Full disclosure to the higher education consumer

January 31, 2014

An article in Slate makes the case, a bit excitedly, that popular college/University ranking entities should present the ratio of permanent to temporary faculty more prominently. I agree wholeheartedly that this is information the consumer needs to know. The relative adjunctification is highly pertinent to the quality of education on offer.

The simple ratio of teaching bodies is not enough, though it is probably the only thing Deans and Presidents are willing to report.

Ideally the percentage of student contact hours, including labs and sections, would be reported by tenure track status of the instructor.


29 Responses to “Full disclosure to the higher education consumer”

  1. Dave Says:

    The relative adjunctification is highly pertinent to the quality of education on offer

    I saw somewhere that adjuncts get better student ratings/reviews than full timers. I can’t remember where though.


  2. Joe Says:

    At public colleges and universities, budgets are getting cut year after year. What are departments supposed to do? What I’ve seen happen is that as teaching faculty retire, their courses get picked up by part-timers (like adjuncts) or they are given to faculty whose primary job (and passion and area of expertise) is research. There are no other alternatives because there is no money.


  3. becca McSnarky Says:

    Yep. If you’re gonna pay the tuition, you may as well invest in the highest quality instructors. Spoiler alert: those people are the ones who have careers in instructing, not in grant games. And the difference is most crucial for those with the weakest preparation too. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/09/09/study-finds-students-learn-more-non-tenure-track-instructors


  4. jojo Says:

    >The relative adjunctification is highly pertinent to the quality of education on offer.

    Is there data demonstrating that TT faculty at research institutes are better lecturers than adjuncts in terms of student outcomes, etc? I agree, obviously, that the existence of research labs on campus is important because a REU is essential for those who want to get a good education in science.

    But until I see data, I wouldn’t assume that an adjunct lecturer/Tenured researcher model is going to produce a worse quality education than a TT only 90% research 10% teaching effort situation.


  5. Dr Becca Says:

    The full disclosure should only be required in that it lets you know your tuition is going to a uni that keeps its teaching staff hovering around poverty level. The idea that adjuncting is a part-time job is a joke.


  6. TT at a Non-R1 Says:

    The issue with adjuncts is that they have no incentive to hold high standards or improve their course as part of the overall degree structure. Yes they get better evals, because that’s how they get the contract renewed. Better evals are often achieved by being easy and not asking higher level application type questions on tests. The students find them to be “nice!” And since many adjuncts are teaching huge numbers of students, it’s all multiple choice, all the time.
    Are some adjuncts better than Tenured folks? Sure thing- often its because of their youth and enthusiasm. But adjuncts have no incentive or ability to deal with long term issues that would improve the overall education of a major in that department. And there is the issue of inconsistency across instructors. If our department has decided that we are going to emphasize X, Y, and Z at the intro level, but the adjunct doesn’t cover that- it’s the students who pay.


  7. Busy Says:

    Is there data demonstrating that TT faculty at research institutes are better lecturers than adjuncts in terms of student outcomes, etc?

    Personal anecdata: while at the time I often preferred skilled sessionals, over the years I’ve realized that the best courses I took, the ones I keep on coming back to and using material from, were those taught by people who were actually doing research on the specific course subject, be them TT or not.


  8. another young FSP Says:

    Side line to the “who is better” discussion that is discussed in the linked article but often gets skipped in comment-section discussions:

    There are two classes of adjuncts, as well. The adjunct as discussed in the popular media (underpaid, undersupported, etc) and the adjunct as exists at Northwestern in the “better teachers” discussion (non-tenure track but well compensated, and with full time contracts, offices, support services).

    Adjunct-as-discussed-in-popular-media tends to have worse outcomes in student score metrics. Adjuncts-as-teaching-track-faculty have excellent student outcomes.


  9. Alex Says:

    Nitpick: Usually, a full-time lecturer with some sort of security or at least multi-term contract is called a full-time lecturer, not an adjunct. An adjunct is usually a part-timer, generally with little or no security.

    I see nothing unethical about making heavy use of full-time lecturers who are hired, retained, and promoted based on demonstrated teaching accomplishments. They should be given status in the institution, a path toward reasonable security (call it “tenure”, call it whatever, just make sure that the person making tough calls on grading has security) in return for demonstrated performance, and a service role. Committee service is not usually fun, but at least it means that the person has some voice in the processes of the institution. And if the people teaching the classes aren’t having a say in the institution, then who is?


  10. drugmonkey Says:

    I saw somewhere that adjuncts get better student ratings/reviews than full timers. I can’t remember where though.

    It looked at intro classes at a single institution. In my view the critical issue is not whether adjuncts do a better job, it is whether the institution lines up the contingencies so that class instruction is supported, respected and enhanced. That’s the kind of information the consumer needs to know. This is about how so many tenure track faculty are totally disincentivized to teach at other than the bare minimum. They may go above, sure, but they are not rewarded for it and may be punished.

