The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: On Tenure and Visiting Professorship



Thank you to the S&B for the May 2 article entitled “Visiting Professors Look Back on their Time at Grinnell,” which highlights the contributions of two outstanding term faculty members who have left Grinnell: Ryan Dawkins and Jennifer Lorden. Like their students, I have benefited from the great examples they set as teachers and researchers.

I would like to correct a misperception from the article’s first paragraph, however. While it is true that many visiting faculty at Grinnell go on to academic positions at other institutions and a much smaller proportion are hired on to the tenure track at Grinnell, not all term faculty are able to find tenure-track or full-time academic jobs, or indeed any academic employment, after their appointments here expire.

According to the American Association of University Professors, “more than half of all faculty appointments are part-time’ and ‘non tenure-track positions of all types [including lectureships, postdoctoral fellowships, and most especially adjunct hires] account for more than 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments.”

As a wealthy, private liberal arts college, Grinnell performs better on these metrics than many other institutions of higher education. We should make it a point to publicize this specific percentage (tenured or tenure-track professors as a portion of the faculty) in our promotional materials and to advocate for changes to college rankings and re-accreditation based on these numbers, instead of generic instructor-to-student ratios.

But here too, as elsewhere, tenured and tenure-track faculty profit from the labor of contingent faculty who are hired both to cover leaves and in lieu of the expansion or even replacement of vacated tenure-track lines. It is incumbent upon those of us, myself included, who will gain extended research time or attract more students to our departments because of these arrangements to ensure we do everything possible to support term faculty. This might range from providing data on placement rates outside of the college to transparency about the circumstances under which contingent faculty may be hired into different academic roles at Grinnell.

Grinnell is justly proud of its track-record in sending students to doctoral programs in the liberal arts. Any student considering such a program needs to be fully aware, however, of the shift in higher education away from stable and tenure-track appointments (and the resistance of multiple sets of decision-makers, from state legislatures on down) to ameliorating these trends.

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