One of the ultimate protections of being a tenured faculty member, historically, has been being immune from layoff in all but the most extraordinary circumstances. Under policies issued by the American Association of University Professors and largely accepted by higher education leaders, only institutions that declare “financial exigency” — a state so dire that it “threatens the survival of the institution as a whole” — can eliminate the jobs of tenured faculty members.
Given the strict criteria on when an institution can declare exigency, and the obviously unwelcome scrutiny such a declaration would bring about, institutions have hesitated to invoke that status. As a result, while institutions eliminate adjunct positions all the time, the tenured faculty member has been protected.
But maybe not so much anymore. In a series of recent actions, colleges appear to be ignoring the exigency requirement either when eliminating tenured jobs or considering the possibility of doing so. Administrators defend their moves as necessary to manage institutions in tight financial times, but faculty leaders see an erosion of a key right.
As I spent the weekend hanging out with other AAUP members in D.C., I was already primed to believe that General Secretary Gary Rhoades’ point is the best one in this article:
Rhoades also said that the protection provided by financial exigency rules — namely that in many rounds of cuts, tenured faculty jobs can’t be included — is appropriate. “What has been happening nationally is that we have been moving money away from the students and educational activities, moving money away from hiring tenure-track faculty,” he said. A strong tenured and tenure-track faculty, he said, is directly related to student learning in that these professors develop the curriculum and build relations with students. “The very first thing we should be protecting are the people and activities that serve the students,” he said, and financial exigency rules do that.
Why is it that every employer in America (universities included), seems determined to cut labor costs these days and absolutely nothing else? Why are they convinced that those workers will still be around when everything is sunny again and they want to expand? And most important in the educational context, why do administrators seem to think that students can’t tell the difference between tenure track faculty with the time to spend on making their classes the best that they can be and contingent faculty who barely have enough time to commute between colleges?