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Western non-tenure track faculty facing fewer jobs, lesser salary in 2020-21

By Connor Benintendi

Western’s non-tenure track faculty may have fewer jobs available to them, and thus lesser income in 2020-21 than previously planned, according to a faculty email from the dean of Western’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Maria Paredes Mendez on Thursday, July

Western Communications Director Paul Cocke said he was unaware if other emails similar to Paredes Mendez’s were issued to other department faculties.

Non-tenure track faculty at Western include senior instructors, adjunct faculty – professors who work on a contractual basis and usually are part-time – and teaching assistants. Unlike tenured and tenure-track professors, non-tenure track faculty are not protected by long-term employment agreements and their labor is cheaper than tenure-track faculty, with fewer benefits in many cases. 

Non-tenure track staff made up about 42% of Western’s faculty in 2019-20, according to data available from Western’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness..

“I have heard that non-tenure track faculty have been put in some sticky situations in terms of cutbacks, but I don’t have a lot of details on that,” said a Western teaching assistant who requested to remain unnamed to keep their position from being jeopardized. “So far I have still been granted the same hours that I would have in the past as a TA, and I believe they have been working hard to maintain this agreement.”

They said the availability of their advisers has been heavily affected and that interaction with them is critical during their two-year program as a teaching assistant. The lack of availability combined with professors’ lack of time to adjust to remote learning has had a negative effect on students’ learning, they said. 

The reductions and contract uncertainties are due to Western’s incoming first-year class being 12% smaller at commitment date than last year’s, according to Paredes Mendez’s email.

Paredes Mendez said that because the campus experience will look different due to COVID-19, first-year students who have committed may decide not to attend as fall approaches, pushing that figure up further.

“What is expected is that more students than usual will decide to maybe take a gap year or go to school closer to home if they have to do it online anyway,” Paredes Mendez said. “What I heard was that the 12% reduction in the freshman class at the commitment date may be more like a 15% reduction by the time fall quarter starts.”

Western is already facing a possible 15% reduction in state funding, which makes up half of the university’s budget, according to Western’s Continuation Operating Budget. Housing revenue is also expected to continue to decrease, with only one student assigned to each room in the fall to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

The degree to which tuition revenue will be affected is still unclear even on a preliminary basis because of the many fluctuating factors, Cocke said.

“[Revenue lost] depends on the student mix — resident vs. non-resident, undergraduate vs. graduate — and since enrollment numbers are changing daily, it is difficult to give a hard number at this point,” Cocke said.

Paredes Mendez said in the email that any non-tenure track contract reductions would come in the form of faculty not being assigned to all of the courses they agreed upon in January and February. This would result in the schedule and number of available courses being slightly reduced.

“We are revising schedules at this point based on current and projected enrollment, which is changing daily,” Cocke said.

Cocke said that large reductions are not anticipated, with most courses still planned to be available, and that Western’s main concern is retaining the courses needed for students to complete degrees and graduate on time.

Cocke said the departments with the largest body of non-tenure track faculty are English, math, and modern and classical languages. A full database of faculty type per university department is also available via Western’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

This, however, does not mean these will be the departments with the largest reductions, Paredes Mendez said. 

“It really was a decision based not on the number of NTT [non-tenure track] faculty that a given department has, but rather what the scheduling in that department looked like, what the enrollment at this point looked like,” Paredes said. “Whether it was very similar to the past or not, whether there was room that there could be a few reductions without impacting students being able to take GUR’s and graduating on time.”

Paredes Mendez said that the irregularity of the pace and timeline of events from COVID-19 has made the certainty of the information available much more difficult.

“This year everything became sort of unraveled once COVID-19 happened and we began realizing what the potential implications of that were,” Paredes Mendez said. “It was very unfortunate and it was very difficult, but particularly for the [non-tenure track faculty] waiting to hear ‘Is my job going to look like what I thought it was going to look like?’”

Kameron Decker Harris — a Washington Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow from the University of Washington dually-appointed in both computer science and engineering, as well as biology — is beginning at Western in the fall.

“My tenure track job is still going ahead as planned,” Harris said. “The only difference from usual is that my classes will be entirely online this fall.”

Non-tenure track faculty will have more certainty about their job safety when the contract deadline hits on Wednesday, July 15, Cocke said.

“Because of the fluidity of the situation, not all classes for winter and spring may be contracted at this time,” Cocke said. “But we are endeavoring to contract as many sections as possible under the circumstances.”

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