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UW Faculty Senate approves potential for 'professor of practice' title, with some push-back

UW Faculty Senate approves potential for 'professor of practice' title, with some push-back

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Faculty Senate passed two resolutions Monday in support of a "professor of practice" instructional title and emergency hotline numbers on faculty/staff Wiscards. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Faculty Senate passed two resolutions Monday, one to approve the academic staff title “professor of practice” and another to add emergency and helpline numbers to faculty/staff identification cards.

The ad hoc committee on practitioner-instructional titles, charged by the University Committee in July, conducted a campus-wide review and recommended in its final report the creation of a “professor of practice” title for instructors with “an evidence-based reputation for superior accomplishments” in their fields. Passage of the resolution does not create the new title, but approves it to potentially be implemented alongside other faculty and staff titles under the Title and Total Compensation Project, which will be effective July 1.

Several schools, colleges and departments have “felt hampered in their ability to attract instructional staff” due to the lack of the title on campus, according to the resolution. Journalism professor Lucas Graves spoke in favor of the resolution Monday, saying the title is already “well-established convention” among other journalism schools.

“This will help us to secure faculty who come from the industry and are current with the needs of our students,” Graves said. “Everyone understands exactly what it means — the holder of such a position doesn’t bear a Ph.D., but rather is a member of the faculty by virtue of their extraordinary professional experience and their stature within the industry.”

African Cultural Studies professor Damon Sajnani, conversely, expressed concern that the title may be murky.

Though the new title definitely has merits on the departmental level, Sajnani said, he was also wary that it may create confusion and “dilute” differences between teaching positions. He questioned what exactly the “professor of practice” title entails and how to distinguish, for instance, between someone with a master’s degree in the fine arts who can be a tenure-track professor and someone with the same degree who is a professor of practice.

In response, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said that the title is not a reflection of an instructor’s degree, but rather their experiential background.

“That person may be a Ph.D., may have an undergraduate degree,” Blank said. “But the interest is what is their background that is not academic, but experiential? That they’ve been out in the world doing a substantial amount of work that built a body of knowledge that they’re bringing into the classroom. That’s very different from the tenure-track professors.”

According to the ad hoc committee’s report, the title would be for instructors with “substantive professional/practice experience in a position outside academia, plus a degree at least one level above the level of instruction, or unique qualifications per the minimum qualifications policy.”

Business professor Thomas O’Guinn opposed the resolution, arguing for the purity of the professor title by saying the “notion of the professor is under attack.”

In defense, Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Dan Wright praised the professors of practice in his department, whose “tireless work” has helped create a nationally renown capstone design program.

“I don’t see any reason why we would jeopardize the successes that we’ve built based on some philosophical disagreements,” Wright said.

Senators also voted unanimously in favor of adding emergency and helpline numbers to faculty/staff Wiscards.

The resolution calls for the identification cards to include numbers for UW Police Department, National Suicide Hotline, Rape Crisis Center, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services and the Employee Assistance Office before the next academic year. The Senate previously endorsed the Associated Students of Madison’s resolution to add similar numbers to student Wiscards.

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