Student petition leads to questions about tenure

Alex Wilson

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Student concern sparked a petition this March to have a UNF professor moved to tenure-track.

“We just want to get as many signatures as we can,” said Phillip Wenturine, a UNF English senior. “It’s commentary to show why Professor Ari should get the tenure that he deserves.”

Professor Mark Ari, a senior instructor at UNF, has worked at the university for 12 years. Ari was hired as a contingent faculty, meaning he is not on a tenure-line. The students were initially concerned Ari was being denied tenure, but this was quickly dispelled by Ari himself.

“I was not denied tenure.  I’m not on a tenure-line,” Ari said. “ A number of students feel my status should improve–they would like to see me on a tenure-line.”

Dr. Cheryl Frohlich, president of the United Faculty of Florida-UNF chapter, said that a professor is hired on either on a tenure-line or as contingent faculty. A tenure-line professor will usually work for five years before being nominated for tenure. Various administrators then vote on the individual based on their teaching, research and university involvement.

President of the UNF Faculty Association Dr. Gordon Rakita said that contingent faculty, also known as adjuncts, have a different system. Contingent faculty are only hired on a semester or yearly basis. Once their contract expires, they are no longer employed by the university. Contingent faculty also do not receive the benefits a tenured professor would.

Contingent faculty salaries are less than those of professors on the tenure-line. However, pay varies not only between position, but between fields of study as well. An anthropology professor might make more or less than a college algebra professor.

The first petition was written under the impression that Ari was being denied tenure. Once aware of the issue, Ari said he made sure that the petition was changed to accurately display the situation.

According to the updated petition, the students wish to “respectfully request the UNF leadership to consider Mark Ari’s credentials, service, and accomplishments as grounds for a special case promotion to a tenure-line in the English Department.” The petition has 109 signatures as of April 16.

“An instructor will be hired for tenure-track if they have their terminal degree and the position is open,” Frohlich said.

Shawn Brayton, director for Academic Programs and Accreditation, said that a terminal degree is final degree possible in a field. For most fields, a Ph.D. is considered the terminal degree. Other fields, such as art, creative writing, music and law can have terminal degrees other than a Ph.D.

Despite multiple inquiries to the English Department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Faculty Association, the Spinnaker could not get a definitive answer on the issue of a Masters of Fine Arts as a terminal degree for creative writing.

Ari currently has a MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College.

Florida State University regards a Ph.D. as the terminal degree in creative writing. However, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida consider the MFA to be the terminal degree.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said that certain master’s degrees such as a MFA in creative writing, a Masters of Social Work or a Masters of Library Science are considered terminal degrees. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs also recommends a MFA as a terminal degree in creative writing.

Brayton said that any field of study that accepts a masters as the terminal degree is considered an “emerging discipline.” The Ph.D. will usually become the standard terminal degree as the field expands and more doctoral programs become available.

According to the AWP, there are 40 creative writing Ph.D. programs and 214 MFA creative writing programs as of 2012. In 1975 there were only 5 Ph.D. programs and 15 MFA programs.

There is the difference between the standard Masters of Arts or Science and a Masters of Fine Arts. A MA or MS is not considered the terminal degree in any field.

Frohlich also said that someone hired as a non-tenure-track faculty could earn their terminal degree and then apply for an open tenure-track position. There is no direct promotion from non-tenure-track to tenure-track.

Rakita said that a university will often hire contingent faculty instead of a tenure track faculty in order to manage their budget. If a tenured position becomes open, it is cheaper to hire contingent faculty.

“Particularly in times like now when the finances are pretty tight, we need to get teachers in classrooms,” said Rakita. “We haven’t been doing much tenure track hiring lately.”

According to Dr. Rick Powell, director of Institutional Research at UNF, the total number of tenured or tenure track professors remained at 421 between 2011 and 2012. In comparison, there were 393 total in 2009, which rose to 403 in 2010.

Rakita said there are several benefits of tenure. Upon promotion from assistant professor to associate professor, and again from associate professor to full professor, the employee receives a 12.5 percent increase in pay. Tenure-track professors are also guaranteed contract renewal on an annual basis, barring poor performance or unforeseen circumstances.

Email Alex Wilson at [email protected]