UP CLOSE: Off the tenure track, faculty grapple with instability and inequality

UP CLOSE: Off the tenure track, faculty grapple with instability and inequality

Published on April 26, 2017

On his computer, Timothy Robinson GRD ’94, a lecturer in the English Department, keeps a record of his employment history. The lengthy spreadsheet illustrates, in his words, that he has been “hired and fired” by the University more than 40 times since he began teaching at Yale in 1995.

But for Robinson, who signs semesterly contracts with the University contingent upon course enrollment, job security is not his sole concern — each year, benefits like summer health care and career advancement opportunities are not a given.

Still, Robinson maintains he has the best job in the world.

“Every morning I pinch myself to remind myself that I’m awake and I’m actually going to Yale University to teach the best students in the world the best literature in the world,” he said.

Robinson is one of 410 nonladder faculty members — the 38 percent of professors who are ineligible for tenure — in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which comprises Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Compared to tenure-track faculty members, nonladder instructors — who hold titles such as lector, lecturer, senior lector I or II, senior lecturer and visiting or research scholar — receive lower wages, fewer benefits and less recognition.

Interviews with a dozen nonladder faculty reveal a shared internal conflict: On one hand, these teachers remain at Yale out of a love for their jobs and their students, but on the other, unequal treatment often leaves them questioning whether Yale is where they belong. Five out of 21 faculty members interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retribution due to their lack of job security, and several more declined to be interviewed for the same reason.

Nonladder faculty play an increasingly large role in the lives of undergraduates. Found predominantly in foreign language departments and introductory mathematics and English courses, they also serve as advisors and mentors. And their numbers will soon grow with the expansion of Yale College by 800 students over the next four years.

“Nonladder faculty are an integral part of Yale’s educational mission,” University President Peter Salovey said in an interview last week. “My goal is to continue to create opportunities for these important professionals to play vital roles at Yale and to have rewarding careers here.”

Yet there is little consensus among faculty and administrators over the mitigation of differences between the ladder and nonladder tracks in terms of salary, benefits and recognition. As Yale preps to hire more nonladder faculty, and opposition to these differences grows, will the two-track structure be made more equitable? And, more fundamentally, should it?

GRASPING FOR TANGIBLE BENEFITS

For decades, only nonladder faculty were prohibited from eating free lunches in Yale’s dining halls. It was not until 2012 that nonladders could join their tenure-track colleagues and their students for meals in the residential colleges.

“We had to fight really long and really hard to be given the same free lunch privilege that ladder faculty have,” said senior lector in French Ruth Koizim.

But lunches are just the beginning. The FAS Senate, a 22-member representative body formed in 2015, released a 64-page report this month on the status, pay and conditions of nonladder faculty. The report, containing data collected from 237 nonladder respondents to a February survey and a comprehensive list of recommendations, highlighted widespread faculty concerns about tangible discrepancies in salaries, support for research and travel, paid family and professional development leave.

“The expectations for nonladder language-teaching faculty at Yale have risen exponentially in recent years but with no corresponding increase in their compensation,” said longtime Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations professor Benjamin Foster GRD ’75.

(Photo by Deniz Saip)

Although Yale began hiring nonladder faculty to teach introductory and supplementary courses — for example, in English and foreign languages — today’s nonladders do more teaching and advising work, which faculty members say has changed how nonladder faculty view their roles at the University.

Charles Long, a former deputy provost who retired in 2010 after 45 years at the University, said language department lectors were originally called “native informants” to help students improve their speaking skills, but their responsibilities have since grown beyond basic language courses and most now hold Ph.D.s.

Long added that the situation of nonladder scientists and writing instructors is similar — the University once hired them to run labs and teach basic English courses, but over the decades, the duties and involvement of nonladder faculty have both expanded.

According to the senate survey, 63 percent of all nonladder respondents hold doctoral degrees, 14 percent hold master’s degrees and 5 percent hold bachelor’s degrees.

While nonladder faculty members maintain that they dedicate hours of teaching and advising to the University, many administrators and professors — and some nonladders themselves — argue that the jobs of those on and off the tenure-track are fundamentally different in nature.

“The teaching part is very demanding,” Spanish senior lector II Sybil Alexandrov said. “Language classes meet five days a week, and people assume we teach only the hours we’re in the classroom but that’s not the truth. We work seven days a week, over eight or nine hours a day.”

