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The Research Difference: How the University varies the value of faculty members

Illustration by Alicia Kovalcheck
Illustration by Alicia Kovalcheck Buy this photo

By Amrutha Sivakumar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 19, 2013

The University is known as a major research university. But with almost 27,000 undergraduate students, how does the University ensure that teaching is a main focus as well?

The union representing lecturers has been bargaining for increased wages for its members, hoping to gain not only recognition but also pay compensation equal to research faculty members. The obstacle, however, is deciphering why exactly these lecturers are valued less than their research-focused counterparts.

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Over 1,400 lecturers across all three University campuses are full-time University employees paid to teach undergraduate courses across all areas of academia.

The Lecturer’s Employee Organization represents these employees. In cases where employees feel the University has shortchanged their dues, LEO tries to maximize wages and benefits of its members.

While both types of University employees fall under the category of non-tenured University staff, the job profile of a tenure-track faculty member includes fulfilling research and service requirements alongside teaching, while lecturers are paid almost exclusively for their work in the classroom.

Lila Naydan, a lecturer and LEO Communications Committee co-chair, said despite “top-notch teaching evaluations,” lecturers are not paid the deserved compensation for their work.

“We deserve equal pay for the teaching portion of our work because we’re dedicated teachers,” Naydan wrote in an e-mail. “We deserve to be recognized by the U-M administration for our experience in the classroom.”

Sociology Lecturer Ian Robinson’s said in his report on equal pay that lecturers are paid approximately 50 percent of what tenure-track professors are paid for the teaching portion of their work.

“When we talk about equal pay for equal work, we are not talking about making the same salary as tenured and tenure-track faculty members,” Naydan said. “We are talking about making the same amount per course taught.”

“It’s an important distinction and I think it speaks mainly for how committed lecturers are to teaching,” Naydan added. “This is the main component of our job and it’s what we really dedicate ourselves to.”

On March 5, the LEO Union Council met with University administrators to finalize a tentative collective bargaining agreement. Hoping to satisfy the demands of both parties, LEO members are currently voting on the agreement.

The contract entails an 8.25 percent salary increase to the starting salary of lecturers over a period of five years. While this contract ensures annual pay hikes for lecturers, a large differential between tenure-track professor and lecturer salaries would still exist.

Though content with the outcome of bargaining, Naydan said LEO will continue to strive for pay equity for its lecturers.

“We’re happy with the contract,” Naydan affirmed. “It’s my hope that in future contract negotiations we make greater progress towards pay equity for the teaching portion of our work.”

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With over a decade of service to the University and a vast portfolio of teaching and research accomplishments under their belt, tenured professors seem to be the University’s most prized possession. Through a combination of distinguished pedagogy, research publications and service to the University, tenured professors represent the crème de la crème.

But before professors can receive tenure, they are hired as tenure-track faculty. Many of these tenure-track professors have one absolute goal: to prove their worth to the administration.

Christina Whitman, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs, made it clear that the higher salaries and benefits for tenure and tenure-track faculty did not come sans strings attached.

Unlike lecturers hired for fixed periods of time, tenure-track professors are put under the pressure of a “tenure-clock,” the six to 10 year time period during which professors must prove to University administrators that they deserve to hold a lifetime of professorship at the institute.

Professors denied tenure after serving their tenure-clock must leave the University within a year.

“Somebody who is (on the) tenure-track is expected to be producing some fairly serious research and will not retain the job if they aren’t,” Whitman said.

While tenure-track professors are brought into the institution with the hopes that they’ll fulfill the promise in research and teaching that the University believed was reflected in their graduate work, Whitman said the University hires lecturers for a very different purpose.

“When we hire somebody as a lecturer, we are asking them to teach well for a defined, limited period,” she said. “We are looking for somebody who is really specializing in pedagogy rather than people who are bringing their scholarship into the classroom.”

In the aftermath of LEO negotiations, Whitman believed that comparing lecturer salaries with those of tenure-track faculty was impossible because of different skill.

While not disputing the importance of lecturers in a classroom, Whitman elucidated that professors are constantly expected to think and work outside of their business hours in ways “outside-the-box.”

Teaching that is influenced by and incorporated with a faculty member’s research is crucial to professorship, Whitman explained.

“When we are looking to make a permanent commitment to someone, like tenure, we are looking for people whom we think have the confidence that all of the things that they do will build on the other things that they do,” Whitman said. “We think their teaching should benefit from their research and their research should benefit from their teaching.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said teaching and research were homogeneous in a tenured-professors portfolio. This “blending together” of research and teaching defines a professor at the University, he said.

“We’re actually trying to encourage more of that experiential, hands-on learning,” Fitzgerald added. “That’s likely to be more and more a part of the educational component, more than just sitting in a classroom.”

