The Impact of the Overuse of Part-Time Faculty


The explosive growth of the use of part-time college faculty over the last three decades has been well documented. Much debate has ensued regarding whether or not this extensive use of parttime faculty has resulted in a decline in the classroom learning experience provided to students. While this debate rages, the gradual erosion of the core of full-time faculty has led to the undermining of essential academic and professional activity at both the department and college level. This decline has largely been ignored but may have an even more fundamental impact on our colleges.

Typically, part-time faculty are neither expected to participate in nor compensated for many basic faculty functions which take place outside of the classroom. Curriculum must be kept current and instructional materials such as study guides, syllabi, problem solution summaries, lab/studio/clinic/shop activity manuals, and reading lists must be developed and updated. Even at those few colleges where part-time faculty are compensated for office hours, additional assistance to students, such as program advising, career counseling, and letters of recommendation, is generally left to fulltime faculty. With the mobility of today's student, articulation with other institutions is a growing task, particularly for community colleges. The growing accountability movement has meant more attention to program review and accreditation. The mundane chores of hiring and evaluating faculty are a combination punch for departments with an over-dependence on part-time faculty. The high turn-over rate of parttime faculty means much more frequent hiring searches and indepth initial evaluations-and all to be done by a shrinking pool of full-time faculty. As a result, some colleges are observing a decline in attention paid to faculty qualifications upon hire, cursory evaluations that often overlook even glaring teaching flaws, and a tendency to relegate hiring and evaluation of part-time faculty to administrators who may or may not have the subject matter expertise to make the appropriate judgements. All of this does not even consider the college level impact of part-time faculty who generally do not participate in faculty governance activities, establish relationships between the college and the surrounding community, or partake of scholarly activity at any rate even approaching that of full-time faculty. Of course, none of this is unexpected, considering that colleges do not provide parttime faculty with direct compensation, or even supporting resources, for any of these professional activities.

The long-range implications of this deterioration in the academic and professional activity of faculty in the college environment are potentially quite profound. In many ways, this extensive dependency on part-time faculty who are not treated as full members of the educational community is part of a larger societal trend to fragment what used to be a rather integrated set of expectations of those in professional occupations. It is not at all unusual now, for example, for a group of business managers to hack out a set of general principles and then give the hen-scratchings to a specialist for "word-smithing." Today's view of the corporate mogul is one of a sleek-suited executive surrounded by a phalanx of such specialists. I would submit, without any attempt at assigning cause-andeffect, that what we are seeing is a decline in the perceived worth of the intellectual life. Ferreting out the details of a problem through research, reading widely to establish a firm conceptual foundation, writing cogently and exercising one's mind accordingly, organizing one's thoughts to make a persuasive verbal presentation are, to me, not tasks to be fobbed off to some hireling. These activities are the foundation of the intellectual life. If this trend continues, will our civilization fragment accordingly?