Fisher said the recession in 2008 caused the University to turn to shorter contracts because of the uncertainty with the economy. However, the economy is more stable now but contract lengths for fixed-term faculty are still shorter, at one year or sometimes even one-semester long.
“It doesn’t give a great feeling of job security and also it’s a little bit unnerving to have to renew your contract every single year even though you know you’re coming back to teach or do research or provide clinical care,” Fisher said.
Peter Pihos, a lecturing fellow at Duke University, said as a fixed-term faculty member, he understands the struggles of short-term contracts, like little time for planning courses, if their contracts were to be renewed.
“It is a system that is thriving on cheapening, casualizing labor and I think it’s really sad, in part, it just reflects our priorities,” Pihos said.
Altha Cravey, a member of Faculty Forward, said their organization held a “speak out” in February 2015, telling stories from fixed-term faculty of their struggles.
“There has been this big, rapid change moving away from tenure track people like me to people who don’t have long contracts and sometimes don’t have benefits and don’t have good pay,” Cravey said.
Cravey said shorter contracts can also be linked to funding shortages because it is cheaper to have fixed-term faculty.
“When budgets are tight, it becomes something easy to slide into, this reliance on these non-tenure track folks, who don’t have much job security,” Cravey said. “They may love teaching, they may be some of our best teachers, and that’s the irony. They are often times some of the best, most dedicated teachers, but they are really working under difficult circumstances.”
Cravey said their event gained the Provost’s attention, who arranged a meeting with Faculty Forward to discuss their concerns.
“One of the things he said was that this contract length was something that he thought, among the different issues that we were concerned about, that was one he thought that he could move on and begin to think about and he offered to collect some information and get it back to us, which he did,” Cravey said.
The work of both groups showed the Provost the problems related to shorter contracts, like lack of stability for the fixed-term faculty.
“Even if they’ve been here for several years, they don’t know until the last minute if they should order books, if they’re going to have money to pay the rent,” Cravey said.
However, longer contracts could mean more than job security for some.
“It benefits the University by indicating to the faculty that they are valued, that they are not disposable or dispensable within a year,” Fisher said. “But one-year contracts leaves that at the end of the year, there is no job unless it is renewed.”
After the Provost’s recommendation, the next years will show how fixed-term faculty is impacted.
“It is not the best we can do,” Cravey said. “I think we can do better.”