Thursday, September 02, 2010

Haves and Have Nottts

A reader wonders how tenure-track and tenured faculty can interact in a harmonious way with non-tenure track faculty and others who may be in a precarious or otherwise difficult employment situation.

I suppose the obvious answer is to be as respectful and sympathetic as possible. My experience as a non-tenure track professor was brief and not entirely pleasant, in part because some of my tenured colleagues treated me as a lesser being whose opinions and overall existence were inconsequential to them. Some were at least polite and willing to converse with me; others could not be bothered; yet others were patronizing and rude.

In any collection of people -- academic or not -- there are going to be jerks and non-jerks. Now that I am of the tenured species, I try not to be one of the jerks who assumes that anyone without tenure, or at least a chance at tenure, is somehow inferior rather than just being at a different career stage, having a different career preference, or dealing with employment or life constraints (or bad luck) beyond their control.

Some of my not-on-the-tenure-track (NOTTT) colleagues have skills that my tenured and tenure-track T/TT colleagues and I very much admire. Also, we like them as people. It is not a problem interacting with them in a positive and constructive way. We are on different career tracks, but there is mutual respect between the T/TT faculty and our NOTTT colleagues.

But what if the jerks are the NOTTTs? How much should we empathize with beleaguered adjuncts and others, however underpaid and under-respected, if they are aggressively bitter and resentful, even towards those with no role in their difficult situations? That's more of a challenge, but there's a difference between expressing anger about an unfair situation and creating a hostile work environment.

It is the responsibility of the department chair or other administrators to create a good working environment for all employees of an academic unit. Obviously favoring one group of people over another in such a way as to make the not-valued group unhappy and hostile (as in the case described by the reader who e-mailed me) shows poor leadership.

If you are convinced that the situation could be improved and that the root of the problems is not just the lousy salaries, lack of benefits, and overall stressful working conditions of the NOTTTs (i.e., issues over which the department head may have little control), perhaps there is a mechanism for expressing concern about the hostile work environment. An assistant professor might be reluctant to criticize the department head's leadership skills, but if the problem is pervasive, perhaps a group of senior faculty can try to work out a constructive solution to the problem, if they are aware (or made aware) of it. Maybe there are some basic things that can be done within the department to improve the work environment.

An example: In one department with which I was associated, the T/TT faculty so hated faculty meetings that they didn't even consider inviting their NOTTT colleagues. Who would want to go to a faculty meeting if they didn't have to? The NOTTTs were lucky. But the NOTTT faculty felt excluded, marginalized, and disrespected because they were not explicitly invited to these meetings. Once the department head became aware of this morale issue, he invited the NOTTTs to the meetings and specifically sought their input on particular issues. Some came to the meetings, some didn't. Some came when there was a topic of interest, and the problem was largely solved.

Otherwise, if the situation is not solvable by any means at your disposal as an individual faculty member, all you can do is be respectful, kind, and understanding to your colleagues, tenured or not; try not to let resentful people bother you; seek advice from wise senior colleagues in your department; realize you are lucky to be on the tenure track; and focus on your own career, which is probably stressful enough as it is.


Morose said...

I think you are going to get some grief regarding this post.
It's one of those things: if you are perceived as a person with a privilege (a tenured position), anything that you say against the people who consider themselves less privileged (disgruntled adjuncts), will always be considered unjust and patronizing. Even if you have a good reason, even if you are trying your best to be objective and tactful.

Ria said...

This is one of the first blog posts that I've read regarding "NOTTT" and their interactions with TT professionals. Thank you! I recently accepted a NOTTT position, and I am grateful that my institution as a whole attempts to treat NOTTT with some degree of equivalence to those on the tenure-track: we are invited to the semi-annual faculty "states of the union", we receive all emails that are targeted to faculty, we receive the same benefits as tenure-track faculty. In this difficult funding time, I feel particularly lucky to have the opportunity to work on my research and work on grants at a reasonable pace while furthering the goals of the PI with whom I work.

