Online tenure track - A myth?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by PsychPhD, Feb 11, 2007.

  1. PsychPhD

    PsychPhD New Member

    Over the past 5 years, I have earned a graduate degree from an online program and teach undergraduate classes for two others.

    As an alumni of Capella, I knew they had "core faculty" which I presumed to be the online equivalent of tenured professors. But I have found precious few other programs which operate under a similar model.

    The industry wide trend in conventional programs toward using more adjuncts is well established.

    Has the online learning industry simply chosen to ignore the idea of having a full-time tenured professoriate?

    I thought it was required for accreditation to have a certain percentage of full-time faculty. I'm sure the online divisions of conventional universities maintain accreditation by claiming their campus-based full-timers. Still, for some of the smaller colleges, their online programs seem to be growing exponentially while their on-campus growth is stagnant leaving many times more online adjuncts than campus based full-timers (e.g. Southern New Hampshire University, Ashford University).

    A couple of months ago, I applied for a core faculty position with NYIT/Ellis College. After hearing nothing at all in the interim, I received a letter yesterday with the usual "While we were impressed with your credentials, we have decided to pursue further conversation with other candidates whose experience and credentials appear to most closely match our current needs."

    [Of course, being told you do not "match current needs" for a psychology position when you hold a PhD in the discipline and have several years teaching experience -- including online -- is rather perplexing, not to mention demoralizing.]

    But what caught my eye was the invitation at the bottom of the letter to reapply for a "part-time core faculty" or adjunct position. It leaves me wondering if I really was passed over for a full-time tenure track position or if this signals a conscious decision by the university to forego full-timers and focus on part-time/adjuncts?
  2. Scott Henley

    Scott Henley New Member

    Being a tenured professor requires research. With few exceptions, online universities do not have a research mandate and only require "instructors" or "teachers". Teachers and instructors are never tenured.
  3. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    A "tenured" position means job security and rank. Although online schools have full time positions, you don't have any job security as most of the online schools are for profit.

    Also, few online schools have ranks as "assistant", "associate" and full professors and normally for profits rank you as instructor or just professor.

    Few online schools that have full time positions are TUI, Walden, Capella and NCU. However, most positions are on-campus.

    In addition, full time salaries at for profit schools tend to be lower and teaching loads tend to be higher than non for profit schools. I know that Devry has an average salary of about 55K for their faculty that is lower than the national average. A tenure track is normally for a 9 month yearly teaching load while at for profits you have to teach the full year around.

    In addition teaching loads at profits range from 3 to 5 courses per term while tenure tracks are 2 courses per term as you need to product research.

    A full time at a for profit is really more like an industry job as you don't have the benefits of a tenure track.
  4. PsychPhD

    PsychPhD New Member

    But still ...

    I'm not sure the tenured professors at the many small liberal arts colleges (my undergraduate alma mater included) would agree with you.

    OK, perhaps "tenured" is the wrong word to use; maybe "full-time" is more correct.

    However, I do not understand the logic of your conclusion that the profit status of the institution is what makes it tenure "eligible." There are plenty of private institutions that incorporate tenure. It also isn't clear how the profit status of the institution factors in at all. All it means literally is how profits are distributed. Not-for-profit institutions are not without profit; they just don't distribute it to owners/shareholders.

    Tenure isn't about the financial status of an institution but the preservation of academic freedom and integrity. It allows those who have demonstrated an established professional presence to be freed from capricious termination because their scholarly activity might eventually be at odds with institutional administration.

    Given the proliferation of treating students like customers and relying on adjuncts who are hired/fired on any whim, it would seem in the best interests of the professorate in particular and education in general for there to be a move to have online instuctors become more than "content delivery specialists."
  5. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    I'm sure there are some but the original question was for online schools offering online tenure tracks. I will be happy to know if there is any online school of the caliber of NCU, Walden, TUI or alike that offers tenure track positions.

