Number of Adjunct Professors Increases

Studies Suggest Adverse Effect on Quality of Education


Published: April 17, 2008

As the number of adjunct faculty at colleges across the U.S. continues to increase, the number of studies performed to suggest that too many part-time instructors can compromise the quality of education is also increasing.

The most recent research, presented at the American Educational Research Association this March, stated that “first-year college students are significantly more likely to drop out if their high-stakes ‘gatekeeper courses’ are taught by part-time instructors,” as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The study examined public four-year universities with introductory courses enrolling 90 or more students. Audrey J. Jaeger, assistant professor of higher education at North Carolina State University, one of the researchers for the study, stated that the issue is the lack of accessibility of adjunct professors due to busier schedules and fewer resources.

Though Fordham does not have any courses enrolling 90 or more students, it does have a growing adjunct faculty. Fordham students and faculty, however, do not see this as detrimental to the quality of education.

“There’s something fresher about having an adjunct professor,” said Heather Kranenburg, FCLC ’08. “They have real world experience.” And when it comes to accessibility, Kranenburg said though some of her adjunct professors do not have office hours, they are “good with email.”

According to information provided December 2007 by Donald Gillespie, associate vice president for institutional research at Fordham, the number of part-time and adjunct professors who teach undergraduates rose from 319 in 1999-2000 to 349 in 2006-2007.

Gillespie noted, however, that these numbers include those professors who have the privileges of a full-time faculty member, but are on a part-time status in a given year. On the other hand, the number of full-time faculty who teach undergraduates declined from 481 to 478 in the same time period.

One reason for the increase of adjunct professors at Fordham may be the downsize of the teaching load from 3-3 to 3-2, said Robert Moniot, associate dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). The downsize “has caused an increase in the number of required faculty,” Moniot said.

He added that adjunct faculty at Fordham make a positive contribution to the university’s academic quality. “Many of them are working at the cutting edge of their fields and bring their expertise from their industry to within the academic halls.”

Laura Greeney, adjunct assistant professor of English, said she has found Fordham to be more supportive of adjunct faculty than the institutions described in the article citing the study by Jaeger.

“The university makes every effort to provide office space for adjuncts, for example, and the English department coordinates meetings for part-time staff and seminars for professional development each semester,” Greeney said. She added that for an institution to have classes enrolling 90 or more students is a whole other problem.

On a national level, part-time faculty members at American colleges and universities rose from 22.1 percent in 1970 to 47.6 percent in 2005, according to The Chronicle for Higher Education.

November 2007, The New York Times reported that some colleges are making an effort to add tenure positions out of concern that the decline of tenured faculty may have an adverse effect on education.

“In theory, I can see the reasoning behind the idea that having more adjuncts could create problems,” said Greeney, who has been teaching at Fordham for more than 15 years. She explained that adjuncts who teach multiple courses at various institutions will inevitably be strained, and students will not benefit.

She added, however, that many adjuncts, like her, are not in that situation. “So, in practice, it’s not necessarily the case that having more adjuncts will lead to lower quality in education.” While some adjunct professors like Greeney may teach exclusively at Fordham, others are juggling busier schedules.

Monique Fortuné, adjunct professor of communication and media studies, has been teaching at Fordham since 1990 and is also a working media professional and an adjunct lecturer at two other colleges.

“Most of the students that I teach enjoy collaborating with an instructor that is actively working in media,” Fortuné said. “I feel that one of my strengths as an adjunct instructor is that I can share my past and current experiences in radio and television with my students. I use my narratives as a learning tool for my students.”

Some students, however, say they do not even feel the difference between a part-time professor and a full-time professor.

“I never took notice of which of my professors are adjuncts, and I don’t think it really makes a difference,” said Michelle Yu, FCLC ’08. “Except when I used to register for classes, some names were less recognizable, and I felt hesitant to take that class because I didn’t know who the professor was.” é

Greg Darling, an adjunct professor in the English and theology departments, has been at Fordham since 1997. He said that having adjunct professors offers advantages to the administration as well as students. He said adjuncts are paid less, can offer flexibility in course offerings and many are qualified in a special area of expertise. He added, however, that adjuncts do face difficulties such as the lack of an office, or keys to an office, and library privileges.

The lower pay that adjuncts receive may also be one reason for the increase in adjunct faculty, according to The New York Times, along with “administrators’ desire for more flexibility in hiring, firing and changing course offerings…”

“I think the quality of education at a college depends on the quality of the professors, whether full-time or adjunct,” said Fran Stern, adjunct professor of communication and media studies. “The quality of the professor depends on the individual, not the title.” Stern has been teaching one or two courses each semester at Fordham since fall 2004 and is also an adjunct professor at New York University.

Stern said that she would enjoy the benefits of being full-time faculty. “I’d be on campus daily and have an office in which to meet students,” she said. “I’m sure some students would drop by for impromptu meetings if I were on campus daily.”

Fortuné added, “The mix of tenured and adjunct staff should be a careful balance. Different institutions have different cultures and climates, but I don’t think that having less tenured faculty at a college or university compromises the quality of education.”