Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Academic Employment News

"Adjuncts outnumber tenured professors on U.S. campuses"

By Alan Finder
International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, November 20, 2007

DEARBORN, Michigan: Professors with tenure or who are on a tenure track are now a distinct minority on U.S. campuses, as the ranks of part-time instructors and professors hired on a contract have swelled, according to federal figures analyzed by the American Association of University Professors.

Elaine Zendlovitz, a former retail store manager who began teaching college courses six years ago, is representative of the change.

Technically, Zendlovitz is a part-time Spanish professor although, in fact, she teaches nearly all the time.

Her days begin at the University of Michigan in Dearborn with introductory classes. Some days end at 10 p.m. at Oakland Community College, in the suburbs north of Detroit, as she teaches six courses at four institutions.

"I think we part-timers can be everything a full-timer can be," Zendlovitz said during a break in a 10-hour teaching day. But she acknowledged: "It's harder to spend time with students. I don't have the prep time, and I know how to prepare a fabulous class."

The shift from a tenured faculty results from financial pressures, administrators' desire for more flexibility in hiring, firing and changing course offerings, and the growth of community colleges and regional public universities focused on teaching basics and preparing students for jobs.

But it has become so extreme that some universities are pulling back, concerned about the effect on educational quality. Rutgers University in New Jersey agreed in a labor settlement in August to add 100 tenure or tenure-track positions. Across the country, faculty unions are organizing part-timers. And the American Federation of Teachers is pushing legislation in 11 states to mandate that 75 percent of classes be taught by tenured or tenure-track teachers.

Three decades ago, adjuncts - both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track - represented only 43 percent of professors, according to the professors' association, which has studied data reported to the federal Education Department. Currently, the association says, they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private.

John Curtis, the union's director of research and public policy, said that while the number of tenured and tenure-track professors has increased by about 25 percent over the past 30 years, they have been swamped by the growth in adjunct faculty. Over all, the number of people teaching at colleges and universities has doubled since 1975.

University officials agree that the use of nontraditional faculty is soaring. But some contest the professors' association's calculation, saying definitions of part-time and full-time professors vary, and that it is not possible to determine how many courses, on average, each category of professor actually teaches.

Many state university presidents say tight budgets have made it inevitable that they turn to adjuncts to save money.

"We have to contend with increasing public demands for accountability, increased financial scrutiny and declining state support," said Charles Harrington, provost of the University of North Carolina in Pembroke. "One of the easiest, most convenient ways of dealing with these pressures is using part-time faculty," he said, though he cautioned that colleges that rely too heavily on such faculty "are playing a really dangerous game."

Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, said part-timers could provide real-world experience to students and fill gaps in nursing, math, accounting and other disciplines with a shortage of qualified faculty, though he, too, said that the shift could come with costs.

Adjuncts are less likely to have doctoral degrees, educators say.

They also have less time to meet with students, and research suggests that students who take many courses with them are somewhat less likely to graduate.

"Really, we are offering less educational quality to the students who need it most," said Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, noting that the soaring number of adjunct faculty is most pronounced in community colleges and the less select public universities. The elite universities, both public and private, have the fewest adjuncts.

"It's not that some of these adjuncts aren't great teachers," Ehrenberg said. "Many don't have the support that the tenure-track faculty have, in terms of offices, secretarial help and time. Their teaching loads are higher, and they have less time to focus on students."

Ehrenberg and a colleague analyzed 15 years of national data and found that graduation rates declined when public universities hired large numbers of contingent faculty.

Several studies of individual universities have determined that freshmen taught by many part-timers were more likely to drop out.

"Having an adjunct in a course is not necessarily bad for you, but having too many adjuncts might be," said Eric Bettinger, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.


  1. Gosh, there's so much to say here.

    There is the purported justification that adjuncts provide "real world experience," which encourages the kind of anti-intellectual, outcomes-oriented pragmatism that has been undermining the quality of higher education in this country for decades.

    There is the fact that adjunct hiring is, among other things, an end-run around tenure and the role it plays in protecting intellectual freedom.

    And there is the possibility that the rise in adjunct hiring is one symptom of two important conceptual errors made both within and without the academy: 1) the specious distinction between teaching and research - as though the two are not inextricably bound up with one another, and 2) the notion that teaching is somehow grunt work that "real" researchers do only to help pay for their spaces in research institutions. This naturally encourages a whole market for people who can't do research because they are on 4/4 or 5/5 loads, but who will teach the courses that tenured people are encouraged to regard as onerous.

    Depressing. And these are just a few things to say!

  2. I agree with Becko: Depressing.

    I also agree that this has to do with the teaching/research distinction, and in particular with negative attitudes towards tenure.

    Years in grad school for this? Depressing.

  3. No doubt, having adjuncts outnumber TT and tenured faculty is not a good development for academia. One alternative is to encourage more institutions to have entitled lecturer positions. Instructors in these positions do not accrue tenure, but do have various job protections and privileges, including the academic freedom that tenure stream faculty have; have higher teaching loads than tenure stream faculty; are not expected to produce research but are expected to stay current in the field; and have no administrative duties. Entitled lecturers at least enjoy more job security than ordinary adjuncts and provide some continuity to departments. They tend to make a little less than asst professors. In any case, the Cal State system has a lot of entitled lecturers, and it's not a terrible career path in my opinion. It lets people who want to be in the profession achieve some stability and is certainly less exploitative than regular adjuncting.

  4. Why should anyone be surprised; the number of contract employees has been rising in business for many years. From a cost-benefit standpoint the policy of adjuncts hired by the course is certainly cheaper then going TT or even 'entitled.' Those of us who have a business background (I was in business for 35 years as well as an adjunct for 15 of them) know that the one of the easiest ways to improve bottom-line issues is thru controlling and reducing labor costs. Do the math. As a side issue it is interesting to ask the question as to where the increased costs in education? I have heard some claim that it is in the Administrative areas that the largest increases have occurred. If that is the case then the question becomes has any value-added improvements in the actual delivering of education been realized as a result of this increase, or are these coast being offset by the savings of increasing adjuncts?

    On a personal note I have been an adjunct since 1987. I left business in 2001 and finally got a full-time affiliate position (similar to the entitled position described by Michael) starting this semester. I am not a better teacher as a result of this move, but I certainly do appreciate that it is full-time with benefits. It has taken the uncertainty out of what I will be doing next semester. In so far as the number of full-time positions has been declining I am very fortunate, but the underlying problem remains; how do universities and colleges insure that the people hired to teach are 'the best available?' Who does the hiring and what are the qualifications, etc. It should be noted that for those teaching adjunct it might be their only option and that there is a lot of alienation between adjuncts and full-time people. We are seen as 'scabs' by many and left out of any decision-making that affects our professional lives.

    Anyhow, this trend is going to continue with schools keeping the number of TT or tenured people limited to that number required to insure stability within the department and the reputation of the department/institution. An important question re this blog is, has the increased in adjuncts resulted in a decrease in the value of the education being delivered.

  5. It's interesting that the article doesn't even mention the argument against adjuncts based on the fact that adjuncts are seriously exploited. There's usually no possibility of benefits, very low pay, a higher courseload, and the research on top of it if they're still working on a Ph.D. or still trying to land a tenure-track job. The only things they mention are the higher courseload (with no mention that it's usually at 2-3 institutions). That's the least of the negatives for an adjunct. What's worse is that people will still do it because it's better for their career, because they prefer to teach in their field than to wash dishes (and it is a more enjoyable job and higher pay than that) and does count for something on a C.V. But that doesn't mean it's not serious exploitation.


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