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Research and Innovation

Study: Part-Time College Faculty Crave Respect, Office Space

For Immediate Release

Audrey Jaeger
Audrey Jaeger

Increased hiring of part-time college faculty means that colleges and universities have pressure to find ways to support larger numbers of adjuncts and instructors. A new study in the Journal of Higher Education shows that institutional support, from office space to respect from full-time peers, is linked to part-time faculty members’ job satisfaction.

With part-timers making up half of all college faculty – 49.3 percent as of 2009 – it’s important to understand their role in teaching. Some instructors choose to teach part-time, allowing them to share experience from primary careers in business, law, journalism or other specialized fields. But most part-time faculty want full-time academic appointments in lieu of teaching part-time, often at several colleges, where they may be instructors for 101-level courses with large enrollments.

“We’ve done a lot of research about how student success is linked to the type of faculty providing instruction, but we don’t really know that much about part-time faculty themselves,” says co-author Audrey Jaeger of North Carolina State University, a higher education professor who has published frequently on issues affecting adjunct faculty. “The trend of hiring part-time faculty isn’t going to reverse anytime soon, so we need to understand how part-time faculty members are thinking about issues, how they’re connected to the university and how we can better support them so they can do their best work with students.”

Jaeger collaborated with UCLA’s Kevin Eagan, managing director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the sole source of national survey data for part-time faculty since a federal effort ended 10 years ago. They analyzed HERI survey data from more than 4,000 part-time faculty working at nearly 300 colleges and universities in 2010-11.

Seventy-three percent of part-time faculty surveyed considered themselves underemployed because they worked part-time involuntarily. But the study showed that a lack of respect from full-time peers and administrators, rather than involuntary part-time status itself, was the prime reason for lower job satisfaction.

“Given the ever-increasing reliance on part-time faculty at both two- and four-year campuses, we see an addiction to the flexible labor that part-time faculty provide,” Eagan says. “It raises equity issues for higher education that we haven’t fully grappled with, including how to help provide adequate support for part-time faculty.”

Researchers found abundant “low hanging fruit” – tangible and intangible ways to show support for part-time faculty.

A key example was office space. Only 18 percent of part-time faculty had an office of their own, while 45 percent had access to shared office space.

“Office space on campus is always at a premium, but if we want part-time faculty to connect with students, we need to give them a place to have important, sometimes sensitive conversations – not the hallway after class, a parking lot or a coffee shop,” Eagan says.

Other forms of tangible support were providing personal computers for instructors and offering help with administrative tasks.

To help build stronger relationships on campus, the authors suggest that departments, colleges and universities invite part-time faculty to social and professional events, provide opportunities for awards and professional development, and seek their input on planning, decisions and governance.

“Based on prior research, it makes sense that how faculty engage with students is influenced by how connected they feel to the university and how respected they feel among colleagues,” Jaeger says. “Faculty who have strong relationships on campus and opportunities to grow and develop as teachers are more likely to feel a sense of satisfaction with their work and to be productive in the classroom.”

Co-author Ashley Grantham is a doctoral candidate at NC State.

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 Note: An abstract of the paper follows.

“Supporting the Academic Majority: Policies and Practices Related to Part-Time Faculty’s Job Satisfaction”

Authors: M. Kevin Eagan Jr., professor in residence, UCLA; Audrey J. Jaeger, professor, NC State; Ashley Grantham, doctoral candidate, NC State

Published: May/June issue, Journal of Higher Education

Abstract: The academic workforce in higher education has shifted in the last several decades from consisting of mostly full-time, tenure-track faculty to one comprised predominantly of contingent, non-tenure-track faculty. This substantial shift toward part-time academic labor has not corresponded with institutions implementing more supportive policies and practices targeted toward part-time faculty. This study examines the associations between part-time faculty satisfaction and a set of items that measure campus resources provided to part-timers, their perceptions of the campus climate, and measures of the institutional context. Findings point to opportunities for campuses and departments to improve part-time faculty’s satisfaction through providing access to office space and developing a sense of respect among part-time and full-time faculty.

 

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