Do tenured faculty get to micromanage clinical professors and other non-tenured instructors with respect to the classroom?

Shouldn't clinical professors be allowed control of their own classrooms and operate with intellectual freedom (in general)? Let us just assume for the sake of simplicity that we are talking about a clinical professor who has done a good job in the classroom (good student evaluations, good DWF rate, hard working, dynamic, puts in a lot of effort, meets course description, etc.).

"Micromanage" includes things like forcing someone to adapt a communal exam format, removing the ability to emphasize/de-emphasize certain topics in the classroom, etc.

Also, do lecturers, adjuncts, and teaching post-docs (all with PhDs) get the same (or similar) set of rights? Let us assume the same set of circumstances as I listed above for clinical people. What would be the potential consequences of simply saying "No, I won't participate in being micromanaged." and fighting for your right to intellectual freedom?

  • Is this being done by the department chair, or by an official faculty committee? Or is this one particular faculty member who's attempting to enforce these things without any official position or authority to do so?
    – John Feltz
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 15:29
  • Tenured faculty; not chair. Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 15:30
  • 2
    I think there are good answers here but you may want to more clearly delineate what is the relationship between you and the said faculty. If the lecture and practicum are in tandem, then I think it's not that outrageous. If the faculty just gives random comments because the faculty thinks it's a perk of being a tenured professor, that's another issue. Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 16:59
  • 16
    This is too broad: you're asking simultaneously about clinical professors, lecturers, adjuncts, and teaching postdocs -- and about all aspects of pedagogy. Also, the question is phrased in an argumentative/rant-y way, and those kinds of questions usually aren't a good fit here. If your question is "I'm curious if other people feel like I do" or "___ sucks, am I right or am I right?", it's not suitable here: see our help center. Can you edit the question to narrow the focus and ask in a neutral tone while identifying what information you seek?
    – D.W.
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 19:24
  • 6
    I'm not suggesting you delete it; I'm merely suggesting that you edit it to make it more suitable for the Stack Exchange format. Of course this is only my opinion; others might feel differently.
    – D.W.
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 19:28

6 Answers 6


It's is very common for certain core multi-section classes to be coordinated or standardized in some way. For example, the textbook and sections covered are fixed, or there is a single final exam for all sections. Such arrangements apply to all instructors in that class, no matter what their title. Often there is a "course coordinator" who has some of the responsibility of enacting these department policies. It is not unusual for the coordinator to be tenure-stream research faculty and the other instructors not to be, but it's also not unusual for experienced lecturers or clinical professors to coordinate. (It would be quite unusual for a postdoc or other less experienced person to coordinate.). The level of micromanaging varies by course and department, but usually applies equally to all instructors regardless of title.


I see three questions here

  1. who decides how classes are taught,
  2. how many decisions about how classes are taught are reserved for individual instructors, and
  3. should tenured faculty have more independence in teaching than other faculty.

Regarding 1, it's quite common for authority to ultimately lie with the tenured faculty (collectively, or as delegated to a committee or an assistant chair or something similar); it would be strange for random tenured faculty to issue dictates to individual clinical faculty, but normal for the Assistant Chair for Teaching (or whatever the position is called) to do so. (In a healthy department, I think the clinical faculty would at least be consulted, if not extensively included, in major decisions, but even then they might not get a vote on final decisions.)

Regarding 2, there are basically no decisions about teaching that are guaranteed to be reserved to the instructor. (I was told by one person that the centralized directions for his course included when to tell a joke during lecture; I'm not certain he was kidding.) The decisions you mention - common exam format and authority to tweak the syllabus - are pretty typical ones to have centralized, because they directly address how much the course varies across professors. I'd say dictating a communal exam format is common when many people teach the same course, while not allowing individual instructors to emphasize/deemphasize topics is uncommon but not unreasonable if there have been issues with some instructors deviating too much.

Regarding 3, it would be unusual to dictate course structure only to clinical faculty, while allowing more freedom to tenured faculty teaching the same course. However, because tenured faculty are hard to hold accountable, it can happen that some of the tenured faculty get away with refusing to teach in the specified way, where non-tenured faculty would likely be risking their job by doing the same. Also, lower-level courses with many sections are the ones most likely to be heavily standardized, and they might be primarily or entirely taught be non-tenured faculty. (Note that one consequence of standardization is often that the best people lose some flexibility even as the average improves. The question is written from the perspective of a clinical faculty member who is succeeding at using the freedom previously allowed, but it might be that new rules are directed primarily at other faculty who were using it less well; the department might have decided it was easier to tighten the reigns on everyone than to supervise individual faculty more closely.)

