In the past 30 years, the share of faculty appointments that are
“nontenure-track,” and the share of undergraduate
teaching provided by such faculty, has increased dramatically, at
the University and across the country. Nationally, 96 percent of
all new faculty appointments were tenure-track in 1969; by the
1990s, only 50 percent were tenure-track, and only half of these
positions were full-time.

The declining share of tenure appointments in U.S. colleges and
universities is mirrored by the growing share of nontenure-track
(NTT) appointments. Many of us in this category have part-time
appointments, but adding all such teaching into the equivalent of
full-time positions, there were less than 500 NTT “full-time
equivalents” at the University in 1991; by the winter 2001
term, the number had doubled. There are now close to 2,000 NTT
faculty on the three campuses of the University. We do about half
of all undergrad teaching on the Flint and Dearborn campuses. In
Ann Arbor, we account for about 25 percent of LSA undergraduate
teaching. (graduate student instructors do another 25 percent.) In
particular units, the figure is much higher: In Romance languages,
we account for almost 75 percent of undergrad “student credit
hours,” in the Residential College, 67 percent; in English,
40 percent. We don’t just teach undergrads. Lecturers also
account for about 50 percent of student credit hours in the Schools
of Nursing and Social Work and almost all of the teaching in the
English Language Institute.

Over the last two years, NTT faculty at the University have
formed a vibrant, democratic union called the Lecturer
Employees’ Organization. A top priority in this, our first
round of collective bargaining, is real job security for NTT
faculty who demonstrate their skill at, and commitment to,
teaching. At present, we do not even have the kind of continuous
employment enjoyed by most University staff, who have an ongoing
job unless they are fired or laid off due to insufficient demand.
Instead, we are hired for fixed periods — often no more than
a single term, though it can be for as much as five years. Even
after years of service, we can be terminated by the simple
expedient of failing to renew our contracts. No reasons need be
given for such a decision, even if the person in question has
served the University with distinction for many years. This is not
a far-fetched “nightmare scenario.” In the last year,
LEO members with many years of experience at the University have
lost their jobs in this way in the English Departments of Ann Arbor
and Flint and in the School of Art and Design.

The University administration denies that we have earned the
right to even the limited form of job security — continuous
employment, with termination only for good reasons, established by
due process — that the University staff enjoys. This, despite
the fact that it is easy to terminate our employment if we do not
teach well and almost three-fourths of our members have taught at
the University for more than five years — the median being 10
years. We are indeed providing an excellent education for our
students, but the Administration does not accord us the respect,
the security or the compensation commensurate with our
contribution.

Despite the weakness of its arguments, the administration is
refusing to move very far from the existing short-term contract
system. There is a lot at stake. Not only justice for our own
members, but also the fate of academic freedom is at issue. Tenure
was created in this country decades ago to enable faculty to
“speak truth” as they understand it to their students
and to the powerful, without fearing that they will be deprived of
their jobs. Today, at a time when our social problems are deepening
and our policies more than ever need intelligent, critical
scrutiny, the scope of real academic freedom is narrowing as the
share of the faculty that has any real job security falls below
half.

Our students and citizens deserve better than this, particularly
from a public university that derives a large share of its funding
from the tuition paid by those students and the taxes paid by
Michigan residents. We intend to do what it takes to ensure that
the University sets a positive national example in this aspect of
its operations, as it has done with respect to affirmative action.
We invite you to learn more about the issues at the informational
pickets that we will be setting up all day today. Please join us in
pressing our university to more fully live up to its best ideals.
If you miss our pickets check out our website,
http://leo.mftsrp.org/ or contact us at
“mailto:leounion@umich.edu”>leounion@umich.edu.

Ian Robinson is Co-Chair of the Ann Arbor Organizing
Committee, LEO. He teaches in the Residential College’s
Social Science program and in the Department of Sociology, and is
co-director of the Institute of Labor and Industrial
Relations’ Labor and Global Change Program..

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