The other day I shared Terry McGlynn’s recent post at Small Pond Science, “The tyranny of the 9-month position,” on Facebook, wondering if those outside of the sciences would feel the same way. Like most full-time faculty, I’ve been on nine or 10-month contracts since starting my first tenure-track job but, perhaps unlike my colleagues in the sciences, haven’t often given it much thought. Like me, my colleagues in the sciences are expected to get much of their research done in the summer. Unlike me, however, they are also expected to supervise student research that ties them to their current location even if their need for lab equipment does not. This sort of unpaid summer supervision is essentially a requirement for tenure. For me, working with students would look good but would likely also slow me down, so I am able to choose to do this some years and not to do it other years.
Because of the problems McGlynn details that are associated with unpaid summer work, it seems that colleges and universities would be tempted to switch to 12-month contracts. Not, mind you, that they would suddenly give everybody a 33% salary increase, but that they would admit that the nine-month contracts of the past were bullshit and align the contract period with reality. This seems like a simple fix. Change the terminology to reflect what people have been doing anyway and everybody should be happy, right?
At my previous institution, where I had a 10-month contract, the Provost liked to remind faculty that they were actually under contract for the first half of June and that, as a result, it was not unreasonable to require attendance at on-campus meetings after the spring semester had ended. Faculty, especially those outside of the sciences (who were going to be there anyway), did not like being told where they needed to be while completing their summer work (even if they would typically have been doing their summer work on campus) because time without students is sacred.
Imagine this alternate sequence of events:
- Faculty in the sciences who are expected to do unpaid work in the summer call for more pay or at least a 12-month contract that recognizes their summer work as part of their typical duties. A school certainly isn’t going to offer 33% of one’s regular salary for the summer months and isn’t going to give the scientists different contracts than everybody else (making their pay look artificially lower) so, instead, changes everybody to 12-month contracts. Things continue as normal for a few years, with scientists staying on campus for their summer work and everybody else working from home, working from other locations, or just not working.
- Eventually, the millionaires on the Board of Trustees start to wonder why faculty are receiving 12 months of pay for nine months of work and the administration decides to formalize summer workloads, requiring proof of “scholarly progress” to remain in good standing. The administration also realizes, though, that more summer courses would increase revenue and offers these to faculty in lieu of scholarly progress. With all faculty on 12-month contracts and many faculty teaching in the summer, the administration begins requiring committees to meet in the summer as well to deal with the issues raised by the now 12-month academic year.
- The faculty complain. The millionaires on the Board of Trustees tell the faculty that these moves are necessary to remain competitive in a challenging economy and that since faculty are under contract they should be on campus working like those in other industries. The millionaires on the Board of Trustees spend their summers in Europe, “working” remotely, as faculty used to, but do not recognize the irony of their situation.
- Life has not changed for the scientists, but it has become appreciably worse for the rest of the faculty. The rest of the faculty blame the scientists for ruining their lives. The air conditioning does not work correctly in any campus building except the administration building.
I am sure that this will eventually happen, probably everywhere and maybe with less blame for scientists. In the meantime, however, the desire to maintain the current academic calendar and refusal to be required to attend committee meetings in the summer among non-scientists likely prevents the change to a 12-month contract from even being thought of at most institutions. I guess I had better enjoy my nine-month contracts while they last!
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