The Fight for Equitable Faculty Representation

By Sally Kate Zaft, Staff Writer 

Even though non-tenure-track faculty make up 30 percent of full-time faculty, they find themselves without equal Faculty Senate representation. 

Over the past two months, the fueling topic for teachers has been a debate over more non-tenure-track representation in the Faculty Senate. This was brought up in February’s regular senate meeting, February’s full faculty meeting, and was finally voted on during March’s regular senate meeting. 

Stephanie Todd, a member of the non-tenure-track committee, gave the proposal at February’s meetings and shared its purpose. 

“It is to increase the non-tenure-track representation on Faculty Senate so that there is proportional representation,” Todd said. “This would not take away any tenure-track faculty seats from Faculty Senate. Tenure-track faculty would have the same number of seats they always do; this would just increase the number of full-time non-tenure-track members on Senate.” 

During the March faculty senate meeting, after much discussion, the proposal was voted on and passed with 26 yes’s. This included more than the required two-thirds of the present members, so the proposal was approved. 

Across the three meetings discussing this debate, there were mixed responses on how faculty members felt about this proposal. 

Dr. Christopher Stuart, an English department tenure-track faculty member and faculty senator, spoke out about his opinions on the proposal. 

“I think it’s important that we consider that this would instantly make non-tenure-track faculty one-third of the representation of Faculty Senate,” Stuart said. “If the faculty were to grow by a number of non-tenure-track faculty, we would lose the two-thirds majority that tenure-track faculty would currently retain if we adopted this measure. So what that means is that the tenure-track faculty would no longer be in control of the bylaws for the faculty senate.” 

Stuart went on to shed more light on why the possibility of this situation happening worries him. 

“My concern is that in the English department, we have a situation where we gave full voting rights to non-tenure-track faculty back around 2003 in our bylaws. At the time, we had three non-tenure-track faculty; now they outnumber the tenure-track faculty by three or four,” Stuart said. “So what that means is that in the English department, non-tenure-track faculty can outvote the tenure-track faculty on the major curriculum, in which by the bylaws they are forbidden to teach. So they don’t teach in the major curriculum, but they, in fact, have the controlling votes to change that major curriculum. That has always seemed to me, upside-down.” 

Many faculty agree that non-tenure-track faculty should be given more representation, there are other ways to approach the issue.

Dr. Donald Reising, a faculty senator, said, “I agree that there needs to be more representation of non-tenure-track positions in the senate; maybe the way that we determine the number of seats needs to be looked at and done differently.” 

Dr. Brian O’Leary, the psychology department head, shared his opinion during the full faculty meeting in February. 

“It flies in the face of reality; these are the most powerless individuals on campus,” O’Leary said. “They have a right to be heard, they have a right to be represented, and I find it appalling that we sit in fear of things that they might do that they most likely would never do.” 

Dr. Tammy Garland, the president-elect for Faculty Senate, expressed her thoughts on the proposal and concept as well. 

“I am wholeheartedly in support of increasing non-tenure-track representation,” Garland said. “But we are well aware that administrators hire non-tenure-track faculty as a means to cut costs and like Brian said, they are the powerless.” 

Garland favors the increase of representation, but she disagreed with the way it was being proposed. In March’s meeting, she tried to amend the proposal, but the senate end vote was unsuccessful. 

Dr. Ethan Mills, a faculty senator and tenure-track faculty member, supported the proposal made for more non-tenure-track representation. 

“To me, it seems like a basic issue of fairness and respect for all faculty at UTC,” Mills said. “Many of my fellow tenured faculty felt differently than I did. They thought that this measure would encourage further erosion of tenure at UTC. I personally feel that solidarity among different types of faculty at UTC is a better approach.” 

Dr. Alexandra Zelin, an associate professor and faculty senator, was very in favor of the proposal and felt it was necessary, especially considering the circumstances. 

“I also wanted to reiterate some of the points too that Brian and Ethan brought up, is that if non-tenure-track represents 30 percent of our faculty, then why are there only two percent on Faculty Senate?” Zelin said. 

Zelin also pointed out that the majority of the issues faculty senate votes on involve all types of faculty and not just one or the other. 

Jodi Caskey, a faculty senator and full-time non-tenure-track faculty, spoke for many of the other non-tenure-track faculty at the meetings. 

“I find a lot of what’s being said here disheartening for non-tenure-track faculty. We work really hard to be productive members of this community. We sacrifice for our students. We put in 40, 50, or more hours a week. We serve on committees. We are here for our students and for this community,” Caskey said. “We’re not trying to plan an armed insurrection here; we’re just trying to get equitable representation and a right to vote.”

Felicia McGee, the communication department head, gave insight into her unique experience at UTC during the full faculty meeting as well. 

“I find this quite interesting. I started here at the University as an adjunct, and then I was a non-tenure-track instructor for five years, and then an assistant professor, and now a tenured professor,” McGee said. “But during all of that time, I only cared about what was best for the students, what’s best for them, what’s best for our department, what’s best for the curriculum, and if the non-tenure-track make up 30 percent of the faculty they need to have their voices heard and at the end of the day you just have to do what’s right, and this is the right thing to do.” 

Dr. Charlene Simmons, the faculty senate president, closed the debate discussions with her personal opinion on the proposal. 

“For me, this measure is about shared governance. The Faculty Senate represents the faculty. We need to represent the full faculty. Currently, we have five percent of the seats allocated to non-tenure-track faculty, and yet they make up 30 percent of our full-time faculty. I personally thoroughly support this proposal and any proposal that increases the role of non-tenure-track faculty in shared governance,” Simmons said. “They deserve to be heard. The current system disenfranchises them and creates a caste system in which some faculty are treated fairly with full representation, and other faculty are not. It is time we end this old system.” 

Mills shared his thoughts on the outcome of the vote in regard to the proposal made. 

“I was happy with the result of the vote. I think this will make a faculty senate that is more representative of all faculty at UTC. I think this is a step in the right direction toward a fairer and more equitable workplace for all UTC faculty,” Mills said. 

Mills also mentioned that he encourages both faculty and staff to contact him regarding joining United Campus Workers. 

“United Campus Workers will be working soon on a campaign to improve pay and working conditions for lecturers at UTC modeled on the recent success of a campaign at UTK that won higher pay and two-year contracts for lecturers in Knoxville,” Mills said. 

Faculty and staff can contact Mills with any questions or details regarding the United Campus Workers. 

A recording of the March Faculty Senate meeting can be found here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *