USC Academic Senate
Winter 2002/2003 Edition 

Volume 4, Number 1, 2002-2003


 In This Edition

  A Letter from the President
  Open Letter to Senators and Other Colleagues
  Health Care Costs, Preferences, Risks and Equity
  Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Faculty
  Non-tenure-track Faculty at USC
  Marshall Online Teaching Evaluation System
  Concerning Terminations of Tenured Faculty
  The University After 9/11

Non-tenure-track Faculty at USC
Ed McCann, Administrative Vice-President, Academic Senate

At its September 18, 2002 meeting, the Academic Senate voted to establish a new committee, the Committee on Non-tenure-track faculty. Its charge is as follows:

The Committee on Non-tenure-track Faculty monitors the working environment, conditions of employment, benefits eligibility, opportunities for participation in governance, opportunities for professional advancement, and participation in the academic life of the university provided for non-tenure-track faculty. It tracks any significant changes in the proportion of non-tenure-track to tenure-track faculty within the total faculty in individual units and in the university as a whole, and monitors compliance with stated school policies and with the Faculty Handbook. It may make recommendations to relevant Senate and University committees, and to the Academic Senate, concerning any policy issues which bear on the use and profile of non-tenure-track faculty.

The decision to establish this committee was the culmination of some recent efforts to identify and consider how to address some important issues concerning non-tenure-track faculty. On April 24, 2002, the Academic Leadership Development Workshop convened a Research Faculty Forum, moderated by Lawford Anderson (Earth Sciences) and Martin Levine (Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and UPS Foundation Chair of Law and Gerontology, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences).This meeting was very well-attended, and many members of the Research Faculty from a number of different schools and academic units were able to meet together and to discuss areas of common concern. The meeting raised a number of issues, and the attendees indicated a strong interest in continuing to meet from time to time in order to further discuss, and help guide action on, these issues. Then during the summer of 2002, a Senate White Paper Task Force on Non-tenure-track faculty was convened. It consisted of Martin Gunderson (Electrical Engineering), Edwin McCann (Philosophy), Teresa McKenna (English), Austin Mircheff (Physiology and Biophysics, Keck School of Medicine), Susan Montgomery (Mathematics), Julie Nyquist (Clinical Pediatrics, Medical Education), Madeleine Stoner (Social Work), Nelly Stromquist (Education), and Maria Todorovska (Civil Engineering). The White Paper produced by this group is still being finalized, but the findings and recommendations were shared with the Academic Senate at its August retreat, and helped to shape the Academic Senate’s committee charge.

I have been asked by Philippa Levine, President of the Academic Senate, to provide some background concerning the establishment of the new Committee on Non-tenure-track faculty, and to sketch some of the major issues which the committee will take up, so that the faculty at large may turn its collective attention on these issues.

Contributions of non-tenure-track-faculty

In all major research universities in the United States a significant proportion of the total faculty are in non-tenure-track positions. USC is no exception; at a very rough estimate, somewhat more than 1200 of the more than 2500 full-time faculty members are non-tenure-track, as are a significant fraction of the approximately 1300 part-time faculty. The greatest concentration of these non-tenure-track faculty members is in the Keck School of Medicine, but many non-tenure-track faculty are to be found in other units. These faculty colleagues make invaluable contributions to the University’s mission, and offer special talents and professional accomplishments that complement those of their tenure-track colleagues.

We are all used to hearing about the pronounced variety and diversity of USC’s many academic units, making any sort of generalizations about, and neat categorizations of, faculty role and work profile nearly impossible. This striking diversity becomes especially clear when we consider the very different sorts of career profile and faculty responsibilities carried by non-tenure-track faculty in the various schools and units. Nevertheless, we can distinguish three broad categories of non-tenure-track faculty at USC: teaching faculty, research faculty, and clinical faculty. A sense of the differing duties of these various types of non-tenure-track faculty can be gleaned from the list of titles set out in the Faculty Handbook, Section 3-1(C). Cutting across these various categories, as well as the categories of tenure-track faculty, is the further distinction between part-time and full-time faculty; as a general rule, there are more non-tenure-track faculty who have part-time appointments than there are tenure-track faculty who hold part-time appointments.

The main differentiation between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty is, of course, that only the former type of faculty appointment leads to consideration of tenure for the individual holding that appointment. This is based on the idea that the basic faculty profile at a research university is that of the teacher-scholar, who is expected to conduct research while at the same time carrying full teaching responsibilities. Obviously, there is as much variation among the various schools and units of the university in standard research and teaching profile for tenure-track faculty as there is for the duties of non-tenure-track faculty, but there is still the expectation that tenure-track faculty do a substantial amount of teaching and carry on an active research program. In contrast, non-tenure-track faculty who are appointed mainly to perform teaching duties are not expected (as a condition of appointment or merit evaluation) to conduct research (although of course many will do so, for their own career advancement and/or for personal satisfaction and contribution to their academic discipline or field); similarly, non-tenure-track research faculty are not expected to do a significant amount of teaching, if they do any at all; and clinical faculty are expected to function mainly as professional practitioners in their primary field of endeavor, bringing the experience and practical learning gained in their practice to the instruction and mentoring of the next generations of practitioners, In each case, the duties, expectations, and typical academic profile of faculty of these different types differs from those of tenure-track faculty in the same unit.

