Visiting Professors in an Insecure Job Market

Visiting assistant professors are typically hired by a college under one or two year contracts to fill in for professors who have gone on leave. Depending on the needs of the college, these contracts can be renewed for several years in a row.

However, the waiting period for visiting faculty between one contract and the next can be draining. For Joshua Ramey, a visiting assistant professor who has taught courses for both the Philosophy and Political Science departments, this process has been a “nightmare.”

Ramey began teaching in 2006 on a series of one-year contracts, a trend that continued when he came to Haverford in 2010 under a one-year contract as a full-time visiting professor. He has been employed on year-to-year contracts since.

The difference between teaching four courses as a visiting professor and a five course load as full-time professor is “on the order of $20,000 or more,” according to Ramey.

“Unless you’re teaching a five course load, you do not get a full salary or benefits during the year that you teach here,” Ramey said. “For example, last year I was teaching four courses. I was not eligible for benefits or for the same benefit assistance. I was paid a salary per course rather than the standard salary for a full time position.”

Visiting Assistant Professor Joshua Ramey.

Visiting Assistant Professor Joshua Ramey.

Most often, visiting assistant professors at Haverford sign a one or two year contract that, in addition to a list of teaching responsibilities, includes the option to renew the contract, but no promise of future employment. The College also has the right to withdraw the contract at any time during the year.

Unlike assistant professors, visiting professors are “non-tenure track,” meaning they are not considered for tenure, which guarantees lifetime employment. In 2006, 21.6% of full time professors at Haverford were non-tenure track and 33.1% of all professors (full-time and part-time) were non-tenure track, according to a report published by the American Association of University Professors.

These percentages are not out of line with peer institutions. In 2006, 53% of all Bryn Mawr professors were non-tenure track, while 27. 6% of full-time professors were non-tenure track. At Swarthmore, 26.7% of all professors were non-tenure track, while 16.5% of full-time professors were non-tenure track.

“What it gives them is greater flexibility, which translates to greater precariousness for the work force,” said Ramey. “It appears to be cheaper because they don’t have to give out benefits or regular raises.”

However, Ramey feels that cost-saving measures such as guarding tenure-track lines and signing short-term contracts taken by colleges has dire implications for the future of higher education.

“The toll that this is taking, and will take, on high education as a whole is going to be disastrous for everyone,” Ramey said. “Mainly for the students, because we can’t invest in the students in the way that we want to in these conditions.”

Ramey began teaching in the Philosophy department in 2010, but was not offered a position for the academic year 2011-2012. In response, “a number of people I had connected with through my work and interests on campus rallied,” and a half-time position was created for Ramey teaching several Freshmen Writing Seminars.

“Neither of these jobs paid me enough to live on,” Ramey said, “so I supplemented my income teaching in the Ethics Program at Villanova, where I had taught before while earning my PhD.”

Last year, Ramey was hired part-time to co-replace Assistant Professor Jill Stauffer while she was on leave. He continued to teach a course at Villanova and two courses at Rowan University in New Jersey. This year, Ramey was hired as a full-time visiting professor for the Political Science department to teach theory courses. The position was originally vacated by Cristina Beltran in Spring 2011, who left Haverford to teach for New York University, while Visiting Professor PJ Brendese filled in for the two subsequent years.

The position recently opened for hire, but Ramey elected not to apply. Instead, he recently signed a tenure-track contract to teach in the philosophy department at Grinnell College in Iowa, starting in Fall 2014. After years of teaching under short-term contracts, Ramey was quick to accept “a more stable, long-term job.”

“If at any point in the past four years Haverford would have offered me a permanent position, it is highly likely I would have accepted it. It is also likely that if Haverford had offered me a slightly more stable position than the series of piece-work jobs that were available,” said Ramey, “I would likely have accepted a less-than-tenure-track long-term position, as well.”

Although he has secured a tenure-track position at Grinnell, the time spent as part of what Ramey describes as “the white collar precariat” has taken a toll.

“It’s been very traumatic, and I’ve been very close to walking away from academic work,” said Ramey. “I thought I could hang on for maybe one, maybe two more years at the most.”

Ramey is not alone in this feeling. The guarding of tenure-track lines is a phenomenon seen at colleges across the country, resulting in a population of exasperated visiting professors.

“There’s a genre of ‘quit-lit,’ as they call it – literature on people leaving academia,” explained Josh Moses, a visiting assistant professor in the Anthropology department.

Visiting Assistant Professor Joshua Moses

Moses, who has been teaching at Haverford since September 2013, views his experience as a visiting professor differently. Moses signed a two-year and says that Haverford has been quite fair in handling the terms of his employment.

“From day one, I was told that this is a two year position and that I had better keep writing, going to conferences and maintaining professional presence and connections outside of Haverford,” said Moses.

Moses doesn’t fault Haverford for the job insecurity that visiting professors face. Instead, he says it reflects larger structural issues in the higher education job market.

The pressure of having a job with a looming expiration date is also felt by visiting professors John Muse and Vicky Funari, spouses who share one position in the Independent College Programs.

Muse arrived at Haverford in 2007 as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, and has been teaching on a series of one- and two-year contracts since. Funari was hired by the College in 2009 as an Artist-in-Residence at the Hurford Humanities Center to teach film and video courses.

“When my two years ended in ‘09, the College generously and with lots of imaginative work hired us both to stay for one year, and then we stayed for another year, and then we stayed for another year,” Muse explained. “And each time, that description of what a visiting professor is meets our case.”

In addition to their teaching, both Muse and Funari have played an active role in pushing for the inclusion of Visual Studies in the Strategic Planning process and the new Visual Culture, Art and Media center (VCAM) to be built in Ryan Gym. When their contract was set to expire at the end of last year, at least ten students wrote a letter to the President’s and Provost’s Office attesting to Muse and Funari’s contribution to the Arts curriculum and asking the College to retain them.

John Muse (left) and Vicky Funari (right).

John Muse (left) and Vicky Funari (right).

Muse and Funari have had their contracts renewed every year thus far and are currently set to teach until June 2015. While distant for most Haverford students, Muse is keenly aware of that deadline.

“Beginning this summer, I will pour over the College Art Association job postings, as anyone with a some and or not enough job security would do,” Muse said.

While he would be happy to stay at Haverford, Muse said that he can’t count on it due to the structure of the position.

“We have been incredibly happy here, very lucky to be here,” Muse said, referring to himself and Funari. However, “we are not necessarily completely in control of our destiny.”

Correction: Due to an error in reporting, an earlier version of this article misquoted Ramey describing his time as visiting professor as a “white collar prokaryote.” Ramey said “white collar precariat.”

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1 Response

  1. Will C. says:

    From an alum venturing into these treacherous waters, thanks for writing about Haverford’s dealings with its non-tenure-track faculty. There are many more stories to tell where these came from. Methinks you meant to say “precariat” not “prokaryote.”

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