Part-Time Teaching and Mentorship

Monday, February 17th, 2014

I’m doing certain work at the college which has brought back certain issues about part-time teaching. There are many numbers. 70% part-time to the other full-time, tenure track. I don’t know what to think about the veracity of the ratio, but I’d venture it’s pretty close. When we have courses to run to meet enrollment or offerings, we have a limited number of full-time faculty to fill all the sections. When a full-time person retires in our system, the slot will not typically be filled by a sparkling new tenure-track hire. The slot will be plugged by a couple of adjunct faculty.

Adjunct, a corrosive term, means a non-essential add-on. The above scenario, however, doesn’t really mean “non-essential.” It points to a trend toward cost saving, which some people would claim is “essential.” In this case another term might be used: “contingent.”

We could get a whole bunch of smart people together and reengineer the college or university to run only on contracted faculty. No tenure track, no full-time teaching, just a lot of people running into the office with their signed contracts and hoping to land the same slot next semester or next year. One extreme result of this type of “college” might be “fun with sabotage,” where in order to complicated a competitor’s end-of-semester review, I simply make their computer difficult to use, the equivalent of removing a wire to just one spark plug.

I doubt this would be such a standout place.

The solution to our present mess is to go on a hiring spree. One argument against this is that money is insufficient in local, state and national budgets for education. This is diversionary non-sense. The money may be going to the wrong place. Then there’s the throw money at the problem argument, but then we have to rush to identify the problem. That rush will drive us into the murky dungeons of politics and economics. Is there light in those tunnels? For example, do tax incentives to draw investment in a state really work? Throwing money may be easier than a football.

Once the spree is over, elevating colleges and universities to sustainable ratios of teaching and learning, we can get down to the real business of reframing part-time teaching into what it should be: providing experience to people who will be seeking either full-time work at colleges or research institutions or other areas of the living sector. Mentorship, in other words. There’s a lot more to say about that approach than I have time for at the moment.

Teachers need places to park and think about what they’re doing. Places to sit with students and colleagues. Part-time faculty have great difficulty vesting in the institutions where they’re often lucky to find a course or two. Part-time faculty worry too much about staying healthy because they typically don’t possess the benefits that come with tenured positions.

Our current neglect is unsustainable and unethical.

There are a couple of notable benefits: growing full-time staffs will enlarge the pool of good-paying jobs (Samsung will sell more TVs), thereby encouraging investment in institutions and curriculum (TVs or no TVs). Enlarging staffs will improve the development of skill in both faculty and students and will encourage innovation. Full-time faculty are on campus most of the day. They’re parked and can listen and take part in what needs doing. Finally, institutional ethics has been seriously harmed. We’ve treat people poorly. Enlarging staffs is just the right thing to do and that includes supportive, professional staff.

So, my call is this: go on a hiring spree.

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