Roach, Ronald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Career uncertain ninaers nnancia planning for hiaher ed faculty.
There's little doubt that the post- World War II boom in American higher education helped make the academic profession a highly attractive one for bright, ambitious and public-minded individuals. Propelled by substantial investment from the federal government, state governments, foundations and wealthy alumni, higher education institutions offered those entering the professorial ranks a life of riches, or at least one anchored firmly with middle to upper-middle class incomes, generous employment benefits and a lifetime of job security that came with academic tenure.
Since the 1970s, however, career prospects for young scholars have significantly changed. In 1975, full-time, tenure-track and tenured faculty held 45.1 percent of the teaching jobs in the nonprofit segment of U.S. higher education, according to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). By 2009, the AAUP reports, tenure-track and tenured faculty held just 24.4 percent of teaching positions, while contingent faculty - meaning full-time non-tenure-track faculty, part-time adjunct faculty or graduate student employees - held the rest.
"I'm actually amazed that the trend has continued to the point where we have 76 percent of all instructional positions that are [held by] non-tenure-track faculty, either part-time or full-time, or graduate [student] employees. . . . Unfortunately, the trend doesn't seem to be reversing," says John Curtis, the AAUP director of research and public policy.
For todays graduate students and young scholars, the financial and professional security once promised by a higher education career has given way to a riskier, less certain path where fewer than one in four teaching scholars attains the coveted tenure-track position. With years of schooling, the changing, less predictable career path for young Ph.D.s has made it difficult for them to plan financially, as previous generations of scholars were able todo.
Conditions for academic professionals have changed so much that the research institute of the higher education-focused financial services giant TIAACREF recently issued a paper, titled Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? The Increasingly Contingent Faculty Workforce, stating that with institutions now employing "majorities of contingent faculty, the established nature of governance, leadership, decision processes and careers in higher education will require substantial rethinking."
"It is hard not to view the contemporary faculty workplace as fraught. Arrangements, roles and responsibilities are in flux, and the faculty [members] are both agents and targets of fundamental shifts in the business models of higher education," University of Georgia professor James C. Hearn and researcher Mary Milan Deupree, the authors of the TIAA-CREF Institute paper, wrote.
Other experts have focused attention on what they see as a deteriorating state of affairs for faculty. "Today, many faculty members have no job security or expectation of employment beyond the current term. Many do not receive benefits, and their compensation is extremely low, averaging $2,700 per course, making it difficult to earn a living wage even when they can get consistent work," wrote Dr. Adrianna Kezar, a professor at the University of Southern California; Dr. David Longanecker, the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education president; and Daniel Maxey, a University of Southern California researcher, last month in an InsideHigherEd.com news website commentary.
"Recent reporting has exposed that some faculty members are living on food stamps. Only 25 percent of non-tenure-track faculty have any form of health insurance, and even those covered often have less than adequate coverage," the authors wrote.
Helping contingent faculty
Craig Smith, the deputy director for higher education at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), describes the opportunities for contingent faculty to access employee benefits and to participate in financial and retirement savings plans being largely dependent on the type of institution at which a faculty member works, faculty status and the state in which a faculty member works. He points out, however, that faculty members represented by unions typically fare better in pay and benefits than those who have no representation.
"It's clear that there's a wage premium and a benefit premium, as well as other benefits for those faculty who are in collective bargaining arrangements. That is, their pay per class tends to be higher; their access to health care or retirement benefits tends to be higher," Smith says.
The AFT represents between 70,000 and 75,000 contingent faculty and between 25,000 and 30,000 graduate [student] employees, which is more contingent faculty than any other union, according to Smith. He guesses that there are at least 100,000 contingent faculty organized in the United States, though they are easily outnumbered by unorganized faculty.
"We have locals that have been able to bargain for what we call full-time, non-tenure-track faculty in places like the University of California, where we represent all the lecturers, [and] the University of Michigan, where we've been able to bargain a career ladder," in which faculty members can negotiate progressively longer work contracts based on job performance, he explains.
There are a number of states that prohibit collective bargaining in higher education. Smith points out that there are a few states, such as Ohio, where state law allows full-time faculty to be unionized but does not grant part-time faculty the right to organize. He notes that state laws typically govern for public institutions the extent to which contingent faculty can participate in higher education benefits and retirement and other financial programs.
"If you look at the [research], it's more likely, if you're in a collective bargaining situation, that you're going to have more access to retirement benefits. ... In some places, we can bargain that. In other cases, we can't. If a system automatically says the only people who have access to retirement benefits are full-time employees, then it's not necessarily on the retirement provider," Smith says.
Dr. Cathy Trower, the research director of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says that while the growth in contingent faculty has led to difficult and uncertain career paths for many part-time adjunct faculty at certain institutions, the creation of full-time, non-tenure-track positions has opened up a highly satisfying career option for thousands. There are many scholars who seek to pursue either strictly research or strictly teaching jobs rather than having to work at both tasks as required in tenure-track positions, she notes. This option has been especially attractive to women scholars who are managing families and want the flexibility afforded by a nontenure-track job, says Trower.
"We have lecturers and senior lecturers at Harvard who are outside the tenure stream, and they've been here 20, 25 years or more. There are a lot of people who enjoy working outside the tenure stream," says Trower, who has held full-time, non-tenure research positions at Harvard for several years.
Getting back to basics
Despite there being a wide range of institutional conditions on which contingent faculty are building their financial futures, financial planning professionals report that they anticipate making adjustments to how they work with their clients. Giles A. Thompson, principal of the Lawrence, Kan.-based Thompson Financial Group firm, which specializes in working with academic and medical professionals, says that while his firm has not focused very much on contingent faculty members as clients, he notes that higher education spending cuts at public universities strongly signal that a large-scale transformation is taking place.
"Education is going to change in how it's delivered. And so even the tenure-track faculty of old are definitely under pressure. And how it all plays out in the foreseeable future will keep us guessing," Thompson says.
Mike Filbrandt, chairman of Filbrandt and Company, a Middleton, Wis. -based financial planning firm for academic professionals, says that his company has focused mostly on midcareer to senior-level retirement, tenure-track faculty members as clients. He says that with younger clients, some of whom are not tenure-track, it's been critical to focus on financial planning basics.
"Our older clients are concerned primarily about retirement income planning, and do they have enough money. The younger folks are trying to figure out how they can save for retirement. They're looking to try and figure out basic financial planning," Filbrandt says.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Tenuous Tenure. Contributors: Roach, Ronald - Author. Magazine title: Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Volume: 30. Issue: 6 Publication date: April 25, 2013. Page number: 14+. © 2008 Cox, Matthews & Associates. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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