Office of the Provost

Frequently Asked Questions about the NLRB Process and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

The purpose of this FAQ is to provide some answers to questions we’ve heard raised in recent weeks about the process that is underway at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and PLU’s non-tenure-track (“contingent”) faculty.

Why Not Just Let Them Vote to Form a Union?

Before a person can vote, they must be eligible to vote. Voting eligibility is not established by an assertion from one side or the other, but by the National Labor Relations Board through a hearing process. That process is underway at the regional level and may extend to the national level.

What Does NLRB Consider in Establishing Voting Eligibility?

Two things: (1) Does NLRB have jurisdiction over the institution, and (2) Who, if anyone, shares a common “community of interest?” The answer to the first question in PLU’s case is very unclear given NLRB’s own decisions and the decisions of the federal courts. PLU is asking NLRB to settle that question first before any other decisions are made.

The answer to the second question should be guided by NLRB’s case law. PLU has many different and diverse categories of contingent faculty. We expect these issues may eventually be discussed at the national level as well.

Why Does PLU Employ Non-Tenure-Track Faculty?

We employ non-tenure-track faculty to cover sabbatical leaves, provide selected portions of the curriculum (e.g. teach music lessons, supervise clinical rotations at hospitals), cover administrative release time that is granted to deans, chairs and program directors, and meet short-term enrollment demands so that we can better serve the needs of our students by helping them get the courses they need in a timely way.

Some of our faculty choose for themselves to work in non-tenure-track positions for a variety of reasons: some have full-time jobs and teach course-by-course or hourly on the side; some teach as part of their roles as full-time professionals in fields like nursing or family therapy; some prefer to teach exclusively without the requirement to be productive scholars or active in committees and other service work of the university.

Do Our Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Do Most of the Teaching at PLU?

No. Unlike many universities where most of the teaching is done by contingent faculty (usually on a part-time basis), at PLU the vast majority of student credit hours are taught by tenure-line and full time faculty. For the 2011-12 academic year (the most recent year for which the data are complete), the teaching responsibility among faculty was as follows:

A total of 95,600 student-credit hours were taught in 2011-12.

83.6% were taught by full-time faculty
    • 67.6% by tenure-line faculty
    • 16.0% by full-time, non-tenure-track faculty
  • 7.8% were taught by part-time non-tenure-track faculty with benefits
  • 7.7% were taught by part-time non-tenure-track faculty without benefits
  • 0.9% were taught as private hourly music instruction

Do Our Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Comprise Half the PLU Faculty by Headcount?

No. As of September 1, 2012 PLU employed 211 tenure-line faculty: 149 are tenured, 62 not yet tenured. At any given time, 20-30 tenured faculty are away on sabbatical and other leaves.

In 2012-13 we have employed a total of 176 individual contingent faculty members, some for hourly music lessons, some for just a single course, and others for full-time teaching.   Some academic departments (e.g. nursing, education, music) employ specialized part-time faculty to do selected supervision of clinical work or teach music lessons, for example.

What Is the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Number of Faculty at PLU?

A faculty member is said to be “full-time” if they teach six courses (24 credits) per year or have the equivalent workload as a chair, dean or program director. For example, one person teaching 24 credits, or two people each teaching 12 credits, would constitute “one FTE”.

As of November 2012, PLU employed:

  • 187 FTE in tenure-track positions (both tenured and pre-tenure);
  • 60 FTE in non-tenure-track positions.

What Are PLU Faculty Paid and Do Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Get Benefits?

Salaries vary across all ranks and disciplines. For tenure-line faculty, salaries range from $52,000 to $125,000 per academic year.

The salary range for contingent faculty varies by academic department and depends on the highest degree achieved and the person’s experience. For contingent faculty the term “full-time” means they teach six courses (24 credits) per year, which is equal to the normal teaching load of a tenure-line faculty member. In 2012-13 contingent faculty are in the following groupings:

  • 39 are full-time faculty with benefits. They have voice and vote in the Faculty Assembly.
    • Salary Range: $32,951 – $101,000
  • 39 are part-time faculty with benefits. They generally teach 3-5 courses per year, although a few are engaged in private music instruction as senior lecturers. They have voice (not vote) in the Faculty Assembly. Their salary will depend on their teaching load.
    • Salary Range: $11,016 (for someone paid on an hourly basis at $51/hour for 216 hours of private music instruction) – $61,557
  • 66 are part-time faculty without benefits. They generally teach one or two courses per academic year. They have voice (not vote) in the Faculty Assembly. Their salary will depend on their teaching load.
    • Salary Range: $4,200 – $6,500 per 4-credit course (no scholarship or service expectations)
  • 32 are part-time faculty paid on an hourly basis for private music instruction. They do not receive benefits. They have voice (not vote) in the Faculty Assembly.
    • Hourly rate: $51/hour. Total compensation will depend on the number of students enrolled in private music lessons (no scholarship or service expectations).

