Adjuncts Rising, Part 3: 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 3: The Emerging Business Model Versus Educational Quality

“Higher education is moving toward a Walmart model of education,” says Bill Sledzik, associate professor of journalism at Kent State University. He says this model helps keep cost down by paying employees less.

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

In many business models, professionals are typically paid more for their specialty, and the increase in pay helps cover the risk of job security. If this is the case in business, why not also in higher education?

As more and more public universities and colleges rely on having part-time instructors teach undergraduate classes, the myth of adjuncts leading to tenure is becoming dispelled, raising the issue of how much academic freedom exists at public higher education institutions

“With fewer and fewer tenure positions, voices get silenced,” Sledzik explains. He notes the role of the tenured faculty is to have a voice within the education system without fear of reprisals. He fears many adjuncts are afraid to speak up concerning the quality of the classroom experience.

“When half of the people are professionals, are students being shortchanged?” Sledzik asks.

The concern over educational standards is also in question. If adjunct teachers are given classes outside of their specialty, or if they are stuck teaching core classes, do the students benefit from the same level of education as they would from a tenured professor in his field of expertise?

Part-time UNR English instructor Jessica Santina feels that mix of working professionals who teach part-time, along with full-time professors, contribute to the student experience.

Others worry the cost is too great.

“We are losing the battle for liberal arts,” says Sledzik. He notes that a liberal arts education “shapes our culture.” The fear, he explains, is that a more business-like approach to public higher education can “damage creativity.” He says that as corners are cut, there is a real danger of overloading the teachers, and the quality of the education is impacted.

Some worry the education standard becomes a cookie-cutter experience for undergraduate students, seeing how adjuncts typically don’t have access to the same resources in their departments.

Debra Leigh Scott
Debra Leigh Scott

Jessica Santina recalls her first year of teaching English at UNR: “We didn’t get an opportunity to critique the curriculum.”

“Diversity used to govern the syllabus,” says Debra Leigh Scott of “The Homeless Adjunct” blog. “Teachers would add current research to create a new classroom dynamic instead of the cut-and-paste syllabus” given to most adjuncts.

“There is a unfortunate divide between professors and part timers,” Scott says. She adds that promotional opportunities are reduced once a teacher has been “adjunctified.”

That being said, most are happy doing the work even if it is part time.

Santina is not ungrateful despite seeing some of these issues. She feels lucky because her expertise is used for a required class at UNR and is glad to come back year after year.

“I must be doing a good job, as they keep hiring me back,” she says.

But how come these educators are forced to face these dilemmas even as tuition rates tripled over the last 25 years? Some people are asking if this adjunct model is labor abuse. And are adjuncts complicit in this educational experience?

“They can always go somewhere else if they don’t like it,” says Sledzik. “Adjuncts have always gotten screwed.”

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.