Departments request full-time faculty

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Dr. Mark Petersen, assistant history professor, lectures in a Gorman classroom. Photo by Sam Curran.

Several academic departments have recently requested additional full-time faculty hires to adjust to their teaching needs. Provost Jonathan Sanford stated that administration has recognized five of these requests as high-priority needs and is adjusting the university budget in order to add more tenure-track faculty.

The push for more full-time faculty in the face of a budget struggle is a controversial issue at the University of Dallas.

Though UD has more full-time faculty than in years past, many departments still rely heavily on adjunct teachers; for example, over 50 percent of Core philosophy courses have been taught by adjunct professors since 2011, according to department chair Dr. Matthew Walz.

At the crux of the issue is the constraint of the budget: it costs much more to hire a full-time faculty member than it does to hire an adjunct.

When faced with more demands for full-time hires than the budget can accommodate, the university must find a way of deciding where a new hire could go.

Sanford said that he and Interim President Dr. John Plotts are working with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to determine which departments are most in need. As part of this, they analyze statistics that track how many faculty members are in each department, how many majors are in each class and how many classes are taught by adjunct professors.

Additionally, Plotts and Sanford are working to adjust the budget so that additional tenure-track faculty can be added; they have already created one more space for a full-time faculty member to be hired.  

When more Core classes are taught by adjuncts, underclassmen have little contact with tenured professors. Walz, the chair of the Philosophy Department, noted that this makes it difficult to attract undergraduates to the philosophy major.

Dr. Jason Lewallen, the chair and only full-time faculty member of the French Department, has been teaching all of the upper-level classes since Dr. Steve Maddux retired two years ago.

Though Lewallen emphasized that the French adjuncts are “fantastic,” he recognized that students “don’t get the diversity they would otherwise get if we had a full-time faculty member.”

Though a higher ratio of adjunct teachers presents challenges to academic departments, the adjuncts also strengthen the departments in specific ways.

Dr. David Sweet, head of the Classics Department, said that adjuncts “have the irreplaceable virtue of being good teachers” because of the “enormous love for what they are doing.”

Sweet cautioned that is it not always a good idea to reduce the number of adjuncts.

“The best adjuncts breathe fresh air into their classrooms,” Sweet said.

Dr. Gregory Roper, chair of the English Department, noted that it is important to give doctorate  students the opportunity to gain teaching experience by hiring them as adjuncts.

Dr. Robert Hochberg, computer science, and affiliate director Kristin Van Cleve, music, both agreed that adjunct teachers who are currently working in their fields offer perspective and expertise that cannot be provided by a professor who works solely in academia.

Not only does the ratio of full-time professors to adjuncts affect the classroom experience, it also has a distinct influence on the university community.

Since adjunct teaching is part-time employment, most adjuncts must balance multiple jobs, and therefore often do not participate in extracurricular activities or become involved in the interdisciplinary conversations going on at the university.

“Adjuncts do not have the time [to commit] to the life of the department and the university; we cannot ask them to serve on committees, teach upper-division courses, or care for the larger culture that is so crucial at UD,” Roper said. “And we pay them so little that it is a near-injustice as it is.”

Lewallen noted that instructor Rosa Tellez, a French adjunct, is exceptional because she still finds ways to participate in extracurricular activities, such as taking students to the opera.

“She goes above and beyond, but it’s unfortunate that we’re not paying her [for the additional activities],” Lewallen said.

In making hiring decisions, Sanford said that it would be misleading to suggest that the school must choose between hiring either additional faculty or administrative staff.

Though there are more administrators now than there were 20 years ago, largely due to federal regulations with Title IX, student loans and compliance issues, the university has reduced administrative staff by two in the last year, according to Sanford.

Hochberg spoke on behalf of the computer science program, which recently received approval to begin the search for a new full-time faculty member.

Having asked for a new hire last year and been denied, he noted that while it is difficult not to receive a faculty member, it is important to remember the larger context of the university budget.

“In a sense, asking for a new hire, even if you need one, is difficult, because you know the money has to come from somewhere,” Hochberg said. “We’re happy about the new hire, but we hope that it’s something sustainable that the university can afford.”

Regardless of financial constraint, all parties agreed that hiring additional tenure-track faculty is best for the university.

“As a provost, I recognize and value the significance of the contributions that a tenure faculty member brings and why that’s so vital to the life of an institution,” Sanford said.

Sanford stated that UD has comparatively fewer adjuncts than other schools in the nation, but emphasized the importance of remaining committed to increasing the number of full-time faculty.

“I don’t think we should take our cues from the national picture; I think the tenure track is ideal,” said Sanford, recognizing tenured professors as “part of the essential fabric of the activities of the university.”

“[Rather,] we ought to take our cues from what will best serve the ends of the education we provide and the students we educate,” Sanford added.

Hiring full-time faculty is a long process that is dependent upon multiple variables; nevertheless, Sanford is committed to the process.

“One temptation is to let the best become the enemy of the good,” Sanford said. “If I hold out for the ideal, then I miss the opportunity to make small improvements along the way.”

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