Peer Review

Toward High-Impact Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Now that 70 percent of the faculty are off the tenure track (both full- and part-time), higher education leaders need to pay close attention to how their institutions support or hinder this growing set of employees. Not recognizing and supporting non-tenure track faculty (NTTF) negatively affects our ability to engage students in high-impact practices (HIPs) proven to affect retention, success, and deep learning in positive ways.

One of the major barriers to NTTF using new teaching practices is that they are often excluded from professional development opportunities where these practices are introduced and encouraged. In the rare case where NTFF are invited, professional development sessions are offered at times that are difficult for NTTF to attend. Providing evening and even weekend professional development opportunities as well as online experiences is important for NTTF. Many NTTF (particularly part-time) describe the hardship of attending professional development because they are not paid for their time to learn about HIPs.

NTTF also are leery to try new pedagogical practices because using them could impact their student evaluations, which institutions often rely on to determine if they will be rehired. In my research, I have found that NTTF want to experiment with their teaching, but often retreat to lecture methods after having any dips in their evaluations. This hesitation for NTTF to experiment for fear of poor student evaluations was also noted in a recent research study by Rutz et al. (2012). Unless we are willing to re-examine the evaluation processes and heavy emphasis placed on student evaluations, it is unlikely that NTTF will risk participating in HIPs.

Ideally, an NTFF orientation could describe expectations around using HIPs and then be followed up with professional development opportunities. But faculty need real-time guidance on new pedagogical practices, which can be provided through mentoring. On many campuses, experienced tenure-track faculty will serve in this role. However, NTTF can also serve as mentors after they have gone through the experience of teaching with HIPs. Bringing NTTF up to this level can be achieved by pairing experienced faculty members with several NTTF, while providing a course release for the mentoring faculty member.

Campuses often have offices to support service learning, study abroad, or collaborative learning but may not make this information widely known to faculty, particularly part-time faculty who spend little time on campus. It is important that administrative leaders make these resources and support centers known and available to NTTF so they can use them to support their efforts to integrate HIPs into their teaching. Also, sometimes NTTF do not have access to resources (e.g., library privileges or access to listservs where information is disseminated). And even if NTTF have access, sometimes tenure-track faculty are served more quickly than NTTF, making NTTF hesitant to use the office. NTTFs need the same knowledge about, access to, and quality of service from campus offices as tenure-track faculty have.

Finally, one of the steps most needed to enable NTTF to support HIPs is an increased awareness by all about the experience and working conditions of NTTF. And because the barriers that exist for NTTF may vary from campus to campus (or even between departments), it is important to better understand their day-to-day experience in order to create the appropriate policies and practices to support high impact practices. Campuses that support NTTF regularly collect data, particularly about campus climate, understanding what barriers may exist for them to engage in high-impact practices. While other practices can support NTTF, these recommendations provide a good starting point for campuses to direct their efforts.

Reference

Rutz, C., W. Condon, E. R. Iverson, C. A. Manduca, and G. Willett. 2012. “Faculty Professional Development and Student Learning: What Is the Relationship?” Change 44(3): 40-47.

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