Faculty Council vote allows four departments to keep term faculty


Patrick Sloan-Turner

Sonia Soltero, Faculty Council President, speaks at the council meeting on April 6 where they voted to keep term faculty.

DePaul’s Faculty Council voted unanimously Wednesday to grant four departments exemption from staffing guidelines for term faculty provided in the faculty handbook.

The handbook defines term faculty as full-time, non-tenure-line faculty that do not lead to tenure. It also gives the guideline that term faculty should not make up more than 30 percent of the full-time faculty members in a given unit or department unless granted an exemption like the one the Faculty Council voted on last week.

The unanimous vote allowed four departments to be exempt from the 30 percent cap policy. Criminology, Modern Languages, Master of Public Health and the School of Cinematic Arts may  continue to exist above the 30 percent threshold. Without Wednesday’s vote in favor of exemption, the employment status of term faculty currently teaching in these departments may have been called into question.

In May 2020, DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban instituted a hiring freeze for new tenure-track faculty to help ease some of the financial burdens of the Covid-19 pandemic. The temporary freeze was in place through the end of 2020.

Now, more than two years later, some DePaul faculty are feeling the effects of this freeze and voicing their need for additional staff.

“On weekends, I’m helping adjuncts figure out their grading problems and manage student crises,” said Megan Alderden, an associate professor of criminology, during discussion at Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s very challenging to only have a limited amount of resources [available] to you.”

Criminology is relatively new at DePaul, as it has only existed with departmental status for a year and began as a program in 2018. There are few options for young departments like Criminology to meet staffing requirements without a significant number of term faculty.

“If we don’t have term faculty, we have no faculty, essentially,” Alderden said. “[We’re] overwhelmed by the number of students that we have and under-resourced for what we’re trying to do.”

Between 2017 and 2021, the number of students studying criminology at DePaul grew from five to 252, according to data found in DePaul’s Institutional Research and Market Analytics (IRMA).

As enrollment numbers change within individual programs each year, departments must assign faculty to reflect the number of students in a given year. For example, in just one year, between 2020 and 2021, DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media’s undergraduate enrollment grew by more than 230 students, according to IRMA data.

While term faculty employed by DePaul may remedy immediate needs in specific departments, it’s not always meant to be a permanent solution for non-professional programs showing long-term enrollment growth, according to the faculty handbook.

The handbook indicates that term faculty should be used to maintain flexibility in allocating resources for faculty positions. It also states that term faculty should not be used to “permanently replace tenure-line position” or “avoid adding new tenure-line when merited.”

For several Faculty Council members in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, continuing to allow for a significant number of term faculty is a band-aid for a much larger issue. Many voiced their concerns about a lack of tenure track hires in recent years.

“I’m tired of seeing this number decline for 12 years,” said Tom Mondschean, DePaul professor of economics.

Currently, 222 of DePaul’s 862 full-time faculty members are term faculty, with the rest being tenure-track, according to IRMA. Still, these numbers will soon change as DePaul plans to bring in new tenure-track hires for the next academic year, according to Lucy Rinehart, associate professor of English and associate provost for academic planning and faculty.

“Four new tenure-track faculty joined DePaul in 2021-2022, and 38 searches for tenure-track faculty who will join the University in 2022-2023 are underway or already concluded,” Rinehart said to The DePaulia. Rinehart says this is a “slightly higher number than a typical recent year.”

A tenured position is coveted for some educators, as tenure comes with higher pay and job security. The average yearly salary of a tenured professor in the U.S. as of December 2021 was $117,232, while the yearly average wage of a non-tenure track assistant professor is $83,984, according to data from Glassdoor.

DePaul’s faculty handbook clarifies the increased job security for tenured faculty, explaining that tenured faculty can only be terminated with cause or under an extraordinary circumstance like misconduct or a university financial crisis.

Because of the university’s increased financial investment for these positions, the acquisition of a new tenure track employee is not a quick and easy process.

“From the approval of a tenure-line search to the faculty member’s coming to DePaul is usually about 15 months,” Rinehart said. “June of one year to September of the next.”

DePaul employs a significantly higher rate of tenure-track faculty in comparison to the national average for other private universities. Fifty-three percent of full-time faculty at four-year private nonprofit institutions in fall of 2019 were tenure-line, according to information from the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac provided by Rinehart. At DePaul, that figure was 73.7 percent during the same period.

Still, the Faculty Council’s current concerns that term faculty are filling positions meant for tenure-track remain at the local level within individual departments. DePaul’s criminology department currently has just one tenured faculty and four term faculty members, far surpassing the handbook’s recommended 30 percent threshold for term faculty within a given department.

The hope for some departments is that growth will lead to being awarded more tenure-track faculty soon. Until then, many departments that feel the need for more tenure-line will have to make do with the term faculty in place under last week’s exemption vote.

“I keep hearing ‘if you show growth, you’ll get more resources,’” Alderden said at Wednesday’s meeting. “But I don’t know how we can show more growth, and we haven’t gotten resources.”