Adjuncts Rising, Part 1: How northern Nevada institutions tackle the issue of part-time faculty

Adjuncts Rising is an investigative series that looks at how northern Nevada public higher education institutions have addressed the issue of using part-time faculty to satisfy teaching responsibilities. ThisisReno.com reporter intern Chris Vega examines the life of an adjunct, how adjunct faculty fit into the larger role of a higher-education institution and he compares local institutions to national trends.

His findings:

  • The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is attempting to buck national trends by increasing its full-time faculty post-recession
  • Truckee Meadows Community College cut, during the recession, significant adjunct positions while maintaining its tenured faculty core.
  • There has been a dramatic rise in administrators at local institutions in order to fulfill unfunded mandates and federal requirements, contributing to increased costs – and increased services – for students.
  • Part-time faculty are considered underpaid and have little role in the governance of public institutions.
  • An increasing reliance nationally on adjunct faculty may negatively impact academic freedom and contribute to a “Walmart model” of running higher education institutions, according to critics.

Part 1: The Issue

The number of administrative staff at public universities has more than doubled compared to teaching and research faculty in colleges and universities across America.

Some believe this trend reflects a college’s need to attract students by offering amenities, focusing on the student experience rather than the quality of the classroom education. Many universities point to a lack of resources and are driven to raise tuition. But does the amount of money spent on administrative staff increase costs?

Many universities cite increased costs due to government regulations. Stacy Burton, vice provost of faculty affairs at the University of Nevada Reno, says the Department of Education requires reporting on all areas of campus life. This translates into more administration to facilitate that requirement.

Other examples of increased costs include the number of advisers necessary to facilitate student course counseling — not to mention the number of students coming into their college experience in need of remedial classes.

Jessica Santina, adjunct English instructor at UNR, has seen this first hand.

“I am feeling overwhelmed by the caliber of the student coming in,” she says. “Many are unprepared for college-level writing.”

These factors contribute to the need for professional, non-faculty instructors. The reality is someone needs to provide these services. This raises the question of how man professional staff are working directly in service positions — and do these additional services raise costs directly for the student?

Some people feel these professionals are necessary, especially as the pressure increases to help students graduate quickly. However, to offset the cost of additional services, many colleges are forced to find budgetary ways to make ends meet.

Bill Sledzick, Kent State University.
Bill Sledzik, Kent State University.

One of biggest issues being publicly discussed is the use of universities using adjunct faculty and professionals to teach classes as a way to save money. Some people consider this switch from an academic model to a business model doesn’t serve the education needs of students but rather the business requirements of the institution.

“The reason this issue is getting press is more and more universities are counting on adjuncts,” says Bill Sledzik, associate professor of journalism at Kent State University.  “Universities are number one, a business, and it’s a way to save money.”

But will we bankrupt ourselves by elevating money over education?

Part 1: The Issue

Part 2: The Adjunct

Part 3: The Emerging Business Model of Higher Education

Part 4: Nevada Versus The Nation

Watch the video below to learn more.

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About Christopher Vega 33 Articles
Christopher Vega, born in Madison, Tenn., is married, father of three boys and a late bloomer to education. He has 15 years of experience working with disadvantaged youth and is completing two degrees in Journalism and Art.