Non-tenure-track faculty make vital contributions to the teaching and research mission of the university. In many professional schools, clinical and teaching faculty provide instruction in areas that would not ordinarily lend themselves to the sort of intensive research profile which would be the basis of a tenure-track appointment in that field; in many units, research faculty carry out projects which don’t directly feed into the established curriculum, especially the undergraduate curriculum, in their discipline; and in liberal arts curricula, adjunct and other non-tenure-track teaching faculty can teach subspecialties, or special skills, which are not and would not otherwise be in the teaching repertoire of tenure-track faculty in the department, as well as carrying out more standard teaching assignments so as to free up tenure-track faculty for other teaching duties. Indeed, there is not a single academic unit on campus which could function as effectively as it does without the contributions of non-tenure-track faculty.

Issues concerning non-tenure-track faculty

Non-tenure-track faculty at the university are full members of the faculty, entitled to the same academic freedom (except for the protection of academic freedom embodied in tenure), the same schedule of benefits (with exceptions for non-full-time faculty medical insurance benefits, sabbatical leaves, and paid family leave), and the right to participate in the academic governance of their unit and of the university through the Academic Senate, school councils and departments, and University committees (although they may not participate in decisions concerning tenure and tenured faculty). The Faculty Handbook covers these and other rights and responsibilities of non-tenure-track faculty in Section 3-7.

Although non-tenure-track faculty are full members of the faculty, their academic profiles and their roles in the teaching and research missions are different enough from those of t the full-time faculty as to raise a number of issues. The newly established Committee on non-tenure-track faculty is charged with identifying these issues, tracking their status, and working with the faculty and administration to provide solutions where these are feasible and desirable.

Some of the key issues identified so far include:

  1. The integrity of the tenure system. It is crucial for the maintenance of the tenure system that the duties and profiles of tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty be clearly differentiated, and that duties typically carried out by tenure-track faculty in the past continue to be carried out by tenure-track faculty. There is a widespread perception that in higher education generally there are economic pressures and other pressures of expediency to replace a tenure-track faculty member who has retired, moved to another institution, or for some other reason vacated her or his position with one or more part-time or full-time non-tenure-track faculty members. Such hirings can develop into patterns which threaten to undermine the institution’s commitment to the principle that tenure-track appointment is the basic form of faculty appointment at the institution. It is in part for this reason that the Faculty Handbook mandates that each school or unit must have on file in the Provost’s office a statement of a limit on the number of non-tenure-track faculty appointments in that school or unit, expressed as a proportion between tenure-track and non-tenure-track appointments in the school or unit, and it is also the reason for the stipulation that any non-tenure-track appointment renewed beyond three years must have documentation submitted which shows that the faculty member has the work profile of a non-tenure-track, rather than tenure-track, faculty member.
  2. Non-tenure-track faculty as ‘second-class citizens.’ At the Academic Leadership Development Workshop and in other discussions, non-tenure-track faculty members often note that they feel they are treated by colleagues and by the university at large as less than full faculty members. This treatment includes a feeling of being excluded from the main currents of departmental academic life and from departmental governance, as well as feelings of isolation and of lack of interaction with, and mentoring from, senior departmental colleagues.
  3. Lack of defined standards for promotion. Some non-tenure-track faculty members feel that either the standards for promotion and salary increase are vaguely defined and inconsistently applied, or that there are no such standards at all. Here it is important to note that some non-tenure-track faculty regard their position as a stepping-stone to tenure-track faculty positions elsewhere, whereas others, for personal or career reasons, do not expect to seek such positions. Faculty in these different sorts of situation will require different sorts of mentoring.
  4. Lack of job security. Of course, non-tenure-track faculty can never have the same degree of job security as tenured faculty, although by the same token they are not subject to mandatory non-renewal of appointment at the end of a probationary period, as are tenure-track but not yet tenured faculty. Even in the context of the relative lack of job security, however, many non-tenure-track faculty, even those who have held their appointments for many years, feel that it is too easy to make the decision not to reappoint them, and that sometimes these decisions are not announced with a sufficient period of advance notice.
  5. Differences in benefits treatment. I have noted above some of the differences in benefits treatment. It is worth noting the special difficulties which research faculty face in this regard; for them, ‘full-time’ is defined as a twelve-month period of full effort and time, whereas teaching faculty count as full-time on the basis of completing a nine-month period of full effort and time.
  6. Use of part-time faculty who must also work elsewhere. This has been anointed the ‘freeway flyer’ problem. Many faculty who teach one or two courses at USC will also have to teach at the same time at one or more other institutions, simply so as to cobble together a minimal living. This causes many coordination problems and much stress for the faculty member, and it is widely thought to adversely affect the quality of instruction delivered to the students.


The issues noted above are all well-known, and they are not unique to USC. Many concerned faculty and administrators have explored ways to address them, and remain committed to eliminating or at least mitigating them. These are large issues, which go to the heart of the academic enterprise at USC, and we all have a stake in them. I invite you to join in the effort; I would be most happy to receive comments, suggestions, and advice as the Committee on non-tenure-track faculty begins its work.