During the first meeting of the fall 2018 Academic Senate, chair Mark Stohs called tenure density “crucial” to the quality of education at Cal State Fullerton.
Jon Bruschke, a professor and member on the executive board for the Academic Senate, defines tenure density as “what percentage of classes are being taught by tenure-track faculty.”
Tenure track faculty are all professors who either have tenure or are in the middle of the six-year process of getting tenure. All other professors would be part-time lecturers, full-time lecturers, graduate students and any instructor who is not working their way toward tenure.
“We have a lot of research that shows when you have enough tenure-track faculty, it’s good for education,” Stohs said in an interview several days before the Senate. “Tenured faculty possess the expertise necessary to ensure that the best education for our students occurs, and tenure provides a basis for our education to remain consistent, constant and of high quality.”
Stohs said that tenured faculty are expected to teach five courses a semester, but one of those is designed to be “service,” which can include serving on senate committees or working personally with students.
Nontenure-track faculty members are not excluded from working on the several committees and boards, but they don’t receive any financial compensation for their hours there.
“They can do it voluntarily, but they can’t be paid and we can’t force them to do it, because their contract is to teach,” Stohs said.
The power of tenure gives professors muscle to work for the things they want to see on campus and in essence, give faculty an independent voice, Bruschke said.
“When I came here in 1997, 80 percent of the classes were taught by full-time tenure track faculty. In a nutshell it has gotten much, much worse. Now 60 to 70 percent of the classes are taught by part-time lecturers and they’re incredible faculty members who work really, really hard,” Bruschke said.
He said most full-time tenure track faculty find themselves trying to pick up two or three classes on several different campuses.
“It’s essentially turned the job of professor into like a Walmart employee. It’s a part-time gig, you don’t get benefits, you don’t get any job security – you’re essentially a contract employee just trying to pick up classes wherever you can,” Bruschke said.
The issue was acknowledged as early as 2001, when the California State Legislature passed a nonbinding resolution that called for a plan to increase tenure density to 75 percent (Cal State Maritime currently holds the crown at 65.3 percent).
In fall 2002, the CSU Board of Trustees requested $35.6 million dollars to start a plan for the coming academic year. The request was never funded. Out of the seven years the trustees requested funding from the state government to fight the problem, not once was it given.
Beginning in the academic year of 2010-11, the request, which had since grown to $42 million, was no longer included on the budget proposal.
In August 2016, the CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White put together a task force on tenure density in the CSU system. The report highlighted the contributions that both tenure-track and lecturer faculty bring to the university, but it found that the more temporary faculty there were, the less likely students would make it all the way through college.
The report also underlined the drop in density over the last decade, with a handful of schools dropping more than 10 percent. Cal State Fullerton was one of two schools that did not drop in tenure density compared to their numbers in 2006, instead gaining 1.2 percent.
One reason why many universities have chosen to hire lecturers over tenure-track faculty is that it’s cheaper.
Lecturers are easier to find, teach just as many or more classes and their classes, which in some cases are general education graduation requirements, tend to have higher enrollment. According to the report’s projections, it would cost almost $100 million dollars to increase all the CSU’s density by 1 percent.
The report included recommended strategies to improve tenure density, including the development of campus-specific plans to create sustainable growth over the next several years and potentially promoting full-time lecturers to tenure-track faculty if possible.
The one universal point it makes is that there isn’t any one-size-fits-all format to improve tenure density, and that individual CSUs will have to work to develop a solution to the issue.
At the moment, no set plan to increase tenure density is in place at Cal State Fullerton.