    If you want to determine if adjuncts are better teachers, I’d say compare with tenure track at teaching-only institutions. That’s the direct and functional on-the-ground comparison if you want to go there.


  11. drugmonkey Says:

    But until I see data, I wouldn’t assume that an adjunct lecturer/Tenured researcher model is going to produce a worse quality education than a TT only 90% research 10% teaching effort situation.

    Be that as it may, if someone did make that assumption or have reason to believe such a thing, are you saying it is not something a University should provide?


  12. Becca has a point — it isn’t just a quality of education factor — you might want to know the fraction of adjuncts from a political standpoint the way people want to know if their clothing was made in a sweatshop. Although there is another type of adjunct besides the teaching type — many people at soft-money institutes are unpaid adjuncts for the purpose of allowing them to mentor grad students from the university.


  13. GMP Says:

    What Alex said. Adjuncts have no job-security and are underemployed. But “non-tenure-track” does not automatically mean “ill-treated”. We have several full-time instructors (full benefits etc) who do a great job. They are people with Master’s and industrial experience, and they teach some lab and lower-level courses. They are excellent teachers and the students love them. Most of them are very engaged in introducing technology into the classroom and work on modernizing labs. They are probably better for students than some of my tenure-track or tenured colleagues.


  14. The Other Dave Says:

    Sorry DM, but your ASSumptions are hanging way out here. Non-TT faculty are judged entirely, and their re-appointment is completely contingent upon, their ability to teach. Where are the incentives for tenured faculty to do a better teaching job? What are the incentives for TT faculty at R1 institutions to care about their teaching?


  15. E-rock Says:

    I think people are missing the diversity of the adjunct position. (I’m willing to abdicate anonymity btw.) I’m an assistant adjunct prof at an r1. I do not teach. At all. I get paid from grants that I help to write and I am trying my damnedest to get my own R01 s (and maybe take them to an institute closer to family with a TT line). I get benefits, retirement, vacation (rarely use it though). The caveat is that my salary is dictated by my ability to bring in soft money. Which admittedly is disheartening (and life trajectory disrupting) to see my “effort” go from 90% in 2012 to 51% in 2013. But by being a useful co-I, applying for as many grants as I can, I’m able to bring it back up. And the money is, indeed higher than some TT positions at SLACs. I would honestly prefer stability, but I am thankful that at my non TT position, I have some control over my future (well, subject to reviewers and ICs), I won’t go bankrupt from a medical emergency, I get a free flu shot every year, and I’m saving for retirement in my “adjunct” position. It’s not as terrible as adjuncting in the teaching role. I don’t like the system I’m in, honestly. I feel like my institute only cares about me so long as I bring in indirect costs. Really, I don’t think my presence is detrimental to undergraduate education. Though I do have some great ideas for teaching and I feel like my talents aren’t fully realized as a teacher in my current position as a researcher (I feel like a beggar or leech, depending on my mood). To the premise of the original post — yes, rate undergrad institutes by proportion of TT faculty. I also take the radical view that universities should pay the salaries of their faculty and not appoint them solely to suckle at the teet of the federal government.


  16. The idea that evaluations by the students being taught is a meaningful metric of teaching effectiveness is laughable. Yes, it can be meaningful at the extremes: “Professor Smith shows up stinking of booze every class and mumbles inaudibly”. But students are in no position themselves to know whether they have been taught effectively.


  17. another young FSP Says:

    Unless you decouple tenure from research, adding more tenure-track faculty leads to more grant applications, which ties into the decreasing success rates and increasing churn in junior faculty. Senior lecturers in many ways have more job security than our assistant professors (although not our tenured profs). Be careful what you wish for.

    Now, the discussion as to whether we should offer tenure for positions that are solely instructional-based at an R1 instution… that is another matter entirely, but has many years of history (and the college P&T committee) weighing against it.


  18. theshortearedowl Says:

    I still don’t understand the assumption that research and teaching should go hand-in-hand.


  19. Jim Thomerson Says:

    There is a saying, “Those who can, do, those who cannot, teach.” I think research, being a biologist, goes hand in hand with teaching biology. I both did and taught my whole career, and thought it the thing to do.

    A question, on another blog, which I cannot comment on, I saw an unreferenced statement that at regional universities, only from 25% to 52%, average 37%, of tenured faculty have publications. Does anyone have a source. In my regional university biology department all tenured, and tenure track faculty have publications.


