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Improving Support for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Faculty Development Promotion, Tenure, and Evaluation

Improving Support for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Academic administrators are well aware that the faculty has changed dramatically, with 70 percent of the faculty now off the tenure track (52 percent part-time and 18 percent full-time, non–tenure track) (American Association of University Professors, 2018). This transformation of academic positions over the past three decades has created an assortment of challenges for campuses—lack of individuals to lead curricular and pedagogical transformations, inconsistent understanding of programmatic and school learning goals, lack of institutional memory about policies and practices, and inconsistent presence of faculty to support student learning and relationships. These, among other challenges, have become widespread issues that campuses are only beginning to come to grips with. It is commonplace for faculty leaders to bemoan the challenging circumstances that part-time and contingent faculty face, but much less attention has been paid to solutions. The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success was created in 2012 as a partnership across dozens of national higher education organizations representing faculty, administrators, and policymakers to address this issue. In the past decade, the Delphi Project has developed a comprehensive database composed of numerous resources for campuses; the goal is to help them solve these pressing issues and to better support contingent faculty and explore new faculty models.

Because the landscape of changes is so dynamic, we established an award to capture real-time alterations and to identify models to guide other campuses. We now have four years of award winners, and in this article, we highlight this year’s: Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the University of Denver (DU). Like our previous winners, each has made important changes, among them revised evaluation and promotion systems for NTTF; inclusion in deeper forms of professional development, such as learning communities; inclusion in governance; improved orientation and onboarding; increased compensation; and more comprehensive systemic changes that include several of these areas at once.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Marked improvements in job security and academic freedom

Most campuses are resigned to increased contingency. Perhaps the most prevalent trend against the adjuntification of higher education with mostly part-time faculty is that some campuses have started to hire more full-time, non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF). Yet in our applications for the award this year, we saw a very distinctive approach at WPI—reversing the trend toward contingency and creating job security and academic freedom by establishing a tenure-track lines for teaching faculty.

Altering the trend toward contingency

WPI, a private research university in Massachusetts, decided that to truly meet its mission to support academic freedom and student learning, it would need to have more faculty accustomed to the benefits and affordances that come with tenure. The university recognized that because tenure had focused on research and it needed faculty focused on teaching, it should create a tenure track for “professors of teaching.” This new career track was then supported by appropriate advancement, evaluation, and revised tenure standards appropriate for teaching faculty (i.e., focus on commitment to teaching and innovative teaching practices). This professor of teaching track was made available to all full-time faculty, who could apply for this position and be converted. WPI formally established a teaching track to tenure and an institutional goal to place 40 percent of its current full-time teaching faculty on the tenure track between August 2021 and August 2023.

Creating more security and shared governance rights for NTTF

WPI also made available multiyear contracts for the remaining full-time NTTF, with clear conditions for reappointment and protections against retaliation, as well as full inclusion in faculty governance for all secured full-time NTTF. After a one-year probationary term and subsequent performance review, WPI offers NTTF a three-year appointment. After the first three-year term, NTTF can be granted a second three-year term, followed by terms of no fewer than five years each. These contracts offer NTTF more stability and job assurance as well as participation in shared governance.

The design and implementation of a tenure track for teaching faculty and the other changes for remaining NTTF began to resolve at WPI some intractable problems in higher education, such as the erosion of tenure and academic freedom, the precarious status of contingent faculty, and the weakening of faculty governance. These systemic improvements grant teaching faculty at WPI the professional identity and esteem currently missing in many institutions across the country. It is significant to note that WPI broke with higher ed’s dominant approach to budgeting, which takes more and more funds away from instruction, and instead redirected funding to the heart of the institution—its instructional mission.

The University of Denver: Professionalization of NTTF

Like WPI, DU recognized that its teaching faculty were not appropriately supported, and it endeavored to create a new career path with more security and promotion opportunities. It also recognized that part-time faculty, too, deserve better support.

