Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Cheryl Ching

Second Advisor

Katalin Szelenyi

Third Advisor

Anne-Marie Scholer


The rise in numbers of non-tenure track faculty (NTTF) and the impact on student success is not a simple causal relationship. Rather, it is a complex formula of academic supports, strategic staffing, and professional socialization that drives student retention and, inevitably, graduation. At the center of the administration, policies, students, and the faculty is the department chairperson. STEM department chairpersons are tasked with the monumental responsibility of making hiring decisions and designing program offerings that also support STEM student degree completion. Yet, how they have responded to these staffing shifts and how they have supplemented STEM socialization practices is not yet clearly understood by scholars or institutions themselves. Exploring how chairpersons hire NTTF, whom they hire, and how departments address the STEM education needs of undergraduates contributes to knowledge about the type of faculty involved in the early postsecondary education of STEM undergraduate students and its effects, if any, on student success. This study concentrated on STEM departments featuring laboratory components within public 4-year institutions in Massachusetts, the majority of which have experienced a positive trend in degree completion rates in recent years. The perspectives of nine department chairpersons within these institutions served as the primary source of data for this research, and three main themes emerged from this study. The findings of this study align closely with existing literature on the employment of NTTF in STEM departments, highlighting challenges such as low pay, job insecurity, resource disparities, and the prevalence of NTTF holding multiple positions. Despite these concerns, department chairpersons demonstrate innovative strategies to counteract the negative repercussions of the shift toward hiring more NTTF over tenure-track faculty. Department chairpersons, acting as scholar-educators, play a central role in Kezar and Maxey’s model for the future of the faculty, embodying key dimensions such as mission, goals, responsiveness to external forces, values, and re-professionalization. Their leadership is particularly evident in navigating NTTF hiring, exercising academic freedom to strategically address unmet needs within STEM departments, and actively shaping the roles and qualifications of faculty members in response to evolving demands and student needs.


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