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Tenure-Track Positions Becoming Less Common

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
October 15, 2009

As institutions of higher learning cut back on faculty hiring and order unpaid furloughs, tenure-track positions are becoming more difficult to obtain.

The Houston Chronicle reports that even the most qualified applicants are lowering their expectations. "At this point, I'll take anything I can get," said Samuel Condic, who recently accepted a temporary appointment to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy with a decade of experience in the oil and gas industry.

"Tenure-track is what you'd like to shoot for, but to be honest, I would be happy to have something that's full-time and permanent," he noted. "I don't have the luxury to be very selective."

According to John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, 68 percent of faculty jobs across the country are part-time or contract--called "adjunct"--rather than the more secure and desirable tenure-track positions. Adjunct positions typically don't include benefits, and the pay is substantially less than tenured positions.

"They don't have benefits," Curtis explained about adjunct professors. "But they also often don't have an office, a campus e-mail address, a telephone on campus. Because they're hired only on a limited basis, they're often not available to students outside of class time."

The Daily Iowan, the independent newspaper of the University of Iowa, reports that faculty members are concerned about the increase in non-tenured positions. Non-tenured faculty positions increased by 77 at the UI since last year, while tenured and tenure-track positions increased by only 15.

"Universities are finding it less expensive to make a shorter-term commitment to faculty," said Katherine Tachau, vice president of the UI's chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

But she added that tenured instructors are vital to universities and securing those positions should be a priority. "The basic reason [being tenured] matters is so teachers can pursue research and have the freedom to follow through on projects even when some people are uncomfortable with the results," she explained.

In a related story, Inside Higher Ed reports that the American Council of Learned Societies is responding to the difficult job market for professors by creating 50 fellowships for new Ph.D.'s in the humanities, who will be able to work at top colleges and universities for two years. Fellows will receive $50,000 plus $5,000 for research or travel, health insurance and a one-time $1,500 moving allowance.

Steven C. Wheatley, vice president of the ACLS, noted that this was the first time the organization was motivated to create fellowships because of a crisis in the job market. He expressed the hope that the move would inspire others "to do something, too."

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