Creating a teaching and professional faculty track

DU created a new line of teaching and professional faculty (TPF) that was eligible for promotion, included in shared governance, and more integrated into campus life. This change transformed the lives of more than 200 full-time lecturers, giving them full-time status with renewable contracts and pathways to promotion. One change is that TPF can now be hired on renewable contracts for up to five years. After five years, NTTF can be promoted to the new line with the title assistant teaching professor, assistant clinical professor, or assistant professor of the practice. Evaluation for appointment, annual review, reappointment, and promotion considers excellence in teaching (teaching professor) or teaching, participation in shared governance, and service (clinical professor and professor of the practice). This change gives TPF full professionalization at the institution, with new titles, stability, and opportunities to engage in shared governance.

Ensuring professional development for all faculty

To help faculty succeed on this new track, DU expanded its professional development option and targeted the faculty on this new line. Teaching and professional faculty, along with part-time faculty, were also eligible to receive different types of support ranging from instructional design support to funds for materials, equipment, and software as a part of a $2.2 million commitment to supporting teaching enhancements. Access to this money gave teaching and professional faculty the opportunity to grow as instructors and improve classroom learning for all students.

Part-time faculty support

DU was aware that part-time faculty also needed support for their teaching. One barrier to part-time faculty participation in professional development is the lack of compensation. DU offers teaching and professional faculty stipends to participate in professional development opportunities. Additionally, DU created numerous resources to acclimate new part-time faculty and instill a culture of respect. For example, the vice provost of faculty affairs office sends out an adjunct faculty newsletter on a quarterly basis to highlight opportunities for and contributions of part-time faculty at DU. DU also hosts a quarterly mini-orientation for adjunct faculty. The orientation is held both asynchronously and synchronously online to honor the wide range of circumstances that permeate the lives of adjunct faculty.

Ensuring support over time: Resident scholar for teaching and professional faculty

To ensure that TPF and part-time NTTF have the support they need to thrive in their roles, DU appointed a clinical professor as its inaugural resident-scholar for teaching and professional faculty. Aside from offering support to TPF and part-time NTTF, the resident-scholar is also responsible for educating the DU community about the role of NTTF by sharing strategies and relevant research.

Best practices for process

Certainly, these campuses provide direction for how to better support NTTF, as well as tending to the realities of the changing faculty workforce. Both WPI and DU provide avenues for rewarding teaching which is the main mission of most higher education institutions. But these campuses also had exemplary change processes. We highlight just a few areas for consideration.

Start by understanding NTTF issues

Both campuses began by understanding the challenges that NTTF face. The campuses convened committees and task forces, conducted focus groups, facilitated learning sessions, and collected institutional data about the experiences of NTTF. Furthermore, they turned to scholarship on the NTTF workforce to best identify solutions and best practices.

Foregrounding equity and respect as principles

These campuses foregrounded equity and respect as guiding principles to inform their efforts to improve NTTF life, including through new policies and procedures.

Broadly engage stakeholders

Both institutions involved their stakeholders broadly in the process. For example, to enact systemic changes, DU included its board of trustees, administration, and tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty in planning and supporting its outlined changes.


To institutionalize these efforts, campuses needed a mechanism to ensure that policies were followed across units. DU thus created a scorecard to help understand the institution’s strengths and areas for growth and then used it to track changes. The scorecard includes such key elements as employment equity, academic freedom and autonomy, flexibility, professional growth, and collegiality. For each element, DU coded green (consistent institutionalization across the university), yellow (inconsistent institutionalization across the university), and red (not institutionalized at the university).

We hope you will check out resources on the Delphi Project website to get more ideas about how to better support your faculty. Examples of campuses from every sector of higher education are represented, and we’re certain that you can find relevant information to make your campus one where faculty thrive so students can flourish.


American Association of University Professors. (2018, October 11). Data snapshot: Contingent faculty in US higher ed. https://www.aaup.org/news/data-snapshot-contingent-faculty-us-higher-ed#.YZvm6r3MInd

Jordan Harper is a research assistant at the Pullias Center for Higher Education and a PhD student in the urban education policy program at the University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education.

Adrianna Kezar, PhD, is the Wilbur-Kieffer Endowed Professor and Rossier Dean’s Professor in Higher Education Leadership at the University of Southern California.


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