SENATE COMMITTEE ON FACULTY AFFAIRS
Recommendation for Standardizing Fixed Term Titles across Units
Question for Forensic discussion
Do we, the Faculty Senate, wish to have uniform titles for fixed-term faculty across our University, or will each college independently define these titles?
In March 2016, the University Faculty Senate endorsed an advisory/consultative report that included a recommendation to expand the existing promotion pathway for fixed-term faculty from two ranks to three (Appendix B). While at that time the report suggested allowing units to determine titles for those ranks, 2016-17 Senate Chair James Strauss charged the Committee on Faculty Affairs with recommending titles that might be widely used across units. Inconsistent titles frequently lead to such confusion as what difference might exist between a “lecturer” and an “instructor”—when in reality, units use such titles interchangeably for essentially equivalent positions. Should each unit develop its own titles for a new, additional rank, such confusion is likely to be compounded. The purpose of this report, then, is to recommend standard titles for correlative positions and avoid compounding existing confusion. In addition, and to provide still more clarity on various fixed-term positions in the university, this report recommends that HR 21 be revised so that, insofar as is practical, rank and title share the same nomenclature.
Suggestions to develop a three-tier promotion system for fixed term faculty and to adopt new titles are not new. In 2007, the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs recommended adopting the titles of Assistant Professor of Practice, Associate Professor of Practice, and Professor of Practice for fixed-term faculty who either have exceptional professional experience or who hold a terminal degree and bring “valuable academic expertise” (Appendix C, p. 3). While then-President Spanier accepted the title of Professor of Practice for individuals with exceptional professional experience, he rejected professorial titles for other fixed-term faculty (Appendix D, p. 2) in order to avoid potential confusion about responsibilities of fixed-term and tenure line professors and to avoid devaluing the terminal degree credential and tenure process.
In 2013, the Executive Subcommittee for Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning (chartered by the university’s Online Steering Committee) acknowledged a cadre of fixed-term faculty focused on teaching as a valuable and necessary component of the World Campus effort. The Subcommittee recommended that professorial titles be standardized across units to the extent practical and “should include the full hierarchy from assistant through equivalent professorial levels” (Appendix E, p. 7), perhaps using three versions of titles to illuminate different roles: one for faculty whose primary responsibility is research, one for faculty whose primary responsibility is teaching, and one for faculty whose primary responsibility is clinical. (Appendix E, p. 6).
A 2014 Senate White Paper reviewed these earlier reports, catalogued the variety of titles employed across units, surveyed practices at other institutions, and detailed not only the critical role that fixed-term faculty play but also their steadily increasing numbers (Appendix F). The White Paper cites a 2012 report of the Senate Committee on Intra-University Relations indicating that the number of fixed-term faculty grew from 4,695 in 2004 to 6,012 in 2010, reflecting the national trend toward increasing reliance on fixed-term rather than standing appointments within higher education generally. After reviewing earlier reports, and in recognition of the important contributions fixed-term faculty make to the university, the White Paper recommended that the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs
author a new Advisory and Consultative Report that recommends to the University leadership a new model that addresses the 2007 concerns of some of the tenure line faculty that the creation of non-tenure-line teaching ranks would “de-value the efforts they have made in working through the tenure process and the academic ranks, accumulating strong records in multiple dimensions of teaching, research, and service” (Spanier to Floros, p. 2) while recognizing the growing need to attract and retain highly qualified individuals to teach in our professional programs and courses. Without the ability to effectively “recognize the high professional achievements of colleagues whose main activities do not merit tenure under our current tenure system but whose contributions are absolutely essential to the success of the school” (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000, p. 1), we will continue to struggle as an institution to meet our strategic goals, including providing academic programs that meet the needs of new and emerging markets. (Appendix F, p. 14).
As illustrated in Appendix B, the Senate has taken steps to move toward an expanded career path for fixed-term faculty. This report intends to further efforts to both strengthen and better differentiate among career paths for fixed-term faculty. It also reflects the committee’s effort to avoid the danger of de-valuing of tenure that concerned then-President Spanier (Appendix D).
As earlier reports detail, both rank and title matter—and not simply to the individuals involved. For example, in an informal survey conducted by the Faculty Affairs Subcommittee on Faculty Development, one respondent indicated s/he would never have accepted a position with Penn State if it hadn’t come with a professorship title, and another pointed out that the lack of professorial titles hinders faculty ability to secure grants and form partnerships. Recruiting the best possible faculty and supporting their efforts to help maintain the university’s visibility on a national and global scale is imperative. Appropriate titles are a critical step in this direction.
