Term-Limited Positions (“Time Caps”)

Many non-tenure-track (NTT) teaching and research positions are subject to “time caps”—arbitrary limits imposed by the Harvard administration on the maximum term of employment. Workers in these positions “time out” of employment after a fixed number of years. With a union, we have the power to negotiate new contract terms and reappointment procedures to improve our job security and reduce turnover, thus supporting and cultivating the valuable experience and expertise that we bring to the university.

The specifics of these policies vary across Harvard, but the problem is pervasive. Within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), College Fellows, Lecturers, and Preceptors each time out after 2, 3, and 8 years, respectively. NTT teachers may not hold any combination of appointments in those positions for more than 8 years, “regardless of how many or what type of appointments (including teaching assistantships and tenure-track faculty appointments) the individual has held in the past.” At the Graduate School of Design, an Instructor appointment may last no more than two years. Lecturers at the Harvard Kennedy School who are not promoted to Senior Lecturer after 6 years may not be reappointed.

With a union, we can renegotiate Harvard’s reappointment procedures and move away from the arbitrary and disruptive limits that time caps impose. Time caps deny us the opportunity for stable, long term employment. They interfere with our valuable research by increasing instability and churn. Students cannot depend on consistent relationships with teachers, mentors and research partners, disrupting the quality of their education. Not all NTT positions have time caps. Lectureships in the Faculty of Medicine and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for instance, may be renewed indefinitely, a model that could be extended to every Harvard school. 

Other unions that represent NTT teachers and scholars have won fair reappointment procedures. Some recent union wins related to Time Caps and Reappointment Procedures

  • Secured contractual right to presumptive renewal with no arbitrary time limit, delineation of accrual of seniority for NTT faculty, and increased compensation [bargained for by NTT faculty at the University of Michigan (LEO-AFT MI Local 2644).
  • Presumption of reappointment within contracts for salaried lecturers, conditional on a bargained-for process of performance review [bargained for by lecturers at Boston University (SEIU 509)].
  • Contractual presumptive renewal as part of a landmark framework agreement in alliance with grad workers and tenured faculty (bargained for by NTT faculty at Rutgers).

This list is not exhaustive. In short, there are many examples of unions at both private and public universities winning the right to presumptive renewal for NTT faculty, with no arbitrary time cap. 

Removing time caps would allow Harvard programs to redirect time and resources away from identifying, hiring, and training a constant stream of new employees toward retaining and promoting a workforce of experienced and effective teachers. It would provide NTT instructors and researchers with much greater job security and stability, all while allowing us to do the work we care about without the constant threat of an arbitrary limit on our employment at Harvard. The policies of other universities show this damaging status quo doesn’t have to persist. Harvard’s inconsistent policies show that Harvard doesn’t even think this policy is uniformly necessary. Workers at both private and public universities have won the right to presumptive renewal for NTT faculty, with no arbitrary time cap through organizing and collective bargaining. A strong Harvard Academic Workers Union can do the same.