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Missoula College counts more than double the number of "non-tenurable" instructors it should have, based on University of Montana policy.

Non-tenurable faculty include adjuncts, hired from one semester to the next, and lecturers, hired annually.

UM policy notes those instructional faculty shall not exceed 25 percent of total faculty FTE, or full-time equivalents, within a department, school or college.

But Missoula College counts 52 percent of its instructional faculty as non-tenurable.

Cassie Hemphill, president of the Missoula College Faculty Association, said the situation is not new, but the college has been slipping further out of compliance, and the high number of contracted instructors affects students seeking support, teachers who face uncertainty, and the college as a whole.

"We are extremely disappointed that we are near the end of another academic year and the administration has not yet proposed a solution to fixing the imbalance and come into compliance with its own policies," Hemphill said Monday.

The Montana Kaimin first reported Missoula College was out of compliance with UM's policy. The Kaimin also noted several other departments on the main campus that are above the 25 percent threshold, although mostly 2 percent to 10 percent off, and none as far out of line as Missoula College.

Adjunct policy

In its policy, UM notes it hires adjuncts to meet "temporary or unanticipated enrollment growth" or to teach specialty subjects.

The stable of adjuncts appears to be more permanent at the college despite an enrollment slide that followed an increase in students after the recession. Missoula College counts 27 adjuncts and 25 faculty in tenured positions. 

Hemphill said she herself has worked there as an adjunct since 2013, and she counts herself among the "newbies," serving alongside colleagues who have been on semester-to-semester contracts for a decade or more.

This school year, a full-time adjunct would earn a minimum $33,572, compared to a permanent full time faculty member who can earn easily more than double, with a guarantee of health benefits and job security. Adjuncts whose hours fall below half time lack health benefits. 

Adjunct instructors work on contract, so they are not on the job after the semester ends, Hemphill said. That puts them in an ethical quandary when students email them questions or need advice or an ear.

If they choose to respond, they're doing so without compensation and letting the university take advantage of their time. If they choose to adhere to the contract, they're shifting the burden of response to a colleague.

"Or do we ignore the student and let them wait?" Hemphill said. (She noted Missoula College students in particular need academic and other support, and faculty members like herself feel fulfillment in meeting those needs.)

She said adjunct faculty work second jobs, and at least one took advantage of SNAP benefits last school year. She said the uncertainty from one semester to the next takes its toll.

"That kind of instability is just really stressful for faculty," she said.

Similar numbers

Although the ratio at Missoula College does not reflect UM policy, Claudine Cellier from the Office of the Provost said the faculty breakdown is similar to ratios at other two-year institutions of the Montana University System.

At the same time, she said the goal remains to reach the ratio stated in the policy, and she also said UM aims to support faculty who teach outside tenured positions. 

"Delivery of quality instruction is one of our top priorities at UM, and recognizing quality instruction is also something we prioritize, as evidenced by the Outstanding Performance Awards we have given nontenurable faculty since 2017," Cellier said in an email.

She also noted UM has made headway from last year to this year on pushing up the base salary for full-time adjunct instructors from $28,187 last school year to $33,572. That's a 19 percent increase.

The Office of the Provost noted the American Association of University Professors identified similar high adjunct counts and lower tenured faculty numbers nationwide.

In a 2018 trend snapshot, the association notes that at two-year institutions, "tenure-stream positions make up less than 20 percent of faculty positions."

But that measure, Missoula College is ahead of the game with 48 percent of its faculty in tenured posts. But the association also described the trend of more "contingent" faculty as troublesome.

"Since the principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, this trend is deeply worrisome," the association said. "Free inquiry, free expression, and open dissent are critical for student learning and the advancement of knowledge."

'Challenging'

Hemphill said the situation at the college isn't new, and she believes UM President Seth Bodnar and Provost Jon Harbor both are facing challenges that are deeper than they may have anticipated before they arrived at the flagship.

"I do want to acknowledge that it's a challenging situation. It would be difficult for anybody to deal with it," Hemphill said.

Bodnar took the helm in January 2018, and Harbor started in August, both in the midst of an effort to stem an enrollment slide, restructure academic programs, and fix a $10 million budget shortfall. Hemphill said both face "legacy problems" that must be addressed before the campus can move forward.

"You can't just go after the shiny new things without dealing with the issues that are unresolved," she said.

Hemphill said the previous provost saw the problem, as did the interim provost who served prior to Harbor. In the fall, in response to a request from Harbor, she said the union presented a strategy to slowly realign the faculty ratio at Missoula College to meet policy.

She said he subsequently identified the new Missoula College dean as the person who would address the issue. Hemphill believes a new dean may be appointed in the next couple of months.

That means the issue likely won't be resolved this school year, although she said it has become pressing.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be here," Hemphill said. "But there comes a point where you can only be taken advantage of for so long before it starts affecting morale."

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