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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 30, 2007

Senate task force looks at non-tenure research faculty

by Erin Rosacker

Last summer, the Faculty Senate executive board created a task force to take a look at issues surrounding non-tenure eligible faculty who are conducting faculty-level research on campus. Chaired by Denise Vrchota, adjunct assistant professor in English, the 12-member Task Force on Non-Tenure Eligible Research Faculty issued its report and recommendations in February.

With a charge to measure the number of non-tenure eligible individuals conducting faculty-level research (NTER) at ISU and examine the impact of developing an NTER track, the task force surveyed the university's colleges, centers and peer institutions and interviewed administrators and concerned faculty.

In the absence of a formal NTER designation at Iowa State, the task force asked colleges and centers to submit a list of non-tenure eligible appointments working on faculty-level research. A diverse range of positions was revealed, with titles such as adjunct, lecturer, clinician, scientist, instructor, specialist and collaborator. Some are teaching, some are doing research, and some are doing both.

In its report, the task force identified 86 NTER positions in the colleges, with nearly half designated as professional and scientific positions. The count omits the numbers given by centers, since many share duties in a college, and only includes individuals who possess terminal degrees (the highest academic degree granted in a specialization). The task force also reported that NTER positions are funded primarily by research grants.

"The NTER policy is important for faculty who are concerned about its potential effect on the tenure system because it proposes a mechanism for oversight of non-tenure eligible individuals who are conducting faculty-level research on campus," Vrchota said. "It is also important to those who view non-tenure eligible individuals' research as beneficial to the university because it provides a means for them to be on campus."


  • Based on its research, the task force issued a pair of recommendations: establish an NTER faculty track and develop a policy for appointing and reviewing NTER faculty. The group provided additional recommendations for development of a policy, touching on governance, appointment policies and procedures, renewal, and evaluation and review. Among those recommendations:
  • Establish departmental homes for all NTER faculty.
  • Require funding for positions to be external.
  • Require faculty involvement on appointment decisions.
  • Don't allow individuals classified as NTER also to be classified as P&S.
  • Set a five-year renewable term limit, contingent on funding and performance review.
  • Require position responsibility statements for all NTER faculty.
  • Create appointment, review and advancement procedures that mirror those for tenure-track faculty.

A majority of the task force members also recommended giving NTER faculty titles of research assistant professor, research associate professor and research professor. But some disagreed. During task force interviews, faculty expressed concerns that granting the professor title could confuse non-academics, harm the tenure system, or lead to replacement of tenure-track faculty with NTER-track positions.

On the flip side, administrators and individuals with NTER positions indicated during the interview process that a title change could help with additional external funding opportunities, recruitment (including spouse/partner hires) and retention. Four of the five peer institutions that responded to the task force survey already have an NTER faculty designation.

What's next?

With the completion of the NTER task force report, the senate executive board asked the governance council and the faculty development and administrative relations council to coordinate on development of an NTER policy.

The two councils will draft a resolution and send it to the executive board. Pending approval along the way, the resolution will go to the executive board, the senate, the provost and the president.

"Ultimately, if it is approved all the way along the line, it will then become a part of the faculty handbook," said senate president Gregory Palermo.

Although the task force found that many of the NTER positions were designated as P&S, this process has involved only Faculty Senate groups.

"The drafting of the resolution is essentially going to be a task of the two [Faculty Senate] councils," Palermo said. "Presently, we are not involving any other persons or organizations in the drafting of the policy."


"The NTER policy is important for faculty who are concerned about its potential effect on the tenure system because it proposes a mechanism for oversight of non-tenure eligible individuals who are conducting faculty-level research on campus."

Denise Vrchota