CHAPEL HILL — For more than two decades, Jan Boxill has advocated for UNC-Chapel Hill's faculty members who don't have the protections afforded by tenure.
Now, the philosopher and ethicist has a real bully pulpit for her cause. She was recently elected chair of the faculty council, the first person who is neither tenured nor on the tenure track to rise to that post.
During a three-year term, she will speak for the faculty and help decide which issues the faculty council should address. She succeeds McKay Coble, a dramatic art professor stepping down a year early because of personal issues.
"It's a validation of Jan," Coble said. "She's a very valuable member of the community."
Boxill began work at UNC-CH in 1988 and teaches philosophy and directs the university's Parr Center for Ethics. She's a senior lecturer, a title given to accomplished faculty members who are neither tenured nor on the tenure track. Lecturers are also known as "fixed-term" or "clinical" professors.
The money question
Though she has long advocated for greater recognition for fixed-term faculty members, she doesn't expect to steer the faculty council's focus in that direction. Budget cuts and their effects on the university will be the faculty's primary focus when she takes hold of the leadership post this summer, she said.
But she does view her election at least partly as recognition by the larger faculty of the value of lecturers.
University lecturers have grown in numbers over the last decade as tenure-track positions have become scarcer. Though they often conduct research along with teaching and service, they don't have the same publishing expectations that tenure-track professors do, and as a result don't receive the sort of job security that comes with tenure.
And in some circles, the positions carry a stigma. At UNC-CH, fixed-term faculty members weren't eligible for teaching awards until the 1990s - and now win them often. In some academic departments, only professors who are tenured or on the tenure track can vote on department decisions.
"I don't see it as second class," Boxill said. "It's a choice that we made."
Contract to contract
Professors on the tenure track must navigate a research-heavy, seven-year pressure cooker and often leave the university if denied tenure. But once tenured, professors have long-term job protection. By contrast,many fixed-term faculty members must receive new contracts every three to five years. Some are on one-year contracts.
Their numbers are growing. A decade ago, 30 percent of UNC-CH faculty held fixed-term appointments. This year, 40 percent do, and the faculty council last month approved a new, tiered title structure, adding "master lecturer" to "lecturer" and "senior lecturer," patterning the assistant/associate/full professor sequence for tenure-track faculty.
Boxill hopes the new title will provide extra gravitas to lecturers whose résumés don't quite sing like those of their tenured counterparts.
"I am not opposed to being called a lecturer, but there is a distinction," she said. "When we write letters of recommendation, it carries a different meaning than professor ."
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