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Pending changes in faculty structure could potentially see creation of new professor positions. 

The School of Arts and Sciences is making some changes to its organization of faculty.

A recent proposal passed by the Faculty Senate calls for the creation of a new position: “professor of practice.” Practice professors will be subject matter experts from outside the world of academia, brought in to teach the real world applications of theory.

These professors will be part of Penn’s non-standing faculty, meaning that they will be ineligible for tenure. This makes their appointments more temporary, giving more hiring flexibility to departments within SAS. The associate practice professorship is a three year term, while the full practice professorship is five. The School’s leadership hope that this flexibility will allow departments to better fit student interests into course offerings.

“It’s the case that the interests of the students and the interests of the faculty are not perfectly aligned. We may have more faculty than student interest in one place and less in another, but in both places we need a viable community of scholars,” said Dennis DeTurck, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The creation of these practice professorships will also affect standing faculty, giving them greater liberty to focus on their academic interests, which might diverge from student demands. Currently, the program is capped at three percent of standing faculty.

Administrators see the program as an alternative to traditional tenure-track faculty roles rather than a replacement of those kinds of positions.

“Many standing faculty might say ‘that [the hiring of practice professors] relieves me from the need to teach because I really want to be doing my research,’ so it cuts both ways,” said Reed Pyeritz, chair of the Faculty Senate.

The idea is that SAS departments will be able to offer more specialized courses, tailored to specific issues of the day that students might find particularly engaging. The fact that these appointments are off the tenure track allows for a more speedy recruitment process.

[The position] gives the academic leadership some flexibility in identifying and naming individuals from the community who can provide important services, primarily in teaching, but also as research collaborators,” Pyeritz said.

Another reason for the creation of this new position is to allow Penn to attract more highly distinguished practitioners of a certain field, like ex-Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell, who teaches political science as a lecturer. According to DeTurck, it is the case that some of these influential leaders desire a professorial designation to describe their role within Penn.

DeTurck says the proposal will most likely come to fruition next semester, after final approval from the Board of Trustees.

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