Chapter Nine

The class of faculty known collectively as Special Professional Faculty can be found in all colleges throughout the University. They perform duties ranging from heading institutes, running laboratories, designing sets for the theatre, filling various administrative posts, to teaching required courses. Several years ago the SPFs decided to organize in order to support one another in their dealings with the administration. A committee drew up a constitution; officers were elected; and committees were formed to address topics that concerned the group as a whole. This organization of Special Professional Faculty meet on campus once a semester, albeit without official recognition from the administration, to inform one another, to discuss and to plan strategy. In spite of the existence of an organization, however, the wide range of duties, varying sources of funding, and wildly differing compensation make it difficult for them to speak with one voice in favor of common goals. The following comments address the situation of professional specialists whose principal duties are in the classroom, the highest concentration of teaching SPFs being in the College of Arts and Letters in the departments of Film, Television, and Theater (5); and Romance Languages and Literatures (16).

The position of SPF was created in part to address the issue of exploitation of adjunct. SPF faculty are eligible for benefits such as retirement and health insurance whereas adjuncts are not. Considered to be professionals, experts in pedagogy and in their field, they were initially given a great deal of power and authority within the individual department's overall program. In Romance Languages, for example, SPFs chose texts, designed the curriculum, and trained Teaching Assistants. They welcomed the input of T&R faculty but bore the ultimate responsibility for the program. After so many years of exploitation, this newly promoted class of faculty greeted the improvement in their status with cheers - amazed and happy beyond belief at the new-found respect for their abilities, expertise, and contributions. SPFs looked forward to the opportunity for professional growth, to promotion, to a stronger voice in department affairs.

Twelve years have passed since the initial jubilation. For much of this time, the largest group of SPFs, those in foreign language, have been demoralized, underpaid, and deeply concerned about their future. For years, circulating rumors held that at high administrative levels, there was great unhappiness about having so-called "regular" faculty members who held, in many cases, only an MA as their highest degree. The push to make Notre Dame famous as a great research university seemed to devalue the contribution of those whose focus is more narrowly on teaching and who, for the most part, do not publish and thus do not bring any direct outside recognition to the institution. The professional affirmation that came from having control of and responsibility for the success of the language program was lost when it was decided, for many valid reasons, that a T&R language coordinator be hired for each section. While applauding the attention given to the language program, the teaching faculty felt that their voices were going unheard as changes were implemented. Recently, in some departments, some of these fears are being alleviated as SPFs see many of their suggestions being incorporated into the overall program.

As a group, the SPFs see themselves as professionals and are proud of keeping current on professional reading and practices, and to provide a serious yet warm environment for learning. They approach their subject with an enthusiastic demeanor and communicate knowledge through innovative activities. While most do not publish, they consider good pedagogical practice to be their equivalent area of research. Their duties include teaching 12 contact hours each semester: usually three courses meeting four days a week or four courses meeting three days a week. Most SPFs work with approximately 70 students each semester. Some are responsible for up to 100 students. The large number of students generates an extraordinarily large amount of grading. In foreign languages, this might include weekly quizzes, biweekly compositions, exams, and/or projects. Students require counseling, tutoring, and advising. In Film, Television, and Theatre, duties are not confined to teaching. One member estimated his workload to be approximately equivalent to a 4/3 teaching load.

In addition to the heavy teaching load, SPFs work on a one-year contract, making each year's renewal a source of anxiety. The annual contract discourages activism; many people are too worried about endangering their jobs to speak up about departmental and university issues. It should be noted that these conditions apply to a group of faculty that is, in most departments, overwhelmingly female. While the five male SPFs in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre also labor under one-year contracts, they have all been promoted at least once during the past eleven years, some of them having been hired at the rank of Associate (as opposed to Assistant) Professional Specialist, unlike, for example, Romance Languages, where for twelve years there was no procedure established for requesting promotion. Salaries for teaching SPFs hover at around the $30,000 mark in the College of Arts & Letters, although in other colleges, for instance in the sciences where an SPF could be running a lab, salaries may go much higher. Many language SPFs with equivalent education and years of experience would be earning about 50% more if they were teaching at a local public middle or high school. The low salaries discourage independent pursuit of opportunities for professional renewal. Recent initiatives by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts to provide travel grants to conferences or for other projects are just recently being recognized and taken advantage of by SPFs.

Many of the problems that the SPFs face may be traced to the lack of historical context with regard to the contributions that teaching faculty have made to a particular program. Administrators value good teaching but, because they themselves come from the ranks of T&R faculty, they hold in higher regard publishable research. Little value accrues to the time, creativity and the high intellectual level required to teach what amounts to a double full-time load, semester after semester. The FTT department, which until now has done the best job of protecting the interests of its teaching SPFs - offering opportunities for promotion and distributing the teaching load equitably - is that one whose recent chairs have, from the start, recognized their dependence on SPFs. As a class of faculty, the SPFs recognize that they need to educate new administrators and T&R colleagues, so as to regain the professional recognition they are due. There are signs and rumors that this educational effort is beginning to bear fruit, but change has to go from the bottom up, and it seems to take a long time to reach the top, where major budget decisions are made.

Yet there is good cause for optimism. Due to the leadership of the present chair of Romance Languages & Literatures, that department's document on Compensation and Promotion, for the first time ever, now provides guidelines for the promotion of SPFs. This administrator actively encourages SPFs to prepare professional dossiers for promotion and is taking steps to address the issue of low salaries and the lack of opportunities for professional development. Again, just recently, the SPFs in this department, following the example of WATCH, are beginning to organize to effect positive change and to provide one another with moral and practical support. They are making efforts to search out and apply for funding for appropriate projects. As each member makes successful application, this information will be circulated so that all may be aware of opportunities. As the situation improves in one department, especially one with such a high percentage of Special Professional Faculty (16 SPF to 24 T&R), others will have a precedent to follow as they strive for recognition, support, and adequate compensation.

So, should you take a job as a teaching SPF in the College of Arts and Letters? Yes - if you plan to stay no more than three years while you make your plans for your future education. Yes - if you value the collegiality of outstanding colleagues. Yes - if you can derive job satisfaction from your successes in the classroom, your relationship with your students. If your love is teaching, if you would almost do it for free, if you are independently wealthy, if you are strong enough to endure the lack of affirmation and the heavy work load, if, like many of us, you are optimistic that change is on the way - by all means, take advantage of the opportunity offered to you. But keep your options open and make sure that you have another life.

Send comments

(back to contents)








back to contents







back to contents







back to contents























6/15/02 12:47 AM
2007 University of Notre Dame