On running the tenure track: Part I

As I have mentioned in a previous journal publication (Clark, 2010), the days of the tenure track process may be limited for a variety of reasons. New faculty in nursing education programs leave at alarmingly high rates (Clark, 2010), and overall in the USA the percentage of non-tenure positions in higher education continues to grow while the number of tenured positions shrinks. Non-tenured faculty may include those who work part-time and those who carry a full-time teaching load and responsibility, but are not on the tenure track.

Additionally, some larger institutions may readily award tenure for researchers who bring in revenue, while relying on part-time and non tenured faculty to do the bulk of the teaching with little commitment to supporting their growth around teaching excellence and the further development of these teachers’ skills. In nursing, this is an obvious trend in some of our “best schools”, where the recognizable names in research in nursing teach one or two upper level courses perhaps per year; and these courses are likely mostly run by graduate students, TAs, and guest lecturers because the faculty member is busy doing research or directing a team to do research to ensure the revenue flows. Meanwhile, yearly contracted faculty are doing the bulk of the rest of the teaching in the lower level courses in the name of saving revenue for the university (American Association of University Professors, [AAUP], 1993). Years ago, the New York Times  also recognized this trend of tenure faculty being the new minority of teachers on many college campuses (Finder, 2007).

Of great concern as well for tenure track faculty is the grander movement toward universities and schools extending probationary periods to six or seven years, without affording opportunity for early application and moving faculty off the tenure track related to “funding issues” (AAUP, 1993).

The growth of non tenured faculty numbers erodes the power of the faculty body at large through a lack of available and protected numbers and voices. Academic freedom is more likely to be suppressed, and faculty who are tenured or on the tenure track are exploited as the quality of the educational process suffers when the faculty begin to lose control over the quality of the curriculum, heavy advising loads, and lack of scholarly  development and recognition  due to simply being over-worked and under-supported (AAUP, 1993). Meanwhile part-time or several year contracted non-tenure track faculty suffer due to a lack of resources: typically no funding for professional development, no office space is provided, job insecurity, and a lack of incentives or rewards for performance. Part time faculty or non-tenured faculty are often not afforded the opportunity to move into a tenure position should one become available, rather universities conduct costly global searches and look for the star who can generate revenue.

Now as you read this blog, you may be exclaiming aloud, sheesh…what a reference from 1993? Yes, the problem here is that this original report is still relevant to this day. That is why this important document is still so highly prominent on the AAUP website. AAUP also lists reports of ongoing issues with tenure positions, academic freedom, enrollment and financial issues that have lead to severances of tenure positions, to read more, visit here: http://www.aaup.org/reports-publications/aaup-policies-reports/academic-freedom-and-tenure-investigative-reports

Nursing tends to rely heavily on part-time positions or yearly to multi-year renewable contracts to support the profession’s great need for clinical instructors, lab instructors, and classroom teachers. Indeed I have personal experience in working in these positions for a number of years while I strived toward my PhD, while also working as a parish nurse and a hospice nurse.  After receiving my PhD, I continued on the non tenured path as I raised my young daughters for a number of years. Eventually I found a tenure track position that seemed to align with my desire to create meaningful innovations in nursing education. I do believe these non-tenured positions can be very valuable, as often these teachers are deeply committed to teaching. The teacher is perhaps pursuing graduate degree options, raising a family, or perhaps continuing to maintain valuable clinical expertise at the beloved bedside. Unfortunately, the lack of recognition of contribution in this area is astounding and retention of such faculty is likely very challenging. When adjunct faculty are retained, they are likely highly under-recognized and under-paid.

When I eventually stepped on the tenure track, I arrived with my shiny new thoughts, my years of training and study, and publications under my belt, ready to take on the race. The lights shined brightly and there may have even been a friend or two in the stadium to cheer me on. I was suited up and ready to go, pretty well rested and equipped with a variety of relaxation response tools to combat the stress of the position. The second part of this series will focus on my own “running of the tenure track”.


Clark, C.S. (2010). The nursing shortage as a community transformational opportunity: An update. Advances in Nursing Science, 33(10), 35-52.

Finder,A. (November 20, 2007). Decline of tenure track raises concerns. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/education/20adjunct.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

American Association of University Professors. (1993). The status of non-tenure track faculty. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/report/status-non-tenure-track-faculty


  1. Indeed, the gradual erosion of faculty governance has far-reaching implications. It has happened so gradually that “the masses” have hardly noticed. This, to me, is a prime example of how oppression works — resulting in conditions that harm and disadvantage the individuals caught up in it, while at the same time creating a system where those at the top of the hierarchy hold near-complete power to dominate, including the power to assign token rewards and punishments to those who are disadvantaged. I am eager for Part 2, Carey!

    • It is interesting as the school where I currently teach, many of the faculty have been there for many years and they have seen the erosion and the diminishing of the faculty voice, particularly in challenging times. I am still contemplating part II, and I would like for it to be more creative. Of course since I am on the tenure track and not tenured, I am not sure how much free speech protection I have either.

  2. I agree with Peggy’s comments here and love the post/can’t wait for part 2, 3, etc…. They don’t call tenure the ‘golden shackles’ for nothing, although the gold is even false gold and is flaking off all over my hands. Oddly (perhaps not) several books that have helped me with gaining healthy perspective on the current state of academia as I am experiencing it–are both about totalitarian mind-bending, person-numbing states/ North Korea and the former East Germany. Especially Anna Funder’s Stasiland should probably be required reading for anyone considering a tenure track within our current US system of higher ed….

  3. for me, I agree with you but I don’t think the erosion is limited to tenure-track alone. we have an entire generation of faculty who embark on the faculty pathway only after taking a nurse practitioner track.

    here is how it works: they enroll in NP program; don’t take any coursework in education, test construction, classroom management, nursing theory or any of that. they get a MSN and take the NP Boards. they have trouble getting a NP job for whatever reason, then decide that since they have a MSN they are qualified to teach.

    and for all intents and purpose, they haven’t been in an acute care setting since their own undergrad experience, nor have they critically examined any teaching pedagogy since becoming an RN.

    and of these persons, rests the future of nursing education.

    and PS , my own blog is titled “Nursing in Hawaii”

    • Hi, Joe. I hope it doesn’t read as the tenure process being the only issue in academia. I wrote more in-depth about some of the issues in academia in the 2010 article cited. Meanwhile, I am housed with an ADN program with a number of NPs/ CNMs and I agree with your statement that this is an issue. I think it would be important to require a post graduate certificate in education to support these folks in becoming educators and providing excellence in nursing education!

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