University data show a 10 percent increase in temporary faculty over the past five years.
As the University prepares to announce Friday which professors earned tenure, University documents show that the proportion of nontenured, part-time faculty teaching at the University increased 10 percent between 2003 and 2007.
Some administrators say the trend is linked to diminished funding and an administrative desire to retain academic flexibility, but it could have implications involving academic freedom and educational quality.
Professor Kathryn Hanna, a member of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, said the increase has been mirrored at schools nationwide.
Decisions about how many and what type of instructors to hire are usually made at the departmental or collegiate level, although there are faculty committees also involved in debating policy, Hanna said.
“I think the administration would argue that as disciplines change over time, or new disciplines arise, it gives them the flexibility of switching gears faster,” she said.
But the fact that part-timers work without tenure can affect how comfortable they are in researching potentially controversial subjects, Hannah said.
“The main issue I think is academic freedom, the lack of the sort of security that tenure allows,” she said. “It can affect what you might research, the scope of the research.”
The increase could also be because of schools’ desire to save money as their budgets dwindle; Nationally, part-time faculty earn 27 percent as much as full-time staff for each class they teach, although they often have fewer nonteaching responsibilities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The accounting department in the Carlson School of Management showed one of the most drastic increases in the proportion of part-time faculty, from 47 percent to 66 percent in the last four years. Professor Judy Rayburn, the department’s chairwoman, said departments could turn to part-time instructors because of financial constraints, but part-timers also allow departments to access specialized knowledge or real-world experience that full-time faculty may not have.
“It definitely has an economic benefit,” she said. “We try and balance that by using them in classes where their expertise might contribute to the class.”
Another issue brought on by the increase in part-timers is the quality of education provided to students. A study released last month by researchers at North Carolina State University found that when part-time faculty taught introductory level classes, dropout rates among first-year students increased.
Microbiology senior Netty Alemu said her part-time professors usually approach the job with the same professionalism as full-time professors, but she has noticed that part-timers can be less accessible to students.
“They don’t have enough office hours,” she said. “You have to make appointments for a certain time.”
The accounting department tries to address the issue of accessibility by providing part-time faculty telephones and computers, as well as space to hold office hours, Rayburn said.
“We work to make them feel included,” she said. “We have an orientation for them so they can meet with each other and other faculty, so they can understand the rules for teaching at Carlson School.”
But Hanna said the University community should keep possible downfalls in mind.
“I think it’s an issue that we as an institution need to keep a handle on,” she said. “Long term, the gross numbers can affect the quality and stability of the institution.”