Universities that rely heavily on part-time faculty may be hurting the quality of education that students receive, according to three recent studies.
During the 2007 fall semester, 60 percent of TCU faculty worked full time, according to the Office of Institutional Research’s Fall 2008 Fact Book. That rate is well below peer schools Southern Methodist University at 85 percent and Baylor University at 91 percent.
Despite the research, federal data suggest that universities continue to hire more part-time, or adjunct faculty members. In 2003 about 46 percent of college faculty members worked part time, which is up from 22 percent in 1970, according to the Education Department.
This news may be especially troubling for universities that are hiring more adjunct faculty members as a way to cut budgets during the current economic downturn.
Although the economy is affecting TCU, Chancellor Victor Boschini said, it will not affect how the university hires faculty.
“Because of our size, we don’t need droves of part-time people every fall,” Boschini said. “The last school I worked at was a large state school [Illinois State University], and every fall we would hire over 1,000 part-timers, and then lay them off and then rehire them. We don’t have to do that here.”
But Boschini also said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the information reported in the studies.
“I don’t like those kinds of generalities because I think it doesn’t take individual differences into account,” Boschini said. “I think there are some part-time professors that could blow the socks off of me as a full-time professor and vice versa. I think you have to look at the person.”
The studies suggest that adjunct faculty members are either unwilling or unable to spend time helping students outside the classroom. This could be because the university doesn’t provide enough incentive to do so or because most adjunct faculty members have to spend time at another job to make a living.
The National Education Association estimates that part-time faculty members spend 91 percent of their time instructing, compared with about 61 percent for full-time professors.
Jenn Angelo, a sophomore nursing major, said even though her adjunct professors don’t spend much time on campus, they are easy to contact if she or other students need help outside of the classroom.
“They let us call them at any time,” Angelo said. “We all have their cell phone numbers.”
She also said her adjunct professors are able to provide her with valuable information about the medical field that most full-time professors can’t.
“They’re at the hospitals every day so they know what’s going on now as opposed to what happened 10 years ago,” Angelo said.
Jan Ballard, an adjunct faculty member in the art department, said each week she only has one designated office hour, but she spends about five more hours in her office than is required.
“I tell my students that they can come in their pajamas because I’m usually in my office early in the morning,” Ballard said.
She also said there are certain benefits that students can get from adjunct instructors that full-time professors may not be able to provide.
“The real world experience definitely, but also the experience of working with clients on a daily basis,” Ballard said.
Boschini agreed and said that there are some fields, such as nursing and journalism, in which it’s better to have a mix of part-time and full-time professors.
“It’s great to have the full-time professors, and you need them, but it’s wonderful to have somebody out there who’s the editor of a newspaper or a copy editor or something and teaches one class because you get a real world experience I can’t give you,” Boschini said.
The studies also suggest that part-time faculty members are generally hired at the last minute and with little scrutiny. That is not usually the case at TCU, Boschini said.
The university can plan ahead and accommodate for at least 1,550 freshmen and about 9,000 total students every year, he said.
“It doesn’t fluctuate that much,” Boschini said. “Where it would fluctuate a lot is mainly with the freshman class. If we got 40 extra kids, which we did two years ago, you might have to hire one more person to teach basic English or something like that, and that would be at the last minute.”
Boschini said adjunct faculty are a valued part of the university, and there are no plans to change the university’s hiring practices.
“There’s definitely a place for adjunct faculty members, and I think their place is that they enrich the program and that they help fill out some voids that we can’t always fill,” Boschini said.
Percentage of full-time faculty