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).
SPECIAL PROFESSIONAL FACULTY
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
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.