Alfred Guy, an English lecturer and director of the Yale College Writing Center, said that he has traveled to many other universities to compare writing requirements, and found overwhelmingly that in schools where the writing requirement requires the most work from the professors, those who taught the classes — the equivalent of Yale’s English 114 or 120 — were “95 out of 100 times nonladder faculty.”

According to mathematics lecturer John Hall, the largest introductory courses in the department, like Math 112, 115 and 120 are taught by nonladder faculty.

Explanations for why Yale continues to recruit so many nonladders varied among faculty and administrators interviewed. Dean of the FAS Tamar Gendler said decisions about faculty hiring are made for academic reasons. One English lecturer who requested anonymity speculated that hiring nonladders is more cost-effective for the University. University Provost Benjamin Polak, who oversees Yale’s budget, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“We have nonladder people because it’s all about money and commitment,” said Bill Summers, a longtime history of science and medicine and molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor. “What it amounts to is that the only reliable income stream we have here is tuition and endowment, and so Yale’s commitment to other activities that are not involved with that is transient.”

PAY, PAID LEAVE AND CONTRACT RENEWAL

Nonladders point to other inequities in benefits between ladder and nonladder faculty, like shorter parental leave and application-only research leave.

“[Parental leaves have] increased since I’ve been here — I think when I started there was none, then two weeks, now maybe six weeks,” Spanish lector Alexandrov said. “But graduate students and ladder faculty get a whole semester. To my knowledge, we are not biologically different.”

According to the Provost’s Office website, tenure-track faculty are relieved of their teaching duties for an entire academic semester, with no loss of salary or benefits, within the first year of the birth or adoption of a child. Nonladder faculty members, on the other hand, can only take up to eight weeks off.

Ladder and nonladder faculty members also face different paths to receiving professional development. While tenure-track faculty members are automatically eligible to take a sabbatical after completing six consecutive years of full-time faculty activity, there is no equivalent option for nonladders. Faculty members off the ladder can apply for paid professional development leave for one semester, but these opportunities are limited.

In the senate’s survey, 90 percent of respondents said they had never taken a professional development leave, 9 percent had taken one and 1 percent had taken two.

Beyond these hurdles, Hall said there are structural reasons which make it harder for nonladders to take time off, such as nonladders’ focus on regular teaching as opposed to research.

Long stated that the leave system is logically not identical for faculty on and off the ladder, because ladder faculty members need to do research in order to make tenure, while nonladders do not.

Although nonladders are expected to publish work and attend conferences, Foster said they are given little financial support to do so. Multiple nonladders, like Alexandrov, said they attend conferences only if they receive University funding. An anonymous German professor told the News that the Center for Language Study tries to provide funding for one conference attendance a year, but that individual language departments do not.

(Photo by Deniz Saip)

Still, most nonladder faculty members do think about professional development, according to the FAS Senate’s survey. Fifty-one percent of respondents identified career advancement as a key priority, and several respondents cited lack of career advancement opportunities as the “reason why they were contemplating leaving a position in which they were otherwise happy and fulfilled.”

The senate survey also uncovered other inconsistencies in the review and promotion process. The survey found that 37 percent of question respondents held three-year contracts, while 29 percent held single-year contracts, 15 percent held five-year contracts and 4 percent were on semesterly contracts.

“I’ve now had 20 years of one-year appointments,” an anonymous humanities professor told the News. “I know people who have taught for 40-plus years of single-year appointments. … It would be nice if there were some way that after a certain number of years of one-year appointments, you might just get a multiple-year appointment. It would seem on the surface that if you’ve had 20 one-year appointments, maybe things are going okay.”

Three of the 10 nonladders interviewed for this story explicitly said they have not been informed of Yale’s standards for contract review, despite having regularly published research, created and developed courses and received positive feedback from students.

“While I really am grateful to be here and enjoy what I do, the decisions that are made as to my employment, salary and benefits are not based upon any merit that I’m aware of,” Robinson said. “They are based upon some other criterion that I’m totally unaware of and not exposed to, whereas ladder faculty have a very orderly series of review and advancement and promotion.”

According to Edward Kamens, a professor of East Asian languages and literatures and director of graduate studies of Spanish and Portuguese who served as the first chair of the Language Study Committee from 1997 to 2000, equalizing the review process is important for those on and off the ladder, as it combats complacency and encourages innovation in teaching by recognizing excellence. He cited the creation of the rank of “senior lector II” as a way to encourage nonladder faculty members, like those on the ladder, to innovate and contribute nationally to academia.

