With U. focused on long-term faculty goals, ‘non-regular’ professors soldier on

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bucking a national trend, the University is focusing on full-time, tenure-track faculty appointments, rather than part-time, adjunct professors. But though administrators point to advantages in having such non-regular professors, some of them do not receive the same pay and benefits, such as health insurance, that their colleagues enjoy.

Non-tenure track professors include visiting professors and lecturers, who are usually full-time instructors at other schools; adjunct professors, who are part-time instructors paid on a per-course basis; and lecturers, who are full-time faculty not required to conduct research on the road to tenure.

Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P’07 said that though the number of visiting professors and adjuncts can vary from year to year, there are only 42 lecturers and senior lecturers currently employed, representing a fairly small portion of the 628-member faculty. Vohra said he wasn’t sure how many faculty members are non-regular. The count of 628 does not include adjunct, visiting or other non-regular professors.

“I think it’s important for the education we want our students to have that we have” mostly tenure-track faculty, Vohra said, adding that tenure-track faculty represent “investments in education and research that will provide long-term benefits to the University and to the students.” According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in 1998 part-time faculty made up 42 percent of professors nationwide, an increase of 22 percent from 1970. Some schools, such as Westark College in Arkansas, have done away with tenure altogether to allow for a more flexible faculty.

But Vohra said Brown and other “elite universities” are bucking this trend by focusing on full-time positions, and the expansion of the faculty by 100 professors under the Plan for Academic Enrichment will consist of regular faculty alone, “mostly tenure-track faculty” and “maybe a few lecturers.”

But Vohra did note that adjunct professors, who are non-regular faculty, have “professional qualities that make them suited for teaching certain kinds of courses, not as full-time academics,” but as professional artists who teach in the art department or professional engineers who teach in engineering.

One of these adjuncts is Robert D’Andrea, a certified public accountant with the Providence firm Kahn, Litwin, Renza & Co. D’Andrea co-teaches EC 71: “Financial Accounting,” a course designed to give students a basic knowledge of accounting. “We’re here to provide these people practical background and experience that comes with our jobs,” he said.

D’Andrea said the extra work – on top of a full-time job – is “so worth it” because he loves teaching. “We learn as much from these guys as we teach them, I think,” he said.

Lecturers, on the other hand, can be full-time instructors, and “except for tenure, they have the other privileges that come with being part of the faculty at Brown,” Vohra said. Lecturers are not required to conduct research towar receiving tenure, so they can focus on teaching, and they are especially common in foreign language classes and in the Expository Writing Program, Vohra said, where “we need to have good professors.”

According to Elizabeth Taylor, a senior lecturer and director of the Expository Writing Program, the program is taught entirely by a combination of lecturers and visiting lecturers, professional writers who are “teaching what they know and love.”

There are also financial advantages to having these faculty: Vohra said that though it is not a given that lecturers and visiting faculty are paid less than tenure-track faculty.

“I would think that’s probably true.” Selma Moss-Ward P’02 ’06, a lecturer in English, said a “lecturer is paid far less than, say, an assistant professor” for what can be a comparable or greater workload.

Adjuncts are paid on a per-course basis, though D’Andrea said, “We get paid a fair price for what we do.”

And according to Donald Stewart, director of Academic Resources in the Provost’s Office, non-regular faculty, including adjuncts and visiting lecturers, do not receive the same benefits that regular faculty such as lecturers and tenure-track professors do. Though they can buy into the Brown health plan at a greater cost than regular faculty pay, the assumption is that they are full-time employees elsewhere and that those jobs will provide benefits.

But some professors find that this isn’t the case.

“I enjoy what I teach. I love my students. I am treated disrespectfully by the administration,” Moss-Ward said. She has been teaching at Brown since 1987 and currently teaches four courses a year. She previously has had a series of one-year contracts, but she is now being told she will be offered a three-year contract to become a visiting lecturer.

That change in designation would result in her losing her health insurance, pension, life insurance and tuition credit for her son, a Brown student. She estimated that she stands to lose between $25,000 and $35,000 a year in benefits – the same benefits that other regular, full-time faculty receive.

There are “plenty of people willing to do my job without benefits,” Moss-Ward said. She accused the administration is being “cheap” and “callously indifferent to the welfare of a loyal, long-term employee.”

But Stewart said the University is trying to standardize how various positions, such as lecturer, are defined across departments. “It’s a question of faculty rules and how they apply to appointments,” not a financial decision, he said. Though the English department’s budget did go down somewhat this year, “they have an allocation to spend, and they choose how to spend it,” he said.

“We were able to make some specific exceptions to the rules that differentiate non-regular from regular faculty, giving some of our non-regular faculty the benefits of regular faculty. We can no longer make those exceptions,” said Nancy Armstrong, chair of the Department of English. She added that though she wishes all professors had full benefits, the rising cost of health care makes this infeasible.

Susan Doyle-Shedd, a visiting lecturer in visual art, agreed that it is “very expensive to have benefits for everyone.” Doyle-Shedd teaches occasionally at Brown but is “long-term part-time” faculty at RISD, where she has taught for 13 years in addition to working as a professional artist.

Doyle-Shedd buys into RISD health insurance at about $1,100 per year to cover herself and her husband, a small-business owner, at a higher expense than it would be were she a regular faculty member. She says that she could buy into the Brown health plan for “effectively the same cost” but that her employment at RISD is more dependable than her work at Brown.

Chandra Harris, an adjunct visiting professor in Italian studies, is also covered by non-Brown health insurance, in this case through her partner. She said that “it would be bad” if she didn’t have that option, though, as she would not receive benefits from the University, and said that she was lucky that she is “not one of those people” in that situation.

But Vohra emphasized that though these non-regular professors add to the curriculum in ways full-time academics can’t, “it’s much better to have people who have a long-term obligation and a long-term commitment to the University,” and he said that is where the University’s focus will remain.

“One of the things that is likely to happen when we have these positions filled is that we will rely less on adjunct and visiting professors,” he said.

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