  20. Ola Says:

    Well if you’re going to talk about student/faculty ratios, then we might as well get into student/administrator ratios, as highlighted by Ben Ginsberg in his book “The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise and Fall of the All Administrative University and Why it Matters” (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199975434)

    The average numbers of deans, deanlets, senior associate vice assistants to the provost, etc., is ~15 per 100 students. However, the range runs from single digits all the way up into the mid 70s! Ginsberg argues that a key value indicator for anyone shopping colleges is the actual number of people who do the teaching work, versus the number of tag-alongs who tell them how to do their work. How big is the “alternative curriculum” (e.g., the number of life and cultural classes taught by non-faculty, as opposed to the actual stuff being paid for and contributing to the major)? How much does the college president get paid (http://chronicle.com/article/Executive-Compensation-at/143541)? Are there special parking lots and reserved spaces for the admin’, while the faculty have to walk in from a remote lot? Is there duplication of services (for example my institution has 3 different offices for diversity). How much money does the college spend on sports and other “fluff”? How much do they spend on branding/advertising? All this stuff is just as important as whether the teachers are TT/adjunct.


  21. drugmonkey Says:

    Parking permits? “Just as important”? Really? Really?


  22. Zuska Says:

    As a symbol of the general low value of faculty, maybe.


  23. dsks Says:

    “I still don’t understand the assumption that research and teaching should go hand-in-hand.”

    For freshman stuff, it isn’t necessary. In fact, I like the trend I see in which dedicated instructors are hired to teach freshman courses and associated labs. They tend to be good instructors and I’ve learned a lot from them in re pedagogy (as someone else mentioned, they tend to be a bit more aware of the latest techie tools for improving classes and whatnot).

    But for upper level courses I strongly favour employing scientists engaged in active research, and who can bring some of that research into the classroom (and, even better, bring some of the classroom into their research in the form of undergrad involvement).


  24. Jim Thomerson Says:

    I have spent more teaching time on freshman than at other levels. Because I was an active researcher, I read a wide range of literature and knew more about some subjects than the textbook did. One thing I did, first lecture, was to give a five minute presentation of my research interests. I thought this particularly good for general education courses. I commented that probably most of the class had never spent time with a biological scientist before, so enjoy. I did point out, and document errors in the textbook. I think the course should taught by someone involved in biology and excited about it.


  25. becca McParky Says:

    What are parking lots? Often, the cheapest real estate in an otherwise central area. In other words, they are INEVITABLY going to be at the center of battles over priorities.

    Parking permits are the biggest issue on campuses today. They are entirely a proxy battle about the Soul of the American University and it’s purpose in the larger Society. Rural vs. urban divides? Reenacted in battles over whether the school should be designed to facilitate travel by car or by foot. Interclass conflict, and the battle over College As a Great Equalizer vs. College as a Status Symbol Among the Economically Privileged* gets caught up everytime we assume we’ll have commuters (as the vast majority of institutions of higher education in this country do) or we assume everyone will Live Out the Boarding School Life on campus. Democratic belief in the importance that maybe our environment might actually matter vs. Republican desires to literally pave paradise and put up a parking lot? On college campuses every. dang. semester. And for staff and faculty especially, the age old battle of How Much The Company Should Own it’s Workers, and how much they should pay for the honor of coming to work everyday, and at what percent of your income are parking fees approaching company town creepiness.

    A college administrator’s job is keep a variety of constituencies happy. The joke is that means sex for the students, football for the alumni, and parking for the faculty. Since sex and football are as abundant as ever, I suppose the mass rise in administrative bloat can only imply parking is getting harder to arrange than ever (seriously, if this parking-as-a-proxy-battle has any value at all, it could be the rise in administrators reflects the higher education world having to keep ever more constituencies happy, which sits about right from my perspective).

    If you think parking isn’t important, you aren’t paying any damn attention.

    *Guess which of these attitudes is supported by attacking adjuncts as necessarily inferior educators without understanding at all that the kind of artisanal hipster-botique etsy esque education one received at a SLAC is not a scaleable model in the slightest, unless one wants to shrink higher education dramatically and incidentally reduce access to higher ed to the diverse constituencies one CLAIMS to support???


  26. drugmonkey Says:

    Actually there are many state funded colleges and universities that have tenured faculty who are there to teach. Tuition isn’t horrible, either. Nice try though.


  27. becca McSnarky Says:

    What part of 75% of faculty are adjuncts is unclear? There are many state funded colleges and universities who have tenured faculty who are there to teach. But the numbers are declining for *reasons* besides some black hat adminocrat deciding we can bilk students out of ever more tuition money while saving on salary. It’s 2014 Mr. Magoo. http://suburbdad.blogspot.com/2014/02/restoration.html


  28. drugmonkey Says:

    What part of

    kind of artisanal hipster-botique etsy esque education one received at a SLAC is not a scaleable model

    is not even remotely the only model that is under discussion here is unclear?


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