Not for Release before November 22, 2000
Who Is Teaching In U.S. College Classrooms?
A Collaborative Study of Undergraduate Faculty, Fall 1999
Permanent full-time faculty members are now a minority in many academic departments, according to data collected on nine disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. The disciplinary associations that collected the data are part of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, a group of 25 academic societies. The growing use of part-time faculty in higher education has been well documented, but the consequences of the trend for higher education and the students it serves are less well understood. The report also provides solid evidence of the second-class status of the part-time and adjunct teachers who are replacing the vanishing traditional faculty members.
In seven of the nine disciplines surveyed in the Fall 1999 study, traditional full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty accounted for less than half of the instructional staff in the responding departments and programs. According to Julia Haig Gaisser, Professor of Humanities at Bryn Mawr College and President of the American Philological Association (classics), "The present practice jeopardizes the next generation of teachers and scholars. It also shortchanges undergraduates, especially in the first two years, since often the faculty with whom they have the greatest contact are both transient and without a place or voice in the institution."
Composition programs and English departments, which teach large numbers of required introductory writing courses, have the smallest proportion of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members. Freestanding composition programs (those outside of English departments) report that only 14.6 percent of their teaching staff is full-time tenured and tenure-track, while English departments report that 36.3% of the faculty is full-time tenured and tenure-track. In foreign language programs just over a third of their instructional staff were in this category. Anthropology, history, and philosophy departments indicated that full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members comprise just slightly more than half of the instructional staff.
While faculty members who hold traditional, full-time appointments still teach slightly more than half of the introductory courses in several disciplines, in some core humanities fields that is no longer the case. The student signing up for an introductory course in composition has a less than one in four chance of landing a spot in a classroom with a full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty member. For the beginning foreign language student, the odds are only marginally better.
At a time when access to a college education is widely recognized as important for most if not all high school graduates, the disappearance of a critical mass of permanent, full-time teacher-scholars raises questions about the ability of colleges and universities to deliver the kind of education previous generations of students received. "For the past decade, higher education's investment in a stable, full-time faculty has been declining. As larger numbers of undergraduates seek a college education in the years ahead, the effects of these employment decisions will have to be faced," says Linda Hutcheon, president of the Modern Language Association and Professor of English at the University of Toronto. Will the current shortage of schoolteachers soon be matched by a shortage of experienced teacher scholars, whose classes and research made U.S. Higher Education the envy of the world?
Full-time faculty are being replaced by lower paid part-time teachers attractive to higher education administrators, who are under pressure to keep costs down. In addition to receiving few if any benefits, most of these faculty members receive less than $3,000 per course (Table 4). Nearly one third of them earn $2,000, or less per course. In fields like English and history nearly half of the part-timers are in this category. At this rate of pay, part-time teachers—almost all of whom have the masters degree and many of whom have the PhD—would have to teach five courses to earn between $12,000 to $15,000 a year. They could earn comparable salaries as fast food workers, baggage porters, or theater lobby attendants. "One does not need PhD in mathematics to calculate how many classes such a historian would have to teach to earn a decent living, or to realize that it is impossible for most adjuncts to function as research scholars or keep up with historical literature under these conditions," observed to Eric Foner, President of the American Historical Association and Professor of History at Columbia University.
Surprisingly, graduate students comprised 15 to 25% of the instructional staff in the majority of the disciplines examined. Colleges and universities have been hiring part-time faculty members and graduate student teaching assistants because they are irresistibly cost-effective. But the terms and conditions of their appointments are often inadequate to support responsible teaching and research. Moreover, with fewer tenured and tenure-track faculty members available to plan and evaluate programs and courses, liberal arts departments are increasingly hard-pressed to give attention to administrative matters that depend on the knowledge and sustained commitment of experienced permanent faculty members. "It would be entirely wrong to stigmatize part-time historians as second-class teachers and scholars," cautions AHA President Foner. "The point is that the conditions under which they work often make it impossible for them to act effectively as educators. In the long run, excessive reliance on part-time teachers compromises the nature of higher education."
Roper Starch Worldwide conducted the survey of staffing arrangements in higher education in fall 1999 (a list of participating disciplinary societies is attached). Six groups-anthropology, cinema studies, folklore, linguistics, English, foreign languages, and philology-surveyed all departments in their fields. Three other groups-history, philosophy, and freestanding composition programs-surveyed a sample of departments. Most disciplines received response rates of between 40 and 45 percent. The surveys asked departments about who is teaching their classes, and what they provide their part-time and adjunct faculty in the way of support, benefits, and salaries.
The 1999 survey grew out of an earlier conference on the growing use of part-time and adjunct faculty, which was held in Washington, DC, in September 1997. Its purpose was to address a growing concern on the part of many in higher education that excessive or inappropriate reliance on part-time faculty members by colleges and universities can weaken an institution's capacity to provide essential educational experiences.
The summary of data from surveys by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce can be accessed on the AHA website at http://www.theaha.org/caw. A complete list of the members of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce is available upon request. For more information, contact Arnita A. Jones or Robert Townsend at the American Historical Association, 202-544-2422.
Last Updated: May 9, 2007