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Part Time Faculty Members

Reasons for the Growth of Part-Time Faculty, Who Are the Part-Time Faculty?

Part-time faculty are employed by colleges and universities to work on some basis that is less than a full-time contract. Some part-time faculty teach a single course, while others teach more than one course per academic term. Some part-timers have only a brief relationship with their employing institution and are used to fill a specific short-term instructional need, while others teach on a part-time basis for many years in order to meet ongoing educational needs. Part-time faculty provide a variety of educational services and represent an important part of the instructional work force in American higher education.

In the fall of 1998, 43 percent of college and university faculty worked part time–a proportion that grew steadily during the preceding three decades. In 1987, for example, 33 percent of all faculty worked part time, while in 1970 only 22 percent of college and university professors worked part time.

Although part-time faculty play important roles throughout higher education, their numbers vary by type of institution and academic field. Community colleges employ the highest percentage of part-time faculty. In 1997, 65 percent of the faculty in community colleges worked part time. In contrast, only about 33 percent of the faculty in four-year institutions worked on a part-time basis. The use of part-time faculty also varies across different academic fields. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the fall of 1998 well over one-third of the faculty worked part time in such academic areas as fine arts (49%), education (40%), and the humanities (38%). In contrast, less than one-fourth of the faculty worked part time in areas such as the natural sciences (23%), engineering (20%), and agriculture and home economics (14%). In U.S. colleges and universities, women hold a proportionately greater number of part-time than full-time faculty positions. In 1997 women accounted for 36 percent of full-time faculty positions and 47 percent of part-time faculty posts.

The growth of part-time faculty positions appeared to have leveled off in the 1990s. Between 1992 and 1998 the percentage of part-time faculty in American higher education grew only 1 percent, from 42 percent to 43 percent. This decline in the part-time faculty growth rate may represent an attempt by institutions to achieve balance in their use of part-time and full-time faculty appointments. Even though the rate of growth of part-time positions had moderated, in the early twenty-first century part-time faculty represented a larger component of the instructional work force in colleges and universities than ever before.

Reasons for the Growth of Part-Time Faculty

Several reasons account for the increased employment of part-time faculty, including a leveling off of public subsidies of higher education, the aging and tenuring in of the full-time faculty, and an oversupply of qualified potential instructors in many fields. The overriding reasons for the heavy reliance on part-time faculty, however, appear to be the expansion of community colleges, and particularly the financial hard times and increased competition that have made many institutions reluctant to make long-term financial commitments to full-time tenure-eligible faculty positions. Hiring an instructor on a part-time basis usually costs substantially less than a full-time appointment, and also provides the flexibility institutions wish to preserve in a time of rapid change.

Who Are the Part-Time Faculty?

Most part-time faculty have full-time jobs in primary occupations outside of higher education–or they are partially or fully retired from another career. In addition, some part-time faculty are freelancers who have built a career around several part-time teaching positions, often at more than one institution. Another segment of the part-time teaching force includes aspiring professors who hope to achieve full-time, permanent academic employment eventually. In research done in the 1990s, Judith Gappa and David Leslie found that part-time faculty are far less likely than full-time faculty to have doctoral degrees. They also found, however, that while only 16 percent of part-time faculty had doctorates at the time of the study, 10 percent had terminal professional degrees (degrees that indicate that the recipient has reached the end of formal education in his/her field) and 52 percent had one or more master's degrees. Gappa and Leslie concluded from their analysis that "part-time faculty are well qualified by reason of preparation and experience to teach the courses they are assigned–principally undergraduate courses" (1996, p. 9).

What Do Part-Time Faculty Do?