We Heard That Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Have “Limited Benefits.” Is That True?

All full-time faculty at PLU have the same benefits regardless of tenure status. Part-time faculty who work more than half time also receive benefits pro-rated according to the percentage of time worked. As with most other forms of employment in the US economy, part-time employees who work less than half time do not receive benefits; this is also consistent with the practice of universities across the state and region. Many private companies only extend benefits to part time employees who work above 0.75 time. Only a few universities like PLU also extend the benefits of tuition remission to all full time faculty (tenure or non-tenure-track), as well as access to professional development funds for non-tenure-track faculty. These latter benefits are rarely extended to such employees at other universities in the US.

Is It True There Are Faculty at PLU Making Less Than Minimum Wage?

No. The only faculty paid hourly are those who provide private music instruction. They are paid $51.00/hour. The minimum wage in Washington State is $9.19.

Course-by-course instructors at PLU are paid at rates that are equal to (or in most cases exceed) the rates paid at colleges and universities in the Pacific Northwest, and their compensation is far above minimum wage even when all class time, preparation time and  grading time is taken into account.

Is It True That Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Have No Job Security?

If by “job security” one means “tenure”, then the answer is yes. The same lack of job security holds for all untenured faculty … and for most people in the US workforce. One big difference between PLU and the general workforce: contingent faculty at PLU usually have at least 4-5 months’ notice (given in April or May) if they will not be rehired on September 1, a lead time that is longer than most contracted employees in the US workforce.  Contingent faculty are eligible to apply for openings for tenure-line positions at PLU, and indeed, many of PLU’s most distinguished faculty members began their work at PLU as part-time and non-tenure-track faculty members.

Is It True That Nothing Is Being Done at PLU to Address the Needs of Contingent Faculty?

No. The Division of Humanities began work last fall on a “Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty” and adopted that Statement on March 8. On April 8, all PLU faculty were asked by the Provost for their feedback on that Statement, specifically whether they thought the Statement should be extended university wide and whether they had any suggestions for amendments. The Statement is available on the Provost’s website under Documents and Forms, Faculty Related Policies and Guidelines.

The full set of survey results and comments has already been given to the Faculty Governance Committee and to a special Contingent Faculty Task Force appointed by the Provost earlier this spring. That task force is due to make a report to the Provost by May 31.  PLU has a robust system of shared governance in which all faculty (even part-time faculty) are members.  That system was in the middle of actively addressing concerns of contingent faculty when a group of contingent faculty filed the petition with the NLRB.

Do Contingent Faculty Have a Voice in Faculty Governance?

Yes. PLU has a very robust, general assembly legislative style of faculty governance. We do not have a select, elite group of faculty “senators.” All full time faculty (tenure line and contingent alike) have full voice and vote in the Faculty Assembly. At PLU, a full time instructor on a one-year appointment has the same voice and vote in the Faculty Assembly as a full professor holding an endowed chair. PLU’s Faculty Assembly also extends membership and voice to all part-time non-tenure-track faculty–a very uncommon practice in U.S. higher education.

What Happens Next?

The regional NLRB hearing process is concluding and the matter is likely to go before the NLRB in Washington, D.C. While the NLRB considers the complex issues regarding jurisdiction and community of interest, we will continue to fulfill our educational mission. We will complete the semester, celebrate our graduates of the Class of 2013, and prepare to welcome new PLU students in the fall.

What Will Happen to PLU’s Faculty Governance System If There is a Union?

The Faculty Assembly – not the administration – adopts the policies related to faculty governance at PLU. Those policies spell out the roles for contingent faculty in our faculty governance system. Any changes to those policies would have to be made by the Faculty Assembly, not by the administration. PLU’s inclusive faculty assembly system is uncommon in American higher education.  The fact that all faculty (full-time and part-time) are members places all faculty in a position of authority and responsibility for the governance of the university.  Few universities with such inclusive governance systems have unions or bargaining units (which typically represent workers who have no governance responsibilities in a university or other organization), so there are not many, if any, models for what happens to a shared governance system when an outside entity like a labor union is introduced. Short answer: no one knows.

Office of the Provost

May 16, 2013