February 14, 2002

Faculty Senate Seeks To Revise Job Titles

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Members of Cornell’s Faculty Senate met in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium yesterday, to discuss the proposal to re-title senior lecturers and research associates, among other topics. The Task Force on Professorial Titles for Non-tenure Track Members spent the last few weeks working on the proposal.

Move Towards Change

“There is strong consensus among task force members that this legislation is important for certain colleges to advance their competitiveness and to offer improved opportunity for career advancement of their non-tenure track faculty,” Prof. Alan Bell, animal science said.

Some faculty members claimed that job titles offered at other universities, such as “clinical professor”, sound more enticing than Cornell’s title of “lecturer.”

Another argument for a change in title is that senior lecturers and researchers may “find themselves at a disadvantage when competing for external funding resources, ” Bell said.

Concensus

Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin agreed.

“We have many people at this University who are more than qualified to teach subjects — in some cases more so than professors,” Martin said.

Martin explained that in many cases, the title of senior lecturer, “considering the experience, expertise and enormous quality that individual brings to the University, is almost insulting.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine passed a proposal in response to increasing competition for job candidates, members of the task force said. According to the committee report, 19 out of the 26 veterinary schools in the country are offering new professorial titles to those who are still called senior lecturers or research associates. Before the proposal can go into effect, however, it must be approved by the Faculty Senate. If the Senate passes it, the proposal will then seek approval from the Board of Trustees. If enacted, the proposal will affect only those colleges in the “clinical sphere,” said task force member Prof. Abigail Cohn, linguistics. Clinical sphere colleges would include the veterinary college.

Roughly 30 faculty that voted against the proposal are evidence that the decision is not easy.

A few tenured professors voiced concerns that adoption of the proposal may degrade the importance of the title “Professor”, as well as have an unknown impact on the tenure track in general.

Despite debate, the task force contended that “guidelines for hiring and promoting individuals in these positions do not fit the actual duties and responsibilities of [non-tenured] individuals.”

One professor mentioned that the deans of the School of Hotel Administration may be interested in holding a forum to discuss the issue. Prof. Steve Schiffrin, law, agreed that the Law School may also be interested in a change.

“In the Law School, I’m quite sure the idea would be heard simply as an exercise in humanity,” Schiffrin said.

“I don’t pretend to predict the outcome, but there are experienced lawyers with strong teaching abilities who are quite well received by the students,” he added.

Schiffrin emphasized that these individuals often have more litigation experience than professors, and deserve a better title.

“I’m open to hearing from my colleagues, but I think the title ‘Clinical Professor’ would be more adequate,” Schiffrin said.

The issuance of new titles will be decided on a college-to-college basis. If approved, the faculty will draw up its own proposal, which will then go before the Faculty Senate to assure it meets the required standards.

“I agree the question is a serious one, and anything that would threaten the core tenure track would be problematic, but I don’t think that the introduction of these new titles would have that effect,” Martin said.

She added the College of Arts and Sciences may be interested in the concept.

A forum will be held next Wednesday, Feb. 20, from 4:30-6 p.m. in Goldwin Smith’s Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium for faculty who wish to voice their opinions. A presentation of the formal resolution is tentatively scheduled for March 13. 

Other issues discussed at the meeting include the approval of changes in membership requirements for the Human Subjects Committee and an examination of how students are spending their time.


Archived article by Signe Pike