The Kentucky Community and Technical College System's board of regents has launched a spirited debate over potentially abandoning the tenure system for future faculty members.
At their meeting Thursday and Friday, the regents are giving a first public airing of the idea of hiring new professors with contracts of up to four years, rather than the tenure track that essentially establishes faculty members for life.
The board can't approve such a move this month because it is up for discussion only and couldn't be acted upon until its March meeting at the earliest, said KCTCS spokeswoman Terri Giltner.
But it is an idea that is being floated as an option to help the system handle "rapid shifts in the job market, emerging new job markets, and state budget cuts which underscored the need for flexibility," according to the board of regents' documents attached to its meeting agenda.
The idea is being met with opposition by the system's faculty members, who worry that ditching the tenure system could hinder KCTCS's chances of attracting top-flight professors to many of its campuses.
"It is going to be particularly challenging for those community colleges in rural parts of the state to attract faculty if they're not going to have the opportunity to get tenure," said Roy Silver, sociology professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College's Cumberland Campus in Harlan County.
"Why would you want to relocate to an area if there's no tenure and you could be potentially arbitrarily dismissed without the due process that tenure guarantees?" Silver added.
Paul C. Callan, an associate professor of electrical technology at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Danville Campus and one of two faculty representatives on the board of regents, said he has been inundated with e-mails from faculty members. Most that he's read so far support keeping the tenure system.
"If they're saying they want to keep tenure, then I will support the issue to keep tenure," he said. He added that he plans to print out many of the messages to share with his fellow regents.
But it remains unclear what direction the board of regents could go in, Giltner said. The regents could ask administrators to draw up plans to move to a contract-based hiring system before the board's next meeting, they could shelve the issue or they could seek further study for all or parts of the contract process, she said.
KCTCS President Michael B. McCall said he didn't have a feel for what regents were likely to do.
"I'd really rather reserve my comment until we see how the board is going to react," said McCall. "And they've been working on this for quite a while, so they're not getting this sprung on them."
The regents and administrators have been researching faculty hiring options for years, but particularly over the last 18 months.
A proposed policy contained in 15 pages of the Friday board meeting materials on the subject suggests not granting tenure to faculty members after 168 currently eligible tenure-track faculty members have gone through the promotion process or have been let go. Those decisions will be complete by 2014.
Any new hires after July 1, 2009, according to the drafted proposal, would be hired as either temporary "at will" employees or with contracts of between one and four years.
Other community-college systems, such as Virginia's 23-campus network, and some colleges in Indiana, Michigan and Missouri use such contract methods rather than tenure for faculty members, according to the KCTCS policy background material.
KCTCS has hired an increasing number of professors at its campuses on a contract basis. The system first hired six faculty members under such a setup in the 2004-05 academic year and appointed 90 in the 2006-07 year, according to KCTCS figures.
Callan, the professor who serves on the board of regents, said he understands that the system is trying to find ways to cut costs in both the short and long terms, especially in light of a potential state budget cut of nearly $8.8 million that KCTCS has been told to brace for.
But he said relying on adjunct professors who can breeze in and out of the state isn't the answer. And eliminating tenure just encourages that, he said.
"Frequently what you would have is someone who might be teaching five, six or seven classes as an adjunct professor who isn't getting benefits," he said. "But that makes it very challenging for anyone to do justice in their teaching. And that's the primary reason for people to be here."