The University Record, July 8, 1998

Clinical track appointments focus of SACUA discussion

By Kerry Colligan

What is the motivation behind the increase in non-tenure-track faculty at the University?

Members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) discussed that question with President Lee C. Bollinger and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Gilbert S. Omenn last week.

"Is this an inevitable change or an assault on tenure?" Sherrie Kossoudji, associate professor of social work, asked Bollinger.

"Nobody is out to undermine tenure," Bollinger said. While some might think the 20 percent increase in non-tenure track faculty since 1987 might signal the dissolution of tenure, "I don't see that in the cards," he said. The importance of collegiality, commitment and vigorous academic and professional standards should not be overlooked, he added.

Regardless, Bollinger indicated that the ultimate resolution of the issue may not be a central administrative one, and probably should be worked out at the unit level.

In that context, Omenn presented his view of the use of non-tenure-track faculty. At the University of Washington internal medicine department, where he was dean of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine before coming to the U-M, less than 25 percent of the faculty held tenure-track positions. Yet, he argued, Washington's department maintained the same academic and professional success that the U-M does.

Part of the difficulty here, he noted, is that there is a tremendous need for off-site teaching. Residents, research fellows, and medical and doctoral students all need instruction, a demand that cannot be met by clinicians alone.

Teaching by itself is not grounds for a tenure-track position, Omenn explained. "Can we justify giving tenure to people in clinical departments if they're not really excellent clinicians?" he asked SACUA members.

In addition, he said, the role of non-tenure track faculty is often misunderstood. "This is a great opportunity to recognize the diversity of faculty roles. Tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty need each other to have cutting-edge research, excellent clinical care and training of professional students."