ERIC Identifier: ED284523
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Mortimer, Kenneth - And Others
for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher
Education Washington DC.
Flexibility in Academic Staffing. ERIC Digest.
For the last decade, colleges and universities have been operating
under intense conditions of scarce resources and environmental uncertainty. In
response, institutions have experimented with more aggressive recruitment of
students, redesigned programs to make students more job-oriented, expanded
development, tightened controls on expenditures, controlled enrollment in
high-demand programs, and deferred maintenance on buildings and equipment.
One major result has been almost frantic attempts to experiment with
different modes of academic staffing, most of which are attempts to preserve or
create more flexible policies and practices. The literature and national
conferences of academic administrators are filled with discussions on
alternatives to tenure, the proper use of part-time faculty, incentives for
early retirement, retraining faculty, and retrenchment.
More flexible strategies should not be used to justify the retrenchment of
tenured or tenure-track faculty, however. The retrenchment of tenured faculty
should be considered only as a last resort and only by institutions that have
been stripped of their budgetary flexibility and lack other options for bringing
programs into line with students' needs.
WHAT STAFFING PRACTICES ARE BEING USED?
Although tenure systems are operative in 94 percent of all four-year colleges
and universities and about 57 percent of all full-time faculty are tenured,
tenure per se is not an insurmountable barrier to increased flexibility.
Institutions have at least four major opportunities to reduce expenditures or to
1. The decision to create a position or to hire replacements for faculty
leaving the institution (position control);
2. The decision about the type of appointment to be made (coversion to a
no-tenure system, use of non-tenure tracks, and part-time appointments);
3. The decision to reduce the rate at which tenure-track faculty receive
tenure (tenure quotas, extended probationary periods, suspension of the
"up-or-out" rule, stricter standards for awarding tenure);
4. The decision to increase the number of tenured faculty leaving the
institution (posttenure performance review, incentives for early retirement,
retrenchment) or to convert underused tenured faculty to more productive use
(faculty retraining programs).
The decision to create or fill a position is an essential ingredient in
fiscal--as well as personnel--management. The key issue in managing positions
through attrition is establishing a review of vacated positions that considers
both institution and department needs.
Fixed-term and/or rolling contracts provide an opportunity to achieve greater
flexibility in staffing. Little evidence supports the view that such contracts
stimulate faculty turnover, however, although they do limit the institution's
fiscal commitment to the position to a relatively short period of time.
In the fall of 1981, 65 percent of four-year colleges and universities had
full-time faculty on non-tenure-track appointments. These non-tenure-track
appointments accounted for 12 percent of all full-time faculty. They allow
institutions to hedge their long-term support for the position yet encourage
faculty members to devote full time to teaching and research.
Approximately 25 percent of all faculty teaching in four-year colleges and
universities are employed part time. The use of part-timers permits institutions
to gain important savings, increases the opportunity for institutions to respond
to changing student and curricular needs, and provides an important buffer
against fluctuations in enrollment.
The tenure quota is one of the more common devices for limiting the number of
tenured faculty; almost 30 percent of the institutions in the Project on
Reallocation had a quota. The quota is simple to administer, promotes
flexibility, tends to encourage selectivity and rigor, and may keep costs down.
Some argue, however, that quotas are inequitable, encourage rapid turnover,
discourage institutional commitment by the young faculty members, and actually
are inflexible and rigid.
The use of longer or extended probationary periods provides the opportunity
to defer decisions about tenure. Adopting stricter standards for tenure may keep
tenure ratios lower. These two practices are difficult to implement; they are
seldom supported by faculty and may in effect have all the strengths and
weaknesses of quotas.
Systematic review of tenured faculty occurs in slightly more than half of the
four-year colleges and universities. About 3 percent of the 318 institutions in
the sample actually use such reviews to terminate tenured faculty.
Institutions may use at least five types of incentives to encourage faculty
to retire early: increased benefits; lump-sum payments; enhanced annuities;
phased retirement; and continuation of fringe benefits. Less than 30 percent of
the institutions have a formal early retirement program. Incentives for early
retirement can be a useful tool in a limited number of cases, may have one-time,
short-term effects on the composition of a faculty, and are complex to
Of the 16 percent of institutions that reported retrenching faculty, about
half cited program closure or reduction and declining enrollments as the
reasons. Bona fide financial exigency and program closure are legitimate grounds
for retrenchment, but the use of program reduction as a reason to dismiss
tenured faculty is highly controversial.
One of the least used devices for gaining curricular flexibility is
retraining faculty through granting paid leaves. Even so, about 17 percent of
the institutions are retraining faculty for new or revised assignments.
Institutions have few incentives to retrain faculty when sufficient trained
faculty already are available in the marketplace.
A faculty flow model can clarify alternatives; it must be easily adaptable to
changing circumstances and have the support of top management. To be successful,
it must be kept simple. Even successful flow models, however cannot make
decisions; they are best used as management and planning tools to evaluate
personnel and fiscal strategies.
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE REALLOCATION STRATEGIES?
The discussion about the effectiveness of the four reallocation strategies
clusters around three topics: the content and impact of budget cuts, the
strengths and weaknesses of various devices for reduction and reallocation, and
Budget cuts are felt in both academic and nonacademic areas, and they put
great pressure on existing systems of allocating resources and setting
priorities. Decremental budgeting systems are very difficult to implement over
the years because of political forces on and off campus.
Effective use of the various strategies requires good leadership, a
reasonably consistent definition of the problems and opportunities, and
realistic expectations as to what is possible. It usually is not reasonable, for
example, to expect to save actual dollars by reorganizing or closing programs
unless personnel are terminated. The most one might expect is to avoid future
The process of reallocation is complex and should involve broad consultation.
Consultation with faculty committees about reduction and reallocation tends to
be most effective when faculty are asked about methods and criteria to be used
rather than about specific programs or people.
HOW CAN INSTITUTIONS BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE?
Institutional flexibility should not be equated with institutional autonomy.
No single policy or practice discussed here has the potential to restore
flexibility in an institution. In the aggregate, however, the more effective
management of all these practices and policies can lead to greater flexibility
and, if matched with a three- to five-year perspective, can result in the
institution's improved performance. Administrators would be wise to implement
the following suggestions:
--Develop an appropriate and comprehensive institutional strategy. --Know the
institution. --Know what the institution values. --Temper expectations with
realism. --Link personnel and fiscal affairs. --Match solutions to problems.
--Manage entry to the tenure track. --Manage positions and develop people.
--Preserve managerial prerogatives by exercising them.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education. THREE THOUSAND
FUTURES: THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION. San Frncisco: Jossey-Bass,
1980. ED 183 076.
Chait, Richard P. and Andrew T. Ford. BEYOND TRADITIONAL TENURE: A GUIDE TO
SOUND POLICIES AND PRACTICES. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982.
Keller, George. ACADEMIC STRATEGY: THE MANAGEMENT REVOLUTION IN AMERICAN
HIGHER EDUCATION. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Mortimer, Kenneth P., Marque A. Bagshaw, and Annette Caruso. ACADEMIC
REALLOCATION: A NATIONAL PROFILE. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State
University, Center for the Study of Higher Education, 1985.
Mortimer, Kenneth P. and Michael L. Tierney. THE THREE R'S OF THE EIGHTIES:
REDUCTION, REALLOCATION, AND RETRENCHMENT. AAHE-ERIC igher Education Research
Report No. 4. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education, 1979.