Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada
After working for more than ten years in higher education as contingent faculty (adjunct in the US and sessional in Canada), I got my first full-time, tenure line job two years ago. I’m now giving my job some careful thought. My salary started in the Assistant Professor range based on the same equation that the research tenure-line faculty have: year PhD earned, years of teaching, publications, and more. My benefits package is the same, as well. What makes the Senior Instructor position markedly different is that it is more cost-effective in terms of the sheer number of courses and students taught.
At the campus where I am employed, Senior Instructors are a combination of the full-time tenure-track instructor and the seasonal sessional faculty. The Faculty Agreement states that Senior Instructors are teaching-intensive faculty. The normal load is 8 (yes, you read that right) courses per year. Senior Instructors are assessed based on 80% teaching and 20% service. There is not an expectation for publication; however, if a Senior Instructor publishes it is assumed that the publications will focus on pedagogy or perhaps the scholarship of teaching and learning.
I am in year two of teaching three courses in the Fall, three in the Spring and two during the Summer. I am the department’s only Senior Instructor and I am also one of the department’s Undergraduate Advisors. In other faculties, the teaching load might vary. I have a colleague in the Commerce Department who only teaches six courses, but also is the advisor for one of the graduate programs. Another colleague in English teaches four each term and has the Summer term “off.”
I spend lots of face time with our undergraduate students and this is a really good position for me. But, it is not for everyone. I am reviewed annually, like the other full-time faculty, and I also qualify for time off. However, my tenure review for the possibility to become a Teaching Professor is not until after year 11! The big reviews are at years four, seven, and eleven. This is brutal. However, I view it as part of my job security and the reality of where higher education is today. After two years, I do feel that I am lucky to have this track—I am a good teacher and mentor and I enjoy the work.
I do think that more universities should adopt this full-time, two track model. I know that there are lots of other instructors in higher education who have superior skills at teaching, service, and research; who would thrive on this model. I have job security and I know that I am in a collegial department. I have always enjoyed research, don’t get me wrong, but when this job was posted—it sounded like a dream come true. Teach as much as I was currently teaching but get paid considerably more and be regular, full-time faculty?! When I have had conversations with other Senior Instructors, it’s obvious that we share an interest in teaching. Most of us resign ourselves to teaching during the Summer months—May-August at our institution. Then, we attempt to get research completed during the other two months.
The Senior Instructor model is also good for students. They need more instructors at the front of the classroom who are tried and true experienced teachers. To me, this means instructors who are permanent faculty focused on teaching and all that this means. I attend our Learning and Teaching Centre’s workshops related to teaching, technology, and student retention and I am always trying to learn more about effective teaching. I know that many of my part-time colleagues do this as well, which speaks volumes to their dedication to an institution that has invested so little in them. Anecdotally, I do not see many full-time colleagues outside of those in leadership or administrative positions attending many of the teaching or retention workshops. This is cause for another discussion.
I have left untouched the conversation about how universities are moving away from the old models and employing more contingent faculty. I know that this is the reality for so many of my dear friends and colleagues across the globe. I am suggesting that the Senior Instructor track might offer job security with a teaching focus and a regular faculty salary and benefits.
I have heard that the majority of Senior Instructors are women. Although I have not verified this, it would not surprise me to discover that it was true. Most University of Venus readers know all too well that women faculty predominate at the more junior and vulnerable end of the academic pipeline.
Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is an occasional blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/.