Typically, part-time faculty have a more limited range of responsibilities than their full-time colleagues. Although part-time faculty roles vary somewhat by discipline and type of institution, most teach primarily lower division, introductory level, or skill building courses (e.g., elementary modern languages, English composition, science laboratories). Often, advanced courses for majors and graduate students are reserved for regular full-time faculty. Many part-time faculty whose primary employment is outside of higher education teach courses directly related to their careers in professional fields such as accounting, journalism, allied health, or education. In addition, part-time faculty typically play no role, or a very restricted role, in curriculum development and institutional governance. Due to the limited nature of their appointments, many are not available to assist students outside of class or to provide long-term career guidance. Furthermore, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports that part-time faculty spend less time on class preparation and have lower publication rates than do full-time faculty. These findings suggest that part-time faculty fill more limited roles involving fewer responsibilities than their full-time faculty counterparts.

Benefits of Employing Part-Time Faculty

Part-time faculty bring valuable expertise and experience to their institutions at relatively low cost. Those who come from primary careers outside of higher education bring to the classroom the added benefit of a practitioner's perspective and direct contact with their employment sector. Gappa and Leslie (1993) cite evidence that part-time faculty, in general, perform just as well in the classroom as their full-time colleagues. By hiring temporary faculty on a per-course basis, institutions avoid the added costs of fringe benefits, professional development, and office and laboratory facilities that usually accompany full-time faculty appointments. By hiring part-time instructional staff members, institutions also maintain the flexibility to respond quickly to changing student interests and community needs.

Disadvantages of Employing Part-Time Faculty

Opponents of heavy reliance on part-time faculty cite numerous reservations about this academic employment practice. While recognizing the financial benefits of using part-time academic staff, critics cite the "hidden costs" of substituting part-time faculty for more involved and accessible full-time faculty. Essentially, critics are concerned about the impact of part-time faculty employment on: (1) students and educational program quality, (2) full-time faculty and institutional governance, and (3) the careers of the part-time faculty themselves. Critics fear that using part-time faculty to teach many introductory level courses disadvantages students who may need extra assistance as they make the transition to college. Because part-time faculty are usually compensated only for the courses they teach, and often do not have offices, they can be quite inaccessible to students needing out-of-class assistance. When large numbers of part-time faculty work at an institution, the responsibility for advising students, developing and monitoring academic programs, and institutional policymaking falls more heavily on the full-time faculty. Reduced program coherence is a potential negative consequence when a large segment of those providing instruction are not involved in governance, program planning, and student advising. Extensive use of part-time instructors thus increases the workload and limits the flexibility of the full-time permanent faculty.

Finally, those opposed to heavy use of part-time faculty argue that part-time faculty themselves are disadvantaged by their temporary employment status. They contend that the "payment-per-course system" inadequately rewards part-time teaching and provides little incentive for scholarship or continued professional development. Likewise, the uncertainty associated with short-term contracts makes it extremely difficult for many part-time faculty to plan a stable career and advance professionally. The result of dual academic-employment tracks is a two-class faculty in which members of the upper class have opportunities, resources, and benefits unavailable to their second-class (part-time) counterparts. Gappa and Leslie concluded from their national study of part-time faculty that, for the most part, part-timers "do not feel 'connected to' or 'integrated into' campus life. Instead, they feel powerless, alienated, and invisible" (1996, p. 19).

Contemporary Issues

Full-time employment with a long-term commitment to the faculty role is the standard model of academic life. Most policies and practices in higher education are based on this conception of faculty work. Part-time faculty do not fit this model, and they are disadvantaged to some extent by their aberrant status. At many institutions they are treated as exceptions to the norm rather than as key members of the academic work force who perform essential services and make important contributions to their institutions' missions.

Trends in the academic profession suggest that colleges and universities can no longer afford to possess such a narrow and unrealistic view of the roles part-time faculty play in the higher education system of the twenty-first century. Experts on part-time faculty recommend that colleges and universities fully integrate part-time faculty into their academic community in order to maintain a seamless academic work force committed to the same mission and striving to achieve shared goals. The literature on part-time faculty suggests that several important issues must be addressed before a diverse but unified faculty becomes reality.

