The full-time tenured professor is becoming an endangered species. The reason: money. As universities drift away from the traditional model of the full-time professor, a cheaper alternative is taking their place - part-timers who often teach at several institutions.
"It's definitely been a trend, probably for the last 30 years, and we're hoping that we can begin to make it even more clear that we're at the point of endangering the quality of higher education," says John Curtis, director of research at the American Association of University Professors in Washington.
But some say the shift is already taking its toll.
Some students complain they receive less of the mentoring and personal interaction they had hoped would help them deal with future graduate studies or the competitive business world. Newer academics see a compromised job market in which many who would prefer to work full time end up traveling from campus to campus to put together a decent salary.
The percentage of postsecondary professors working full time has decreased over the past 16 years, according to studies from the US Department of Education. In 1987, 67 percent of faculty were full time, and 58 percent of those professors had tenure. Another study shows that by 2001-2, only 55 percent were full time, with 45 percent of those tenured.
Nationwide, part-timers account for a large share of overall teaching hours. In 1998, according to the Department of Education, part-time faculty spent 89 percent of their time on teaching, versus 65 percent for full-time faculty, who had more time for research.
For students, with nearly half their professors working part time, the chances of getting to know them are slim. Particularly in introductory classes, it is increasingly common for students to be taught by nonpermanent faculty.
"In many cases, part-time faculty are teaching the basic introductory classes, so they really are the gateway instructors into the various disciplines," says Mr. Curtis.
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