Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

"Invisible Faculty": Department Chairs' Perceptions of Part-Time Faculty Status in Maryland Four-Year Public and Private Higher Education Institutions

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

"Invisible Faculty": Department Chairs' Perceptions of Part-Time Faculty Status in Maryland Four-Year Public and Private Higher Education Institutions

Article excerpt


The growing use of part-time, nontenure-track faculty (also known as adjuncts) in higher education is a nationwide phenomenon. "Part-time faculty" generally refers to nontenured personnel who teach less than a full-time course load per semester. For clarity and consistency, the terms part-time and adjunct faculty are used interchangeably throughout this article.

The part-time instructor is often isolated, independent, and detached from the world of the university. A two-tier faculty ranking within the university exists; the top tier includes full-time faculty with tenure and a living wage, while the lower tier includes part-time instructors with low pay, lack of job security, and poor working conditions (Hoeller, 2014b; Hoffman & Hess 2014). Part-time instructors'employment is in a contingent state. They are, in fact, not really ever fired; their contracts are simply not renewed.

Across the United States, institutions of higher education increasingly rely upon parttime faculty members to teach for-credit and noncredit courses (American Association of University Professors [AAUP], 2006). Curtis (2005) reported that, in 1975, full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members made up approximately 56% of faculty at America's 2- and 4-year colleges and universities; full-time nontenure-track faculty and part-time faculty comprised 13% and 30%, respectively. By 2003, full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty had fallen to 35%; the latter two categories had risen to approximately 19% and 46%, respectively (Curtis, 2005). From 1995 to 2003, although overall growth in faculty numbers occurred, the actual number of full-time faculty positions declined by more than 2,000 (Curtis & Jacobe, 2006). By 2007, full-time tenured positions had dropped to 22% of all faculty positions, and adjunct faculty held the majority of all faculty positions at degree-granting colleges and universities (AAUP, 2007). Even in a time of overall growth in faculty numbers, part-time appointments grew much more rapidly than tenure-line positions.

In their seminal 1993 book, Gappa and Leslie referred to adjuncts as The Invisible Faculty, suggesting the lack of status and regard provided such individuals in higher education. Other researchers (Clery, 1998; Freeland, 1998; Leslie, 1998) reported similar perceptions, and, unfortunately, the situation has not changed much to date. As budgets shrink, employment of adjuncts becomes increasingly attractive because administrators in higher education often view hiring part-time faculty as cost effective (Ehrenberg, 2012). Although there is greater reliance on part-time faculty to teach, primarily introductory sections of general-education requirements, these instructors are often marginalized by full-time faculty. Thus, higher education is using more adjuncts but still treating them as they were treated in the 1990s.

The Problem

Part-time faculty may be unclear about the institution's overall mission, purpose, and educational objectives (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006). They may also be unclear about explicit expectations to conduct research, serve on committees, take on advisees, write for professional publications, or participate in academic governance and the decision-making processes that influence departmental policies and procedures (Wallin, 2007).

Because teaching is the central function of colleges and universities, clearly the ability to fulfill this function hinges in large part on the caliber of part-time faculty, which, in turn, depends on the institution's capacity to attract and retain competent, motivated, and satisfied adjuncts. Largely unprotected against sudden termination of employment, parttime faculty may avoid taking risks in the classroom or tackling controversial subjects. Vulnerable to student complaints and evaluations, adjunct faculty may not feel free to teach rigorously, discuss controversial topics, make heavy reading assignments, or award low grades when deserved (Gappa, Austin, Si Trice, 2007). …

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