Classics professor and senate Chair Emily Greenwood, who co-chaired the nonladder report, said the recent survey confirmed that length of service does not seem to have any significant bearing on increase in salary for nonladders.

“The good thing is, I’m paid more than my mother’s cleaning woman,” Koizim said. “But my colleague who’s been here 15 years is paid the same as my mother’s cleaning woman.”

The senate report called the topic of salary “nuanced,” contrasting the fact that “low salary” was cited as an impediment by a relatively low 13 percent of survey respondents, while 75 percent of respondents cited compensation as the best potential enhancement of their experience of Yale.

Koizim said she has been teaching at Yale since 1982 and can depend on a yearly salary increase of about 1 or 1.5 percent, a relatively negligible increase when taking into account inflation and the rising cost of living in New Haven.

ABOVE ALL, RESPECT

It is not just about the benefits, nonladder faculty say. Lack of recognition and inclusion — within departments and from ladder-track faculty — is one of the most common concerns among nonladders. Nonladders said they feel their status is “second-class” compared to tenure-track professors, and exclusion and disrespect even in their own departments are barriers to feeling as valuable to Yale as ladders.

In Kamens’ office in the Hall of Graduate Studies hangs a portrait of his college Japanese teacher. This was her office, he explains, at a time when some nonladder faculty held offices in the same building as tenure-track professors. But for the most part, he said, the department’s nonladders had separate offices on Temple Street, and the paths of these two groups did not cross unless there was a full departmental meeting.

“It’s a somewhat abstract but physical manifestation of what can be some of the obstacles to this integration,” he said.

Faculty noted that the work of nonladders does not necessarily translate into inclusion in department decisions. Nonladder faculty are not allowed to vote in department meetings, and their attendance is at the discretion of the department chair. It was not until about 2005, Koizim recalled, that nonladder faculty were even allowed to attend Yale College faculty meetings.

Long, a former deputy provost, agreed that this change in the rules, originally allowing senior lectors in their second terms to vote in their departments, had a twofold purpose: “[To] show proper recognition and respect for them and acknowledge that they are a really important part of the teaching of Yale College students. And secondly, because they do a lot of teaching and know students well, this allows us to take advantage of their wisdom when making decisions about the curriculum, et cetera.”

(Valeria Villanueva)

Still, individual departments may or may not allow nonladders to attend meetings, which many consider an act of exclusion. Even though untenured faculty cannot vote on decisions like appointments and promotion, they maintain that an invitation itself would be meaningful.

Long recalled that some departments once held two sets of meetings, one general and then one open to only tenure-track faculty — a system he said generally worked well. He added that another method was to have every faculty member come to department meetings and then dismiss all of the nontenured faculty at a certain point, which he said was socially uncomfortable.

“There’s very much an upstairs-downstairs feeling, and it’s okay if you’re upstairs,” a language professor said. “But if you’re downstairs, it’s not so great.”

While Long said it is important for departments to do their best to reduce the sense that “only tenured or only ladder faculty really matter,” other faculty members interviewed reported feeling this sense acutely.

Murray Biggs, an adjunct professor of English and theater, said the problem is less about how nonladder faculty personally feel than how they are regarded by fellow professors, “whose training and habits of thought make it hard for them to see inside their colleagues’ work.”

The varied nature of the work across departments and divisions — even if they all share the nonladder designation — reduces the chance of finding common ground, he said.

“I know that there has always been, and I’m afraid always will be, a sense that they are a lesser kind of faculty in a disciplinary department in a research institution,” Long said. “I think it’s kind of inevitable.”

Guy, the English lecturer, said that out of the six teaching awards given out each year, only one goes to nonladder faculty. The senate report, similarly, advocates for increasing the number of nonladder teaching prizes by three or four each year, which it noted would be at very little extra cost.

Nonladders say that while recognition is important, inclusion is arguably more so.

Kamens said that it is a significant step forward in terms of inclusivity that nonladder faculty are able to attend and sometimes vote at faculty meetings, as well as serve on the 22-member senate, which currently has two nonladder faculty members: Koizim and Hebrew senior lector II Shiri Goren.

Koizim said that one of the most “heartbreaking and heartwarming” elements of working on the senate’s nonladder report was the response of the faculty members, many of whom remarked that this was the only, or one of few, instances that they had been approached to share their experiences.

