Friday, June 22, 2007

Literature Review on Adjunct Faculty

There is a great deal of information on adjunct faculty in the education literature. A search conducted on ERIC in April 2005 returned over 600 matching articles. Limiting this search to higher education still netted 379 hits. The articles examine adjunct faculty from many different viewpoints and topics. These include articles on the statistical number of adjunct faculty in the United States of America, the positives and negatives of using adjunct faculty, and what the needs of adjunct faculty might be. Gordon (2003) wrote, “There is a wealth of scholarly writing on the subject that paints a more complex and colored picture of part-time faculty, both from the perspective of the faculty and the institutions that employ them.” (p. 3).

Baldwin and Chronister (2001) defined this group as, “Both full-time and part-time faculty in non-tenure track positions are often referred to as contract or contingent faculty. Other terms that may apply to full-time non-tenure track faculty include term faculty, adjunct professors, visiting professors, and lecturers.” (p. 15). As these definitions illustrates, there are many names for the use of faculty in non-tenure track position. This paper is examining adjunct faculty who are using any of the above titles.

Beem (2002) reported that in 1970 that 22% of college professors in all disciplines were adjunct faculty. This grew to 42.5% in 2000. The growing use of adjunct faculty is indeed a real trend. Holub (2003) theorized that part of the increase in adjunct faculty usage was directly tied to decreases in federal and state aid to higher education in the 1990s. As institutions of higher education lost funding, they compensated by reducing labor costs.

There are many advantages to using adjunct faculty. Lankard (1993) wrote, “The two greatest benefits an educational program realizes by employing part-time instructors are cost savings and staff flexibility. Part-time instructors typically are paid at a lower rate than full-time instructors, have no fringe benefits, receive no office space, and have no financial commitments for continued employment.” (p. 1). Avakian (1995) noted that shrinking resources forced many institutions to hire adjunct faculty as a cost saving measure. Lankard (1993) pointed out that adjuncts also allowed an institution flexibility in matching demand with varying enrollments.

Further, Cline (1993) wrote that adjunct faculty were attractive to an institution because they bring “real world vocational experience” to the campus setting. (p. 26). Adjunct faculty themselves often benefit from the arrangement. Reed (1985) wrote, “Professionals in fields other than teaching are grateful for being able to teach part-time because of the prestige and fulfillment it adds to their work lives.” (p. 40).

There also have been disadvantages to using adjunct faculty noted in the literature. Twigg (1989) argued that using adjuncts harms tenure track earning positions by reducing full-time positions and reducing overload pay options for regular faculty. Twigg further pointed out that adjunct faculty are ripe for exploitation and over work with no real avenue for recourse.

The quality of teaching by adjunct faculty is also questionable. Spangler (1990) claimed that part-time faculty were less effective teachers than full-time teachers. McGuire (1993) noted that teaching suffered in part due to unclear adjunct role expectations because “too often, colleges fail to integrate part-time faculty into their institutions.” (p. 3). The training of K-12 school leaders was criticized by Shakeshaft (2002). He wrote, “Staffing campus-based preparation programs with adjunct faculty members can be worth millions of dollars to universities, but the practice neither prepares future administrators well nor grows a capability for better administrators in the future.” (p. 28).

There are also questions about if regular faculty even know if adjunct faculty are effective. Schneider (2003) wrote, “Pushed, most of the regular faculty members admit they have little to nothing to do with their adjunct faculty. They interact infrequently, and then only informally. They make the assumption that the adjuncts are doing an okay job; if not, they say, the students would be complaining.” (p. 3).

There also has been research on the needs of adjunct faculty. Many writers have explored this from various perspectives. Munn et al (1989) noted that adjunct faculty needed considerable training to be effective. These were classified into four broad categories. This included a general introduction to the educational institution, the development of basic skills needed as a part-time educator, continuing refresher courses for long term adjuncts, and specialized training in areas such as counseling, assertiveness, and computers.

