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A student bikes over the University of Montana’s main walkway, Ryman Mall.

Missoula College and multiple departments at UM are breaking the limit of teachers in short-term positions allowed by University policy, leading to uncertainty for teachers and students.

UM policy limits non-tenurable teaching positions to 25 percent of any school, college or department, which includes lecturers and adjuncts. Missoula College and at least eight departments on UM’s main campus are above that limit, based on data from the Office of the Provost.

Non-tenurable positions are renewed on a semester or yearly basis and don’t have the stability of tenurable professors. According to UM policy, adjunct positions are created to meet temporary needs from unanticipated enrollment growth or absent professors.

Brad Halfpap has taught at UM for 13 years. He is an adjunct in the department of physics and astronomy, which is around 34 percent non-tenurable.

“The future is very uncertain,” Halfpap said. “It seems likely I will be here next year, but beyond that, I don’t think that anybody knows.”

Halfpap said the department is cohesive despite sometimes scrambling to staff the classes it offers. He added that he doesn’t think there’s any particular effect on students.

Vice President of the University Faculty Association, the union for UM’s main campus, Megan Stark said high ratios of non-tenurable positions mean many teachers don’t have fair job security or opportunities.

“There’s an old union quote, that faculty working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Stark said. “If a faculty member doesn’t know whether or not they have a contract the following semester, it’s difficult for students to even have a sense of who might be teaching a class.”

Some non-tenurable positions are different from other adjunct positions. Audrey Elias is one of five non-tenurable clinical faculty members in the School of Physical Therapy, which is 35 percent non-tenurable. She teaches classes, but most of her work is done in UM’s physical therapy clinic, where she sees patients and mentors students.

Cassandra Hemphill has taught as an adjunct for six years at Missoula College, which is about 57 percent non-tenurable. She said she’s had to choose between leaving students hanging and helping them when she’s off contract, on her own time.

“It’s a problem for students between semesters,” Hemphill said. “Typically, what this means is that we’re seeing faculty who are putting out 10 or 15 hours of essentially free labor.”

A May 2018 Kaimin article reported Missoula College has been well above UM’s limit on non-tenurable positions for years. Hemphill, who is president of Missoula College’s union, said the union put together a five-year plan in fall 2018 to address the problem and the union is working with UM’s administration.

“What they do at Missoula College, if it is accepted in one part of the organization, it could easily be transported to other parts of the organization,” Hemphill said.

Provost Jon Harbor said UM plans to hire more tenurable positions to lower the ratio at Missoula College. When asked about other departments on UM’s main campus that have too many non-tenurable faculty, Harbor declined comment, adding he only knew about Missoula College’s case.

Hemphill said UM’s administration tried to change the policy restricting non-tenurable faculty last year, under former interim provost Beverly Edmond. Hemphill said the policy is invoked in the contracts of both unions and cannot be changed without negotiations.

Harbor said it’s worth looking at whether the policy should change, but it should be studied first. He said he had not discussed it with the unions.

Stark, with the union, and Harbor both said the University has outstanding adjunct teachers.