The future of tenure at Ferris

Tenure continues to shrink at the university and national levels

Ferris has decreased their tenured positions while keeping adjunct professors on single year contracts for sometimes over a decade. Photo by: Dylan Bowden | Production Editor

Over the past 18 years, the number of tenured faculty members at Ferris has dropped by roughly 18%. This reflects the nationwide downward-trend of the 21st century.  

Data from the American Association of University Professors shows a 70% increase in the presence of part-time employees on college campuses over the past 40 years, as full-time tenure track positions have nearly halved.  

Academic tenure, the appointment of a faculty member to work in one position indefinitely, is an expensive institution. John Scott Gray, advisor of the political science minor and member of the Academic Senate executive board, still sees great value in it.  

According to Gray, tenured faculty are responsible for advising, setting agendas and doing program assessments. For his minor, he is accountable for preparing and presenting documents for the Academic Program Review Committee.  

“It’s not fair to ask someone that’s getting paid as little as a [Ferris Non-Tenure Faculty Organization] member to do that kind of work,” Gray said.  

FNTFO president Paul Zube explained that, fair or otherwise, many adjunct professors feel overworked. 

“The [non-tenure track] faculty at Ferris and across the country are dedicated professionals. However, they are not provided the same investment, job security, pay or institutional respect. By policy, we are not supposed to be doing as much as we do,” Zube said.

The work of FNTFO members is done with minimal job security. Zube has been working under single year contracts for 11 years.  

“It’s the reality for many of NTT at Ferris and elsewhere: help us plan for the future, but don’t forget you might not be part of that future,” Zube said. 

Gray empathizes for FNTFO members, while feeling the vulnerability of his own department. 

“I think when you don’t replace people who are tenured with people who are going to have the potential become tenured, that is an attack,” Gray said. 

Gray only advises the political science minor because the larger major program was among the many made vulnerable by the continued depletion of tenure. 

“People who make these decisions have not put a value on these programs. Because if they had…we would have replaced some of the people when they are retired or promoted,” Gray said. 

Adjunct instructor Christina Eanes explained that the political science major was closed to new students after last fall. Both Eanes and Gray believe more could have been done to maintain programs such as political science and sociology.  

“[The administration is] gutting the whole humanities system and just piecing out our faculty to teach certain courses that are relevant,” Eanes said. “And that’s generally where I’m hearing the dissatisfaction among our faculty, like, ‘oh, you’re saying we’re needed, but not needed enough to fund the positions within our department, or to really promote any type of humanities here.’” 

Neither faculty member sees the new interdisciplinary social justice major as an equivalent replacement for these programs, though they respect the effort and professors behind it.  

“They weren’t seeing as much student enrollment as they wanted to, so then the money is not coming into those programs,” Eanes said. “So, in essence, I [think] they almost feel like they can pacify by offering this mishmash without actually having to hire a new tenured faculty to teach in that new program.” 

Despite the common focus on program funding, Gray explained that this particular situation may go deeper than recent budget cuts.  

“It can be argued that with dropping enrollment and a budget crisis, we cannot avoid making certain program decisions,” Gray said. “But the decisions to not replace faculty in political science and sociology were made five to 10 years ago, when our numbers and budget were in a very different situation.” 

Looking forward, Gray is still both “optimistic” and “foolish.”   

“I’m always open to trying again, to having the hard conversations with those who make the decisions. But those ‘make decisions’ guys aren’t the ones who actually do the hands-on work on this campus. That’s the members of the FNTFO, members of the [Ferris Faculty Association], as well as the other unions on campus.” 

Anti-tenure sentiment is not only being felt in the humanities department. Sandra Alspach, tenured professor and Academic Senate president, sees the effects in her area of communication. 

“…we’ve been pretty much told for the last two years, don’t even ask for a tenure line.” 

This follows a successful effort by Dean Christie Hauge. Hague defended the importance and market value of social media communication to administrators, all the way up to Ferris’ provost, resulting in the “gift” of tenure-track professor Evan Watts.  

“Three years ago, we were given a tenure line to develop our social media presence,” Alspach said. “That was Dr. Watts. And from that gift came the social media digital communication minor, which was a negotiation down from a bachelor’s degree in social media.” 

Watts’ hiring was “unusual” and “exceptional” after a decade of failed requests for new tenure lines. There is little hope for more, as the communication area’s budget continues to drop.  

“Over the last three years, we’ve gone from $2,000 for each major, to $1,000 for each major, to $750 for this year,” Alspach said. “So, we have seen our slices of the pie shrink. There has been no upward conversation about our needs and the impact those cuts will make. We were simply given an allowance and [must] deal with it.” 

Alspach believes the “national movement against the institution of tenure” is emblematic of a larger shift in the workforce. 

As community college and online school attendance rises, the value of residential universities is changing along with the overall vision of higher education. 

“Now you’ve got residential colleges like Ferris with millions of dollars of infrastructure called residence halls, and a product that can be delivered virtually. Why would I come here to live here, if I can get it from home cheaper?” Alspach said. 

Freshman liberal arts major Liam Fagan sees this situation from multiple perspectives.  

As a student, he believes that highly educated tenured professors make classroom environments most conducive to learning. As the son of two Ferris professors, one tenured and one adjunct, he thinks that faculty members benefit greatly from the increased pay, health benefits and job security that accompany tenure. 

Several faculty members feel that Ferris’ value is forged through the hard work of professors at every level and in every department. 

“Without tenured faculty, you don’t have a university… No one comes here because they know this is the provost or this is the dean of their college. They come in because of the programs and the quality of those programs,” Gray said. 

This is echoed by FFA Vice President and Grievance Officer, John Caserta. 

“Remember, the university belongs to us, it does not belong to Dave Eisler and Bobby Fleischman.”