On running the tenure track: Part I

Posted on April 7, 2013 by


As I have mentioned in a previous journal publication (Clark, 2010), the days of the tenure track process may be limited for a variety of reasons. New faculty in nursing education programs leave at alarmingly high rates (Clark, 2010), and overall in the USA the percentage of non-tenure positions in higher education continues to grow while the number of tenured positions shrinks. Non-tenured faculty may include those who work part-time and those who carry a full-time teaching load and responsibility, but are not on the tenure track.

Additionally, some larger institutions may readily award tenure for researchers who bring in revenue, while relying on part-time and non tenured faculty to do the bulk of the teaching with little commitment to supporting their growth around teaching excellence and the further development of these teachers’ skills. In nursing, this is an obvious trend in some of our “best schools”, where the recognizable names in research in nursing teach one or two upper level courses perhaps per year; and these courses are likely mostly run by graduate students, TAs, and guest lecturers because the faculty member is busy doing research or directing a team to do research to ensure the revenue flows. Meanwhile, yearly contracted faculty are doing the bulk of the rest of the teaching in the lower level courses in the name of saving revenue for the university (American Association of University Professors, [AAUP], 1993). Years ago, the New York Times  also recognized this trend of tenure faculty being the new minority of teachers on many college campuses (Finder, 2007).

Of great concern as well for tenure track faculty is the grander movement toward universities and schools extending probationary periods to six or seven years, without affording opportunity for early application and moving faculty off the tenure track related to “funding issues” (AAUP, 1993).

The growth of non tenured faculty numbers erodes the power of the faculty body at large through a lack of available and protected numbers and voices. Academic freedom is more likely to be suppressed, and faculty who are tenured or on the tenure track are exploited as the quality of the educational process suffers when the faculty begin to lose control over the quality of the curriculum, heavy advising loads, and lack of scholarly  development and recognition  due to simply being over-worked and under-supported (AAUP, 1993). Meanwhile part-time or several year contracted non-tenure track faculty suffer due to a lack of resources: typically no funding for professional development, no office space is provided, job insecurity, and a lack of incentives or rewards for performance. Part time faculty or non-tenured faculty are often not afforded the opportunity to move into a tenure position should one become available, rather universities conduct costly global searches and look for the star who can generate revenue.

Now as you read this blog, you may be exclaiming aloud, sheesh…what a reference from 1993? Yes, the problem here is that this original report is still relevant to this day. That is why this important document is still so highly prominent on the AAUP website. AAUP also lists reports of ongoing issues with tenure positions, academic freedom, enrollment and financial issues that have lead to severances of tenure positions, to read more, visit here: http://www.aaup.org/reports-publications/aaup-policies-reports/academic-freedom-and-tenure-investigative-reports

Nursing tends to rely heavily on part-time positions or yearly to multi-year renewable contracts to support the profession’s great need for clinical instructors, lab instructors, and classroom teachers. Indeed I have personal experience in working in these positions for a number of years while I strived toward my PhD, while also working as a parish nurse and a hospice nurse.  After receiving my PhD, I continued on the non tenured path as I raised my young daughters for a number of years. Eventually I found a tenure track position that seemed to align with my desire to create meaningful innovations in nursing education. I do believe these non-tenured positions can be very valuable, as often these teachers are deeply committed to teaching. The teacher is perhaps pursuing graduate degree options, raising a family, or perhaps continuing to maintain valuable clinical expertise at the beloved bedside. Unfortunately, the lack of recognition of contribution in this area is astounding and retention of such faculty is likely very challenging. When adjunct faculty are retained, they are likely highly under-recognized and under-paid.

When I eventually stepped on the tenure track, I arrived with my shiny new thoughts, my years of training and study, and publications under my belt, ready to take on the race. The lights shined brightly and there may have even been a friend or two in the stadium to cheer me on. I was suited up and ready to go, pretty well rested and equipped with a variety of relaxation response tools to combat the stress of the position. The second part of this series will focus on my own “running of the tenure track”.


Clark, C.S. (2010). The nursing shortage as a community transformational opportunity: An update. Advances in Nursing Science, 33(10), 35-52.

Finder,A. (November 20, 2007). Decline of tenure track raises concerns. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/education/20adjunct.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

American Association of University Professors. (1993). The status of non-tenure track faculty. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/report/status-non-tenure-track-faculty