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Adjuncts Rising Part 4: How northern Nevada institutions tackle the issue of part-time faculty

By Christopher Vega
Published: Last Updated on
Adjuncts Rising: UNR Morril Hall. Photo: Bob Conrad.

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 4: Northern Nevada Versus the Nation

If national trends show a decrease in tenure-track faculty and an increase in part-time faculty, how do local institutions hold up in comparison? Does Nevada follow national trends?

Stacey Burton, professor and vice provost, faculty affairs, UNR.

Stacy Burton, professor and vice provost, faculty affairs, UNR.

“It’s not a new story, “ says UNR’s Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs Stacy Burton. She remembers not 20 years ago when English departments were debating whether to limit the number of Ph.D.s to the number of tenure-track positions available.

“Part-time teaching gigs were never meant to be a career,” she says. She understands the adjunct dilemma but notes that part-time instructors fulfill an important role.

“UNR serves the state,” she explains. If last year’s estimate on the number of incoming students is larger than expected, UNR counts on part-time instructors to teach the necessary classes.

The 2012 Nevada System of Higher Education faculty workload report shows that during the recession, in order to maintain teaching and learning quality, while retaining time for research, UNR increased faculty teaching loads and increased class size while reducing class frequency.

As budgets stabilized, the number of tenure-track positions have started to increase. According to Jane Tors, UNR’s special assistant to the president for media relations, in 2013, 15 new tenure tracks where created, and in 2014, the goal is 34 new tenure positions. The trend is appearing on the up and up as plans call for “20-35 tenure-track faculty positions created each year.”

This would put the faculty to student ratio at 18-1, down from 21-1, Tors says.

The University of Nevada’s Numbers

Source: Jane Tors, UNR

New tenure-track positions created:

·         FY13: 15

·         FY14: 34

·         Future years: Plans for call for the addition of 20-35 tenure-track faculty positions created each year to meet the teaching load presented by a growing student enrollment and lower the University’s student-to-faculty ratio from 21-to-1 (current) to 18-to-1 (national average for public, land-grant universities).

Percentage of undergraduate students (“Student Full-Time Equivalent”) taught by Letter of Appointment faculty (sometimes referred to as adjunct faculty):

•             2007       18.2%

•             2008       19.3%

•             2009       15.4%

•             2010       19.3%

•             2011       19.8%

•             2012       20.6%

•             2013       21%

•             2016 target:        15%

Percentage of students (Student Full-Time Equivalent) taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty:

·         2007       29% lower division / 63% upper division

·         2008       28% / 58%

·         2009       35% / 65%

·         2010       31% / 61%

·         2011       33% / 58%

·         2012       31% / 57%

·         2013       32% / 58%

·         2016 target: 35% / 65%

Nevada is not shy from presenting the issues while addressing the growing concerns of the over-use of adjuncts. UNR is classified as an institution with a high level of research activity. UNR is also a land grant university, which includes “responsibilities to engage communities, governments and citizens across the entire state of Nevada to engage in learning, discovery, clinical services and technology transfer,” according to the faculty workload report.

Because UNR fulfills so many roles besides education, the need for a diverse professional faculty “with a broad diversity of educational backgrounds” becomes necessary. Tenure track positions are UNR are growing, and it’s important to note that tenured faculty responsibilities are far greater than just teaching.

“On campus tenure track and tenured faculty typically have responsibilities distributed as 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research and scholarship and 20 percent service,” according to the faculty workload report.

The last several year’s budget restraints have reduced the number of full time faculty; however, after a decentralizing of college finances, individual colleges were able to refocus funding into new faculty positions, according to the report.

The report also recognized national faculty trends and addressed them. The report lists two major factors that led to changes: the Board of Regents’ focus on faculty contributions to economic development through research and the pressure to produce higher graduation rates. Both impact faculty workload.

Local area community colleges have also experience the above trends and responded with similar tactics. The workload report says budget issues have resulted in fewer class sections being taught by both tenured and adjunct faculty, and fewer student hours per full-time faculty.

Truckee Meadows Community College attributes this loss to a 9-percent drop in enrollment during the 2012 school year. The report says that growth in tenure track faculty positions has been “delayed for years.” From 2008 to 2012, TMCC’s tenured faculty positions went from from 159-155, while the use of adjunct faculty went down, from 429-389.

Western Nevada College has shown a decrease in both regular and adjunct faculty positions over the same time period. In 2008 there were 70 regular full-time faculty. That number dropped to 52 over a four year period.

In addition to severe budget cuts, increased faculty workload is coming from the state’s pressure to participate in economic development and the push to raise graduation rates. These two activities, which fall outside of traditional classroom activities, require resources and expertise.

At the same time, “we have a responsibility to supply students the best education possible,” says Burton.

It’s not difficult to see the perspectives of both the individuals in question, adjuncts, but also the pressure on the Nevada System of Higher Education and local institutions, to fulfill the needs of the local economies and to produce viable graduates.

A question of priorities is at stake: How far should higher education move toward more business-like models and a what expense?

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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