Professors of Practice

I read a news article at Inside Higher Ed today, called “Holding Out for Tenure,” which talks about how some schools are dealing with instructors who are employed full-time or nearly so, but not given the opportunity for tenure. Roughly 34% of all full-time faculty are not tenured or tenure-track. There’s a new trend afoot in terming the more highly valued professionals off the tenure track “Professors of Practice” — a model which gives long-term, talented teachers more benefits than they’d get for part-time adjunct pay, but without the other benefits of tenure. The AAUP has issued a statement against this model, arguing that such a practice “endangers the academic freedom” of these teachers, erodes their power in faculty governance, and “demeans instruction.” It also calls tenure itself into question, since the differences between a tenured prof and a “prof of practice” are hazy.

I know of a number of adjunct teachers who are good instructors and “regulars” in the faculty pool and while they do get raises based on their education and seniority, I like the idea of giving them something a little better that recognizes their value. Adjuncts and part-timers don’t get enough credit for what they contribute to a college and anything that can help them achieve more status (or more equity, in comparison to their colleagues) is meaningful and appropriate. But I have to say I agree with the AAUP’s response: this model probably isn’t the best way to do it.

“Professors of Practice” is a fancy way of saying “teacher whose research isn’t important to us.” This does demean teaching, because it turns a blind eye to the scholarship of teaching. Moreover, “Professors of Practice” is really just another way of saying “scholar-practitioner” and I see no reason why “scholar-practitioners” can’t be afforded tenure for all the work they do. In fact, I’d call myself a scholar-practitioner, since I not only teach creative writing, I write and publish my work professionally in the fiction/poetry marketplace. All professors should be professors of practice to some degree, anyway. They don’t just profess; they publish and present and more. Would research scholars be offended if they were given the rank of “Researcher of Practice” or “Scholar of Practice” instead of, “Tenured Professor”?

I’m actually up for tenure this semester, and reading articles like this one make me appreciate my opportunity and status all the more.

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Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.