Worcester Polytechnic Institute Creates Tenure and Extended Contract Opportunities for Teaching Faculty
In a move to recognize and reward excellence in teaching, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has created options for pursuing tenure and extended contracts, as well as guarantees of academic freedom and participation in faculty governance, for full-time faculty members whose primary responsibility is teaching.
The new policies took effect July 1 and directly impact about 128 teaching faculty members. The changes also give WPI new tools to retain excellent teachers, a shift that will ensure that students receive top-notch instruction, said Provost Wole Soboyejo.
“WPI has excellent faculty who have a mission to teach and conduct research, as well as excellent faculty who focus on the teaching mission of WPI,” Soboyejo said. “The approach that we are taking will distinguish WPI as a leading university that best balances research with teaching, educating students who are distinctive, while also rewarding faculty who contribute significantly to the preparation of students who are ready to work on day one.”
Tenure is an employment category that guarantees professors the right to speak, teach, and research as they wish, and it confers permanent job security. At research universities such as WPI, tenure is traditionally awarded only to faculty members who balance teaching, research, and service, and only after a lengthy review process. While WPI’s new tenure path for teaching faculty will be equally rigorous, it will focus on the quality and impact of teaching practice and innovation.
“As an institution that is deeply committed to transforming the lives of our students and to respecting the contributions of all members of our community, I am proud that the trustees, administration, and faculty have collaborated to bring forward this latest innovation in our academic work,” said President Laurie Leshin. “Our dedicated teaching faculty will now have a strong voice in institutional governance, and WPI will have a much stronger commitment to their professional growth and careers. I hope we can be a model for other universities in truly valuing the important contributions of teaching faculty.”
WPI trustees and faculty approved the new policies in a series of votes over recent months, capping more than three years of study and discussion among faculty members, administration, and trustees. The university expects to identify 45 teaching faculty members over the next three years who will be eligible to pursue tenure; the first group of 15 will be identified this summer.
“WPI has broadened the concept and commitment of tenure to include our teaching faculty, who are so vital in designing the future of education at WPI,” said Mark Richman, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and newly elected Secretary of the Faculty, who co-chaired the faculty task force that began addressing the issue in 2018. “The overwhelming support by our faculty, administration, and trustees demonstrates the cultural shift that has taken place at WPI. Our goal is to set an institutional example for all of higher education.”
WPI’s changes create a new category of tenure-eligible faculty known as assistant, associate, and (full) professors of teaching. These faculty members will be expected to spend most of their time teaching, while also demonstrating professional growth and service to their academic communities.
Another category of full-time faculty who focus on teaching but are not eligible for tenure are known as assistant, associate, and (full) teaching professors. They will be eligible for secure employment contracts that will typically extend for three to five years. All teaching faculty will participate in faculty governance and have the right of academic freedom.
WPI professors who teach and do research overwhelmingly endorsed the new provisions, which recognize the teaching faculty as equal partners in carrying out the university’s academic mission.
“A long and collaborative process among the teaching faculty, tenure-track faculty, and administration led to this achievement,” said Destin Heilman, teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, chairman of the teaching faculty council, and co-chair of the faculty task force that addressed the issue. “Many teaching faculty members at WPI have dedicated themselves to a career here. I am very pleased that we will now be included in governance and have the opportunity to earn the job security and academic freedom that are commensurate with our role on campus. These changes provide us with a voice and will enhance our teaching mission and the impact of WPI.”
“With these new tenure and contract opportunities for teaching faculty, WPI is once again distinguishing itself as a leader in higher education,” said Jack Mollen, outgoing chairman of the WPI Board of Trustees. “From its emphasis on project-based learning to its recognition of the teaching faculty’s important contributions, WPI is demonstrating how faculty, administrators, and trustees can come together to prepare students with the expertise that will allow them to solve real-world problems.”