The Problems and Politics of Governance in State Universities: Faculty in the Neoliberal Age

Back in 1999, a report was issued, titled “Facing Change: Building the Faculty of the Future.” The 18 month study advocated for one, better pay for part time instructors, for them to be more fully integrated into their institutions, and tenured professors be subject to reviews ending in reward or punishment. As reported in the New York Times:

“The report also calls for greater accountability over sabbaticals, including written proposals before and reports after, as part of a set of measures intended to persuade legislators and the public that state universities are running themselves more like private corporations.” (1)

The influence of market ideology was being felt in the academy. It is no surprise, as the report itself was commissioned by administrators and trustees of public universities. The chairman of the report was Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the California State University system. The report comes from their interests, which are at odds with the faculty.

The faculty of the university have traditionally been the core of the university. But increasingly the faculty’s privileged role has diminished with increased corporatization. These attacks come in three areas: Chipping away at tenure, the increase of adjunct or part time faculty, and the increase of graduate student employees.

The first in the Tenure has been used by university faculty to ensure proper salaries and academic freedom. Administrations and trustees have been working to dismantle tenure, increasing seeing this and academic freedom more as privileges rather than integral components of faculty status (2). Tenure has been a key part of shared governance. A 1972 Supreme Court decision says that faculty members have a “property interest” in their jobs, and cannot be taken away by the state without due process. There were still questions about what tenure protected. At the University of South Florida in 2003, new policies made it easier to fire tenured professors, and Texas A & M University System limited job benefits guaranteed to tenured faculty members. This was done to give administrators more control over tenured professors and keep institutions out of court and the public eye when they fire or discipline a faculty members. This is done to decrease the role of power for faculty, and bring on more corporatization.

“How else is an institution to effectively impact the productivity of faculty members once they have tenure if you can’t take anything away or change anything? Imagine running a business like that.”

-Cathy Ann Tower, researcher at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, arguing that universities must be able to alter the conditions of a faculty member’s job.(3).

Another trend has been the increase of adjunct, or part-time, faculty. By 1970, only 22 percent of faculty were part time; by 1997 the number of part-time faculty has risen 42 percent, nearly doubling. In comparison, the US economy as a whole had only 17 percent of its workforce part time. Thus, universities are much more reliant on part time labor. They are also less able to exercise academic freedom. These adjunct faculty get paid less, usually do not get benefits, and have less job security. And despite being called part time, many of these instructors work full time loads, many working at more than one campus. (4). At UNM, adjuncts are hired semester to semester, are not paid if a class is canceled, cannot get on-campus parking, and their names are not listed in the directory. They also do not get benefits from UNM. There was a hiring freeze on tenure track faculty in 1996-97 for one year at UNM due to budget cuts, and non-tenure track instructors spiked to 710 in 1998. The number of tenure track professors at UNM has not risen in a decade, while non-tenure track instructors went from 436 in 1990 to 740 in 2000, a 70 percent increase, most being part time instructors. While administrators say that part-timers bring real life experience to classrooms, they begrudgingly admit it is to save money. Part time faculty also have less of a connection to the university itself.

The marginalization of faculty lead to a competition in terms of salaries. In 1999, 10 states pushed for “more competitive” faculty salaries in their legislatures. Faculty have been wooed to higher paying schools. In New Mexico, the six public universities requested an 8 percent increase for 1999-2000, and commit to a 5 percent increase the following four years. Lawmakers rejected this, the governor wanting only a 2.5 percent increase, the legislature wanting 2 percent. UNM faculty and staff get about 90 percent of their counterparts at peer universities (5). Faculty pay is also getting into the mechanisms of market and corporate ideology, with bidding wars over “star faculty” and more marginalization of the faculty left. Frustrations with salaries at public universities and other marginalization have prompted more calls for unionization from faculty.

