Through three years of debate and discussion, the University had explored seemingly every option.
Distinguished lecturer. College lecturer. University lecturer.
Each one was proposed.
But after several conversations — the kinds that “would only happen at a university” — Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney provided faculty with the brightest glimpse to date for the creation of a third promotional rank for fixed-term faculty, deciding on the title of “master lecturer” for lecturers and senior lecturers who have long sought for a rank that would more closely parallel the three-tiered career trajectory for tenure-track professors.
“We have debated the names of things, the pluses and minuses, of teaching assistant, teaching associate, teaching professor; about lecturer, senior lecturer, distinguished lecturer,” said a relieved Carney at the Dec. 17 Faculty Council meeting. “They have all had objections from greater or lesser numbers of faculty, and whether through acceptance or resignation, I think we have at least, finally, a path forward.”
He said the title is intended primarily to recognize exceptional service by fixed-term faculty members.
“Titles matter here,” he said, adding that the criteria and contractual benefits for the master lecturers have yet to be determined, leaving it uncertain whether the title will provide any significant gains for the job security of fixed-term faculty members.
With an anticipated state budget shortfall of $3.7 billion, fixed-term faculty are viewed by some as vulnerable to budget cuts, though administrators have frequently relented from making instructional cuts.
As a new position, the rank of master lecturer will require the approval of both the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors. Carney said he is aiming to have the rank in place by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.
If approved, the position of master lecturer would end a long wait for Jean DeSaix, a senior lecturer in the biology department who has served on a fixed-term basis since 1971.
“I was the first senior lecturer when that title became available,” said DeSaix, chairwoman of the fixed-term faculty committee. “At that point, that was considered a title change and not a promotion, which is an example of how hard it can be to make changes.
“Now it’s a promotion.”
A report submitted to Carney last January by the College of Arts and Sciences committee to develop policies and procedures for fixed-term faculty could provide a guide for determining the procedure for appointments and promotions within the fixed-term ranks.
Led by Bill Andrews, senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities, the committee recommended that the title of “University lecturer” be implemented to mirror the practices of peer institutions and other segments of UNC.
The recommendation calls for department chairmen to nominate lecturers for the higher rank, along with a statement from the nominee, several letters of recommendation and materials including course evaluations and publications to be weighed in the decision.
With regard to the three-track system, Thorp said academic affairs has lagged behind health affairs, which ranks fixed-term instructions as “clinical assistant professor,” “clinical associate professor” and “clinical professor.” At N.C. State University, fixed-term faculty work under the title of “teaching assistant professor” before rising to “teaching associate professor” and then “teaching professor.”
“People who work in academics are usually doing it for less financial reward than they could get in the private sector,” said Chancellor Holden Thorp. “In exchange for that, they get two things: They get the opportunity to be around students and be in this innovative environment at the University. And the second thing is getting recognition for doing it.”
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