Part-time professors caught up in full-time problem


Kody Kahle

The part-time faculty office is where a number of faculty is assigned to work, instead of individual offices. National trends suggest universities are using part-time professors at a higher rate than full-time, but according to vice provost, NKU is not partaking.

NKU part-time English professor Nathan Singer is a busy man. Starting his mornings at 6:15 a.m.—six out of seven days a week—all semester long last fall, Singer would commence his daily routine with practice at a local children’s theatre, then commute to and fro, between four different colleges and universities, where he taught a total of 11 courses.

Although he said he enjoys his busy schedule, many people can’t help but wonder why on earth he would keep this more than hectic schedule?

The answer is simple.

According to Singer, as an adjunct, or part-time professor, he is not provided the benefits or competitive salary that a full-time professor would be.

Data released by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce in fall 2010 showed that the average pay per class for a small metropolitan higher educational institution, such as NKU, was $3,000.

So, left without options in this area for a higher paying job in his field, Singer simply continued his passion; teaching English in the only way that fully supported his family of four; teaching the 11 courses, one course and one college at a time.

NKU and other colleges and universities in this area are not the only institutions to place aspiring professors in this position. Universities across the nation are changing the structure of higher education.

According to data released by the US Department of Education in 2009, a national trend has developed among four-year public universities over the past 40 years where part-time professors are being utilized at a much higher rate than full-time professors.

This national trend of increased part-time faculty use brings to question what kind of effect, if any, there is in the quality of education for students across the country and more specifically those at Northern Kentucky University.

According to data released by NKU Department of Institutional Research, there is a developing trend within NKU that goes against the grain of the national trend; showing a larger number of full-time faculty member employment at NKU with a lower number of part-time faculty member employment, over the past five years.

According to Provost Gail Wells, NKU has the highest ratio of part-time faculty to full-time equivalent faculty of all the Kentucky public universities. She also added that over the last six years, full-time tenured and tenure track faculty have increased 16 percent.

However, Vice Provost J. Patrick Moynahan recognized that this is an on-going issue and said that the economy is playing a key role in this growing national trend.

“The bottom line is that part-time faculty members are cheaper. Many schools are forced to choose whether to hire more part-time faculty members or to close programs,” Moynahan said. “However, I think at this university we have been very good at managing our resources, which has enabled us to not have to partake in the national trend.”

Moynahan added that NKU’s dedication toward keeping teaching one of its top priorities has allowed NKU to not get swept away into the national trend. “The love of teaching in the classroom is what we look for when hiring professors,” he said. “We value teaching and we understand the basic relationship between teaching and learning, which sounds obvious but can easily be lost, especially in this day and age.”

According to NKU Writing Program Director Jennifer Cellio, he is right.

Cellio is in charge of the writing program, which means she is responsible for the hiring of professors to teach English 101 and English 291; courses that almost all NKU students are required to take.

In regards to the national trend, Cellio stated that part-time professors are being utilized more in order to make efficient use of shrinking departmental budgets in the writing department, as part of a larger economical situation. Despite this fact, Cellio reassured her confidence in the education that NKU provides its students.

“We [at NKU] do all that we can to ensure a high quality education,” Cellio said. “Even if we are put in the position where we must hire more part-time professors, we usually experience very little turnover within the department and are left with some [part-time] professors who have been here longer than I have.”

Both Moynahan and Cellio noted that while some part-time professors may feel spread thin, and therefore not be as invested in the course or the university as a full-time professor, part-time professors can be of just the same quality as their full-time colleagues.

Part-time professor Nathan Singer agreed, “Both full-time and part-time professors are excellent,” he said. “While 11 classes is too much to teach in one semester, I don’t think it is enough to impact my abilities in the classroom.”

“To be honest,” he added, “I don’t think students know, one way or another, whether a professor is part-time or not.”

The system for hiring part-time professors at NKU is done semester to semester. The part-time professors are paid by their department per each course they teach.

“Overall there are not really any pros with being an adjunct professor,” Singer said.

The stress of always being pulled in different directions and having to teach at more than one university has made him at times feel like more of a visitor at the universities he teaches, he said, rather than a major and more fixed part of just one university.

As defined by the NKU online handbook for part-time faculty, “Part-time faculty are faculty members who teach less than a full course load each semester, as determined and assigned by the university, and who do not hold probationary or tenured positions.”

According to Moynahan, a full-time professor at NKU usually teaches up to about five courses. Moynahan said that problems can occur when part-time professors who teach “less than a full course load,” about three courses at NKU, teach more courses at another college or university and end up teaching more courses than a full-time professor.

Moynahan admitted that spreading a professor’s workload to teach too many courses can greatly affect the quality of that professor’s ability to teach.

According to Moynahan, part of NKU’s ability to go against the grain of the national trend is due to its current plan dedicated to the incremental increase in the number of full-time professors.

This plan is currently in the works within the office of the provost, Gail Wells. One recent success of this plan, Wells said, came from the approval in last year’s budget to create 15 new permanent full-time faculty lines.

“The searches for these positions are identifying outstanding candidates and we are eager to welcome these new full-time faculty to our campus next year,” she said.

Singer was pleased to hear of this plan and the current trend at NKU.

“This plan is a good idea,” Singer said. “I feel as much hiring from within that can happen is best.”

He also added that it would be nice to see part-time professors and other aspiring professors get rewarded with the additional opportunities that could become available at schools with these plans, like NKU.

Overall, Singer made it clear that the things he does in his life are driven from passion and that although the financial aspect of life is important, as it pertains to supporting his family, that’s where he draws the line.

“If you are looking for money and stability in life, you probably would’ve done something else,” he said.