“There were survey respondents who said, ‘I’ve been teaching at Yale for 20 years, this is the first time anyone has asked me what I think. Thank you for doing this, thank you for giving me a voice,’” Koizim said. “I love what Yale could be, I don’t think I love what Yale is becoming, and I’m going to fight that.”

DIFFERENT NAMES FOR EQUAL WORK?

Even within departments where faculty members on and off the ladder work alongside each other, they often work to meet very different expectations.

According to Gendler, all ladder faculty members are expected to contribute to the University through their research and through their teaching, whereas nonladder faculty members are expected to show expertise in one of those domains or the other but “do not have jobs that are comprehensive in that regard.” And Salovey said that generally, nonladder faculty members are best employed to teach in areas that require “special pedagogical expertise,” such as foreign languages, or where it is difficult to find ladder-faculty instructors.

In language departments, tenure-track professors publish research and write in English while nonladder faculty scholarship in those departments is usually about pedagogy and teaching methodology, Kamens said. These differences mean that the two tracks of faculty take different approaches, are evaluated and critiqued differently and are also received differently in academia.

While nonladder faculty members campaign to make their voices heard and improve their work conditions, many administrators and even peers maintain that the problem is not with inequity, but rather with the idea that faculty members who are on two different tracks should expect to receive equal benefits.

Gendler said that at the medical school, for instance, there is a huge range of faculty positions spanning research, teaching, clinical and voluntary roles, and there is much more “familiarity with the idea that different roles bring with them different responsibilities and different modes of compensation,” which is less present in FAS culture.

“Most [nonladders] are part-time, and it’s often said that they’re exploited by universities demanding more work for less pay,” Biggs said. “That may well happen. But it’s the ladder people who have to do the really time-consuming administrative and committee work.”

The German professor suggested the problem lies with the nonladder position itself.

“I think the lector position is too diverse,” she said, referring to the span of educational background and research responsibilities within the nonladder category. “We can’t have the same benefits for everyone when we have different backgrounds.”

The senate’s report notes that it would be useful to have data to see how Yale’s treatment of its nonladder faculty compares to that of its peer institutions, but its “efforts have been frustrated by the fact that elite private universities guard data on non-tenure-track faculty jealously and any data that is publicly available tends to be poor.”

The Association of American University Presses’ Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession for 2015–16 found that tenured faculty members make up about 21 percent of the academic labor force, tenure-track faculty members make up just over eight percent and non-tenure-track faculty members make up 71 percent, up from 62 percent in 2013.

Most of the information that places Yale in context with other universities is therefore anecdotal. Long said he knows from personal experience that the “cadre of nonladder faculty at Yale are better prepared, more carefully hired and better paid” than they are at other institutions. Robinson acknowledged that his “plight” is much better than that of nonladder faculty at the University of Connecticut or New York University who, for financial reasons, must teach around 10 courses each year.

Guy, who came from NYU and has reviewed the writing programs at many universities, said that in a comparative context, Yale is a “very, very fine place to be a nonladder faculty.” He said that when he worked at NYU 25 years ago, people were paid much less for a full semester of teaching than even Yale’s minimum. He added that in terms of writing faculty, Yale nonladders earn 50 percent more per class than anywhere else he has reviewed.

“Relative to this world of teaching off the ladder, Yale is a great place,” Guy said. “People who teach off the ladder at Yale don’t have to have second jobs if they can teach two classes a term here because there’s decent money and benefits. … They don’t have job security, but putting that aside it’s a nice place to teach.”

The German professor said she turned down her last tenure-track job offer because Yale was doing a better job. She cited Yale’s “perks,” such as lunch privileges, being provided a laptop and having office space.

Hall, who previously taught at Harvard, said that a big difference between the two schools is that Harvard has an eight-year lifetime cap on nonladder faculty, with some exceptions, meaning that a nonladder cannot stay as long there as many do at Yale.

A senate survey question about supplemental income found that 24 percent of respondents do summer teaching at Yale, and many others do writing, editing, consulting and summer teaching elsewhere to complement their salary.

Veronika Grimm, a retired classics professor who started teaching at Yale in her 60s, said Yale was a fine place to work after teaching at several universities, but mostly because she was not making her living from it.

“I was quite happy with my place there and most of the time I was feeling very much a part of the department, but of course it helped that I already ran a full career in academics,” Grimm said. “I would not have done it if I was younger.”

