As the number of faculty members whose position lies outside the tenure system continues to rise at American universities, college deans, department chairs and program directors must consider how to support the careers of these colleagues. The differences that commonly exist between the opportunities available to tenure-system faculty and those offered to other academics can be a recurring source of friction. That not only erodes unit cohesion and climate, but it may also impede efforts to retain valued long-term employees who are not in the tenure system.
Since the configurations and names of these people and positions vary widely across disciplines and institutions, I will denote them collectively as “academic staff.” At Michigan State University, we have several categories of faculty members who work outside the tenure system -- including outside professionals in business, law, medicine or media who teach an occasional career-oriented course in their specialty; instructors with full teaching loads and short-term contracts; and individuals with a mix of teaching, advising or other duties who have long-term appointments. As a dean, I have seen that as my college hires more faculty members outside the tenure system, identifying ways to support such academic staff professionally is an increasingly common topic of conversation. And as an associate provost, as well, charged with advancing the careers of all MSU faculty and academic staff, I am finding support for academics outside the tenure system to be an area of institutional concern.