    If a school needs to make a profit, wouldn't be against your interest to have staff that cannot be laid off?

    If you want to work as a full time online professor, your best bet is to work for several schools that can give you good volume. Devry can offer up to 30 credits a year and pay about 1K for credit so you can make up to 30K for this schools, if you have few more like this then you can consider yourself "full time" online professor. However, you are really more like a consultant rather than a tenured professor. It is not so hard to make 60-70K a year that is the average for a tenured professor anyways, the only difference is that you don't have the job security that tenured tracks offer. However, as the online programs are becoming more popular, it seems that online teaching will become a full time profession for many to follow given the tendency of less tenure tracks available in North America.
  6. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    There is no need to feel bad about rejection. Many schools like to hire PhDs from schools with higher recognition that them as they feel that having fancy names of their catalogs would attract more students. The problem with online is that you are competing with PhDs from better schools all the time as you can have people from anywhere in the US or even worldwide applying for the position. I'm sure that a Harvard PhD wouldn't mind to moonlight at Ellis for few thousand here and there as it is extra cash to their 100K+ salary.

    I have been rejected from more schools than the ones I have been accepted. The bottom line is always competition and timing, if you are there at the right time and you have few competition then you are hired. But if competition is harder then you have to wait or go some where else. To give you an example, IT teaching was really good at one point and you had people taking tenure tracks even with a master's give the shortage; however, nowadays it is a different story and you have more schools asking for post doc research experience for tenure track positions in computer related fields.

    I think that PhDs from online schools should be aware of the limitations of an online degree from an online school when it comes to tenure tracks. This has been discussed in this forum many times and the conclusion is that there are limitations with such degrees and if one wants to get a tenure track a degree from a traditional school would be more beneficial. The problem is the limitation of such possibilities in the US and Canada as most of the external and DL programs are in the UK and Australia; I'm of the idea that a degree from a traditional school from the UK or Australia can open more doors than a DL from a for profit school but this is just an opinion. The other issues is the time as a PhD or DBA from the UK or Australia would take at least 5 years part time contrary to the 3 years and half reported at online schools in the US. So the online PhD from a US DL school can help you to capitalize your investment faster but you are also getting a degree with more limitations. At the end, there is no "Free lunch".
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 11, 2007
  7. PsychPhD

    PsychPhD New Member

    All valid points ...

    Trust me, I know of this strategy. The problems:
    1. As has been discussed here frequenly, getting hired is a hit-or-miss proposition with 6 - 12 month waits for an offer not uncommon. I'd really like to land ONE FTE job that I could sink my teeth into;
    2. Teaching for several programs gets rather confusing what with different adminstrative policies and philosophies;
    3. DeVry has miniscule interest in social science instructors;
    4. "Consultant" is probably a more accurate description but given the concerns for academic freedom and integrity, it seems a rather counterintuitive business structure.

    I really don't understand the perpetuation of this argument. The concept of academic freedom has been a principle of education since Socrates for the very reasons the "business managers" of today want to see it abolished. OK, you may be right that the administrators may prefer to see tenure dismantled, but I would have hoped the professorate would have defended/demanded it.

    In addition, shouldn't a good business manager be able to predict the needed core offerings of a program and hire accordingly? Build a cadre of core faculty who have some investment in the program and supplement for the occasional ebb and flow with adjuncts.

    Yeah, business schools may love the "clarity" of a workforce that has no job security, but doesn't it damage the validity of the educational process when every instructor is sweating out whether or not s/he will be working the next term? There is no institutional memory or presence conveyed by a faculty that does not feel any value beyond their last student evaluation. (Isn't one of the major complaints about UoP their disregard for faculty retention and development?) Doesn't the reputation of a program (and therefore its potential for success) suffer if the "quality" of its "product" has no discernable stablity due to a reliance on itinerant faculty?

    We'll see ... :)
  8. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    I agree with you but the reality of for profit schools is that they are there to make money and full time staff is a fixed cost that increases their financial risks.