Moreover, this is a need other universities have long since acknowledged and acted upon. For example, the quote from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is from 2000; the 2012 White Paper survey of comparable institutions indicates that many models are already in place at other prestigious institutions, and as last year’s Senate report on HR21 noted, similar titles and ranks exist at Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Iowa, Rutgers University, Purdue University, and the University of Nebraska.
While many institutions have adopted differentiated titles for fixed-term faculty, models vary considerably and there appears to be no widespread agreement on nomenclature. An informal poll of fixed-term faculty in the units of subcommittee members indicated that there are substantial differences of opinion among Penn State fixed-term faculty about the most desirable title for various positions. Likewise, extended deliberations within the full Faculty Affairs committee also reveal a wide variety of preferences, amply illustrating the complexity of the issue at hand. It is apparent that unanimity on this, as on other Senate issues, cannot be expected. As a result, the committee offers the recommendation below as the one most committee members believe addresses key objections to various possibilities.
While there is widespread appreciation of fixed-term faculty’s crucial contributions to the university as well as strong support for efforts to recruit the best possible candidates for faculty positions, there is also concern about the possibility of new titles conflating roles and responsibilities between fixed-term and tenure line faculty in new and undesirable ways. We note with alarm that some fixed-term faculty hired to teach high course loads are sometimes encouraged or even expected to conduct research as well, even though they are not provided with the time and resources necessary for research. We also note that these expectations vary widely and incoherently from campus to campus, such that fixed-term faculty on one campus are evaluated on a 60-30-10 system (for teaching, research and/or scholarship, and service), fixed-term faculty on another campus are evaluated on a 1/3-1/3-1/3 system, and fixed-term faculty on another campus are not evaluated for research at all (as indeed they should not be, if they are not given time and resources for research).
We want to make it very clear that our recommendations here are attempts to help clarify and strengthen the titles of fixed-term faculty positions without conflating significant differences among primary responsibilities of various types of appointments. In other words, changes in job titles should not entail changes in job description. Fixed-term faculty whose positions involve high teaching loads should not be expected to develop research agendas simply because their title becomes “assistant teaching professor.” As we point out below, it will be imperative for every unit to ensure that its criteria for appointments and promotions be clear and appropriately differentiated in order to guard against fixed-term faculty being expected to take on substantive responsibilities typically characteristic of tenure-line faculty.
Specifically, the committee recommends differentiating between fixed-term faculty who hold terminal degrees and those who don’t, and between faculty whose primary responsibility is teaching and those whose primary responsibilities are clinical.
Since the many units of Penn State University have, over the years, settled on a dizzying variety of approaches to titling their fixed-term faculty, we propose implementing the new shared titling system over three to five years. Gradual implementation will allow colleagues and unit administrators to develop fair procedures for assessing who among the existing fixed-term faculty might be eligible for a change in rank and title, how job descriptions and advertising language need to be adjusted throughout the unit, and how to minimize negative impacts on valued colleagues. Gradual implementation will also enable the Faculty Senate to receive and react to feedback about the new program in timely ways. Allowing five years for full implementation does risk some erosion of institutional memory over the long period of transition. But allowing five years also permits existing fixed-term faculty to achieve new credentials, if they wish, and permits administrators to introduce the changes smoothly as existing contracts expire.
Finally, to ensure that inappropriate expectations do not creep into fixed-term appointments, it will be essential for every unit to develop clear criteria for the responsibilities associated with a particular rank and for promotions. Some units have begun work in this area. Attached as Appendix G is a document detailing expectations for various ranks in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, which units may find a helpful model.
We recommend the following system of ranks and titles:
New Titles under HR 21
|Assistant Professor||Assistant Teaching Professor||Assistant Clinical Professor||Assistant Research Professor|
|Associate Professor||Associate Teaching Professor||Associate Clinical Professor||Associate Research Professor|
|Full Professor||Teaching Professor||Clinical Professor||Research Professor|
|Senior Lecturer||Senior Clinical Lecturer||Senior Researcher|
|Master Lecturer||Master Clinical Lecturer||Master Researcher|
In addition, the committee recommends the attached revision to HR21 (see Appendix A). Rank and title share the same designation.
 Some units already have three-tier systems and standard titles unique to their units. These include, for example, the library, the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), and the Hershey College of Medicine. Back to Footnote #1 in Text
 See Colleen Flaherty, “Professors of Instruction,” Inside Higher Ed, August 12, 2015. https://www.insidehighered. com/news/2015/08/12/northwestern-us-arts-and-sciences-college-updates-titles-teaching-faculty-and-offers Back to Footnote #2 in Text