College to Career

Where are the associate professors?

Georgia State professor, teaching students. | The Signal Archives

Georgia State houses both associate and full professors, but some departments weigh heavier on full professor hires than associate professor hires.

This lack of associate professors could possibly result in a faculty management crisis at Georgia State.

“Across different departments, the ratio of associate professors to senior faculty differs widely,” Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation Dr. Mary Beth Walker said. “Some departments no doubt consider themselves ‘top-heavy’ meaning few to none associate professors.”

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Associate professors follow both tenure and non-tenure tracks. Tenure tracks allow associate professors a permanent post, while non-tenure tracks do not. Non-tenure tracks allow associate professors to boost their credentials and experience.

“We hire every associate professor with the fervent hope that we can work with the new faculty member to retain them, help them build their profile in teaching and research and advance them to higher faculty rates,” Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Sara Rosen said of the college practices.

Yet, tenure track options, in addition to student enrollments, are to supposed to help offset the associate professor to full professor ratio.

“Rapid growth or decline in student enrollments in a discipline or special hiring priorities can affect the balance of ranks within a department, particularly in the short term. Balance of faculty appointments and ranks is one factor when hiring decisions are made in the college,” Rosen said of the CAS.

Tenure incentivizes associate professors to root their career at Georgia State. The university awards associate professors tenure when their department recognizes the “individual faculty member’s demonstrated accomplishments in research, scholarship and/or creative activities,” per Georgia State’s Promotion and Tenure Manual.

However, the Promotion and Tenure Manual does not account for the balance of faculty appointments and ranks when awarding associate professors’ tenure. According to the Promotion and Tenure Manual, an associate professor will “apply for promotion to the rank of associate professor in the fifth year of service and be considered for promotion during the sixth year of service.”

Factoring in the balance of faculty appointments and ranks could render associate professors’ “achievements in research, scholarship and/or creative activities” obsolete due to Georgia State’s needs.

Georgia State’s balancing act within departments could deter — or flat-out deny — associate professors’ aspirations for tenure.

According to the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents Policy Manual, “promotion to the rank of associate or full professor requires the terminal degree in appropriate discipline or its equivalent in training, ability, or experience. Neither the possession of a doctorate nor longevity of service is a guarantee of promotion.”

Despite the lack of “guarantee of promotion,” Walker stated for full-time faculty, both tenure and non-tenure track, “somewhere between 2/3 and ¾ of tenure track associate professors achieve promotion and tenure. Of those leaving, some leave early in the six-year cycle and some leave later on. Reasons for leaving include spouses finding jobs elsewhere, getting attractive offers from other institutions, and concern about not achieving tenure.” Walker also noted that Georgia State does not have a centralized data system to track this, so the estimates “are by no means exact.”

Georgia State’s lack of data regarding associate professor leave and department needs suggests an uncertain relationship between associate professors and Georgia State.

Michael Eriksen, Dean of Georgia State’s School of Public Health, said that they hired “7 new faculty, and 6 were associate Professors, and one full professor with tenure.”

According to Eriksen, for the School of Public Health, their hiring is based on “open rank,” which narrows down the “best candidate” and provides “the appropriate academic rank (Associate or Full) based on the individual’s qualifications.”

The School of Public Health differs from the CAS on associate professor hires in that they focus on open rank rather than counteracting the balance of said rank.

Associate professor hires in the CAS can take years and requires strategic budgeting.

“We make hiring decisions based upon a number of factors, including budgets, and research and teaching needs within a particular field,” Rosen said. “Every faculty search requires us to identify funding, and reach out to the academic community across the nation and around the world to attract the top talent across diverse populations, so each search can sometimes take a year of more, involving many faculty and administrators.”

When Georgia State hires an associate professor, they make an investment. There’s time, there’s work, there’s allocated room for promotion. With resources on the line, Georgia State sets up programs to protect their investments.

“We hire every associate professor with the fervent hope that we can work with the new faculty member to retain them, help them build their profile in teaching and research, and advance them to higher faculty rates,” Rosen said. “We work hard to retain our faculty by providing a vibrant intellectual community and are putting new mentoring programs into place in the CAS to provide academic and professional support for our faculty.”

Though programs have been set in place to retain Georgia State associate professors, emphasis on associate professor retention data pales in comparison to Georgia State’s boasted student graduation rate data — attracting praise from humanitarian mogul, Bill Gates.

Still, Georgia State’s lack of published data regarding associate professor retention overlooks Georgia State’s management of the professors, who help drive Georgia State’s graduation rates.

Recently, the University of Illinois had warned of a “retention crisis” due to stagnating pay and retirement benefits, according to The News-Gazette. Quality was said to erode as faculty numbers lagged and as class sizes grew.

As Georgia State increases in size and student enrollment, the quality of faculty management may be necessary to uphold Georgia State’s upward trajectory in terms of graduation rates and professor retention.

For now, Georgia State asserts solid retention rates for the faculty in the arts and sciences at Georgia State compared to universities such as the University of Illinois.

“Retention of faculty in Arts and Sciences at Georgia State is generally quite good, particularly compared against other research universities of our caliber,” Rosen said.

Yet, with Georgia State reporting record student enrollment, record associate professor retention rates remains to be seen.

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