Wrong-sizing

The story goes that we needed to lose an English faculty position because the department was wrong-sized. I'm here to document that, indeed, the English department has the wrong ratio of full-time to part-time, as do most departments in the college. But far from agreeing that there are too many full-time faculty, the facts indicate the opposite; there are too many part-timers.

The guidelines set by the Ohio Board of Regents hold that 60% of the credit-hours in any degree program should be taught by full-time faculty or administrators at the college. There has been no enforcement of that provision, but many nearby state colleges and universities have done better. Sinclair has maintained a 60/40 FT/PT ratio all along, though recently their president announced that they were going to reduce to 50/50, primarily by attrition.

But what does research say about FT/PT ratios? For years, publication on this question concentrated on opinions: "We think that part-time faculty are an asset because..." or "...are a problem because...". The only empirical truth widely known was that part-time faculty were cheap.

Recently, a number of empirical studies explored issues related to PT faculty--and the results are dismal. Among them:
  • Graduation rates decrease as the ratio of part-time faculty increases.
  • Students are more likely to drop out if their required introductory courses are taught by part-time instructors.
  • Students receive less service.Part-timers rarely are available to students outside of scheduled class time.
  • Part-timers spend less time preparing for classes—a condition made worse by last-minute hiring and scheduling decisions that, in some cases, lead to an instructor being hired to teach a course after it has held its first meeting.
  • Part-time instructors are often assigned to teach courses outside their areas of expertise.
  • Essential non-teaching functions—student advising, campus governance, curriculum development—are not performed by part-time faculty; these responsibilities are increased to unacceptable levels for the remaining full-time faculty.
  • Campuses fail to provide administrative guidance or access to resources for part-time faculty.
The research does not conclude that all part-time faculty are detrimental. It shows that there are actually two types of part-timer. One type consists of retired teachers or active professionals who take on classes for supplemental income or as a sort of community service; they usually perform just as well as full-timers. The other type is the "gypsy" adjunct who takes on 3-4 classes apiece at 3-4 different colleges, driving to and fro with the backseat of the car as office space, desperately hoping to break into a full-time tenure-track position somewhere. This overworked, undersupported drudge worker is most often the source of shortcomings.

A close examination of these points shows that eliminating full-time positions is contradictory to the administration's stated goals. We will not increase retention by pursuing policies shown to reduce it. We will not recruit successfully if there are insufficient full-time faculty to pursue it. We will not deliver "a personal experience" if significant numbers of our faculty are too busy to answer email, meet a student after class, or sponsor a student organization.

Of course, it's going to require rather deep changes at all levels of higher education administration in Ohio to reverse this sort of counterproductive decision-making overall. But there are probably things that can be done about it locally.

I've summarized the research I've condensed above in a short precis, with references, that I'll be happy to share with anyone interested.

3 comments:

Brad Reed said...

I have seen in comments to this blog and elsewhere some misunderstandings surrounding the termination of Steve Marlowe's contract and the reasons being given for it. To quote one recent email:

Despite the retirement of English Department Chair, David Johnson, Dr. Yowell felt the English department was over-staffed (with only four full time faculty members) and continued to "justify" Marlowe's firing by claiming his position is being eliminated to make room for our new full time math faculty member (who was hired to replace the retiring Jesse Parete). The math doesn't add up.

Please take care not to misrepresent either Yowell's position or the main issue. First, KY has NOT claimed that the English Dept. is over-staffed. His words are "comparatively well-staffed." Second, our new Math faculty Naomi Louis (welcome, Naomi, and sorry about all the fuss) replaces Jesse and restores (assuming the reappointment of Nathan Adkins, which has not yet happened - shamefully) the fulltime Math faculty to two. Yowell's claim is that he wants another fulltime Math faculty, for a total of three (Carol Parete has not been "faculty" in the technical sense; her position is through the Learning Center, and - as of this writing - she has not given formal notice of retirement that I am aware of). Therefore, it is not a "Marlowe for Louis" trade.

This is important to clarify, because Yowell will seize upon the error and will wave it before the Board as proof that faculty are out of touch and misrepresenting his position. We must be correct in our criticisms.

The English-for-Math idea is in fact a non-sequitur. Except for a general equivalency of credit hours served, there is nothing that connects English and Math instruction. It may be (and probably is) true that Math would be well-served with an additional fulltime faculty member. But that truth speaks absolutely nothing about whether the English Department is well-served with one less. Why English? Why not Nursing, say, or Biology, or any other discipline? For that matter, why must it be a faculty-for-faculty trade? If our complement of fulltime English instructors is a "luxury we may not be able to
afford" (Yowell's words) then what other "luxuries" are lurking about? How does one compare the value of faculty to the value of an advisor, or an administrative assistant, or an IT support technician, or a CQI project, or a basketball team? Why a personnel trade at all? Due to an entirely unexpected enrollment inflation, tuition revenue in 2008-09 exceeded plan by more than $400,000. Where did the money go? (Another question for another post.)

No, the only reason this is English-for-Math is because Marlowe teaches English. If Marlowe taught Paralegal Studies, then we would be seeing "proof" that the Paralegal program is too costly; if he taught Biology then we would be hearing claims that we have more Biology instructors than we can afford. It is a bald-faced and blatant rationalization, cherrypicking and manipulating numbers to support a decision already made in March or earlier.

However, and this is the core issue here, even if Yowell is correct about staffing levels, he has no authority to terminate Marlowe's contract! The contract language does not permit terminating a continuing contract without cause (well-defined), or without a formal process of declaring retrenchment.

Do not allow Yowell the distraction of an English-for-Math debate. The only question is whether the Board - and ultimately perhaps the courts - will allow or will punish Yowell's flagrant and willful disregard of a legally-binding collective bargaining agreement.

TR said...

Agreed, Brad. My comments are not that this is an English-for-Math trade.

My comments are that this is a reduction of full-time faculty when, according to state standards and all of the objective studies I can find, Edison ought to be increasing the ranks of full-time faculty.

Why not nursing? Because nursing is one of the disciplines that needs accreditation by an independent professional association--one that has a relatively free hand to impose quality standards.

No one of importance said...

Brad, thanks for the comments/corrections. I'll make sure to correct my error. I appreciate your calm and reason in such frustrating times. To often, those of us on the outskirts of the Edison Community (adjuncts, those at DCC, especially adjuncts at DCC) get little to no information--and what information we do get comes from word of mouth.

I understand the situation better now, from attending the board meeting and wish I could see the positive things coming from your work with the Board. Perhaps I wouldn't feel list all is lost!

TR, wonderful information--thanks for saving me some time!