This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education
Wednesday, November 22, 2000
Report Details Colleges' Heavy Reliance on Part-Time Instructors
By ANA MARIE COX
A report aimed at injecting hard data into the long-simmering
debate over the use of part-time professors in academe has
mostly confirmed the conventional wisdom: that nontenure-track
instructors make up almost half of the teaching staff in many
humanities and social-science disciplines. The survey also
found that the nontenure-track professors receive far less pay
and far fewer benefits than their peers.
The report, to be released today by the Coalition on the
Academic Workforce, an association of the leaders of
disciplinary societies, surveyed departments in 10
social-science and humanities fields to discover which types
of faculty members teach what courses, and what kinds of pay
and benefits the professors receive. The survey, which was
conducted by the opinion-research firm Roper Starch, made
Freestanding composition programs have by far the highest
proportion of classes taught by part-time and graduate-student
instructors (31.4 percent and 34.9 percent, respectively) and
the lowest taught by tenure-track instructors (14.6 percent).
Except in history and art history, full-time tenure-track
professors teach fewer than half of the introductory
undergraduate courses offered. In English, composition,
foreign languages, and philology, full-time tenure-track
instructors teach only a fraction of such courses, ranging
from 6.9 percent to 34 percent.
In different disciplines, graduate-student instructors teach
anywhere from 7 percent to 34 percent of all undergraduate
classes, and up to 42.5 percent of introductory courses.
Part-time faculty members are rarely afforded benefits. Only
22.6 percent of history departments offered any benefits to
part-timers, while in other disciplines, only about 40 percent
Even teaching four courses a term, part-time faculty members
are paid at a rate -- less than $3,000 per course on average
-- that puts them in an equivalent salary range to fast-food
workers and baggage porters.
In part, the coalition's study stems from pressure put on
professional disciplines by graduate-student activists within
the Modern Language Association. During the 1998 meeting of
the M.L.A.'s Delegate Assembly, the association's
graduate-student caucus introduced a successful motion to
require the M.L.A. to collect and publish data on the salaries
and working conditions of part-time faculty members. (See an
article from The Chronicle, January 8, 1999.) In the years
since the 1998 meeting, leaders of the M.L.A. worked with
their counterparts at other academic associations -- 25 in all
-- to form the coalition and to conduct this joint study.
Because of the specific demands of the graduate-student
motion, the M.L.A. will release its own report on
graduate-student and part-time instructors; that report will
attach the names of departments at specific universities to
A preliminary summary released by the M.L.A. looked at
part-time and graduate-student instruction by type of
institution. These results are among the project's most
surprising, as they show that elite, Ph.D.-granting
institutions are just as likely as colleges that grant only
associate degrees to use nontenured or part-time faculty
members in English and foreign-language courses.
According to the M.L.A., full-time tenured or tenure-track
professors at doctorate-granting institutions teach only 30.5
percent of English classes and 28.4 percent of
foreign-language classes; in departments at associate-degree
colleges, full-time tenured or tenure-track instructors teach
31.8 percent of English classes and 26.2 percent of language
classes. Only in English departments that do not offer
graduate degrees at institutions that grant only bachelor's
degrees did the proportion of tenured and tenure-track
instructors exceed half (53.6 percent); 46.3 percent of the
foreign-language courses at those institutions were taught by
tenure-track and tenured faculty.
Faculty members interviewed by The Chronicle -- full-time and
part-time alike -- expect the findings of the two surveys to
strengthen the claims of advocates for part-timers.
Ernst Benjamin, director of research for the American
Association of University Professors, emphasized that the
surveys broke new ground by taking the accounting of faculty
members down to the departmental level. "That's new data," he
Mr. Benjamin said the report did far more than simply confirm
the anecdotal sense that colleges rely heavily on part-timers.
