A new model for adjunct career trajectories?

New promotion policy results in more engaged faculty at one school

The University of Denver (DU) is launching an innovative career track for part-time contracted faculty that some say could be a model for other schools looking to reform how adjuncts are employed, reports Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Ed.

Several years in the making, DU's new appointments, promotions, and tenure system was approved this month. The plan invents long-term career options for faculty who are not on the tenure track.

Career trajectory

Instructors can be hired on annual contracts for no more than five years. After that limit, they must be either released or promoted to an assistant professor position with a contract of up to three years.

Assistant professors can reapply for another contract of a similar length or for a promotion to associate professor, earning a five-year contract. Ultimately, faculty members can apply for full professor positions, which come with a seven-year contract. Salary decisions are not part of the process.

Beyond the new career track, DU is also making changes to extend more tenure-like protections to contract faculty. Officials updated policies to extend to contract faculty many of the academic, instructional, and governance protections enjoyed by tenured faculty.

Non-tenure faculty more engaged

Arthur Jones, clinical professor of culture and psychology and president of DU's faculty senate, says the new system "guarantees our ability to be a player in this era of change."

Douglas Scrivner, chair of DU's Board of Trustees, acknowledged there were risks to the school's approach. However, those risks are "dramatically outweighed by the benefits of engaged faculty and our ability to attract great teachers through the new renewable series," says Scrivner.

Related research brief: Adjunct hiring and compensation practices

Gregg Kvistad, provost and executive vice chancellor, says the university still recognizes the unique position of tenured faculty. "We’re a research university, and research is still done by tenured faculty," he says, adding that non-tenured faculty must still devote 90% of their time to teaching.

Charles Reichardt, tenured professor at DU, says the new trajectory includes a wording change that is small, but powerful. "Lecturers and adjuncts—that just didn’t seem sufficient," he says, adding, "We value their role here, and think they’re highly skilled, great teachers... So the world needed to know that they had the right status… that they’re valued" (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 2/17).

The takeaway: The University of Denver is testing a new promotion system for non-tenured faculty that some say could become a model for adjunct career trajectories.

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