  • Your parenthetical statement at the end of point 3 is probably the most reasonable/logical reason that I can accept. Unfortunately, this reason was omitted when certain new 'standardizations' that are being implemented were questioned while trying to seek the motivation(s)/justifications behind it. Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 17:19

If, from your perspective, "things like forcing someone to adapt a communal exam format, removing the ability to emphasize/de-emphasize certain topics in the classroom, etc." count as micromanaging, then in all departments of my experience, the answer is "yes." Those are normal decisions for the institution of a department (which is, of course, embodied by its faculty) to make on a centralized level. Generally, the content of lower-level classes is carefully thought through to prepare students for upper-level classes or even classes in another discipline, and it would create chaos to let any instructors add or drop topics, etc. under the guise of "control of their own classrooms." At my university, communal exams for big classes in subjects like math and language are so well-established, they have their own special time slots to avoid conflicts with other classes.

As for the potential consequences of simply saying "No, I won't participate in being micromanaged." and fighting for your right to intellectual freedom? that depends a lot on the context and personalities of the people involved. There was something of a cause celebre at Berkeley a couple of years ago where a lecturer was not renewed (in my interpretation) mainly for not following these sorts of policies (he had a much more dramatic interpretation where he was being fired for teaching too well and making the permanent faculty look bad; that did not strike me as especially plausible). Presumably, they would be within their rights to fire you if you refused to follow their policies, but I think that would only be after trying very hard to convince you that you should just follow them.


There is a fair amount of variability across departments. It is not uncommon for the faculty, or a faculty committee, to make recommendations regarding exam formats and the relative emphasis on different topics. These recommendations might then be voted on at faculty meeting. Depending on the department, clinical faculty, lectures, adjuncts, etc may not be consulted or given a vote.

While as an instructor you might see these recommendations as micro managing, in some ways they are macro managing. Typically, the faculty are most worried about the core courses, but sometimes they can have specific ideas for an upper level elective. It may seem like they are targeted towards an individual, but in good departments, it is targeted towards the course.

Intellectual/academic freedom typically focuses on research. There are aspects of teaching that a Dean and Faculty Senate are going to say fall within the scope of the department and others that fall within the scope of the instructor. Imagine you were assigned to teach Introduction to Good Clinical Practice and the department decided they wanted to use the textbook by Jones. Clearly teaching a curriculum that would more likely be considered Advanced Statistical Analysis is going to get you into hot water (and potentially eventually fired). Even teaching Introduction to Good Clinical Practice but using the textbook by Smith could result in getting you fired.

  • Depending on location, aspects of teaching may also be dictated by university administration. Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 18:56
  • Intellectual/academic freedom typically focuses on research -- Clearly, I have been spoiled.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 6:53

As a tenured professor, I do not pretend to know everything about teaching, nor do I expect that my approach is the best one; I only know what works for me. I certainly wouldn't interfere with my colleagues' methods, except insofar as they cover the syllabus. For example: Last semester, a young instructor came to me with a question about whether one of his students should be allowed to take a make-up exam. At first, I started to explain what I would do, but then I thought better of it, and so I just listened to the instructor and asked enough questions so that he finally realized what HE wanted to do with the case. I was happy with how we both handled the conversation, and that's how we left it.


Course directors generally get to manage courses as they see fit. If this means asking a clinical professor involved with the course, so be it. If a young assistant professor is directing a course, he or she gets to manage every participating faculty member, even tenured full professors.

Now, what does "manage" really mean here? It means that one can ask for whatever they want, and hope people cooperate. Some will, some won't. Non-cooperation can result in a number of things-- loss of future invitations to participate in the course, if one has the luxury of having more than one person able to do the job; griping to a chair; obtaining a reputation of being "difficult"; etc.

Of course, the requests of the course director might be perceived to be nitpicky, over controlling, etc., and indeed they might be. However, the course director may be more plugged in to the review system than other faculty, and understand past course deficiencies, needs of faculty teaching future course modules or higher level coursework that use the information in this class as prereq material, previously identified shortcomings in the student body, or some other tangibles.

The course director should feel responsible for how the course is received by the students. It looks like a more organized and professional effort if all the course info is received in advance, if all exams have the same basic look and feel, etc. If the requests are at all reasonable, there's not much reason to ignore the course director's wishes. Of course, if one thinks the course is being run in a bad way, one can always volunteer to direct the course!

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