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Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Staff Editorial: Evaluating the price of tenure

Term faculty deserve sustainable, equitable salaries and contracts

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's December 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here

We love our faculty here at American University. They are truly who make the AU experience fruitful. The salary gap between our full-time faculty, however, is unsettling. 

Academic tenure is an employment status for college educators. Tenure, as described by the University, is meant to, “Protect academic freedom, attract talented individuals to a secure life of scholarship/professional contributions, [and] ensure that due process … is employed if a tenured [faculty] is dismissed for cause.” Receiving tenure is a lengthy, challenging process. Tenured and tenure-track faculty perform “teaching, scholarship, and service.” They generally teach four classes a year, generate original research and maintain a campus presence with students. 

All full-time and part-time educators, who are not tenured or on a tenure-track, are either term-hired or adjunct faculty. Term faculty teach, may compose research and play “key roles” in the community. Sound familiar? The duties of term faculty may sometimes have more variety but can be nearly identical to tenured faculty.

Term faculty have significantly less job stability than tenured professors. Term faculty typically start at the University on a one-year contract. They can receive anything between a one and five-year contract, but typically at the end of each year, they must reapply for employment. After three years of one-year contracts, term faculty may apply for a three-year contract. Finally, in the sixth year of employment, term faculty may apply for continued employment. 

Educators should not be subject to the instability of a fixed-term contract. The University does not even need to provide cause to deny a term faculty member’s reapplication. Being annually unsure about your job status makes life planning incredibly difficult, yet fixed-term contracts are standard for most jobs in higher education. With these fixed-term contracts, there is also absolutely no guarantee that AU will transition faculty from a one-year contract, for example, to a three-year contract. 

In college, we tend to refer to all of our teaching faculty as professors, but this title is not all-encompassing. AU has four categories of full-time educators: professors, associate professors, assistant professors and instructors. According to data from the 2022-23 Academic Data Reference Book, tenured and tenure-track, full-time professors, associate professors and assistant professors earned an average salary of around $180,956, $125,254 and $119,984, respectively. While data does not exist for salaries for non-tenured, full-time educators of the same category, there is salary data for tenured, tenure-track and term-hired staff combined. Full-time professors, associate professors and assistant professors earn salary averages of $174,374, $118,337 and $107,989, respectively. These lower averages show that non-tenured salaries are significantly lower, enough to bring down the tenured average by thousands. These are faculty with the same job title and sometimes the same duties. There is no excuse for significantly lower pay. 

Besides salary differences, there is a big issue with tenure itself: it constrains tenured faculty into specific roles. We want the professors teaching our courses to be well-suited for teaching. There is no reason to force a researcher into a teaching position if they do not desire one. We advocate for more flexibility in the definition of tenure. Tenure positions should have options for faculty who want to only teach, only research, prioritize one over the other or do each evenly. Forcing tenure faculty into teaching positions not only breeds dissatisfaction in the professor but also hurts students in need of motivated teachers. 

We as students want what is best for our professors as they are the primary component of what makes an education here great. The University must listen to our educators’ suggestions for improving the hiring process. 

This article was written by Alexis Bernstein and edited by Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks.

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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