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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Part-Time Faculty Dependency Strategy Doesn’t Cut It – Editorial 11/20/03

In light of a column published in the Boston Globe on Wednesday November 12 regarding part-time faculty at UMass Dartmouth, The Mass Media has looked into our school’s dependency on part-time faculty, determining that we are too reliant on instructors who-through no fault of their own-may not be able to invest themselves fully in the UMB community.

Part-time professors make up roughly 46 percent of all professors on campus, teaching about 23 percent of the classes. According to Anita Miller, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, “Many of our part time faculty do receive health and pension benefits and they are represented by the same bargaining unit as the full time faculty,” unlike at UMass Dartmouth and other state campuses. Even though we want to see that our faculty members receive fair pay and benefits, we have to look into the effects part-time faculty-as opposed to full-time faculty-have on the students’ quality of education.

The main problem students should have with too many part-time professors is the number of hours outside of class part-timers are generally able to put in. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), “In sum, part-time faculty spend at best half the out-of-class student-related time per class hour of full-time faculty, and the vast majority of part-time faculty devote 25 percent or less as time per class hour to out of class student-related activity.” This is the national average-The Mass Media was not able to get the numbers specific to UMB prior to printing-and it is somewhat disconcerting for students who might need more attention from the instructor to supplement what is covered in class.

Outside class related activities include such essentials as office hours. AAUP stated that nationally “31 percent of part-time faculty at four-year institutions reported holding no office hours… while only 7 percent of full-time faculty at four-year institutions held no office hours.” If we loosely apply these statistics to UMB we see that almost 8 percent of faculty, or 70 instructors, here might not offer office hours for their students. This is especially worrisome since this is a commuter school, where students need instructors to have more flexible office hours than elsewhere.

On the other hand, using part-time instructors is justified for many types of classes. Some instructors are local professionals and well suited to teaching courses specific to their job. The geographic information technologies certificate program here uses several local professionals in this capacity, much to the students’ benefit. However, there are many more part-timers that don’t fit this category.

The main impetus for using part-time faculty in this environment of growing budget cuts within the state’s education system is that they are cheap. As we all know, education funds have been cut due to the economic downturn and before that by programs to “streamline” the system. Since UMB has the non-traditional student, urban, and commuter mission, the use of part-timers has a more magnified impact on its students than it would have at some of the other local institutions. As the AAUP has stated, “such over-reliance [on part-time instructional staff] particularly disadvantages the less-well-prepared entering and lower-division students in the non-elite institutions who most need more substantial faculty attention.” UMB’s urban mission targets the low-income students who come from schools in low-income areas. Many of these students will naturally be more dependent on the support they can get from full-time faculty.

Nationally, according to AAUP, 43 percent of faculty is part time and more than half are not tenure. UMB may be one of the lucky schools to have part-time faculty teaching only 23 percent of all classes, but the trend shows an increasing dependency on cheap part-time instructors. We need more state funding to reduce the amount of part-time faculty and increase the amount of full-timers. The students who are interested in winning more funds for the school should go to the fourth floor of Wheatley and talk to your senators and other student clubs and centers about saving UMass.