“A TEACHER IS A TEACHER”

Still, the distinction between ladder and nonladder faculty means very little to the majority of students. Faculty members believe the terminology is a moot point inside the classroom, and for the most part, students seem to agree: Only two out of 10 students informally surveyed by the News said they had heard the term “nonladder” before or knew what it meant.

“It doesn’t necessarily have a bearing for me on how seriously I take the class or how much I enjoy it,” Diksha Brahmbhatt ’18 said. “A teacher is a teacher.”

All of the nonladder faculty interviewed said their students refer to them as professors and seem to not know that they are technically lectors or lecturers. The German professor said she once tried to explain the difference and her students did not understand.

Still, many nonladders say they believe students should care, but not out of pity.

Koizim said she knows many of her students are concerned with the working conditions of dining hall and maintenance staff at Yale, and that most undergraduates are interested in issues of pay equity, diversity and gender equality. Koizim noted that a higher percentage of nonladder faculty are minority groups and women than ladder faculty.

(Valeria Villanueva)

Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said students should be invested in the topic simply because nonladder faculty members are “joined with ladder faculty in teaching them.” He said that he suspects students often do not know which faculty members are on or off the ladder, so their investment should be in who is teaching and advising them, regardless of rank.

Like Gendler, Holloway acknowledged the differences between adjuncts and multiyear nonladder instructors. He emphasized that the growing national phenomenon of “adjunctification,” in which fewer classes are taught by tenure-track faculty, does not apply to Yale because unlike many other institutions, the University does not use nonladder faculty or adjuncts to teach courses that could be taught by full professors.

“Students should pay attention to the larger phenomenon in higher education,” Holloway said. “Something that Yale has structurally mostly avoided is the … expansion of adjuncts teaching. We don’t do that here. We hire our lecturers to work for multiyear appointments and we pay them significantly more than what adjunct faculty get paid.”

MORE STUDENTS, MORE FACULTY HIRES

Gendler said there will be 13 incremental full-time equivalent hires this fall, meaning at least 13 more nonladders will be hired this year than in regular years, with between 10 and 15 more tenure-track offers being made than usual. John Mangan, senior associate dean of the FAS, said the administration is in the process of adding the equivalent of five new nonladder positions in the humanities, two in the social sciences and six to eight in the sciences.

The anticipated increase in nonladder numbers was one of the factors that spurred the senate’s report this year, said Greenwood.

“The senate is concerned about the additional burden that increased class sizes, student mentoring, and advising duties will place on members of the nonladder faculty who are already doing work that is not part of their job description and for which they receive no additional compensation, a situation compounded by job insecurity, low recognition and relatively low salaries,” the report read.

Already, the Yale College Dean’s Office has announced changes to the freshman and sophomore residential college advising system for the incoming freshman class, making nonladder faculty eligible to serve in the permanent pool of advisors even though they have been doing so on an ad hoc basis for decades.

According to Gendler, some of the report’s proposed changes can be implemented without redirecting resources, and others would require careful consideration of the allocation of funds given to the FAS Dean’s Office, and therefore are less likely to take shape.

“I am very happy to make it clear to the chairs who oversee the 53 departments and programs that make up the FAS that part of their responsibility is to make sure that all of the faculty in their department or program, whether they are on the ladder or not, feel affirmed and included and recognized for their contributions,” Gendler said. “Learning from some of my nonladder colleagues that that has not been their experience in particular departments is sobering to me.”

Nearly all faculty members interviewed agreed that culture and circumstances vary so much across disciplines that changes not pertaining to the office of the FAS dean or provost should be made on a departmental basis.

Mangan said the report shows that work needs to be done, but significant strides have been made.

The FAS Dean’s Office has launched a two-year pilot program of conference travel grants for nonladder faculty, Mangan noted. He added that last May, for the first time, the administration recognized retiring nonladder FAS faculty at the final Yale College faculty meeting and will do so again this spring.

The creation and work of the senate have been integral in opening dialogue channels between nonladder faculty members and the Dean’s Office, Mangan said. The office has established a discussion for nonladders and FAS deans with faculty members across academic divisions to make nonladder faculty members feel more included in decision-making processes, he added.

“The FAS includes all of us,” Kamens said. “And I think that’s a message that nonladder faculty members and some ladder faculty members have sufficiently emphasized so that it is more broadly understood and taken as a beginning assumption, but I think we still have to work on that.”

Correction, April 26: The previous version of this story misidentified Edward Kamens as the director of undergraduate studies in Spanish and Portuguese when in fact he is the director of graduate studies.

 

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