Congratulations! You’re a Replicant! (and Other Great News from the Non-Tenure Track)

from my ongoing series Essays I Can’t Write if I Want to Keep my Job

Years ago, early in my post-college working life, I had a job doing PR/marketing for the art side of an “art & science” museum. Shortly after I arrived, there was a huge reshuffle in staff — for reasons that were not entirely clear at the time — that culminated with me waiting one morning in a conference room with other employees as management called us in one by one either to give us a new job title or to lay us off. My turn arrived, and was I told by a smiling management team, “Congratulations! You’re now doing PR/marketing for both art AND science! You got promoted!” I quit on the spot.

I didn’t want to do PR for a science museum. I had no interest in doing PR for a science museum. No one had asked me if I wanted to do this new job (or frankly had investigated to see if I would be any good at this new job), but wasn’t I lucky to be given this opportunity when other people were fired and no longer had any job at all!?

This was a master lesson in how systems of power maintain their power (no management staff was let go or demoted that day) and how those in power create narratives so they can sleep at night assured of their own generosity (and only disappointed that the people they “saved” are so shockingly ungrateful.)

Now, decades later, as a long-term contingent faculty member at a Research I institution, I’m metaphorically being called into the head office to be offered a new job title I never asked for, and those in power will sleep well during the nights ahead thinking they are generous in extending me such an exciting new opportunity! If I am ungrateful, well then that’s just an indictment of my character, isn’t it?

At my university, I am classified as academic staff and was promoted a few years ago from lecturer/instructor/whatever I was before to “faculty associate” — a position designed quite some time ago to distinguish long-term non-tenure track instructors from adjuncts. However, make no mistake that no matter the good intentions, the impact of solidifying a non-tenure track job for some of your employees and a tenure-track role for others — while those in power shut down all of their senses in order to maintain the delusion that those two jobs are fundamentally different — serves only the interests of maintaining inequities.

So now, as my current title (faculty associate) is going away, and I wait for my new title to officially be assigned (teaching professor), here’s my favorite paragraph from the just distributed appointment and promotion guidelines for so-called “teaching professors.”

“The Teaching Professor title is appropriate for academic staff whose job duties are devoted to teaching and learning. The title of Teaching Professor may not be used for positions whose responsibilities substantially replicate those of tenure‐track faculty such as involving both teaching and regular research.” (emphasis mine)

Ok, close readers. So the key here is that the responsibilities of “teaching professors” cannot substantially replicate those of tenure-track faculty.

Let’s just pretend like this is actually possible in the first place and keep reading those guidelines, shall we? Teaching professors are required to be outstanding “above and beyond performance in the formal classroom environment.” So outstanding teaching isn’t enough to be a teaching professor, so how might I prove my additional outstanding-ness?

“● Publication of educational developments in journals, books, digital venues, and etc.

● Publication of textbooks, or production of software or other digital media important to education

● Presentations at local or national events”

So according to the above, writing articles, books, essays, etc. and/or presenting at conferences is NOT research (if you’re a teaching professor.) Or is it that anything published that is “important to education” is not research? I can’t wait to share this news with the School of Education! They’re going to be thrilled!

Besides research (that isn’t actually research and that I would get no funding at all to pursue), I could also prove my excellence beyond the classroom by:

“● Curriculum development — development of new curricula and/or innovative methods of delivery in the relevant subject matter
● New or innovative course development
● Use of technology or different modalities in teaching”

In other words, I can prove my excellence in teaching by good teaching — which is different from the responsibilities of tenure-track faculty how exactly? It’s ok — I’ll wait for your answer, and while I do, here’s some more food for thought! As my tenure-track colleagues are eligible for course releases, time off, and sabbaticals specifically to develop new courses/pedagogy, apparently, “teaching professors” are so outstanding that they do those things AND with no extra time, money, or support to do it! I’m beginning to think I’m pretty extraordinary after all!

Oh! And don’t forget these other ways to be excellent:

“● Collaborating with faculty and staff in the development of teaching strategies”
(Essentially, this is committee work, and noted later in the guidelines is this: “The expectations for a teaching professor shall include department, college and/or university service.” Keep in mind, however, that as a non-tenure track faculty member, I cannot vote on any department-related matter, so I’m welcome to “collaborate,” but decision making? Well, that’s left to. . . non-teaching professors I guess?)

“● Evidence of sound advising and mentoring of students on academic and/or career issues”
(Translation: Invisible emotional labor impossible to measure!)

“● Supervision of student activities”
(Now here’s some completely invisible labor that is wonderful for students, of course, but also something literally no one in power has EVER cared about as a measure of my worth/contributions to the university.)

“● Administrative responsibility for educational programs”
(Want to be really outstanding? You can be a professor AND your own admin staff!)

“● Commitment to teaching clinics”
(I have no idea what a “teaching clinic” is. I am super involved in and knowledgeable about all the ways my institution supports pedagogical innovation and improvement, I’ve been on a dean’s task force for teaching and learning excellence, and I’ve literally never heard anyone ever say “teaching clinic.” Ever.)

Beyond ways to prove my excellence, the guidelines note the following: “Any individual in the Teaching Professor (all levels) track may apply for an open tenure-track position without prejudice or preference.”

Ok. Read that again. Now imagine this magical universe where your university would open a tenure-track line that a “teaching professor” would be a good fit for when they can pay you far less, give you way fewer benefits, fire you at any time, and sleep well knowing that they gave you this super awesome cool “teaching professor” title. Go ahead: IMAGINE.

Even if you can will that universe into existence, consider this again: “The title of Teaching Professor may not be used for positions whose responsibilities substantially replicate those of tenure‐track faculty such as involving both teaching and regular research.” So teaching professors are clearly eligible and qualified for tenure-track positions, but the job of a teaching professor is explicitly defined as not being the same as a tenure-track faculty. How then will a teaching professor prove their ability to do such a fundamentally different job as a tenure-track professor? Why would a department ever look at. . . let’s say a teaching professor with nearly 20 years experience, when some external candidate who’s been on the tenure-track elsewhere for just a year or two clearly by definition brings way more actual experience to the job?

At this point, I would like to skip ahead in the appointment and promotion guidelines for teaching professors to the information articulated within the document about salary, raises, benefits, etc. (Spoiler alert: There is none.)

Back when this idea of a “teaching professor” title was first floated, a tenured colleague asked me for some feedback as the university was trying to avoid “creating a two-tier system.”

I took a deep breath. “A friend of mine once didn’t get a job she was absolutely perfect for after everyone was convinced she would get it. The guy who ultimately made the hiring decision called her to tell her she wasn’t going to be hired, and then he proceeded to explain to her all the reasons why he hired his girlfriend instead. ‘Did you call me so that I could tell you it’s ok that you hired your girlfriend instead of me?’ my friend asked.” I looked my colleague in the eye. “Are you asking me this so I can tell you it’s ok to create a two-tier system?”

I didn’t say any of that, of course. Instead, I replied that the question my colleague asked was a bit of a conundrum because adding the title of “teaching professor” was explicitly creating a two-tier system. I remember staring blankly after that, and though I don’t remember my colleague having any response all, I do remember thinking about that museum I used to work for (fun fact: it no longer exists), the insidiousness of a culture of mandatory gratitude, and how tired I was of having to say thank you for things that put the job I am both qualified to do and actually doing further and further out of reach.

Maker of Theatre — Teacher of the Brave — Faculty Associate, Department of English, UW-Madison — Proprietress, Maudetown Vintage — Human Being

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