Welcome to askmyprofessor.org
A website dedicated to encouraging students, and their parents, to ask one question of professors and administrators as they choose a college or university:
“How many faculty members at this institution hold adjunct positions, full-time instructorships or lectureships, and tenured/tenure-track appointments?”
Most likely, your professor will explain that he or she is an adjunct, instructor or lecturer, or a tenure-track (perhaps tenured) member of the faculty. An administrator may respond by citing percentages of faculty in each category and perhaps teacher-to-student ratios. (Remember to ask for the ratio of tenured or tenure-track faculty members to students).
How to make sense of the answer, and why is it important?
Generally speaking, adjunct faculty members work on a part-time basis and are paid per class. According to recent data collected by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the “overall average pay reported by adjuncts is $2,987 per three-credit course. Adjuncts at 16 colleges reported earning less than $1,000.” Moreover, many of these positions do not provide health coverage (read more at the Adjunct Project website).
Full-time instructors and lecturers work on contracts that are renewable for one or more years. While health insurance is more frequently part of the remuneration package, instructors and lecturers teach more classes and are paid less than their tenured and tenure-track counterparts. In today’s college and university, adjuncts, instructors, and lecturers make up more than 70% of the teaching faculty. Because they work on a contingent basis, they are easily dismissed.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty members are the endangered species in U.S. higher education today. In the 1960s, nearly 70% of faculty nationally held tenured or tenurable positions, and many of them used the protections of tenure to agitate for social change (including civil rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and an end to the war in Vietnam).
Today, less than 30% of teaching faculty are tenured or tenure-track. To this ever-shrinking, and often fearful, group of individuals falls the duty to protect the tenure system, which provides increased protections for free-speech and permanent employment (after a probationary period of many years in duration).
The academic freedom provided by the tenure system, and the bottom-up faculty-driven model of institutional governance that went with it, once made U.S. institutions of higher education decentralized hubs of innovation, creativity, and pluralism.
Why is it important to ask my professor (and administrators at my institution) how many of the teaching faculty are adjuncts, lecturers or instructors, or tenured?
Simply put, you are paying a lot for your education, and you deserve to have faculty members who are fully invested in you and the institution that you attend.
Many current non-tenured faculty members are excellent at what they do and deserve a fair living wage; freedom from the fear of losing their jobs at the whim of a chair, dean, or provost; and to be rescued from the second-class status to which they have been relegated in the name of cost savings. Despite the fact that so many teaching faculty are now non-tenure track, tuition has continued to outpace inflation as university administration proliferates–in effect absorbing the cost savings from using contingent faculty.
Demand more tenure-track appointments at your college or university! Make the choice to attend an institution that invests in you by investing in the faculty!