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One Third Adjuncts?

A professor writes in:

Here is the problem: we have a growing number of adjuncts teaching courses at Dartmouth. However, they do not undergo the rigorous examination of their teaching quality that tenure-track faculty undergo. We receive student evaluations, of course, but we do not have a process for adjuncts of sitting in on classes, observing the teaching, discussing the teaching with the instructor, etc. What’s the result? Do we not care about the quality of adjuncts, some of whom teach for decades?

The point is not insignificant in that Dean of the Faculty Mike Mastanduno and Registrar Meredith Braz have both confirmed to me that approximately 34% of the College’s classes are taught by non-tenure-track/non-tenured professors.

This state of affairs has come about as the College has lessened teaching loads on tenure-line faculty members over the years (everyone used to teach five courses each year; today faculty in the Humanities and Social Sciences teach four courses, and professors in the Sciences teach three). Of course, there are competitive reasons for reduced teaching, but the College has not compensated for the changes by adding additional, expensive full faculty members to its ranks (it’s better to hire hundreds of staffers, right?). The administration, as at so many other schools, chose to go with part-timers and other teachers who had been unable to secure tenure track positions — thereby debasing the coin of the realm.

The contrast is notable. As examples, for English 5 (now Writing 5), I was taught by now-full-professor Don Pease (and I survived); and my Italian 1 prof was Nancy Vickers, who went on to become the President of Bryn Mawr. Can today’s students claim teachers of the same pedigree?

That said, the College is holding the line as compared to most institutions in higher education, according to a report published in November by the Delta Cost Project — The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty:

Between 2003 and 2013, the study finds, the share of faculty members who were off the tenure track increased from:

- 45 to 62 percent at public bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.
- 52 to 60 percent at private bachelor’s-granting colleges.
- 44 to 50 percent at public research universities.
- 80 to 83 percent at community colleges.

However, given Dartmouth’s wealth, if Phil could get his priorities straight, expanding the faculty in order that classes be smaller and tenure-track faculty have more contact with students, we might help claw back our declining ranking as regards undergraduate teaching.

Addendum: One further comment from a past post:

As in all things, the issue here is balance. Any institution needs a certain percentage of adjunct professors — people to whom it does not make a long term commitment. For example, these flexible relationships allow the administration to shift resources from departments less favored by students over time to more popular ones. And often adjunct faculty are the highly qualified spouses of tenured professors, for whom there is no available tenured position. Their teaching and research can be first-rate.

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