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Adjunct hiring on rise; TCU tops area list

Adjunct hiring on rise; TCU tops area list

Universities across the country are employing more part-time professors than ever before. Whether hiring for cost or capability, it is evident the trend toward having fewer full-time faculty members is on the rise.TCU tops comparable private Texas universities like Southern Methodist University, Baylor University, Trinity University and Southwestern University, employing 325 adjunct professors in 2006, according to university reports.

Many say the reasons for the number of adjuncts are simple: economics and expertise.

When hiring a full-time professor, a university is making a long-term investment in its teaching staff through salary and benefits, but with so many advanced degreed and plugged-in professionals in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, departments across campus have the opportunity to offer their students professionals without the professor price tag.

Craig Smith, associate director for higher education of the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., said there has been “a huge explosion” in the number of part-time faculty in higher education over the past few years.

Numbers over time

“About 30 years ago the vast majority of faculty, about 75 percent, was full time,” Smith said. “Now less than half of faculty is full-time.”

According to the most current Digest of Education Statistics released by the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences, in 2005, 57 percent of instructional and research faculty in private, nonprofit, four-year institutions are considered full-time.

In 2006, 60 percent of TCU’s instructional faculty was employed full-time with the remaining faculty holding part-time status, according to the university’s common data set.

The common data set is an index of data collected through a collaborative effort between publishers and the educational community to increase accuracy of information provided to students about universities, as well as to decrease the burden on data providers.

Comparatively, in 2006, SMU had 66 percent full-time instructors and Baylor had 83 percent.

Smith explained that university budgets have not increased incrementally with inflation, so administrators have been forced to either raise tuition or cut labor costs.

Though tight budgets are partially to blame, Provost Nowell Donovan said, the rapid increase of student enrollment within certain academic fields has led to TCU’s need for more faculty members.

Reasons for the rise

“Some majors soar and then they decrease,” Donovan said. “So the best way of responding to that sort of pattern is with adjuncts.”

Daniel Williams, chair of the English department, attributed the number of adjuncts in his department to the unexpectedly large number of students in the freshman class.

The English department has three adjuncts teaching this semester, Williams said, because it had to add more class sections at the last minute.

“The situation is, when you have numbers of students you did not anticipate and you have to accommodate them, you’re either going to add new sections or you’re going to raise (class) enrollments, and we try not to raise enrollments,” Williams said.

Donovan also credited certain departments’ usage of adjuncts to the core curriculum.

David Grant, chair of the religion department, said the number of adjuncts in his department was driven up because of the religious traditions requirement in the core curriculum.

He said because of this requirement, most students will end up taking an introductory religion course, which creates the need for more sections and, in turn, more professors.

“It does seem to me that, with regard to introductory courses, the university ought to be committed to bringing full-time faculty to teach as many of those as possible,” Grant said, “simply because that’s one of the things that makes TCU different than a state school or a community college.”

In many instances, though, adjunct professors bring a certain skill or aspect of teaching to the table that might not otherwise be available.

For almost three decades, Barton Tucker has been an adjunct professor in the Neeley School of Business. As the chief financial officer of Roach Howard Smith & Barton, an insurance company, Tucker passes on practical information about the field of insurance to students, teaching one class each semester.

Brimming with part-timers

Though adjuncts can be valuable, some college administrators feel they are close to tipping the scale in the balance of the number of adjuncts compared to the number of full-time faculty.

William Slater, dean of the College of Communication, said he thinks his college utilizes too many adjuncts, and this can be dangerous to the school’s accreditation.

He said the Schieffer School of Journalism is specifically accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which looks “dimly” upon the employment of too many adjuncts.

Slater said the number of adjuncts is a reflection of the increased enrollment within the college, and the school has been working for the past few years to accommodate this growth by hiring more full-time faculty members.

Catherine Wehlburg, executive director of the office of assessment, said TCU is in no danger of exceeding the number of courses taught by adjuncts allowed by the university’s accreditation agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Tommy Thomason, director of the Schieffer School of Journalism, said he would never do away with adjunct professors because there are too many top area journalists and communications professionals whose backgrounds are critical to the education of students. He said the journalism school employs 22 to 28 adjunct professors each semester.

Ideally, the school would not have as many adjunct professors as are currently employed. Yet, there are certain courses and areas of study in which someone who is familiar with the industry can teach a skill better than a full-time professor, Thomason said.

Donovan also noted the importance of part-time professors who are currently working in the field which they teach.

Living with the faculty

Though Donovan said adjunct professors can bring variety to campus, he said the chancellor’s long-term plan is to increase the total number of permanent faculty.

Scott Langston, an adjunct professor in the religion department, said he is glad he has the opportunity to remain in the teaching field, but misses being involved in everyday campus life.

“You aren’t plugged-in and fully integrated into TCU’s community,” Langston said. “But then, that’s the nature of being a part-time faculty member.”

Whether an adjunct professor is teaching because he or she is an expert in a certain field or to enable the university to offer more course sections, it seems that most are in agreement that they are not in it for the money.

“I tell students all the time,” Thomason said. “If they have an adjunct faculty member who they really appreciate and whom they’ve learned a lot from, they should just know that person is here because they think this is important and because they’re giving back to their profession and they’re giving to the next generation, not because they are being paid well to do this.”

Not about the money

Smith said adjunct pay is spread across the board throughout the country, but it generally ranges from $1,000 to $3,500 a semester.

Langston said adjunct pay at TCU is better than the other institutions where he teaches, but an adjunct salary is not really designed for a person trying to make a living solely off of teaching.

“I can’t expect to make a livable salary as an adjunct,” Langston said.

Hiring a professor is a sizeable investment when salary, benefits and potential tenure status are factored in, Donovan said.

According to the 2006 TCU Fact Book, the average yearly pay of an assistant professor is about $65,000.

Assuming TCU pays adjunct professors at the high end of the pay range cited by Smith, and that adjunct professors teach two classes each year, the university saves about $3 million by employing the 325 adjunct professors on campus.

Thomason said TCU’s adjunct professors are an excellent bargain for the university.

In some cases, TCU employs a professional for an entire semester for the price he or she may receive for speaking one day at an event elsewhere, Thomason said.

“Obviously it is a good deal for the university to get part-time people,” Thomason said.

If the university were to replace its entire group of adjunct faculty with full-time faculty, the university would have to hire at least 108 professors, assuming that each professor teaches three classes a semester.

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