University of Oklahoma

One year ago today, several members of this panel made a presentation to Region Seven entitled “The School of Music in the Year 2020.” Our goal was to present an overview of strategies that music executives could use to imagine their schools of music in the future, during a time of exciting but also volatile change in musical higher education.

Today, in light of an increasingly uncertain economic climate, we have narrowed our focus to a discussion of financial planning and how we can remain imaginative in the midst of budget cuts. Although a majority of music units within both public and private institutions have experienced deep budget cuts during the past year, it is imperative that we, as music executives, should not lose sight of the potential for the future exciting programmatic and faculty development that the rapidly evolving music profession presents to us.

How can we continue to think in a visionary way about the future in the midst of cost cutting, financial constraints, reduced endowment income, and federal and legislative cutbacks? How do we survive these fiscal challenges without giving up on musical excellence and new ways of developing high-quality instruction? In short, how do we squeeze through this narrow place that is not likely to widen soon without sacrificing the forward momentum of the entire enterprise?

I will not discuss the nuts and bolts of financial resource management, such as cutting back on advertising and travel budgets, supplies, and so on. Rather, I wiU talk about philosophical issues and ideas relating to faculty development that will assist us in thinking outside the box as we face decisions concerning retrenchment and long-term restructuring so that we can keep our units viable despite decreasing financial support.

Let’s go right to the heart of the financial matter: faculty engagement. Certainly, the largest allocation of any institutional budget goes to support faculty salaries. Keeping our units financially viable may mean reducing faculty salaries, and that requires looking at the alternatives to tenure-track appointments. I believe that for many institutions and for many faculty members, renewable term appointments are a satisfactory alternative.

Tenure, as a system of engagement and its inherent financial implications, is central to any serious discussion of educational financial management. According to some, tenure produces financial inflexibility, reduces faculty accountability, and increases overall costs. At least, that’s what the critics say. On the other side, tenure has its passionate defenders. To many faculty members, it is inherent in the nature of the professorate, essential to impartial scholarship, and vital to academic freedom. The arguments for and against tenure have been contentious, even litigious. You’ll recall that, several years ago, professors at the University of Minnesota were able to halt the effort of the president and governing board to redefine tenure and close programs when they convinced both politicians and the media that such an action would be harmful to the university.

Tenure, of course, provides protection against external academic and economic pressures, and it also encourages long-term thinking and responsibility. It can also be a remarkably effective way to support and retain the work of the best and brightest—the most gifted teaching artists, creators, and researchers. The benefits of tenure are not in question, but rather its liabilities—especially the institutional inflexibility to which it can lead, and the lack of individual responsibility and professional accountability that it sometimes allows.

Let’s look at some of the solutions that institutions have developed during the last decade in order to remain flexible in personnel management and budget planning. As former New York City mayor Ed Koch frequently asked, “How’m I doin’?” Good question, Ed. How are we doing with periodic reviews of tenured faculty members? The ability for institutions to engage in post-tenure review was a hard fought battle of the 1990s. The 17 October 2002 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education tells us that “public universities in 37 states now require some sort of performance review of tenured professors.” 1

It appears that the academic community is still split over this extra layer of evaluation. The Chronicle goes on to say that

post-tenure review has not translated into significant firings of either lazy professors or controversial ones … some credit it with single-handedly saving tenure; others suggest that it has quietly watered down faculty authority, eroded tenure, and encouraged scholars to focus on quantity over quality.2

Although this system of review does not necessarily jeopardize tenure once it has been awarded, it does provide accountability and can be beneficial to the future professional development of the individual. It can also be beneficial to the music executive in shaping the future direction of the unit. Personal interests and commitments change over the years, the music profession is certainly changing at a phenomenal rate, and music units must respond. Regular post-tenure reviews can bring these institutional changes into harmony with individual goals.

What about a mixed system of engagement that would include the option of tenure, along with other nontraditional academic appointments? For instance, full-time, renewable term contracts of a prescribed period of time are an option that many institutions are beginning to implement. Such contracts are not new at institutions where faculty engagement is not governed by tenure, but they are at many public and private universities and colleges.

At the University of Oklahoma, for example, during the last three years, five renewable term appointments have been created in the College of Fine Arts, two in the School of Music, and three in the School of Art. A wide range of responsibilities is outlined in the position descriptions for these appointments. They carry rank and a prescribed period of engagement ranging from three to five years. In the School of Art, one is an endowed chair and is intended for an outstanding scholar in the field—an academic “star"—an individual whom the university would like to retain on a long-term basis. In the School of Music, one is an entry-level position for the assistant director of bands, intended for an individual who will serve in the position for a relatively short period of time before moving on to a senior-level position.