    As for job security, at some Canadian schools we have addressed this by creating unions that would secure some work even for part time faculty. The idea is to create the concept of seniority as the way to gain job security. This has worked well also as a bargain unit to increase salaries. Ideally, the union argues that a part timer should make the same equivalent salary than a full timer and it seems that we are heading in that direction. However, I doubt that University of Phoenix or Devry would accept unions as the whole concept of job security doesn't exist at these institutions even for full timers.
  9. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I was just talking about this with one of the faculty leaders here at Marymount. We're not a research institution, and instructors don't get tenure here based on research but instead on long term reliability and positive student feedback. I suspect that's the case in a lot of places.

  10. chrislarsen

    chrislarsen New Member

    There is also the issue of program philosophy. I am starting my third year in Fielding's Ph.D. in clinical psychology. For 30 years, Fielding has a philosophic opposition to tenure because the institute has always held that tenure makes the institution far more faculty centered and less student centered. I think that there is some merit to this idea. In my experience at brick and mortar institutions, faculty undergo a subtle yet profound psychological shift when tenure is awarded. Some of the more vociferous critics of tenure have suggested that tenure should be abolished entirely in higher education. Like all instirutions, colleges and universities have a fair share of "dead wood" that ought to be pruned. So I can see some wisdom in this. But I also suspect that tenure and academic freedom are inextricably linked.
  11. PsychPhD

    PsychPhD New Member

    But from the other side of the desk ...

    As a general philosophy, I would agree that any guarantee of security changes one's outlook. But how sad is it that Americans seem to accept that we are all, by and large, "employees at will"?

    However, as one who has been on the receiving end of capricious actions from employers, nothing is more demoralizing than being blindsided by trumped up charges. I taught for 8 years in the NYC public schools -- a bureaucratic morass if there ever was one -- where I was summarily suspended by a principal because I was the union rep for a small performing arts school and, as such, was the point person for advocating for stricter academic standards. Because I would not capitulate to the principal's style over substance mentality >>poof<< I was gone. (The only reason I was not out of a job was -- gasp -- a union negotiated tenure process.)

    Nothing suffers more from the Lake Wobegone effect than education. Whether it is college students demanding good grades because they "paid for this" or parents refusing to acknowledge that we've already had one Albert Einstein, instructors are left with precious little motivation to actually adopt and adhere to tough authentic standards if there is no guarantee that discipline will only be for legitimate (not political) cause.

    The rather cynical advice I got from senior teachers sums it up well: "No one complains when they pass."

    Yes, absolutely, there are bad teachers out there and institutions should have the authority and means to clean this "dead wood." But, at the same time, education is not just like any other business. It is a service industry and a cognitive process. It requires input and engagement not just from the provider, but also the recipient. Why is a physician not blamed when a patient is non-compliant with treatment, but teacher is supposed to take full responsibility when a student refuses to engage?

    The debate elsewhere on this forum about the University of Phoenix' enrollment over academics approach would seem to be a cautionary tale as to the effects of over "businifying" education.
  12. Petedude

    Petedude New Member

    I think there are two assumptions here worth questioning:
    1. Most online schools are for-profit.
    If what you're saying is that the majority of online distance learning programs are operated by for-profit entities, I'm not sure that's correct. My understanding is that many of the oldest online distance learning programs were started by larger non-profit institutions that had the infrastructure to offer classes over the 'net. Sure, for-profit entrepreneurs were quick to hop on the bandwagon, but if you flip through many of the popular names on the various Internet degree conversation message boards, you should see a lot of non-profit names were leaders very early on.

