Northwestern University study: Adjunct faculty better teachers at one school

10 Sep

A good basic description of teacher tenure as found at teacher tenure. James gives the following definition:

Tenure is a form of job security for teachers who have successfully completed a probationary period. Its primary purpose is to protect competent teachers from arbitrary nonrenewal of contract for reasons unrelated to the educational process — personal beliefs, personality conflicts with administrators or school board members, and the like.
The type and amount of protection vary from state to state and — depending on agreements with teachers’ unions — may even vary from school district to school district. In general, a tenured teacher is entitled to due process when he or she is threatened with dismissal or nonrenewal of contract for cause: that is, for failure to maintain some clearly defined standard that serves an educational purpose.

Time has a good summary of the history of teacher tenure at A Brief History of Tenure,8599,1859505,00.html

The Boston University Faculty Classification which is typical of many universities describes an adjunct in Classification of Ranks and Titles:

Unless otherwise stated, the titles and associated criteria described below apply to the faculty of both the Charles River and Medical Campuses. All persons receiving faculty appointments should have engaged in significant scholarly work or have notable professional expertise and achievement. The standard academic ranks are Instructor, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. The standard professorial titles (and where appropriate Instructor) are significantly altered by the addition of modifiers such as Emeritus, University, Clinical, Research, Adjunct, or Visiting. The standard lecturer ranks are Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and Master Lecturer.
Appointments with the standard professorial titles of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor may be Non-Tenure-Track, Tenure-Track, or Tenured. All other faculty appointments are by definition Non-Tenure-Track and without tenure.
A distinction is also made between full-time and part-time appointments. Full-time appointees are expected to give full-time service and allegiance to the University. No right of Tenure accrues to any person holding a part-time position regardless of title, rank, or cumulative length of service. The duties of and terms and conditions for part-time faculty shall be articulated in each letter of appointment.
A. Description of Standard Academic Ranks
The basic qualifications and standards established to identify the degree and types of achievement expected in each rank vary among the University’s Schools and Colleges, and the various programs within them. The general descriptions are as follows:
Instructor: At the Charles River Campus, an Instructor normally holds a minimum of a Master’s degree or equivalent, has completed most or all of the requirements for the doctorate or equivalent, and is expected to demonstrate effectiveness primarily as a teacher. At the Medical Campus, Instructor is the entry level rank for those who have recently completed their post doctoral training, residency or fellowship training. This rank is appropriate for new faculty, generally with M.D., Ph.D. or equivalent degrees, who have the potential for academic advancement. Medical Campus individuals at the instructor level may be in positions of advanced training prior to leaving the institution or being promoted to the assistant professor rank.
All full-time Instructors are entitled under the by-laws of the University to attend and participate in the faculty meetings of their respective School or College. If authorized by the School or College faculty, they may have the right to vote. However, according to the Constitution of the Boston University Faculty Assembly and Faculty Council, they are not members of the Faculty Assembly.
Assistant Professor: Generally, an assistant professor has been awarded a doctoral or professional degree or equivalent, exhibits commitment to teaching and scholarly or professional work of high caliber, and participates in University affairs at least at the department level
Associate Professor: Generally, an associate professor meets the requirements for appointment as an assistant professor, enjoys a national reputation as a scholar or professional, shows a high degree of teaching proficiency and commitment, and demonstrates public, professional, or University service beyond the department
Professor: Generally, a professor meets the requirements for appointment as an associate professor, and, in addition, has a distinguished record of accomplishment that leads to an international or, as appropriate, national reputation in his or her field….

As college costs continue to rise, some are asking whether the classification system provides value.

Tamar Lewin reported in the New York Times article, Study Sees Benefit in Courses With Nontenured Instructors:

Students taught by untenured faculty were more likely to take a second course in the discipline and more likely to earn a better grade in the next course than those whose first course was taught by a tenured or tenure-track instructor, the report said.
The study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is based on data from more than 15,000 students who arrived at Northwestern University from 2001 to 2008.
According to the authors — David N. Figlio, director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research; Morton O. Schapiro, the university’s president; and Kevin B. Soter, a consultant — there was “strong and consistent evidence that Northwestern faculty outside of the tenure system outperform tenure track/tenured professors in introductory undergraduate classrooms.” The differences were present across a wide variety of subject areas, the study found, and were especially pronounced for average and less-qualified students.
“Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial,” the report said.
The fact that the study included only one university — and a selective, private research university at that — left its general applicability open to question. And, skeptics point out, there are many reasons a student might take a second class in a discipline apart from the teaching skills of the previous instructor.
“I’m kind of dubious,” said Anita Levy, a senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors. “I’m not surprised that introductory classes might be better taught by contingent faculty members simply because most tenured faculty more often teach advanced courses. My worry is that a study like this can be used to justify hiring more contingent faculty who won’t have due-process protections or job security and might not even have offices. It’s part of the just-in-time, Walmartization of higher education.”


Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?
David N. Figlio, Morton O. Schapiro, Kevin B. Soter
NBER Working Paper No. 19406
Issued in September 2013
NBER Program(s): CH ED LS
This study makes use of detailed student-level data from eight cohorts of first-year students at Northwestern University to investigate the relative effects of tenure track/tenured versus non-tenure line faculty on student learning. We focus on classes taken during a student’s first term at Northwestern, and employ a unique identification strategy in which we control for both student-level fixed effects and next-class-taken fixed effects to measure the degree to which non-tenure line faculty contribute more or less to lasting student learning than do other faculty. We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and less-qualified students.

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This study has limitations because the sample was so small. Still, for a liberal arts or four year degree program, questions should be raised about the quality and value of instruction.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has written several articles about the plight of adjunct teaching faculty:

o ‘Chronicle’ Survey Yields a Rare Look Into Adjuncts’ Work Lives

o Love of Teaching Draws Adjuncts to the Classroom Despite Low Pay

o Full-Time Instructors Shoulder the Same Burdens That Part-Timers Do

o At One 2-Year College, Adjuncts Feel Like Outsiders

o Video: Voices of Adjuncts


Report: Declining college teaching loads can raise the cost of college

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