In order to gain some perspective on this issue, I turned to my professional colleagues of the National Association of Music Executives at State Universities (NAMESU), fifty music executives representing the flagship institutions of each of our fifty states. They were asked to respond to two questions: “Does your institution offer multi-year renewable term appointments in addition to, or in lieu of, tenure-track appointments?” and “If so, please describe the terms of the appointment and the mechanism for re-engagement.” Sixty-seven percent of the NAMESU respondents said “yes,” to the first question, and 33 percent said “no.” For respondents answering in the affirmative, the terms of these appointments and the mechanism for re-engagement varied greatly from institution to institution, some lasting from one to three years, others to as many as six.

One music executive at a Big Ten institution reported:

We are the last unit on the campus to approve this type of appointment, and the discussion was protracted and contentious. By action of the School’s legislative committee, the total number of these appointments is limited to no more than 5 percent of the total tenure-track faculty (thus equates to approximately 6 positions).

The situation on another Big Ten campus was described thus:

The length of the term is determined by the hiring unit. However, anyone on these contracts can be terminated without cause at any time, assuming [the unit has] met the terms of the layoff policy, which is one month of notice for every year of service, up to ten, after which people who are terminated receive a year of notice. These Professional & Administrative contracts are also used for highly skilled administrators—lawyers, senior accountants, and HR people. It is interesting to note that these employees now receive the same benefits as faculty (15 percent retirement, health, and fringe benefits)—the difference being that they are required to teach six courses or 30 hours per week, as opposed to tenured faculty, who are required to teach two courses or 20 hours per week. Contract faculty are usually somewhat cheaper and they teach a higher course load.

Another respondent wrote:

Even the administration admits that persons who have been engaged for more than seven years, and who have undergone two or more reviews, have “de facto” tenure.

This, of course, raises provocative legal issues.

The principal employment expectation, of course, is teaching. For most, there were no other stated expectations beyond this to include research or service. One respondent cited a paradigm that includes “60 percent teaching, 20 percent professional development, 20 percent service,” and another said that

job descriptions are 78 percent teaching and 22 percent professional development [and that] this area may be custom fit to the individual but does not carry a research or creative activity requirement unless it is negotiated by the individual.

Some of the appointments described carry a formal rank, and one respondent cited “strong union involvement” during negotiations. The titles used to describe these appointments covered a large range, including lecturer, instructor, adjunct or clinical professor, visiting professor, and research professor.

One institution reported:

Over 20 faculty are on such appointments. The term varies from one to three years as negotiated between the faculty member and the chair. Salary, time in grade for raises in rank, and merit pay is the same for tenme and non-tenure. The only difference is the perceived inequality related to job security.

Another respondent wrote, “Yes, we have both tenme track and renewable term appointments ... It’s really crazy!” and proceeded to describe the review process:

Individuals appointed as continuing non-tenure track faculty will have a six-year probationary period comprised of three successive two-year appointments, subject to annual review and a recommendation for contract renewal by the chair. In the sixth year, a full peer review will be conducted and on the basis of recommendations from the peer review and chair, individuals will receive either a seventh terminal year appointment or a three-year contract subject to annual review. In the second year of the three-year contract, the chair will recommend whether the individual will be afforded a contract of four years in length. Subject to satisfactory annual evaluations, during the last year of a four-year contract, a second full peer review will be conducted. Subject to the recommendation of the peer review and chair, the individual will receive a five-year contract on a “rolling” basis, subject to annual review.

According to my calculations, two peer review panels and thirteen years later, the successful “reviewee” will finally receive the first of his or her five-year “rolling term” appointments. Congratulations!

Not surprisingly, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has come out strongly against the implementation of nontraditional faculty appointments. The AAUP believes that both the exploitation and the excessive use of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty undermine academic freedom, academic quality, and professional standards.

A glance at AAUP’s current Web site ( tells us that

non-tenure-track faculty account for more than half of all faculty appointments in American higher education. The non-tenure-track consists of two major groups, those who teach part-time and those who teach full-time but are not on tenure-track lines … part-time faculty appointments have increased from 38 percent of all faculty appointments in 1988 to currently more than 40 percent [and] non-tenure-track, full-time faculty members hold more than 20 percent of all faculty positions.3

Indeed, there are legitimate uses of nontraditional appointments, such as meeting unexpected increases in enrollment or filling unexpected faculty vacancies. The AAUP believes, however, that “the extensive use of part-time positions or extended temporary appointments has become habitual in too many institutions” and that these institutions

exploit faculty members when they appoint numerous part-time faculty or renew temporary faculty year after year wi&out offering them raises in pay, access to benefits, opportunities for promotion, or eligibility for tenure and the procedural protections essential to academic freedom.

But I think the use of nontraditional appointments, as a means of filling unexpected faculty vacancies on a temporary basis, is not what we’re talking about. Looking at the information gathered from institutions around the United States, a larger and more complex picture is coming into focus. Part-time and non-tenure-track, full-time appointments as a means of engaging a roster of applied and academic faculty may be emerging as a national trend.