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But when it comes to raising the bar in the classroom, all forms of faculty can turn to the University’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, where research focuses on teaching itself and a common goal to succeed in the classroom exists.

The CRLT is the first of its kind in the country. With its origins in the Office of the Provost, the CRLT works with all 19 schools and colleges to teach teachers how to better improve their classroom skills.

Comprised of a core group of 12 Ph.D. graduates with extensive experience in teaching and working with other teachers, CRLT brings together tenured, tenure-track, lecturers and graduate student instructors on a common platform to learn from one another’s practices.

Matt Kaplan, managing director of the center, explained that one of the core functions of the CRLT is to research ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching at the University.

For example, when the University decided to shift some internet infrastructure to Google, CRLT realized that the majority of teaching faculty would limit themselves to generic Google services, such as Gmail and Calendars, without realizing the potential utility of other applications.

“We realized that there was a lot of possibility to promote collaboration between students and teachers,” Kaplan said. “We went to ITS with the idea that it would be a pity if people didn’t realize the applications that they could make use of for their teaching.”

As a result, the CRLT invited a group of 25 faculty members from across the University to a learning community, where members were given the opportunity to explore the applications in their own classes, later sharing their experiences in monthly meetings.

This teaching goes hand in hand with research. To avoid limiting the findings to only those in the learning community, CRLT summarized their findings in a formal paper and shared it with the Office of the Provost and other University faculty to develop the ideas further.

“It’s easier to think about how we can implement things in our own classroom when we hear about a colleague,” Kaplan explained. “Michigan is really a national model for having centers like ours to improve the teaching of faculty and graduate students.” Mark Moldwin, associate chair and professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences, said the University’s research in the field of teaching is helpful.

“What’s helped me in my career is knowing that there is an entire community of education researchers who study how people are teaching and the most effective way to help students learn,” Moldwin said.

Though the CRLT is operated under the Office of the Provost, Kaplan assured that its evaluations of teaching faculty are never disclosed to the Office for use during tenure review.

Kaplan added the CRLT never report their findings to administrators since they work directly with faculty. Nevertheless, he said that many faculty members chose to report their involvement with CRLT to administrators to demonstrate their commitment to teaching.

“They want to be able to be straight with the professor and (make the CRLT) a safe place to talk about teaching problems,” Whitman said.
Simultaneously, Whitman confirmed that association with CRLT could work in favor of tenure-track faculty during tenure review.

“It is a big plus if somebody has worked with CRLT, especially if they’ve had some problems in the classroom,” Whitman added. “We actually think that CRLT has turned some people around in really nice ways.”

Moldwin echoed that the CRLT aids lecturers in bettering themselves as teachers.

“If you are not a leading researcher, it is very difficult to get tenure. But if you are a terrible teacher, then that is part of our mistake,” he added. “We should catch that much earlier and provide the resources to get better.”

Whitman said even fully-tenured professors were encouraged to utilize CRLT resources in cases where their teaching appeared to be subpar. She also noted cases where faculty with quality research accomplishments had been denied tenure due to poor instruction.

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Though the University is a major research university, policies imply equality in research and teaching endeavors.

According to the University’s Faculty Handbook, which is published on the Office of the Provost’s website, faculty are required to be distinguished “scholars and teachers” before they are considered for tenure review. Furthermore, the University’s Vision Statement defines the institution as having “a culture of interdisciplinary teaching and research, coupled with academic rigor.”

To shake up the career path of a lecturer, the Office of the Provost is working on developing more opportunities for the teaching staff. With opportunities that include helping other lecturers learn how to teach and gain administrative roles, lecturers have a scope for career advancement independent of research.

While LEO’s website states that no lecturer is eligible for “traditional academic protection,” or tenure, Whitman said there have been exceptional circumstances where the scholarship of a lecturer exceeded the quality of tenured faculty.

Whitman knows of at least one case where a lecturer showed significant progress in research, causing him to be re-evaluated and hired as tenure-track faculty.

Whitman also said by demanding tenure-track professors to submit teaching and research statements simultaneously when up for tenure review, the Office of the Provost could weigh both components in parallel.

Extensive research reviews undeniably carry a large weight in the portfolio of any tenure-track faculty. However, teaching documentation is also a mandate, where student course evaluations, faculty syllabi and reviews by other senior faculty help the Office of the Provost determine the teaching qualifications of each professor.

Moldwin said he also hopes to see a better balance between teaching and research at the University.

“One of my professional goals is to influence academia, particularly major research universities, to have teaching weighted equally or more in tenure decisions,” Moldwin said. “Because U-M is a major research university, research is the most important.”