    2. There's no job security.
    I think that depends on the program. The accredited programs offered by B&M schools should have plenty of job security. Others will depend on their corporate philosophy and how they've been managed. For example, one gets the impression that UoP is out for a quick buck, and given their current issues could go under in a year or two if they don't turn things around quick.
  13. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    Online schools are those with no B&M presence. Yes, lots of B&M universities offer DL programs but the issue is for "online schools" or you can call them "virtual Universities" that only exist in the internet with little physical presence but some rented office space. Some schools in this category are Jones International University, Capella, Cardean, Walden just to mention a few. These schools might have some full time staff but I doubt they have the notion of tenure tracks unless you can give me an example.

    As for job security, when you are tenured professor at a regular B&M University you don't have to be laid off in case of low enrollments while at for profits you will be shown the door as soon as they don't have the need for you anymore. The other issue is that although the program might have good enrollment, you might not be hired again for the same course because someone decided to give it to someone else for personal preference. Schools like Devry with large amounts of adjuncts might be less likely to suffer from this decease as they have a system that is based on a protocol but smaller schools are the case when the hiring manager doesn't like you because some reason.

    The issue is that if you go for a teaching career, you don't want to found out that you are not hired anymore after 20 years of teaching at the same school because the hiring manager found someone cheaper or better. After 20 years of teaching is pretty hard to go back to industry so the tenure protects you from this situation.
  14. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Fielding Graduate University maybe?

  15. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    Capella's "core" faculty are indeed full time employees. 95% do not live in Minneapolis, and none have tenure. Tenure is usually reserved for those involved in research.
  16. Andy Borchers

    Andy Borchers New Member

    Full-time, tenure, part-time?

    This is an interesting thread. The general trend in higher educaiton is to have more "non-traditional" faculty members - be they adjuncts, non-tenured lecturers, clinical faculty, etc. Typically these faculty members cost less (often 60% less) and create more financial flexiblity. The question for many schools is what blend of traditional and non-traditional faculty should they use?

    I'd argue that full-time faculty are needed to provide continuity and leadership for academic programs - and to conduct research. Indeed, the model that my school is using is that of a "teacher scholar" where faculty have three missions - teaching, research and service. Non-traditional faculty can be a very valuable addition to an academic program, however. They can bring fresh air to a school. The president of my school figures that perhaps 20% of our teaching effort could/should be done by non-traditional faculty.

    I'd point out one more thought. AACSB used to have a minimum full-time percentage they were looking for in accreditiation. Now they have the concept of "participating" faculty - the idea here is that the school needs a solid core of faculty that do more than just teach classes (and leave) as most adjuncts do. They need faculty that are actively involved in other parts of the school's mission - curriculum development, research, etc. To be a "participating" faculty member AACSB expects more than a "term at a time" appointment. AACSB doesn't require, however, that "participating" faculty be full-time or tenured. This could allow some DL schools to achieve AACSB accreditation.

    Regards - Andy
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 13, 2007
  17. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I agree with Andy. There is great value in continued faculty involvement, especially with faculty who are rooted in their career fields, not just the college campus. The kind of engagement he describes is exactly what schools like UoP lack--and need.

    NB: My experience as an adjunct at Webster University was similar--no real connection between adjuncts and the university itself. And it was structured a whole lot more loosely than was UoP: take the textbook, write a syllabus, and go. But they paid a lot better, and they showed up in the classroom once in a while to take a look.
  18. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member


    At one where I teach, we are thinking about virtual research groups that could be used to generate research for those only involved part time. The issue seems to be funding as most government agencies require full time employment in order to grant a grant. An event if you get it, you cannot use to pay yourself so it basically means that the researcher has to put time of their own schedule with no financial compensation.
  19. PsychPhD

    PsychPhD New Member

    A response from someone on the inside

    From a discussion forum for online adjuncts, there was an inquiry of a frequent contributor who happens to be the hiring authority for a program. She was asked why applicants have such a dismal time getting any sort of response from the programs and just how are assignments given.

    The responses, though not surprising, do seem to illustrate a rather disappointing reality:

    Just some more information to consider.
  20. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Was that the online-adjuncts Yahoo! group? Or is there another active group out there?


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