Off the beaten tenure track

Last week, I got an email from a friend suggesting that my husband (who adjuncts) apply to a tenure track position two and a half hours away. Even though I am happy in my full-time, non-tenure track position here, my (tenured) friend still saw this as an option. Why?

“Because tenure-track trumps all,” my husband said, and he’s right. Even with the stress, workload, and uncertainty faced by my TT friends and colleagues, it’s clear most see NTT as an unacceptable option. Yet despite the shadow cast on anything except tenure-track jobs, three years ago I chose a non-tenure track over a tenure-track job offer. Today, as I work to juggle being the family breadwinner with taking care of a newborn, I still think this was the best decision for myself and for my family.

As criticism of the percent of faculty who are adjuncts grow, I expect to see universities increase the number of faculty who are full-time, but not on the tenure track. This is not as bad as it sounds. Before I explain why it’s worked for me, let me add this caveat: My R-2 university has a long-standing NTT structure, one that includes a union, a benefits package equal to TT faculty, and the opportunity for promotion. The structure of the university’s NTT positions promotes permanence. So, this is not an part-time adjunct or “instructor” position.

In this position, I am expected to teach a solid number of students, with a focus on general education courses, and to teach well. I get paid less. I am not required to do research, but I can continue to research and publish if I choose to. However, I can’t expect to receive workload reductions in exchange for being research active. I cannot get tenure, so although there is a 9-year “post-reappointment” zone, my job is less secure than tenured faculty.

Three years ago, after two years of post-grad school limbo, I was well-situated with four on-campus interviews for the four applications I submitted. I had a TT offer from a small state teaching school, and an offer of this NTT position at a larger university.

I chose the NTT job because of the infrastructure and location. The small college town offered the walkable lifestyle I’d dreamed of, with a nice home that was more than affordable even on my lower salary and with an adjuncting husband. It was a solid, century-old department with a Ph.D. program and a friendly faculty. Plus, my teaching load is no greater here than it would have been at the TT job.

I’m staying for these reasons, but also because I’ve realized that this is just the job I’ve been looking for. I think it’s actually the job that many others are looking for, even if they don’t realize it. I find my TT friends are often aiming for an impossibly high standard, at the cost of their nights and weekends, “just in case” that one more article/grant/committee is what is needed for tenure. A NTT position takes away six years of stress. I can aim to meet minimum standards, then choose how and when to aim higher.

As a NTT, at least at this university, I feel like I have more control over my career: I research what I want, when I want. Beyond teaching regular GE classes, I have flexibility in what other courses I offer, and what service I want to focus on. I’ve found that my NTT position can be similar to a 9-5 position, but with the perks of academia. Proper planning means I can often have weekends to myself. But, as was recently the case, the flexibility of the position also means that I can choose to work odd hours in order to navigate my family situation (in my case, I was able to tend to a new baby even without maternity leave).

Implicit in my friend’s email suggesting that my husband should apply for a distant TT job is the belief that a NTT position isn’t good enough. I disagree. It’s certainly not perfect, and not a good fit for everyone. But I’ve been surprised and grateful at how good a choice it turned out to be for me.

6 thoughts on “Off the beaten tenure track

  1. I was unaware that this kind of unionized, mostly-permanent-but-non-tenure-track position existed. How can you distinguish between these positions and adjunct positions in job ads?

    • Often they are called “lecturer” or “senior lecturer” and explicitly say in the description something like “full time but non-tenure track” and clarify that the position is 100% teaching.

    • This type of position has existed at both places I’ve taught. As squirrelysaid, the key to look for is full time or multi-year contracts. NTT faculty are invaluable members of our departmental community.

  2. Could someone point me to an active NTT but still long-term job posting (or to university handbooks that have similar language)? I am trying to get my university to consider this type of position for a new hire, but there is some resistance because it’s not a model that has been used here. We could use some help with language for our job description.

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