Adjuncts themselves have strong views on what they need. Gappa and Leslie (1993) wrote, “Part-timers have strong feelings about whether they are or are not connected to or integrated into campus life. For the most part, they feel powerless, alienated, invisible, and second class.” (p. 180). This can damage the morale of the adjunct faculty and significantly reduce their effectiveness as teachers and their desire to continue teaching as an adjunct.

Lankhard (1993) noted, that, “Many part-time instructors are also frustrated from lack of involvement in personnel and budget matters, curriculum development, and the formulation and implementation of policy as well as from the lack of services available to them – office space, clerical assistance, copying machines.” (p. 2). This clearly shows that many adjunct faculty want to do more than just teach. They have a desire to be included in many of the activities that regular faculty engage in on a regular basis.

There are a variety of methods which can be used to allow adjuncts a great sense of belonging to the larger institution. Edmonson and Fisher (2003) had six recommendations for doing this. The first was to be sure to match adjunct faculty with their areas of expertise. Another idea was to provide services like photocopying to adjuncts throughout the entire semester. It was also recommended that normal “little things” like assigning grades and writing a syllabus be explained to adjuncts. Edmonson and Fisher recommended that adjunct be treated as colleagues rather than as hired help. They also recommended that adjuncts be encouraged and that learning outcomes of students be made clear to them.

Lankhard (1993) also had a list of recommendations for enhancing the quality of part-time instructor’s performance. These included improving pay, getting them more involved in curriculum matters, promote collegiality between full and part-time faculty, and alter schedules so that regular faculty have more occasions to interact with the part-timers. Lankard also recommended that institutions review policies as they relate to part-time faculty and professional development activities.

There is still a need for more research on adjunct faculty in higher education. Gordon (2002) noted this as he wrote, “However, the jury is still out on the important question of how the extensive use of part-time faculty affects the state of higher education. At this time, the existing data seems to be inconclusive, but is undoubtedly a critical area for future study.” (p. 11).

Regardless, the issue of adjunct faculty will not be going away any time in the near future. Wrote Holub (2003), “The continued rise in the employment of contract faculty is a significant trend that is likely to have a lasting impact on higher education. As states continue to experience tight budget constraints, it is not likely that the trend will end in the near future.” (p. 4).


Avakian, A. N. (1995). Conflicting demands for adjunct faculty. Community college journal, 65(6), 34-36.

Banachowski, G. (1997). Advantages and disadvantages of employing part-time faculty in community colleges. Los Angeles, CA: ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED405037.)

Baldwin, R. G. & Chronister, J. L. (2001). Teaching without tenure: Policies and practices for a new era. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Beem, K. (2002). The adjunct experience. School administrator, 59(12), 6-10.

Cline, L. (1993). Work to school transition: Part-time faculty bring expertise, challenges to colleges. Vocational education journal, 68(2), 26-27, 49.

Edmonson, S. & Fisher, A. (2003). Effective use of adjunct professors in educational leadership. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED475420.)

Gappa, J. M. & Leslie, D. W. (1993). The invisible faculty: Improving the status of part-time faculty in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gordon, M. (2002). Part-time faculty in community colleges: The jury is still out. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 472020.)

Holub, T. (2003). Contract faculty in higher education. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED482556.)

Lankhard, B. A. (1993). Part-time instructors in adult and vocational education. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED363797.)

McGuire, J. (1993). Part-time faculty: Partners in excellence. Leadership abstracts, 6(6), 1-3.

Munn, P. et al. (1989). Part-time adult educators and training. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Council for Research in Education.

Reed, S. (1985). The troubled faculty. New York times educational summer survey, 41-42.

Schneider, J. (2003). The unholy alliance between departments of educational administration and their “invisible faculty.” Occasional paper. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.

Shakeshaft, C. (2002). The shadowy downside of adjuncts. School administrator, 10(259), 28-30.

Smith, M. L. (1990). The adjunct/full-time faculty ratio. New directions for community colleges, 18(1), 71-82.

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