April 2015

Specialized Faculty

I’d like to use the opportunity of my monthly column in LON to share my opinion regarding the use of specialized faculty in the Library, and specifically to explain why I believe we must begin using specialized faculty (as described in Provost’s Communications 25 and 26, in particular) for some University Library positions. Our Library is a rich and complex organization, and to do our work effectively we need a variety of types of positions, including tenure system faculty, staff, and Academic Professionals. Over several decades, we have employed formally-trained librarians, archivists, and related information professionals outside of the tenure system, a trend that is likely to grow. For these individuals in particular, we must put in place a system of promotion, recognizing their development over time, and the best way to do this will be by employing them as specialized faculty.

We owe our colleagues in “information professions” (many of them now in the AP ranks) our respect and support. Recognizing and rewarding the work our Academic Professionals perform is important, regardless of the type of AP, but for those library and archives professionals in clearly-defined library and archives professions, we must provide a framework that recognizes their advancement and rewards them for professional development. These individuals are active in the profession and if they were employed at our peer institutions would have clear paths for promotion. Indeed, those paths would often be recognizable across other peer institutions (Assistant Librarian, Associate Librarian, etc.). The specialized faculty framework is clearly intended to support this kind of advancement and brings with it recognition and support on campus. An ad hoc system developed by the Library will never have the credibility and support that a formally-recognized University of Illinois system will have.

I want to be clear that in advocating for this I am not advocating for replacing tenure system faculty with specialized faculty. Some will worry that our adoption of specialized faculty will create administrative pressures to post new positions as specialized faculty rather than tenure system faculty. Of course there will be pressure to use specialized faculty instead of tenure track faculty. That pressure, however, is not new and is no different than the pressure we now face to use APs instead of tenure system faculty. The burden will always be on us—on me and on our faculty leadership—to make the case that a given position is a tenure system faculty position: this is our greatest challenge. Strategically, it won’t do us any good to eliminate good and meaningful classifications for hiring competent people to conduct the work of our Library.

I want to respond directly to the sentiment that individuals we would hire as specialized faculty should instead be in the tenure track. We must use the limited resources we have to conduct our work with the greatest impact and efficiency. We must excel. The way to do that is to build an organization that employs, recognizes, and respects a mix of types of positions. (I should also note that most of the other colleges on campus utilize specialized faculty to accomplish and fulfill their instructional and research missions.) Library and archives professionals outside of the tenure system help us excel and are a key part of our future. Building our Library with a thoughtful and synergistic mix of faculty, AP, and staff positions will ensure that the Library’s work and our work as individuals will be done more effectively: we will do more for the campus and do that work better. We should strive to be the best we can be.

It is important that our faculty governance process engages with these questions. The decision may ultimately be an administrative one, and it is important that I speak with a clear voice to all of you (and thus this LON column devoted to my opinion). Nonetheless, the Library must embark on this with appropriate conversation and, ultimately, with votes by the Library faculty on elements of implementation (e.g., bylaws) and even whether we move forward with this. I have benefited from the robust discussions that have already taken place and look forward to many more.

John Wilkin
The Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian