Staff Ed: Lawrence Fellows: A Trojan Horse?

As we reported last week, President Beck recently established the Lawrence Fellows program in order to bring recent Ph.D. and MFA graduates to Lawrence for two or three year terms. While this program ostensibly is meant to “help the fellows in their transition from graduate school to academic careers,” it nevertheless seems that this program may serve another purpose: to limit the number of tenure-track professors at Lawrence. Does the Fellows Program have this ulterior motive?
Limiting the number of tenure-track positions at liberal arts colleges is a growing trend. As we reported in our April 22nd issue, “more than half of all new full-time professors at four-year institutions are not on the tenure track.” Universities — like Duke — are limiting the number of tenure track positions in order to save money and fill various faculty positions. While at least one professor noted his objections to this kind of policy, the Fellows Program certainly seems like one way to enact it.
Of course, it is perhaps impossible to know the exact intentions of the Fellows program. Nevertheless, it is important to outline objections to hiring long-term, non-tenure track professors. In addition to being “unfair,” as Prof. Spurgin has pointed out, this kind of policy could also thin the culture of Lawrence by having a high turnover rate for professors. Our tenured professors in part compose the character of this university, and our shared stories of their intelligence – and their antics — make Lawrence what it is. Additionally, tenured professors provide continuity to our curriculum, a desirable trait that speaks to mature departments.
Naturally, there are other unknown, possible effects of the changing culture of liberal arts schools, and perhaps Lawrence will have but little choice to follow this new trend. But we should nevertheless be cognizant of how such a move could change our university, and also remember that we should directly confront — rather than indirectly accept – this kind of policy.