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Friday December 9th

UNC health affairs moves away from dependence on tenured faculty

The University is increasingly relying on and hiring fixed-term rather than tenure-track faculty — particularly in health affairs.

But administrators are also working to make fixed-term a positive career path, offering more opportunities for advancement.

Health Affairs Faculty

45 percent

total fixed-term faculty at UNC

59 percent

fixed-term health affairs faculty

60 percent

UNC faculty in health affairs

“It’s not a them and us or two-tier system,” said Ron Strauss, executive vice provost and chief international officer. “It’s two different types of employment, both of which are very valued.”

Tenure-track positions are designed to lead to promotions and permanent employment based on career accomplishments, such as research. Tenure status protects against involuntary suspension or termination except for very specific circumstances.

Fixed-term faculty are not eligible for tenure and hold contracts ranging from one to several years, without promise of renewal.

Reasons for the increase

Of all University faculty, 45 percent are fixed-term, while 41 percent are tenured and 13 percent are on the tenure track.

An increase in fixed-term faculty has been concentrated in the health affairs schools. Of the current health care faculty, 59 percent are fixed-term, compared with 51 percent in 2006. Only 32 percent of faculty in health affairs are tenured.

Paul Godley, executive associate dean for faculty affairs, said because both the size of the medical center and number of patients have increased, more clinicians are needed. Different types of faculty are being hired than in the past, he said.

“I don’t think we’d be able to have this amount of growth in the medical school if we kept the same proportion of tenure-track faculty to fixed-term faculty we had 10 or 15 years ago,” Godley said.

He said tenure-track faculty have many responsibilities in addition to research, treating patients and teaching — such as publishing frequently.

Some faculty members are not interested in those other tasks and want to focus on one or a few areas of excellence, he said.

Beyond health affairs

The academic affairs side of the University, which includes the College of Arts and Sciences, has seen an increase in fixed-term professors on a much smaller scale, Strauss said.

Margaret O’Shaughnessey, chairwoman of the fixed-term faculty committee and an English professor, said she thinks the increase in fixed-term faculty is related to financial issues.

“With the legislatures seeming to slash college budgets, that’s going to probably mean, whether people want it to go that way or not … more fixed term faculty,” she said.

Strauss said fixed-term faculty allow for more flexibility in hiring.

“Should funding sources change or the availability of grants change, you don’t have a fixed faculty you have to support no matter what,” he said.

Benefits and drawbacks

Fixed-term faculty members are often still a long-term part of the faculty, and some have different goals than tenured faculty, Strauss said.

Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the Faculty Council and a fixed-term faculty member since 1988, said fixed term faculty can be more multifaceted.

“It gives lecturers the ability to do what we love and do other things other than just worry about publishing,” she said.

But Boxill said the biggest drawback to the fixed track is job security. Fixed-term faculty hold a time-limited contract and earn less than tenured faculty.

Fatimah Jackson, a tenured anthropology professor, said the uncertainty might be unbearable for some faculty.

“Tenure creates a bond of community that is not as pronounced when you don’t have tenure,” she said. “When you don’t have tenure, things are still up in the air.”

Looking forward

“UNC is committed to not exploiting people who don’t have tenure,” she said.

In 2011, the University approved a three-tiered ranking system for fixed term faculty that parallels promotions on the tenure track. This created a career track, more job security and a higher salary at each rank, O’Shaughnessey said.

“It recognizes people for their accomplishments and validates the fixed term,” Strauss said.

Fixed term faculty can also serve on committees, receive teaching awards, and be on faculty council, which many other schools do not yet allow, Boxill said.

“UNC is doing a lot better job than most places.”

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