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A nine-month contract

Warning! This musing, like many, reflects the privilege of faculty members.

Like many faculty members, I have a nine-month contract. That means that my pay is officially for nine months of the year. I’m confident that I have a nine-month contract because I have lots of evidence.

  • When I was hired [1], I was told that I was being hired under a nine-month contract.
  • The nine-month contract was reaffirmed at the opening meeting with HR. At the time, they even gave us a choice between having our salary distributed over nine monthly paychecks or over twelve monthly paychecks.
  • A few years later, under President Osgood, someone [2] figured out that there were tax consequences to giving us that choice and it was determined that we would all move to twelve-month contracts. That discussion once again reaffirmed that I am on a nine-month contract.
  • The nine-month contract also gets reaffirmed when I write grants that include summer salary support. When computing the one month of additional salary for working on the grant, the College used 1/9 of my salary.
  • Last fall [4], when I complained to the Dean’s office about timing issues related to new faculty hires [3], I received a note that The faculty nine-month work period is from the first day of classes until the day after commencement.

So I’m confident that I, and most other Grinnell faculty [5], have a nine-month contract.

Hence, I was a bit surprised to see in a memo that is part of Monday’s faculty meeting agenda packet that we’d been considering our typical contract to be a 9/10 month contract. No, it’s not a 9/10 month contract [6]; it’s a nine-month contract.

Why are we talking about the length of our work year? Because there are some necessary questions for the institution to consider about what summer funding faculty are allowed to receive. Funding organizations are not unreasonably upset if a faculty member seems to be doing more months of work in the summer than there are in the summer. It’s an issue because some faculty members are privileged to have multiple mechanisms by which they may receive compensation over the summer: external grants, stipends for summer workshops or faculty-faculty tutorials, stipends for supervising MAP or MIP students, salary from innovation fund projects, and some others that I’ve missed. So there are issues to consider about apparent double-funding [7].

The memo suggests that in response to these issues, All summer compensation to faculty (from any source paid through the College’s payroll) will be capped at 2.5 months of salary.

I’m confused. If my normal work year is supposed to be nine months, why am I limited to 2.5 months of summer salary? Shouldn’t I be allowed three months? I realize that 2.5 months is a step up from our former, and equally confusing, limitation of 2 months. But at least that limitation permitted us to do workshops and such in combination with the summer salary from external funders. It also allowed us to receive non-monetary compensation, such as course releases for supervising MAP students [9].

So, what happens to the other half month of work? I’m guessing that the answer is You can get two months of salary during winter break. Or perhaps there is no answer; it’s just one of those things we have to accept, even if they don’t make sense.

But don’t worry! Even though I don’t have external funding, I plan to log my summer hours so that when the Dean’s office decides that they need to make sure that I’m meeting whatever requirements they associate with summer MAPs and MIPs.

Postscript: Our contract is certainly an odd amalgam of nine-month contract and twelve-month contract. We officially have a nine-month contract. But we get paid over twelve months, have twelve months of benefits, and are allowed to use resources, such as our office and lab, for all twelve months. I’m pretty sure that staff on nine-month and ten-month contracts also get twelve months of benefits. The more sensible ones make themselves unavailable during the months that they are not on contract.

Postscript: Although it’s hard to tell from this musing, I really do appreciate the hard work of those who identified the issue, gathered information from peer institutions, and worked on a solution. I just find the solution strange.

[1] I was hired twenty-two years ago, more or less.

[2] Possibly President Osgood, who specialized in tax law at some point in his career.

[3] I love Dean Latham, but he seems much less willing to stand up to HR than his predecessors were. Or maybe the regulatory culture has changed so much that it’s difficult to stand up to HR.

[4] Fall 2017, for those of you who are reading this some time other than when it was posted.

[5] The library faculty are an exception. I believe that they are on twelve-month contracts. The PE faculty may also be an exception.

[6] And it’s certainly not a nine-tenths of a month contract.

[7] Is it reasonable for someone to be paid by two different people for the same task? I think it is, provided both funders understand that it’s happening. In some ways, it’s similar to the principle that we may allow a student to turn in the same paper for two courses if both instructors are okay with it. We also allow faculty to get extra funding during the academic year [8].

[8] For example, you might get a stipend for participating in a faculty-faculty tutorial or a weekend workshop.

[9] We no longer get course releases for supervising MAP students. I’m still not sure that the trade-off was sensible; this new policy makes it seem less so.

Version 1.0 of 2018-02-04.