Deans' Ideas About Hiring Adjuncts Differ From Reality, Survey Finds

November 13, 2012

Deans of colleges of arts and sciences—where faculty members who work off the tenure track are most likely to be employed—struggle with many issues related to the use of such faculty, including how many to hire and how to support them on the job, according to a national survey on various aspects of non-tenure-track faculty.

Nearly 160 deans who are members of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences responded to the survey. They said that, in their colleges, no more than 30 percent of the faculty should be working off the tenure track and that no more than 20 percent of those faculty members should be part time. At the same time, they acknowledged that the use of non-tenure-track faculty has increased.

Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, helped organize the responses, which were collected in February and March of this year, and presented a summary of the findings at the council's annual meeting, in early November.

In an e-mail to The Chronicle, she said that when it comes to hiring non-tenure-track faculty, the survey's responses showed that "there are few conversations about what the makeup of the faculty should be."

Discussions that stemmed from the presentation at the council meeting revealed that deans saw hiring non-tenure-track faculty as a way to keep costs down while making sure that the classes students need are available, she wrote. However, "they stressed being caught in a bind of affordability, access, and non-tenure-track faculty hiring."

The deans' responses showed that full-time faculty who work off the tenure track are getting more support than in the past—although mentoring, professional development related to teaching, and similar kinds of support that would help them shine in the classroom wasn't typical, the data showed. Support for part-time faculty members, however, is still lacking. For instance, more than half of the deans disagreed that part-time faculty should be able to serve on departmental or college committees or be hired on multiyear contracts.

Ms. Kezar said that deans didn't think non-tenure-track faculty were always teaching the courses they were best suited for. For instance, only 38 percent thought full-time non-tenure-track faculty should teach high-enrollment courses and only 21 percent thought part-time faculty should do so, the data showed. In reality those kinds of courses are heavily taught by members of both groups. Remedial classes were also thought to be a poor fit for non-tenure-track faculty, but, again, almost 100 percent of those courses are taught by such faculty, Ms. Kezar said.

Ms. Kezar, who leads the Delphi Project, a national effort on the changing faculty and how it is affecting student learning, said the data from the deans were just one part of a national study whose results will be written about in several research papers related to the hiring and support of non-tenure-track faculty members. Ms. Kezar said members of the council, which is led by Nancy Gutierrez, expressed interest in data about non-tenure-track faculty and processes that would allow them to better support faculty who don't work on the tenure track.

The Delphi Project recently released two guides to help campus task forces and departments and academic programs better understand the working conditions of non-tenure-track faculty and how to change them.