The Plight of Part-Time Faculty

The Plight of Part-Time Faculty

What shapes the perspective of these faculty—and what supports they need

Part-time faculty play a vital role in university life. They teach large intro courses and classes; they are more likely to teach evening classes, which provides flexibility in course scheduling and attracts students who work during the day; and they accept last-minute teaching assignments when campuses add new class sections due to high student demand.

Part-time faculty are also a significant part of the higher ed workforce, accounting for 700,000 of the 1.8 million faculty at U.S. two- and four-year schools. Yet, part-time faculty lack access to important campus resources and the support they need to be most effective in their work.

Colleges and universities offer part-time faculty little or no job security; limited professional development opportunities; few resources to engage students; late course assignments; and low pay.

Research from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Center for the Future of Higher Education suggests that part-time faculty lack access to basic resources that most professionals take for granted: office space, a computer, and campus phone/voicemail. Just two out of every five part-time faculty report having a campus-provided computer, and more than a third don’t have access to an office, shared or private, according to the 2010-2011 HERI Faculty Report (www.heri.ucla.edu), a triennial survey that documents the faculty experience.

The lack of dedicated workspace interferes with the ability to interact with students outside of class, and thereby limits their accessibility and availability to students, a key tenet of the student experience.

To compensate for the lack of full-time work and salary, more than 30 percent of part-time faculty piece together appointments at multiple institutions, according to the HERI report. Part-time faculty members, particularly those who would prefer to teach full-time, rely on these multiple jobs to make ends meet and make a career in college teaching. But the situation means extra time and energy spent commuting and navigating a number of different institutional bureaucracies.

Diversity in Outlook

Within the part-time academic workforce, diversity exists. Part-time faculty accept their appointments for different reasons. Some choose to teach part-time to supplement income from full-time careers. These part-timers are more likely to teach specialized courses that relate to their full-time career outside of academia. Others hope to secure a full-time faculty position. This group, educators who might be labeled as underemployed part-timers, has more traditional academic training (many have Ph.D.s) and teaches more heavily in introductory course sequences.

Recognizing the different reasons behind acceptance of part-time appointments is important when considering the needs of part-time faculty. For example, the underemployed rely more heavily on the income from their teaching compared to those who choose to teach part-time. When institutions consistently pass over current part-time faculty in making new full-time appointments, they diminish morale and further stigmatize part-timers.

Supporting part-timers

Supportive actions to take can include:

  • Ensuring that all part-time faculty have access to an office, even if shared.
  • Providing a computer.
  • Offering professional development opportunities and incentivizing their participation in such programs, as this can help them integrate a variety of methods in their teaching and better engage students. 
  • Providing more time between notice of teaching assignments and the start of the academic term to help them plan.

The salaries and benefits offered to part-timers should also be increased, particularly for those teaching less-desirable courses at less-desirable times. Allowing them to take fewer part-time teaching appointments could translate into more time spent with students and preparing for class.

All of these efforts will give part-time faculty more time and energy to invest in teaching. Administrators should strive to find the means necessary to improve the working conditions of part-time faculty, as the entire campus community benefits when part-time faculty feel supported.


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