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Inside Iowa State
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February 23, 2001

Pay, job security among temporary faculty concerns

by Linda Charles
John Pleasants teaches two classes a semester, has developed two highly successful Web-based courses, researches the effect of Bt corn on monarch butterflies, and has been identified as "faculty" for years.

And, while he's pretty sure he'll have a job at Iowa State next year, he can't say that with absolute certainty.

Welcome to the world of non-tenure track faculty, a loosely woven group of part- and full-time faculty, who, for one reason or another, are not on the tenure track.

About 20 percent of the faculty at Iowa State are non-tenure track. Nationally, the figure is closer to 40 percent, according to a Jan. 26 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Waiting game
Pleasants, a temporary assistant professor of zoology and genetics, came to Iowa State as a temporary faculty member in 1979, and has been here almost continuously. For about five years, he was on the tenure track, but "that didn't work out well," Pleasants said. He returned to temporary status in the early '90s.

Pleasants considers himself fortunate. "My department has been very supportive and generous," he said. "I've been around a long time. I've made a niche for myself."

Pleasants said by now, he feels a certain amount of job security, but it wasn't that way in the beginning. And it isn't that way for many of the non-tenured faculty on campus.

Because many are hired with "soft" money, they often don't know until summer if they will have a job in the fall.

Julie Minkler-Tsivakou is one of approximately 30 temporary instructors hired each year by the English department. She has worked for the department since 1997, accepting a temporary position when she remarried.

"A temporary job is OK when you have other interesting things to do at home," she said.

She normally finds out in May whether she will be employed the next year. While she knows of people at the university who haven't had their contracts renewed, Minkler-Tsivakou feels fairly secure about being rehired.

"With the job situation, you can find a job if you wait," she said. "It's not easy to wait, but it does happen. They give you a job."

'Ridiculous' pay
She is more fortunate than many temporary instructors in the English department. She shares an office with an adjunct professor in Ross Hall.

"We have a good computer and a phone," she said.

But, she adds, "For a lot of people, the situation is not fine. Over in Landscape Architecture (where many of the English temporary faculty are housed), there are problems. The English department still has some big problems with office space."

English department chair Charles Kostelnick agrees.

"Right now, it is difficult to improve working conditions with the budget we have," he said. "We've tried to make improvements in Landscape Architecture, but the office space there still is far from optimal."

Minkler-Tsivakou's major complaint as a temporary is the pay. In the liberal arts, teaching three classes a semester brings about $24,000 for the year.

"This is ridiculous pay," she said. "This is not a good way to be treating people. Some of them have Ph.Ds or are A.B.D.s (all but dissertation). This needs to be changed."

Special situation
Denise Vrchota, continuous adjunct assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, knows she'll be working at Iowa State next year. She is one of a handful of faculty who began as temporaries and then were changed to continuing adjunct status around 1990.

The continuing adjunct positions were created for a limited set of individuals after a long-time temporary faculty member threatened to sue the university, maintaining she should be granted tenure. That action also resulted in a university cap of five years for full-time employment of temporary faculty.

While Vrchota has job security, her pay (like that of the other continous adjuncts) falls near the bottom of her department, despite her research, teaching and service efforts. In 1996, the Faculty Senate called for salary equity for the continuous adjuncts, but little has happened.

Vrchota says she is expected to conduct research, is peer-reviewed right along with the tenured faculty, and can't be dismissed "unless I do something really terrible."

"I'm treated like a real faculty member," she said, "but I can't say I'm tenured and I'm not paid like one."

Making do
As good as Pleasants has it in his department, he doesn't get paid for conducting research, only for teaching. Pleasants has managed to get around the five-year cap by being employed three-quarters time rather than full-time.

He has to "get around" other things too. For example, as a temporary faculty member, he is not allowed to seek outside grants to fund his research. So, he must have a tenure-line colleague make the application and list him as a "consultant."

Again, he is lucky -- he is a field ecologist so his laboratory is "out there" (outside) and his department does provide him with some lab space. But that is not always the case with temporary faculty, who may have a tough time finding a place to conduct their research.

Still, a temporary position is just what some people are looking for.

Amie Adelman, temporary assistant professor in art and design, will have taught six different courses this year. But, as a recent graduate, she feels "this is a wonderful opportunity. It was my first real opportunity to teach at a university."

Not many universities offer courses in her area (fiber). "This was perfect, a rare opportunity."

When she took the job, she knew the position would be available only for one year while the department searched for a permanent, tenure-line faculty member.

Adelman has applied for the position, but won't know for a while if she got it. "I don't know where I'll be next summer and fall," she said. "My life is kind of up in the air."

Julie Minkler-Tsivakou, one of 39 temporary instructors in the English department this semester, prepares to teach English 105. Photo by Michael Haynes.

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