Nontenure-track Faculty and Educational Quality
What is the impact upon educational quality of the current reliance on nontenure-track
faculty? Unfortunately, there is no definitive research on this topic, no rigorous
study that compares student learning in courses taught by nontenure-track faculty with
courses taught by tenured/tenure-track faculty. There is, however, a body of general
information relevant to our inquiry.
Perhaps the most thorough examination of nontenure-track faculty has been
undertaken by David Leslie and Judith Gappa who have studied this issue individually
and together over many years. In their book, The Invisible Faculty, the authors
summarize their own review of the literature and the results of extensive interviews with
faculty and academic administrators on this topic. In regard to classroom performance of
tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty, Leslie and Gappa conclude that academic
administrators “almost uniformly agreed that they could observe no practical difference
on the average.”
Beyond this summary judgment, Leslie and Gappa note that administrators’
opinions about nontenure-track faculty are of two kinds. Some department chairs, deans,
and vice presidents believe that “part-time faculty are not as effective teachers as full-time
faculty.” This group is often concerned about the practices used to hire part-time
faculty and that courses taught by part-timers may not be well integrated into the
curriculum. These administrators are also more likely to believe that part-timers are not
adequately schooled in the theory and research of their disciplines.
On the other hand, a second group of administrators believe that “part-time
faculty are at least as effective teachers as full-time faculty.” These administrators are
impressed with the enthusiasm and practical knowledge of part-time faculty. They also
believe that some nontenure-track faculty are very effective in teaching non-traditional
students and that young nontenure-track faculty are often more conversant with emerging
areas of practice and thought than many tenure-track faculty.
The contrasting opinions noted above reflect less a difference of opinion about the
value of nontenure-track faculty than a different emphasis placed upon their relative
attributes. When viewed in this light, the picture presented by Leslie and Gappa largely
conforms to the evidence gathered for this study. Nontenure-track faculty are well
qualified and committed to their work. The educational quality they bring to the
classroom is high. However, concerns do exist about the broad implications for
educational quality that result from a strong reliance on this faculty group.
Academic research in recent years has demonstrated that involved students are
successful students: they learn more and are more likely to complete their degree
programs. Does use of nontenure-track faculty limit the ability of students to become
more involved in their academic programs? The evidence is mixed. The backgrounds
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.