Joint-appointments, especially tenure-track lines have been implemented by a few institutions only. With universities being forced to look for ways to cut costs and balance their budgets and with salaries taking up the major part of it, sharing professors might become a viable option for saving small but essential programs. An example are language programs, in particular Russian, Japanese and German, were low enrollment coupled with a recent wave of retirements has threatened the viability of the programs since the administration has often decided to freeze or even cut lines bringing in adjuncts and allocating the resources gained by the difference in pay (full-time professor vs. part-time adjunct) to other areas.
An example for successfully shared professorial lines is the Five College Incorporate consortium who with the help of a grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have recently made new joint hires and even created shared tenure-track appointments. It has enabled the campuses to offer Asian-Pacific American studies and neither campus had to hire a full-time professor. The divisions of the Arts and Sciences, however, can continue to offer the section and thus show their diversity in intellectual thought and academic programs.
For the individual professor the advantage is simply put – a job. In a highly competitive market, finding a tenure-track position has been difficult. Another advantage is the experience one gains by being involved in two or three departments and having a larger group for faculty support. However, it can also create isolation from much needed support by colleagues especially if the appointment is a tenure-track line. Professors have to make sure they are in sync with their home department where the contract will be drawn and tenure will be evaluated.
In order to offset problems brought on by every college looking out for itself, a consortium has to have clear goals and structures and help make marginal yet important decisions. That entails appointing a chairman who oversees the decision process, the budget, and the hiring process, represents the consortium’s interests as well as its professors to the universities involved and looks for outside funding together with a strong board of directors. As is the case with TBC and the Five Colleges Inc., they have gained financial means of their own and function like an independent company negotiating with each of its member financial contracts and joint agreements where the college puts up half the money for a project and the Consortium brings in the other half through funds from a donor.
It is difficult to say if a joint professorial line works for students and faculty. Probably it is not for everyone and as a professor puts it bluntly saying “Even though this might on paper look fabulous for institutions to share, the cost is largely to these faculty and subtly to the students because the professors aren’t around as much” (Chronicle of Higher Education. 10/22 2004. A22). Certainly, for the institutions it is profitable and indirectly often for the professor who has work and the students who can study in a program that otherwise might not exist.
Looking at Bruce Johnstone’s concept of “cost”, the cost to a college is not only the salary and benefits but also in a joint appointment the negative time of the professor away from campus. It is an indirect and hard to measure cost that the students and departments pay by dealing with a professor/colleague who is only partially available. The benefit, however, is a larger more attractive curriculum and new ideas and input for the department and the students. Measuring the benefit might be within the Productivity Immune Sector when costs are rising with productivity staying the same (output of teaching). Yet a shared position cuts the cost and raises productivity. Thus shared positions managed by a consortium make new resources available to institutions and could even reduce the operating budget.
However, one also has to consider the costs involved in reviewing the authenticity and viability of outside consortia as is the case with the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) which some campuses of CUNY have joined. CUNY has implemented a periodic review by the Program Review Subcommittee (PRS) of the Academic Programs Committee (APC) which is a process that works on reviewing the programs and structures and works on resolving arising issues. In the case of sharing faculty, the review is done by the departments involved with one institution serving as the ‘home’ department for the professor where the tenure review will take place. Salary and teaching load will have to be comparable to other equal ranking positions with commuting time having to be accounted for.
As stated above, consortia create endowments by looking for funding with alumni, foundations and other sources. To keep a financial equilibrium, a shared professorial line has to compliment a balanced budget and protect the endowment by being seen as an asset to foundations or private donors in an annual fund drive. Another asset of keeping a program alive with an alternative academic line is keeping the intergenerational fact in mind. Closing a program can be a step backwards and reduces the pool of new ideas and intellectual wealth. Sharing lines also improves proficiency since students are drawn from a larger pool and class size can rise.
Nevertheless, the issue with shared professorial lines is a question of revenue resources and it seems a good alternative to balance the eternal pull between spending and saving. To a potential donor it shows the interest of the institution in its intellectual assets (an academic program) and its sense of responsibility towards students and higher education. Joining a consortium which plays the role of mediator between the institution’s interest and financial needs and the donor’s interest also shows the institutions willingness to collaborate and endowments which have proven to enlarge through a consortium add to the institution’s financial health and flexibility which is becoming more and more important for public institutions. As Donald Frey argues, returns should be spent on a higher rate since in the future endowments will be richer. A consortium can be of help for institutions to figure out their spending policy rate depending on the size of their endowment and future projection.
In conclusion, sharing professorial lines within a consortium agreement can definitely be seen as a positive revenue stream and is in line with Ehrenberg’s argument that institutions have to diversify their revenue streams. Yet his question whether revenues generated by sharing professorial lines are self-supporting or fund other core missions has to be negated. The measured benefit of sharing professorial lines is keeping vital academic programs alive and diversifying the academic community of an institution.
Association for Consortium Leadership. Best Practices in Higher Education Consortia: How Institutions Can Work Together. Jossey-Bass, 1999. http://www.acl.org Ehrenberg, Ronald G. Tuition Rising. UP Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 2000. http://www.educause.edu