Monday, May 14, 2007

The Plight of the Disappearing Tenured Faculty Members

I just read an interesting article from our Careers database. I don't know how many of you are faculty members, or are students, or have family or friends that belong in one or more of these groups. I found the information below a bit disturbing:

There are almost as many nontenured full-time faculty members at Boston University as there are tenured professors. The growing percentage of temporary, adjunct, and part-time faculty on American college campuses is of major concern to many in higher education—but none more than concerned college teachers.

In 1975, 36.5 percent of all college teachers held tenure and 20.3 percent were in tenure-track positions (total: 56.8 percent), but these declined by 2003 to 24.1 and 11.0 percent (total 35.1: percent), according to the American Association of University Professors. Of these figures, the most disturbing may be the decline in numbers on the tenure track, historically the source of future academic leadership.

The drop-off in tenured faculty is not limited to second- or third-tier schools striving to save money. Among the institutions with a higher number of nontenured faculty than the national average of 56.8 percent are New York University (71.9 percent), University of Colorado at Boulder (73.3 percent), University of Missouri (59.7 percent), University of Pittsburgh (58.4 percent), and the University of Southern California (59.5 percent). Just a shade better than the national average are Harvard University (56.6 percent), Yale University (50.3 percent), and Brandeis University (50.7 percent). Almost alone is Stanford, where only 8.5 percent of its faculty is outside the tenure system.

The bad news, according to a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is that accrediting associations seem less and less alarmed by this trend.

This article is interesting to me, because with the ever present demand for students to have higher GPAs and higher standardized test scores combined with rising academic costs, is the wool being pulled over our eyes. Are you paying more for less is the question that I'm posing?

This post should not be seen as a slap in the face to adjuncts or visiting professors. It seems odd to me that the whole reward system, you teach, you prove yourself worthy of being tenured over the course of time, has gone completely out of the window. Wouldn't a university want the best professors available--to produce the best students possible? Or is the university system truly for profit? Has the goal of higher education become to cut costs and to maximize profits? Are students receiving less bang for their buck?

I know that a lot of universities and colleges have graduate assistants teaching courses. I know that many professors work as adjuncts at several schools to make ends meet. I just find this whole trend bizarre. Can the students/should students have a voice concerning this trend? If you demand that I get a 1500 on my SAT or 700 on my GMAT can I demand that the percentage of tenured faculty members not fall below a certain threshold? Of course you can always choose another school, but what it sounds like, based on this article, is there aren't a lot of choices out there.


Anonymous said...

Does a decline in percentages of tenure track positions imply that the profit motive is responsible?
Perhaps it is, instead, reflective of an attempt by university administrations to restore some modicum of accountability for faculty excellence, effort and attention to students as "customers" for the education that the faculty is supposed to help provide. Maybe it is time to re-examine whether the purpose of the university is just to provide faculty with a place to conduct their research, and instead restore to primacy the provision of a learning environment where students can flourish.

Excalibur said...

This was a very well composed and intriguing argument. If that is the case it would be wonderful if this was stated rather than forcing people to read between the lines, especially from the "customers" perspective.