Contingent Faculty: It’s hard to find the balance you seek if only one side will talk to you

Photo taken by Lina Aas-Helseth.

Photo taken by Lina Aas-Helseth.

Much is being done to tackle the ongoing issue of PLU’s non-tenure-track/contingent faculty, but one side seems to be somewhat tongue-tied.

There has been quite the storm surrounding this heated topic of discussion, and the side which can be categorized as pro-union is more than willing to share their opinions.

The PLU administration has mostly kept silent throughout the conversation.

Therefore, this begs the question: How can you find the balance you seek if just one side will talk to you?

Only recently did the entire campus begin to buzz in regards to the non-tenure-track/contingent faculty, despite the fact that this has been an ongoing discussion for several years.

This is also the first time the issue of the non-tenure-track/contingent faculty has been up for discussion on the Faculty Affairs Committee.

During an interview this Monday with James Albrecht, Dean of Humanities, Albrecht said that the Humanities division has been working on this issue for one and a half year now.

“We care about the welfare of all our faculty, and there are special issues relating to contingent faculty that deserve attention.   The Statement [Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty] is a good way to start, at least for the Humanities division,” Albrecht said.

Although the PLU administration has been silent throughout most of the discussion, with the exception of a few emails sent out to the faculty by Provost Starkovich, and a quick visit from Starkovich to an ASPLU [Associated Students of Pacific Lutheran University] Senate meeting a few weeks back, some tangible measures have been taken to “mend” the situation.

President Krise has responded to the issue by sending out an email to PLU’s faculty announcing that PLU’s Board of Regents has come to a decision about faculty compensation, promising pay parity.

According to Krise, the university has already determined the specific steps PLU must take to achieve its vision, referring to the analysis of the PLU 2020 financial plan. More about that can be read here.

This Monday, Provost Starkovich was asked through an email if he was available to meet and discuss the Division of Humanities’ Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty as well as the President/Board of Regents Statement. His response was:

“I appreciate your interest in this topic, but it would not be appropriate for me to meet with you.

I’ve referred the Statement to a special task force, and that task force expects to have a report to me by May 31.

It would not be right for me to start expressing my own views on the details of the Statement, in essence preempting and possibly biasing their recommendations.”

Provost Starkovich was not asked about future information regarding the task force’s specific assignments or methods of collecting information, but rather about past information and its relevance, and that should not bias anyone.

There has been a lot of imbalance concerning the coverage of the non-tenure-track/contingent faculty issue, leaning toward pro-unionization without all the details and facts on the table, so reaching out to Provost Starkovich was a way get the PLU administration’s side of the story as well.

Therefore, in a succeeding email, Provost Starkovich was asked why the PLU administration has kept silent throughout this process, and why transparency has not taken precedence as secrecy has only resulted in speculations across campus – not working in the administration’s favor.

The inquiry was an attempt to make the Provost try and balance out the already imbalanced coverage.

The Provost has known about the discussion in regards to the Humanities division’s Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty as he was the one who appointed the task force that will give the report later this month.

The Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty by the Humanities Division is trying its best to make the situation better for PLU’s non-tenure-track/contingent faculty.

During the interview with Albrecht, Albrecht referred to the Statement’s section of remuneration for the non-tenure-track/contingent faculty:

II. Remuneration:
a. Contingent faculty should be accorded fair remuneration. The Faculty Affairs Committee
should work with the Administration to establish a salary and wage schedule for contingent
faculty. The schedule should take into account teaching load and appointment seniority.

The Division of Humanities’ Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty, adopted March 8, 2013, can be read in full here.

The divisions aren’t the ones that set the salary, but they can advocate for it.

“Faculty salaries are set by the Administration, in consultation with the Faculty Affairs Committee.  We Divisions aren’t the ones that set salaries.  But we can advocate through the faculty governance system for equitable salary and wage schedules,” Albrecht said.

Non-tenure-track/contingent faculty doesn’t have access to tenure and that is the main difference, but contingent faculty can get salary increase. Also, equal pay for equal work does not apply as there are rewards for seniority, such as salary increases.

Hiring and staffing of the contingent faculty has been an issue, and according to the Statement, there are recommendations to what can be done.

Section III.c.6:

Departments should, within budgetary constraints, conduct rigorous searches for Visiting faculty that will help ensure that Visiting faculty have the qualifications to make them competitive candidates for tenure-track consideration. Departments should, within curricular/programmatic constraints, offer Visiting faculty a range of teaching opportunities that will help prepare them as candidates for a possible tenure-track search.

When asked if he knew of other measures that have been taken across campus, Albrecht answered, “I don’t have enough information to be able to speak intelligently regarding that issue.”

That is of course understandable as the divisions at PLU are different from one another.

Although the entire PLU administration isn’t on-board on the Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty, Albrecht does, however, hope that the Humanities division’s efforts will encourage the rest of PLU to follow their footsteps.

Both Albrecht and Provost Starkovich ended the conversations by saying that that the source of information until further notice will be the Frequently Asked Questions about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Process and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.

I’ve been taught about balance and fairness in COMA ethics classes and news writing classes.

However, balance and fairness are difficult to achieve when one side is always sending material to post and others with information that might balance the story don’t want to talk to me

What am I dealing with, then?

The inevitable fall in a hole with only one side of the story is well, inevitable.

It is hard to find the balance you seek if just one side will talk to you, but that should never discourage someone to get their hands dirty and dig deeper.

The issue of the non-tenure-track/contingent faculty here at Pacific Lutheran University will likely not disappear in the nearest future, but rather continue until effective measures are taken in order to finally settle this.



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