In the past, he said, researchers have known how many
part-timers were teaching, but researchers haven't known what
proportion of the classes part-timers were teaching. While
many academics are eagerly awaiting the M.L.A.'s release of
the data broken down by departments, Mr. Benjamin said that
even without those details, the survey is important. "This
survey is very valuable even if doesn't name names because
it's telling us what the salary patterns are." He added:
"People call me all the time for part-time salary data and I
can't give it to them. So for first time I can tell them that
25 percent make less than $2,000."
Many observers were struck by how meager the per-course pay is
for part-time faculty members. "To be honest," said Eric
Foner, president of the American Historical Association, "I
thought the pay was a little better. What is it they're
making? Sixteen hundred? Two thousand? That sounds like 20
years ago. Clearly, it's impossible to make a living teaching
Mr. Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University, said
that he hoped the study's concrete findings would prompt
tenured professors to pay more attention to the part-time
issue. "This is really the first time that tenured professors
are taking notice and taking action," he said. "In the past,
it was, 'We have tenure, we're teaching what we want, it's not
our problem.'" Mr. Foner said that with this study, professors
are starting to realize that the part-time system "undermines
tenure, undermines the institutions they work in."
He added: "We don't want to be the last generation of
David Adamany, the president of Temple University, who
participated in the first meeting of the Coalition on the
Academic Workforce in 1998, said the report failed to confront
the most important question of all: What effect does the use
of part-timers have on the quality of education?
"This describes who does the teaching but not whether that has
any effect upon students or not," he said. "It may well be
that part-time teachers are as effective or even more
effective in introductory courses than the full-time faculty,
but we don't know that. This report gives us useful
information but doesn't answer the fundamental question of
whether the growing use of part-time faculty has any effect
whatsoever on education."
Mr. Adamany agreed that part-time salaries are too low, but he
questioned where the money for raises was going to come from.
Institutions don't have the resources to hire more
full-timers, he argued, when the full-time professors they
already have are winning reduced teaching loads and avoiding
teaching introductory courses. "Institutions are filling in
the curriculum that is no longer being taught by the full-time
faculty by hiring part-timers."
Mr. Benjamin said that the new data make clear that there
aren't even enough full-time professors to provide instruction
to first- and second-year students. "If you took the full-time
faculty teaching upper divisions and said, `You should teach
the introductory courses,' then there wouldn't be anybody to
teach the upper divisions."
Part-time faculty members found vindication in the survey.
"I think this study reinforces what a lot of us have thought,"
said Keith Hoeller, a part-time instructor of philosophy at
Green River Community College and cofounder of the Washington
Part-Time Faculty Association, which represents adjuncts in
Washington State. "The academy has developed a caste system
for its faculty. I've called it `academic apartheid.' A
minority of full-time faculty rule over a vast majority of
Critics often complain that the use of part-time and
graduate-student instructors gives students substandard
education. Mr. Hoeller said -- and Mr. Foner agreed -- that
students are "cheated" by the part-time system, but not
because part-time instructors are less-able instructors. Said
Mr. Hoeller: "First, a fraud is being perpetrated by colleges
by their not revealing the large number of part-time faculty
that they are using." But just as harmful to a student's
education, Mr. Hoeller argued, is the fact that "by having us
come and go on campus, our ability to be involved with
students is undercut." The coalition's study confirmed that
many part-timers don't have access to e-mail, or their own
offices or phones on campus, Mr. Hoeller noted. "Students
can't get a hold of part-timers -- they're not in the phone
directories, they're not in the catalogs."
Cary Nelson, an English professor at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who helped the graduate students
push their original motion within the M.L.A., described as
"stunning" the survey's finding that English departments at
Ph.D.-granting institutions depend on part-timers and graduate
teaching assistants as much as community colleges do. "I have
made the argument before that you can go to Yale and basically
get the same instruction you'd get at Long Island Community
College because higher education is relying on the same labor
pool," he said. "So you have the institutions with the highest
self image and the greatest amount of pride and the greatest
amount of cult prestige aligned, in terms of their labor
policies, with institutions at the bottom end of the ladder.
The survey made that stark."
The full report can be found at
Courtney Leatherman contributed to this report.
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