Compensation. The per-course pay system commonly used to compensate part-time faculty takes a narrow view of the faculty role. It rewards the formal teaching process, but fails to encourage or compensate important faculty functions such as out-of-class contact with students, professional development activity, or curriculum development work. One alternative strategy is to compensate part-time faculty according to the percentage of full-time work they are hired to perform. This alternative can provide part-time faculty with compensation for student advising, governance involvement, or other important faculty functions. A more generous approach to part-time faculty compensation may be a key element of efforts to strengthen the diverse faculty work force common on campuses today.

Working conditions. Typically, part-time faculty have access only to whatever support services, office space, and supplies are available after the needs of regular full-time faculty are met. Rarely do part-timers receive offices, computers, or consistent secretarial support. Such difficult working conditions can hamper their job performance, and some institutions that acknowledge the important roles part-time faculty perform are taking steps to enhance their working conditions.

Professional growth and job security. Gappa and Leslie found that part-timers typically receive far less support for their professional development than do full-time faculty. Institutions that rely heavily on part-time faculty in a time of rapid changes in knowledge and educational technology cannot afford to neglect their professional development. Faculty advocates argue that colleges and universities should make provisions to support the professional development of part-time faculty who serve important functions, especially over the long term. Job security is also an ongoing concern for many part-time faculty, who often work on an unpredictable "as needed" basis. In cases where part-time faculty meet ongoing instructional needs, the opportunity for an extended contract that recognizes long service and successful performance would benefit both the individual instructor and institution that depends on the part-timer's services.

Academic freedom. Academic freedom is a core value of higher education. For many professors this freedom is protected by tenure status, which prevents the termination of a faculty contract without due process. Most part-time faculty are not eligible for tenure, however, and lack this basic academic freedom protection. To maintain the vitality of the academic enterprise when part-timers play an increasingly important role, the AAUP believes that appeal and grievance procedures should be in place to prevent violations of part-timers' rights as academic professionals.

Professional status. Most literature on part-time faculty acknowledges their second-class status. Labels such as invisible faculty and subfaculty clearly give the impression that part-timers are lower forms of academic life. These status distinctions are harmful to the academic community and belie the valuable contributions part-time faculty make to higher education. Advocates for part-time faculty have recommended a variety of initiatives, such as those listed above, to raise the status of part-timers and strengthen the academic profession as a whole.

The Future

In 2000 contingent faculty working part-time or in temporary full-time positions made up the majority of the American academic profession, and there is no evidence suggesting that colleges and universities will reduce their use of part-time faculty in the foreseeable future. Researchers who have studied the part-time faculty issue in depth, as well as faculty interest groups, have called for reforms in personnel policies and practices to move part-time faculty from their marginal status to the center of the academic profession. They argue that enhancing the work lives of part-time faculty will, in the long run, strengthen the quality of the educational system and better serve the needs of a society increasingly dependent on lifelong learning.


AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS. 1998. "Statement from the Conference on the Growing Use of Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty." Academe 84 (1):54–60.

BALDWIN, ROGER G., and CHRONISTER, JAY L. 2001. Teaching Without Tenure: Policies and Practices for a New Era. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

GAPPA, JUDITH M., and LESLIE, DAVID W. 1993. The Invisible Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

GAPPA, JUDITH M., and LESLIE, DAVID W. 1996. "Two Faculties or One? The Conundrum of Part-Timers in a Bifurcated Work Force." Inquiry No. 6. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards.

LEATHERMAN, COURTNEY. 2000. "Part-Timers Continue to Replace Full-Timers on College Faculties." Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (21).

LESLIE, DAVID W. 1998. "Part-Time, Adjunct, and Temporary Faculty: The New Majority?" Report of the Alfred P. Sloan Conference on Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty. Williamsburg, VA: College of William and Mary, School of Education.

LESLIE, DAVID W., ed. 1998. The Growing Use of Part-Time Faculty: Understanding Causes and Effects. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

WILSON, ROBIN. 2001. "Proportion of Part-Time Faculty Members Leveled Off From 1992 to 1998, Data Show." Chronicle of Higher Education 47 (34).

ZIMBLER, LINDA. 2001. Background Characteristics, Work Activities, and Compensation of Faculty and Instructional Staff in Postsecondary Institutions: Fall 1998. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.


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