To the Editor:
Here we go again, lying with percentages. In your article, “Want to Kill Tenure? Be Careful What You Wish For” (The Chronicle, June 18), you assert the following:
“In some respects, tenure is already dying. The percentage of faculty members who are tenured or on the tenure track has been declining for decades, as colleges shed tenure lines and bring in more adjuncts. The share of tenured and tenure-track faculty members has declined from 45 percent in 1975 to less than 30 percent in 2015, according to data compiled by the American Association of University Professors. Meanwhile, the percentage of part-time faculty teaching courses has nearly doubled, from 24 percent to 40 percent, over the same period.”
Here are actual numbers of people (not percentages), from the National Center for Education Statistics:
sources: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_263.asp, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_305.asp, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_315.20.asp
What these data show is that the number of tenure-track faculty (assistant, associate, or full professors) at U.S. colleges and universities has almost doubled between 1976 and 2015, the number has grown steadily over that 40-year period, and there are more tenure-track faculty now than there ever have been. As a proportion of the population of the country, the value was slightly higher in 2011 than in 2015, but that is undoubtedly due to the sharp decline in student enrollment, due to demographic and economic circumstances of the past decade. The tenure-track faculty to student ratio has gone up since 2011.
By only comparing proportions instead of measuring the quantity of interest, you are able to draw a conclusion opposite to what the data actually support. Making this argument is rather like the ludicrous claim that China’s economy is in decline because its rate of growth is slowing down.
So, to be sure, there has been vast growth in the population of adjuncts and part-time instructors, and perhaps in some instances those people are occupying positions that used to be tenure-track, but this hardly means that tenure is “dying.” The Chronicle needs to stop promulgating this Chicken Little nonsense.
Andrew V.Z. Brower
Professor of Biology
Middle Tennessee State University