In the field of education, positions that offer security are few and far between, and the number is shrinking.
According to the Department of Education, there has been a 26 percent decrease in university faculty members who were tenured or are on the tenure track, from 1975 to 2007.
UCF currently has 650 teachers who are tenured university-wide.
In a story for the Chronicle of Higher Education by Daniel J. Ennis, a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University, Ennis described tenure-track professors as a “vanishing breed.”
“Today some institution somewhere has, unaware, hired its last tenured professor,” Ennis said. “To be sure, there will be tenure-track hires next year, and the year after, and perhaps for a decade or more, but today somebody accepted a tenure-track job, and that person will outlive tenure at his or her institution.”
Professors on the tenure track are evaluated each year by separate committees who gauge whether they meet the standards of the departmental college they are teaching under. Whether it’s for mathematics, psychology or any other subject, each department has its own specific guidelines.
By following those guidelines, professors are able to enjoy the many perks of becoming tenured, such as an increase in health-related benefits, as well as the freedom to choose the curriculum that will be offered to students.
Tony Waldrop, UCF Provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs said that, because of the additional leeway given to tenured professors in the past, they’ve been able to dive deeper into their field of study and dig out results that those without the esteemed title would not be able to achieve.
“They may find more conclusive research that turns out to be more rewarding,” Waldrop said.
Anna Newman’s book Professing to Learn describes the nature of the work of tenured professors as being more complex and diversified than that of non-tenured professors, but Waldrop doesn’t completely agree with the statement.
“I don’t know that there’s a more diverse workload, but once they’ve attained that level, they’ve probably become quite active in their research and being at that level, they will encourage the campus to pursue areas they have not been able to research,” Waldrop said.
The Miami Student, the paper of Ohio’s Miami University, reported in April that the average percentage of tenured faculty in universities nationwide is 27 percent. While it might seem like a low number, the figure doesn’t represent the entire nation in terms of individual universities. Miami University, as of April this year, boasts a number of almost 60 percent.
MU is increasing its standards as far as its process for evaluating professors on the tenure track is concerned, which has led to a decrease in the amount of tenured faculty overall.
While more than half of MU’s professors are either tenured or on the tenure track, facts such as those from the Department of Education paint a gloomy picture.
However, not all universities will be experiencing the shift.
According to Newman’s book, one-fourth of professors have tenure, while another 10 percent are on the tenure track, which leaves the other 45 percent with the potential to do whatever they please with their curriculum, as long as they make their intentions clear to higher authorities.
Teachers, instructors and professors all have different roles to play, though their titles have a similar ring to them. Those on the tenure track, however, follow the path of being first an assistant to the associate professor, then becoming an associate professor and finally attaining the title of professor, or “full” professor, as some call it.
Other faculty members who teach regularly may prefer to keep to their part-time schedule, or they may have an entirely different goal in mind and forgo the entire issue of tenure. Some teachers are focused on developing clinical labs or pursuing research-oriented study or they may only give lectures instead of the full course load that other full-time instructors may divvy out.
Dr. Shelley Park, a tenured professor at UCF, believes there may be more of a struggle for professors pursuing the tenure track, as there may be a decrease in tenured positions from this point forward.
“The abolition of tenure has been largely the result of economic forces,” Park said. “Just as in the private sector, hiring part-time and temporary workers enables the exploitation of workers for minimal pay and benefits. This hardly improves the quality of the education a student receives, as migrant educational workers must teach hundreds of students at a time in order to eke out a living.”