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New employment category approved

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On March 9, the St. Olaf faculty voted to approve a new category of employment. Called “teaching specialist,” the category will serve a handful of professors who have lingered between visiting and tenure-track for years. A teaching specialist will be granted three-year contracts and faculty review and will have access to a special set of research funds and opportunities.

The college utilizes different types of employment categories to serve different needs in each academic department. Tenure-track lines create long-term positions, whereas non-tenure-track (NTT) positions are created to fill short-term teaching needs, such as sabbatical vacancies.

Occasionally, short-term needs become long-term ones. There are a handful of NTT professors at the college who have taught at St. Olaf for decades, but continue to receive one-year contracts without the benefits that typically come with long-term positions, such as job security, research opportunities and faculty review.

The teaching specialist category serves to alleviate those types of situations. Teaching specialist positions will be granted to departments that demonstrate the need for a longer-term professor but not a tenure-track position.

“These teaching specialist positions should be filling a different kind of need,” Provost Marci Sortor said. “In both cases they’re teaching needs, and in both cases there is expertise that’s needed. But, typically someone who is a teaching specialist might provide something that no one else can provide, but the department doesn’t need a full-time person doing it. Or it could be that what the department needs is a really great person who can fill in and serve all different kinds of courses.”

One of the aspects that differentiates a teaching specialist position from a tenure-track line is the emphasis on teaching. While hiring processes for tenure-track positions often include a focus on research and published work, those factors won’t play into teaching specialist hiring processes as heavily.

The proposal reflects eight years of work by the Faculty Life Committee (FLC) and Faculty Governance Committee (FGC) to provide longer contracts and more fair compensation for long-term NTT professors at the college.

“I’m happy with the result,” FGC chair and Associate Professor of Political Science Tony Lott said. “It will mean great stability in student/faculty interaction, as well as provide greater stability for our colleagues.”

There was some contention within the FGC over the titles for teaching specialist professors. Currently, it’s impossible to distinguish between categories of employment based on title; all professors, regardless of appointment category, are granted visiting, assistant, associate or full professor titles. The new system will refer to teaching specialists as “professors of practice” and continue to use different rank distinctions. For example, a political science professor who is hired as a teaching specialist may be called “Assistant Professor of Practice in Political Science.”

“We had a certain constraint that we had to kind of act within, which was that administration said that they needed the title to be distinct from assistant, associate, or full [professor],” Associate Professor of Religion Mara Benjamin said. “So, given that, we went with what we felt the NTTs, who made themselves known to us, what they preferred. I think a number of them and a number of us, our ideal solution would be what we currently have, which is identical titles.”

There are a number of professors who will likely move from NTT to the teaching specialist category, but it hasn’t yet been decided who will move when or how that will happen. Department chairs will be charged with submitting applications for these transitions, and that application process is still in the works.

The proposal faces one final hurdle before implementation in the fall – the Board of Regents must vote to approve the new category in May.

whitfo1@stlaf.edu