A Student of History

November 21, 2007

Where’s my Professor?

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 1:18 pm

The NYT has an article that should come as no surprise at all to those who go to or work at a large university:  “Professors with tenure or who are on a tenure track are now a distinct minority on the country’s campuses, as the ranks of part-time instructors and professors hired on a contract have swelled.”  The column goes on to note that “The shift from a tenured faculty results from financial pressures, administrators’ desire for more flexibility in hiring, firing and changing course offerings, and the growth of community colleges and regional public universities focused on teaching basics and preparing students for jobs.”  Many state university presidents say tight budgets have made it inevitable that they turn to adjuncts to save money.

Thirty years ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, but now they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private.  Wow.  when I went to Washington and Lee University in the early to mid-80’s, I had only oneprofessor in four years who was not tenured or tenure-track, and all had Ph.D’s.  Quite a change now.

This of course leads to problems, as demonstrated by the example of Florida International University: it has “has 2,400 undergraduate majors but only 19 tenured or tenure-track professors who teach, according to a department self-assessment. It is possible for a psychology major to graduate without taking a course with a full-time faculty member.”

One thing that this article fails to point out is how many courses are also taught by teaching assistants, or TA’s.  These are common at large universities.  Most times, TAs are actually graduate students who get paid to teach part time (or grade, or research) in exchange for free or reduced tuition and a stipend.  When I left Ohio State my stipend was about $1800 per month, but out of this came some of my health insurance costs, as well as a number of deductions for services at the university I did not even use.  Thousands of students are taught each quarter at OSU, and other campuses across the land, by TAs, who do not have Ph.Ds.  Thus, students and parents are paying lots of money to send their kids to schools with great reputations but the faculty members who give the schools these reputations are usually not the ones teaching in the classroom, at least to undergrads.  Additionally, TAs are not that well “regulated” or controlled.  I taught US history at Ohio State for a dozen quarters, and only had a faculty member or departmental representative come in to observe me one time.  Once. 

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