April 3, 2012

Cornell Leans on Tenured Profs

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Cornell has the second highest percentage of tenured faculty in the Ivy League, according to an April 2011 survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. University administrators say that this trend is not only due to the increasing average age of faculty, but is also a result of the University’s difficulties in hiring adjunct professors, who are paid per course taught and usually work part-time.According to Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs John Siliciano ’75, adjunct professors generally teach more specific courses that focus on the “nuts and bolts” of a certain discipline.“[Adjunct faculty are] used here, and everywhere else, to fill very specific curricular need, but they do not have the training, the scholarship, the experience of full-time tenured professors,” Siliciano said.Because the University tends to grant tenure to its more experienced faculty members, the percentage of tenured faculty will be higher as faculty remain at Cornell longer, according to Prof. Ron Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations. “Increasingly, faculty are staying beyond the formal retirement ages of 65 to 70,” Ehrenberg said. “When you have an older faculty, they will disproportionately have tenure.”Provost Kent Fuchs said that Cornell’s tenure rate is one of the highest among its peer institutions in part because of problems it has with hiring adjunct and visiting professors to supplement the University’s full-time faculty. Fuchs cites Ithaca’s rural location as a potential deterrent for adjuncts.­­­­“It is true that Cornell has fewer adjunct or visiting faculty,” Fuchs said. “The reason for that is … we don’t live in a big, urban environment.”Ehrenberg noted that Ithaca lacks the opportunities available in major cities.“In Ithaca, Cornell is the only game in town,” Ehrenberg said.Lack of transportation access to Ithaca could also be a problem, he added.“For people who are in fields where they would like to go back and forth to different places … or for people who want to live in a rural community but who would like access to big-city cultural life … it’s very difficult to get to any place from Ithaca,” Ehrenberg said.Fuchs noted that the challenges faced by Cornell in hiring adjunct professors can limit the University’s ability to expand the breadth of courses offered to students.One disadvantage of having fewer adjunct professors “is that we can’t leverage expertise that is outside of the faculty,” Fuchs said.Despite these difficulties, administrators said a high number of tenure and tenure-track faculty ultimately benefit the University.“I actually like the fact that almost all of our faculty are full-time,” Fuchs said.Prof. Adam Smith, anthropology, added that universities with a large number of adjunct professors tend to experience conflict as a result.“It’s a good thing for Cornell, I think, that it has low levels of adjunct faculty because it is creating considerable amount of distress and turmoil on more urban college campuses where there are a lot of adjunct faculty,” Smith said. “[Hiring adjunct professors is] a way of garnering teaching without the university making a commitment to the faculty member.”Furthermore, Ehrenberg said that student graduation rates are lower when there is a higher percentage of part-time faculty. He said the precise cause of this phenomenon is unclear.“Undergraduate students benefit from having a faculty that is largely full-time,” Ehrenberg said. “There is something that full-time tenure and tenure-track faculty do that is very helpful to students.”Siliciano echoed Ehrenberg, saying that although adjunct professors are effective in teaching specific practical courses to “fit curricular need,” the University’s focus should be on maintaining its full-time faculty.“If anything, the concern you have is when too much teaching is going on by adjuncts,” Siliciano said. “They do very well in the targeted area [for which] they are hired, but if it is a kind of thing that should be taught by a tenured faculty member, that’s what you want to see.”

Original Author: Caroline Flax