Faculty hiring freeze Thaws

Daphne Nwobike
Contributing Writer

A new academic year means new students, staff, and, of course, professors. At Sewanee, hiring new professors has been complicated since the pandemic struck during the 2020-2021 academic school year. While the timing coincided with the pandemic, the reasoning behind the hiring freeze was a predicted national demographic decline in college-aged students. 

The hiring freeze temporarily ceased all attempts to hire new tenure-line faculty and only permitted the employment of visiting professors. This policy put much pressure on departments that lacked a sufficient number of tenure-line faculty. It remained in place for two years until April 8, 2022, when faculty members voted to end the hiring freeze. 

The end of the hiring freeze does not mean that tenure-line positions will automatically gain new professors. “Faculty hiring takes the better part of a year. Thus, students shouldn’t expect to see an influx of tenure-line faculty until academic year 2023-24,” says Dr. Elise Kikis, associate professor of Biology. 

The search for new tenure-line faculty is ongoing, indicating that some departments’ tenure positions may remain vacant for the time being. 

“Two years of a hiring freeze left almost 30 tenure-track (long-term) lines vacant. While there has been some amount of long-term hiring in these lines—both over the summer and planned during this academic year—roughly a third will remain vacant per the administration’s current hiring plan,” says Dr. Aaron Elrod, associate professor of Economics. 

Having too few tenure-track professors means there are not enough professors who can take on other responsibilities besides teaching. “Visiting professors teach six courses; tenure track professors teach five because the expectation is that the tenure track person is mentoring students and has advisees, which is not the expectation for visiting [professors],” says Dr. Amy Patterson, chair of the Politics department. 

Existing tenure professors may have more work falling on them than would be the case if they could evenly distribute it among a higher number of tenured professors. 

Although visiting professors may not carry out specific duties usually fulfilled by tenure track professors, they are still vital assets to the university. Dr. Chiedozie Uhuegbu, visiting professor of German, said that “universities often hire visiting professors when a professor is going on a sabbatical and needs someone to take their place temporarily. When the university needs to train someone to replace a retiring professor; and when the university needs to save money since visiting professors aren’t paid as much as tenure track professors.”

According to Uhuegbu, it is crucial to note that professors receive fair treatment, irrespective of tenure status. “[Sewanee] is supportive of [its] faculty, whether they are visiting or not. They have the resources, and they want to support [professors],” adds Uhuegbu. 

The lifting of the hiring freeze does not signify an instantaneous arrival of tenure-line professors. Faculty members are trying to remain optimistic that their voices were impactful and that their efforts will be fruitful despite the uncertainty. 

“We are grateful that we have a line that we are going to be able to fill, and we are hopeful about the future, but it’s hard to know,” says Dr. Patterson. In the face of these mixed emotions of uncertainty and hope, Dr. Kikis states, “I think many in the administration heard us and understood that another year of the tenure-line faculty hiring freeze would be too damaging.”

Faculty and students grew frustrated with the hiring freeze in the 2022-23 academic year. Finally, the hiring freeze is formally over, but it will take several semesters to fill the large vacancy the hiring freeze left behind.