Both the attacks on tenure and the increase of adjunct faculty are being pushed to deal with rising enrollments and tighter budgets. This is resulting in faculty losing their authority on campus. Unionization of faculty has increased as a result of lack of representation in governance. It has got results, for faculty at institutions with collective bargaining agreements on average earned $3,006 more than their colleagues at institutions with no collective bargaining agreements (6). But more faculty are unionizing not just for money but to have a say in the governance of their institutions.

In an essay by Saltzman and Grenzke, they advocate a New Unionism, where teachers go from production workers to full partners, co-managers of their schools. Intended for K-12 education, they advocate this for higher education also. Governance issues before were not considered part of labor, but many faculty want an increase in employee participation in governance. Polls found that the number of faculty who thought the administration was too autocratic went from 61 percent in 1975 to 67 percent in 1984 to 69 percent in 1989 (7). Before, faculty’s role was limited to that of academic and curricular matters, with administrators handling budget, fiduciary and strategic decision making. Faculty want more representation on governing boards too. They say “collective bargaining generally seemed to increase the actual level of faculty involvement in governance decisions.” They also state that “perhaps one lesson for unions in colleges and universities is that participation in institutional governance is a potentially effective way to advance employee interests.”

Another factor in what has been called the casualization of academic labor is the increasing role of graduate student instructors. Grad students are paid substantially lower salaries with few or no benefits, are not integrated into the faculty as a whole, and whom higher education institutions have no long term relationship with. Their numbers have increased over the last generation, with 1/3 of adjunct instructors grad students. In comparison, while there were 114,000 tenure track junior professors, there were 200,000 graduate teachers. Casual instructors made up 70 percent of all teaching hours, with 40 percent from graduate teachers. Their student status compromised their ability to improve working terms and conditions(8). But an increase in unionization among graduate students was evident in this time period, with the recognition that graduate teachers and TA’s were employees as well as students.

The attacks on faculty in the 1990’s and 2000’s were due to a neoliberal onslaught that affected many public institutions. The privileged role of faculty was eroded with the denial of tenure and the increase of part-time instructors. Unionization of faculty also increased, with many wanting more role in the governance of the university. The role of student employees also was rethought, with they needing more role in governance also, a common solution to undemocratic market forces.


  1. Bronner, Ethan. “Study of Public Universities Advises Changing Faculty of the Future.” New York Times. January 13, 1999.
  2. Wilson, Robin and Walsh, Sharon. “Tears in the Fabric of Tenure: The Case of USF.” Chronicle of Higher Education. January 10, 2003.  (accessed May 27, 2003).
  3. Wilson and Walsh, ibid.
  4. Uyttebrouck, Olivier. “More Part-Timers Lecturing at UNM.” Albuquerque Journal. July 9, 2001. p. B1.
  5. Schmidt, Peter. “Public Universities Appeal for Funds to Improve Faculty Salaries.” Chronicle of Higher Education. February 26, 1999. p. A28.
  6. Clery, Suzanne B. and Lee, John B. “Faculty Salaries: 1998-99.” NEA 2000 Almanac of Higher Education.
  7. Saltzman, Gregory and Grenzke, Janet. “Faculty and Staff Look At their Roles in Governance.” Thought and Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal. Spring 1999.

  8. Johnson, Ben and McCarthy, Tom. “Casual Labor and the Future of the Academy.” Thought and Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal. Vol. 16, No. 1. Summer 2000. pp. 107-120.

About elloborojo

Okay, as the subtitle states, this is a notebook from what I call a New Mexico diaspora (look up diaspora if you are asking). I was a former resident of New Mexico, now living elsewhere, but New Mexico is still my homeland. To get more in touch with your homeland one must be away from it. This is my attempt to understand it. I was a former anti-militarism activist in the Albuquerque area. Still believe that United Snakes militarism is the greatest threat to the world, as do the majority of the worlds population. Uncovered much information about the ties in New Mexico, but never processed it all. This blog is an attempt to do that. Also hope it may come of use to others with similar interests.
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