The American Association of University Professors criticized administrators at Middle Tennessee State University on Wednesday for a move the institution recently made to unilaterally revise the titles of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members in a way that appears to give them a lower rank.
Contingent faculty at Middle Tennessee State, which is part of the Tennessee Board of Regents system, have held the titles of instructor, or assistant, associate, or full professor. But in mid-November, the institution amended their employment contracts, dropping those titles and substituting two new designations: lecturer and senior lecturer. Employees, who had already been hired for an entire academic year, were told to sign the amendments to their contracts by the end of the month or they would be unable to teach classes during the spring semester.
"Altering the terms and conditions of a faculty member's appointment before its expiration while at the same time threatening to dismiss a professor who refuses to agree to the alteration is truly reprehensible," the AAUP said in a letter to Middle Tennessee State's president, Sidney A. McPhee. Such a demand also goes against the tenets of academic freedom, the letter says.
Middle Tennessee State officials, however, have said that the change does not affect the contingent faculty members' pay, but is necessary to conform with the system's policy.
In a November 14 letter to temporary faculty members that explained why their contracts were being amended, the university noted that the vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Tennessee Board of Regents, Paula Short, had recently provide some "clarification on the use of temporary faculty appointments."
In a written statement, the university said that system officials told the institution in April that the practice of awarding assistant- or associate-professor rank to temporary, non-tenure-track faculty was counter to system policy.
"We have been working for months on this issue with several of our key faculty groups, including the Faculty Senate, the Council of Chairs, and the Dean's Council," the university's statement said.