That's not to say that there aren't difficult interactions with some individuals in my work environment. And it's not always from those on the tenure-track either. Often, postdocs and/or graduate students can treat NOTTT faculty as second class as well, always with the assumption that they would never accept such a position. Unfortunately, it's become so difficult to obtain a tenure-track position that unless one has no obligations (family or otherwise) to consider, is published in both high quantity and in GlamourMags, and (most importantly) has successfully managed to network, they may not have many choices if they want to remain in academia.

Anonymous said...

I'm TT in a math department, where we have a reasonable number of NOTTT colleagues, with either long-term (1-3 year) or short-term (per course) contracts. There is, in my experience, essentially no conflict in our department (nor in other math departments that I've been in) between the T/TT and NOTTT groups; in particular, none that is due to the T/TT-NOTTT split.

For us, there's a fairly clear correlation between tenure-stream and research-active faculty. The vast majority of the NOTTT members of our department aren't active in research, meaning that they don't come to (or give) seminars, publish mathematical papers, or supervise graduate students. They do, however, contribute wonderful things to our department, through their teaching, mentoring and advising of undergrads, and various service duties. Everyone seems to understand both the distinction in activities, and that these are valuable contributions that someone needs to do, and the NOTTT faculty do these things well. The research-active NOTTT faculty all have 3-year fixed-term positions, that are ubiquitous in Math depts, and are understood to be the career-building equivalent to grant-funded postdocs in other fields.

Perhaps I'm just oblivious to the feelings of my NOTTT colleagues, or maybe I've just been lucky in the departments that I've happened to work in, but it seems to me that having a clear understanding of the roles, contributions, and employment status of the NOTTT faculty works very well.

Clarissa said...

"if they are aggressively bitter and resentful, even towards those with no role in their difficult situations"

-How can you be a part of the department but have "no role" in their situations? Of course, we all have a role in allowing the administration treat adjuncts and instructors like crap.

Clarissa said...

"The vast majority of the NOTTT members of our department aren't active in research, meaning that they don't come to (or give) seminars, publish mathematical papers, or supervise graduate students."

-You are syaing it like they don't do research because they don't feel like it. In my experience, NOTTTs teach at 3 different colleges for 10 hours a day, every day of the week just to eke a bare minimum living. How are they supposed to find time and resources to do research?

Anonymous said...

FSP, I thought this was a very reasonable, balanced post.

When I was untenured, I had several very negative interactions with NOTTT faculty. Most of them were older men, who seemed to follow the lead of the older male tenured faculty in mistreating untenured TT faculty in general, and female faculty (all untenured) in particular. NOTTT certainly are underprivileged when compared to tenured faculty, but not necessarily when compared to untenured TT faculty, in terms of pay, respect, office space, or job security.

I did not complain about the abusive NOTTT for the same reason I did not complain about the abusive senior faculty. The chair would not have cared. In fact, he was one of the worst offenders. Happily, things have changed since then.

Anonymous said...

Clarissa, in math most of the NOTTT teach 3 lower-level courses per semester at a single school, repeating the same course with reasonable regularity and do things like coordinate large multi-section courses and organize who teaches what. When you think that most of the T/TT faculty teach 1/2 or more of that and are also expected to advise graduate students, coordinate larger multi-section courses, publish, teach upper level and graduate courses which take a lot more time, attend conferences, get grants, sit on department/university committees etc, I don't the NOTTTs have it so bad, even if they are paid less. As was stated in the initial comment on this topic, this division of labor results in generally happy people. Maybe it's not the same in your field, but please don't extrapolate that to other fields without any data.

Anonymous said...


We have NOTTT math faculty who have taught the same courses at the same school for over 20 years, and make well above a "minimum living". These are people who have chosen to not pursue a research career.

Anonymous said...

All of our NOTTTs are practitioners or former practitioners. Several of them probably still have contacts who could kill a person without leaving a trace or trail.

We treat our NOTTTs with the utmost respect.

Anonymous said...

Guess I have it good, somewhat. I'm a NOTTT who gets paid the same as TT faculty. I feel a part of the department and am included in all activities. Would love to have the job security that TT is supposed to bring and will jump at the chance to do it sometime in the future. Things are good right now and I can just focus on my research.