The End of the Academy?

From Oxford Journals:

Non-tenure-track—also known as adjunct or contingent—faculty members now make up more than 70 percent of those who teach in higher education. The trend—which shows little sign of abating—threatens national goals of maintaining global preeminence in science and technology, including biology, say education experts.

According to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (the most recent available), just under 30 percent of higher-education faculty members today are tenured or on the tenure track. In contrast, in 1969, 78 percent of faculty members were tenured or tenure track, and less than 22 percent were not. The majority of today's non-tenure-track faculty members are low-paid part-timers, whose working conditions often adversely affect learning outcomes for students.

“In the biology department at Rowan University, it is possible for a freshman biology major to go their entire 4 years for a bachelor's of science without taking a course taught by a tenure-track professor,” says Nathan Ruhl, an adjunct professor at the Glassboro, New Jersey–based school.

“That's actually frightening,” says AIBS Board member Muriel Poston, dean of faculty at Pitzer College, in Claremont, California. The shift to contingency and away from tenured faculty couldn't have come at a worse time, she says. “It's a confluence of some really challenging events: increasing numbers of students interested in science, particularly in biology, and increasing numbers of underrepresented groups, just when there's a significant shift in the teaching population [from tenured to contingent].”

The shift began some 40 years ago and never stopped. “It's been a gradual increase over time that accelerated when we had economic problems,” says George R. Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges before retiring, who serves on education committees for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council (NRC). “The colleges still want to provide services to students, but they have fewer resources. That has forced them to increase the ranks at the expense of [the number of] full-time faculty [members].”

A recent special report on contingent faculty by the Center for Community College Student Engagement noted that the financial model of community colleges is now based on hiring part-time faculty. “Contingent employment goes hand-in-hand with being marginalized within the faculty. It is not uncommon for part-time faculty to learn which, if any, classes they are teaching just weeks or days before a semester begins. Their access to orientation, professional development, administrative and technology support, office space, and accommodations for meeting with students typically is limited, unclear, or inconsistent,” the report stated. Community colleges are hardly alone in these concerns.

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