All University of Montana lecturers, except those with special contracts, will not be rehired after their current contracts end in May, according to a draft of a letter to be sent out to lecturers later this week.
Letters of “non-reappointment” will be sent on Dec. 1, informing lecturers that their current contracts, which end on May 12, 2018, will not be renewed, according to the most current draft.
A budget crunch caused by years of declining student enrollment, reduced state funding and administrative inaction is leading to reductions in faculty and staff across the University in an attempt to trim spending.
Lecturers, a non-tenure track position held by some of UM’s most renowned faculty, are generally hired on a yearly basis. Similar letters sent to lecturers in late August caused protests on the Oval and outcry on social media, as well as a formal grievance from the faculty union. The union said firing lecturers mid-academic year would violate their contracts, and UM administrators retracted the dismissals.
Faculty union spokesperson and journalism professor Lee Banville said the letter may raise the same issues as the August letter.
“If what we’re hearing is accurate, it seems like some of the bad decisions, or less strategic decisions, that they made when they decided to cut lecturers earlier this semester, they may be getting ready to remake again,” Banville said. “That’s disappointing from our perspective, and really concerning, and we’ll have to look at how they do it. I think we’ll raise questions about how strategic and well-thought-out this actually is once the letters actually go out.”
Union president Paul Haber said when the original grievance was resolved in September that he hoped the University would use findings from the program prioritization process to be more strategic about which lecturers were cut.
The memo attached to the draft letters also seeks to change how non-tenured faculty are handled at UM.
Provost Beverly Edmond suggests in the letters that lecturers may be hired back as adjuncts, who are hired on a semester-by-semester basis. Adjuncts have the least job security of all University faculty and often miss out on benefits including health insurance.
The draft also says that any new adjuncts will have to be pre-approved by the provost each semester before they can be hired. Deans traditionally could hire as many adjuncts as needed to teach classes in their school, as long as they had the budget for it.
When deans were presented with the draft documents at a Tuesday morning meeting, Paul Kirgis, the law school dean, said he was troubled by needing administrative preapproval for adjuncts.
“That’s the core of our job as deans,” Kirgis said. “I can’t help but think the assumption behind that is that we’re either incompetent or irresponsible.”
Provost Edmond disagreed with that assumption, and said until UM fixes its budget problem, each adjunct hire should be justified as absolutely necessary so “we're using our faculty with the rational, logical way we should use it.”
“I have no interest, nor would I think any other provost would typically have any interest, in that kind of intrusive involvement of your budget,” Edmond said. “But right now that’s not the case.”
In the memo, Edmond said all tenured and tenure-track faculty should be teaching maximum workloads, and that departments should expect a “significant reduction” in adjunct funding.