22. Academia at Risk as Tenured Professors Vanish

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: ON CAMPUS, Title: “The Vanishing Professor,” Date: September 1998, Author: Barbara McKenna

SSU Censored Researchers: Jason L. Sanders, Yuki Ishizaki, and Aimee Polacci
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Perry Marker

AFT HIGHER EDUCATION DEPARTMENT REPORT, Title: “The Vanishing Professor,” http//www.aft.org

The bedrock of higher education, tenured full-time faculty, have become an endangered species. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the number of tenured full-time faculty is rapidly decreasing on college campuses. Full-time faculty are being replaced by part-time faculty who are paid two-thirds what tenured professors earn, and receive substandard benefits. At least 43 percent of college instructors nationwide are now part-time faculty. The hiring of part-time lecturers increased by 266 percent between 1979 and 1995.

In 1995, 51 percent of the new fulltime faculty were appointed to short term, year-to-year positions, which were ineligible for tenure. From 1975 to 1995, the number of full-time instructors on the tenure track actually decreased nationally by 12 percent.

At the University of California, the budget has been cut dramatically since the beginning of the 1990s and the university encouraged over 2,000 early retirements. Today, the teaching staff at the University of California is comprised of only 20 percent tenured or tenure-track faculty; the remainder is made up of 58.2 percent graduate students, 11.6 percent part-timers, and 8.9 percent non-tenure-track instructors.

The City University of New York system, the premier urban higher education system in the United States, suffered a 21 percent decline of full-time faculty between 1987 and 1997.

Nationally, over two-thirds of all faculty at Community Colleges are part-time. On the 106-campus California Com-munity College system, the number of full-time faculty decreased by 8 percent in the last decade while the actual number of students increased by 8 percent. Part-time lecturers have taken up the slack, along with increasing class sizes and speed-ups for the remaining faculty. Today 30,000 part-time faculty, representing twice as many instructors as the full-time tenure faculty, teach 40 percent of the courses in the California Community Colleges.

Part-time faculty are not paid to serve on university committees, seldom participate in shared governance, and are treated as hired hands with lower pay and benefits within university communities. This diminished involvement on campuses can have a demoralizing effect on classroom performance, student access, and the university community as a whole. Tenured faculty have the advantage of being able to maintain high academic standards for students, while temporary part-time faculty may try to please students by giving higher grades and lowering requirements in order to insure higher student evaluations on their performance.

Higher education research in the United States leads the world. Research requires sustained periods of study and experimentation. The increased use of temporary faculty will eventually undermine this important function in the United States.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR BARBARA MCKENNA: “The declining number of full-time tenured faculty is a story that tends to get lost within the larger story of the forces transforming higher education in the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade, cash-strapped states cut funding of the public universities and two-year colleges. When the state economies bounced back, higher education funding did not. Thus, institutions set a course of ‘doing more with less’ that has brought a progression of lean, mean accommodations. These include corporatizing and downsizing operations and service, relying on a less expensive labor force (part-time and adjunct faculty, full-time, temporary instructors, graduate teaching assistants), and embracing technology and distance learning as an alternative to providing face-to-face instruction. If the effect of these accommodations would be a decline in the quality of education provided, it would be the full-time tenured faculty who, in a proprietary way, would note it and oppose it. Quietly allowing these faculty to retire and not be replaced makes it easier for institutions to put cost efficiency, rather than educational quality and serving students, as their first priority.

“This story has generated great interest among college faculty, some of whom have contacted our union for information on how they might fight the trend. Many readers have shared the story with their college administrations, to remind them that the vanishing professor trend will have an effect on quality down the road. We know they’ve also sent copies to state legislators. We are not aware of any mainstream press response.

The story was based on a longer report by the same name released by the American Federation of Teachers in July 1998. The report is available at http://www.aft.org/highedue/professor.”