The 4 November 2002 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that just last September a group of full-time adjunct faculty members at Western Michigan University won the right to become eligible for tenure and that they now have the right to participate in the faculty governance system. They were awarded continuing contracts as faculty specialists and are now treated essentially like tenured faculty members, except that they are reviewed every four years. They can earn promotion and tenure based on evaluations for professional competence and professional service, but not on research, and they can be fired from their duties only for cause or financial exigency." 4

The chief negotiator for the contract, a music professor, said, “We thought this was a major innovative step.” Faculty members credit a forward-looking administration with helping to implement the contract. The AAUP, citing that “most universities are increasing the number of full-time faculty members who are not eligible for tenure,” called this “a historic breakthrough … Western Michigan is bucking a very powerful national trend. “It should be noted that, while many welcomed the new provisions, a large minority of faculty members at Western Michigan opposed them, complaining they would water down tenure and give the university the reputation of a community college.

So, questions persist, and there are passionate differences of opinion. Will nontraditional faculty appointments erode the very foundations upon which academia rests? Will they, in faet, attract the best and brightest teaching talent? Certainly, competitive salaries and benefits, along with scholarly support for these nontenured, shorter-term appointments would go a long way toward providing an incentive for accepting such positions.

But are the best and brightest, in all instances, dissatisfied with nontraditional faculty appointments? Apparently not. Recently, the Project on Faculty Appointments at Harvard University conducted a survey of some two thousand doctoral candidates at sixty-five top-tier universities. Surprisingly, the survey showed that nearly 77 percent of students in business, education, the humanities, and the sciences would accept a non-tenure-track offer over a tenure-track offer if there were some equality between the terms of the two offers.5

In calculating the tradeoffs, some said they would opt for a non-tenured post if it meant living in a prime geographic location and securing a reasonable balance between teaching and research responsibilities. Quality of life is what most mattered to them. They are "not interested in living like their professors—all work and no play, all job and no family time."

One said, "I traded security for prestige. I accepted a non-tenure-track job at the most prestigious university. Hopefully, it’ll keep me. If not, the track record I establish while here will help me land my next job.” Another said.

For me, the decision was not difficult at all. I took a non-tenure-track position in a beautiful location where my husband can find work, my children can grow up happily and in safety, and we can experience all that this area has to offer. In addition, I get to focus on research. That was not the case with the tenure-track jobs I was offered. I would have had to do everything—teaching, research, and service.

For others, the decision to take a non-tenure-track job was less about tradeoffs than about accepting reality. One said,

Sure, tenure would be great, but I need a job. I have loans to repay, a family to feed, and a life to live. I can’t waste too much time searching for the perfect offer that might never come along.

Another said,

From what I’ve been reading, tenure is just another old sacred cow that might get slaughtered. Tenure is like the Social Security system; I’m not going to count on it. I was much more interested in where the job was and what I’d be doing than in whether it was tenurable or not.6

Then there are those who want greater flexibility in their careers and are concerned about neither economic security nor academic freedom. One said.

For me, there really was no dilemma. I only considered non-tenure-track jobs. The tenure-track offers I had would have required excellence in all areas. With this job, I can focus on what matters to me—teaching.7

Another said,

I could not do my best work to the ticking of someone’s arbitrary tenure clock. This way, I do my job more to my own terms (and of course also to the terms of the contract). And as long as I perform well, I have every reason to believe that I’ll be renewed each term.8

So, there doesn’t appear to be real consensus about renewable term appointments, does there? On one side, the establishment comes out strongly against such appointments while, on the other, reports from the field tell us that a sector of the future professorate would be willing—even interested—in accepting such appointments. In the meantime, music executives, while attempting to honor the traditions and expectations of the academy, seem to be caught in the middle.

As music executives, it is our privilege to imagine a bright and exciting future for higher musical education. But, as we imagine that future, we must also respond to current and severely limiting economic challenges. As the stock market bottoms out, shoots back up, then bottoms out again, and as the debate over the efficacy of tenure continues, the creation of nontraditional faculty appointments may quietly but inevitably gain momentum and become our best, if not only, option in creating financially efficient and programmatically flexible music units.

Before this idea is fully embraced, the generational sea change among music executives will perforce take place, and we will have cleared the way for what schools of music can become in the future.


  1. Gabriela Montell, “The Fallout from Post Tenure Review,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 October 2002 (
  2. Ibid.
  3. American Association of University Professors, “Guidelines for Good Practice: Part-Time and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty” (
  4. Piper Fogg, "Widening the Tenure Track,” The Chronicle of the Higher Education, 4 November 2002 (
  5. Cathy Trower, "Negotiating the Non-Tenure Track,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 July 2001 (
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.