• April 24, 2014

Non-Tenure-Track Faculty at Wright State U. Win Degree of Job Security

Full-time non-tenure-track faculty members at Wright State University have won an unusual degree of employment security in their first contract with the Ohio institution after voting to unionize last fall. After six years at the university, non-tenure-eligible faculty members who are part of the bargaining unit will have a "continuing appointment with no identified date of termination," the contract, signed on Friday, reads.

The distinction is likely to be unprecedented for non-tenured faculty members, according to Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors and chief negotiator for the Wright State AAUP chapter, which represents the bargaining unit.

Mr. Fichtenbaum, who is also an economics professor at the university, said that Wright State had a strong history of employment security for non-tenure-track faculty members.

"But going forward, you never know exactly if things will change," he said. "Today in higher education, there's a lot that's in flux."

The university's chief negotiator, William E. Rickert, said that the contract had clarified the university's terms.

"For those who are going to stay on as continuing faculty, then we've made the decision that we want to provide a measure of security that they deserve," Mr. Rickert, the university's assistant provost, said.

Separate Agreement on Workload

Alongside the contract, the chapter and the university signed a separately negotiated memorandum of understanding that specifies the workload for non-tenure-eligible faculty members. The workload issue had been a point of stress after the institution's switch from a quarter-based academic year to a semester system.

With the quarter system, many instructors primarily taught three courses per term, Mr. Fichtenbaum said. For many faculty members, the figure changed to four courses per term with fewer hours when semesters were introduced, in the fall of 2012.

"Most of them, I think rightly so, viewed that as a fairly significant increase in their teaching load," he said.

The memorandum states that for instructors' first four years at Wright State, they will typically teach eight courses per academic year. All other instructors will typically teach six or seven courses, while having greater responsibilities outside the classroom, like serving as chair of a department, advising a student group, or coordinating a program.

In negotiations, the union argued that increased class sizes in some courses, alongside the proposed changes in teaching loads, was revenue-neutral for the university.

This marks the first contract for Wright State's AAUP chapter representing non-tenure-track faculty members, who unionized with the chapter in the fall of 2012.

Today the chapter represents about 180 non-tenure-track full-time faculty members. Collective bargaining for the new agreement began in March, Mr. Fichtenbaum said.

Mr. Rickert said that, with the two transitions—from a quarter to a semester system and into a unionized non-tenure-track faculty—the university had confirmed faculty security but largely preserved the status quo.

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