

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STRONG EVIDENCE

Over the past several years, the American Council on Education conducted a series of surveys with 158 different U.S. colleges and universities. More than half of respondents wanted flexibility with their career path, adding that their school is trying to better integrate nontenure faculty into department life by involving them in curriculum development and various committees that govern their institutions.

Likewise, the Association of American Medical Colleges has seen enormous growth in this area, partially fueled by budget concerns. "Investing in tenure-track faculty is very expensive," explains R. Kevin Grisby, a psychiatry professor for 26 years who is now senior director of leadership and talent development at AAMC. "There has been less willingness to bring people in and agree to support them for the rest of their lives."

Although nontenure track faculty positions are fairly exclusive to science and medicine, he believes they will eventually spill over into other disciplines. Meanwhile, he says such positions offer younger generations more freedom to spend time with their families without being encumbered by classroom lectures or introductory coursework assignments.

Years ago, Grisby turned down a tenure track job at Yale in favor of a nontenure track appointment. He wrote his own research grants that supported his salary for six years. At that time, he says it was called a "junior faculty" position.

The concept has been around for decades, he says, adding that nontenure tracks have simplified the process for bringing skilled professionals on board. "[These individuals] are highly trained and competent researchers," Grisby says. "They're not guaranteed a job for life or evaluated after six years and told it's either up or out. …