Whitman applies for grant to promote adjuncts to tenure-track

Karah Kemmerly

Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn Provost and Dean of the Faculty in his office. Photo Credit: Kendra Klag

The Office of Development and College Relations and Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty have been working together for slightly over a year to write a grant proposal for funds to offer eight new tenure-track positions to adjunct faculty members. If the Mellon Foundation, an organization based in New York, funds Whitman’s proposal, adding tenure-track positions could preserve Whitman’s course offerings.

Whitman’s faculty, like the faculties at most other institutions of higher education, consists of both tenure-line (including tenured and tenure-track professors) and adjunct professors. Without a tenure-track position, adjunct faculty members can hold full-time teaching positions for up to five years. At the end of this five-year period, they either have to be offered a tenure-track position or move to a part-time position.

Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, the provost and dean of faculty, believes that this time limit can make it difficult for adjunct faculty to completely invest in the college.

“Whether hired on a full or a part-time basis, non tenure-track faculty contribute in many vital ways to Whitman’s academic program. However, because their appointments are typically limited to a year or two, they are often not in a position to establish enduring relationships to students and the campus,” he said.

He feels that tenure-track professors have greater opportunity to become invested.

“Because they have a long-term stake in the welfare of the college, they are in a better position to serve as mentors to students as they progress toward graduation and to develop ongoing research collaborations that are often critical to students in the graduate school admissions process,” he said.

Johnathan Walters, professor of religion and chair of Division II, acknowledges that despite the time limit, many adjunct faculty members are able to act in the long-term interest of the college.

“We’re talking about well-trained and diverse individuals. Some of them do continue to write reference letters or read senior theses even after they leave. Some do participate in things like faculty governance and pre-major advising. Some do produce scholarship or other professional activity at the level Whitman expects of its tenure-track faculty. And all work hard to be excellent classroom instructors,” he said.

Walters feels that applying for the grant reflects positively on the abilities of Whitman’s adjunct faculty.

“Trying to upgrade contingent faculty lines is in no way to disparage the incredible talent and multiple contributions made to Whitman by its contingent faculty. Quite the opposite: it’s because we see so many superb contingent faculty, that we want to be able to offer a few more of them a tenure-track job,” he said.

Mare Blocker, a visiting assistant professor of art specializing in book arts and printmaking, is one such committed individual. She is in her fifth year as an adjunct professor at Whitman, and has received the Suzanne L. Martin Award for Excellence in Mentoring for the contribution she has made to her students, advisees and members of the Fine Arts Interest House.

“I have enjoyed my time here and I’ve been an active member of the Whitman community,” she said.

She says that in her time on campus, there has been an increase in the number of senior art majors making prints, books and textiles, and thus an increase of diversity within the senior art thesis exhibits.

Blocker believes a grant enabling the college to hire more tenure-track professors is hugely beneficial.

“Obviously, the priorities of a program change with a shift of professors. If received, these grants would allow for a program to continue with its successes,” she said.

Walters said that costs are really the only obstacle standing in the way of hiring many more tenure-track faculty members.

“Tenure-track lines are very expensive. I’m sure we’d all like even more of the faculty than this grant will allow to become tenure-track, but the college simply cannot afford it. No college can. That’s why Mellon is offering these grants,” he said.

In June 2011, the Mellon Foundation will notify the college about whether or not its grant proposal has been approved. If so, four adjunct professors will be granted tenure-track positions for the 2011-2012 academic year, and then four more for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Walters believes that the Mellon grant will allow the college to strengthen its overall curriculum.

“The entire faculty, especially those in the relevant departments, would benefit from increasing our number, not just because there are more people to share governance and advising duties, but more importantly because more faculty means greater curricular diversity, and a larger percentage of faculty with tenure-track lines means, presumably, an increasingly committed and happy faculty,” he said.