Unpacking the part-time faculty presence at Tufts

Tufts Labor Coalition protestors gather on the Residential Quad before marching to the site of the adjunct faculty contract negotiations at 200 Boston Ave on Sept. 29. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily)

On Oct. 11, the part-time faculty bargaining committee and the School of Arts and Sciences reached a tentative five-year agreement for a new contract. The contract has not yet been ratified, according to Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser, but nonetheless represents an important milestone in the administration’s relationship with the faculty bargaining committee and part-time faculty as a whole.

“Assuming that it is ratified, there are features of the contract that were very important to the school, and there are aspects of the contract that improve the situation of our part-time faculty,” Glaser told the Daily in an email. “The contract aligns with the principles that guided the administration through the negotiations. We aimed to reward excellence and commitment to students. We sought broad-based fairness (to the lecturers as well as to others who are not in the union). We were invested in a system that provides for ‘clean administration’ (processes that are easy to execute and remember, and that can prevent clerical mistakes).”

(Kristen Moran / The Tufts Daily)

The contract represents a community of educators at Tufts that teach many of the university’s required classes. According to the Tufts 2016-2017 Fact Book, part-time faculty make up approximately 34 percent of the faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences including the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) (236 out of 687 faculty members), while in the School of Engineering part-time faculty form about 44 percent of the total faculty (77 out of 177 faculty members). As a whole, for both Arts and Sciences as well as Engineering, including programs like the Experimental College, 38 percent of the total faculty are part-time (337 out of 892 faculty members).

Within the School of Arts and Sciences, the highest concentration of part-time faculty can be found in the SMFA (62 part-time faculty members), the romance languages department (28 part-time faculty members), and the English department (25 part-time faculty members).

(Kristen Moran / The Tufts Daily)

Chair of the Department of  Romance Languages Pedro Palou said that the heavy concentration of part-time faculty in his department could be attributed to the School of Arts and Scienceslanguage/culture requirement. Under this requirement, students have to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English through at least the third semester at a college level.

“The language requirement explains not only why Tufts has so many part-timers, but also full-time lecturers and tenure stream faculty,” Palou said. “Last year we had 580 sections of language, just in romance languages. More than 1,200 students just in Spanish and 750 in French.”

Similarly, Joseph Litvak, chair of the Department of English, said the concentration within his department is largely due to the first-year writing requirement and a variety of creative writing course offerings.

“We are a very large department with lots of moving parts. We have literature courses, but we also run the first-year writing program, as well as a creative writing program,” Litvak said. “The only way we can teach all of those courses and satisfy all the demand is to assign many of them to part-time lecturers. We don’t have enough full-time faculty to teach all of the courses we offer.”

Lecturers, according to Glaser, teach almost all foreign language and writing courses because the nature of the courses that fall under the scope of the romance languages and English departments makes having part-time faculty favorable.

“These tend to be specialized skill-building courses with small enrollments and heavy student-teacher contact. At some point in the past, it was determined that these courses would be most effectively and efficiently taught by non-tenure stream faculty,” Glaser said. “Many of the part-time faculty in the graduate-heavy departments teach more specialized courses. Some of these part-time faculty are practitioners, not traditional academics, and bring something important to the curriculum.”

Palou noted that Tufts is unique in having part-time lecturers who have dedicated many years of service to the university, such as Viola Thomas, who has been a French lecturer for 41 years.

“That makes a very special cohort because at some universities that I know of, there is a lot of turnover among the part-time faculty,” Palou said. “A part-timer comes for one or two semesters and then goes, and we don’t have that experience.”

Elizabeth Lemons, a senior lecturer in the Department of Religion, who has been at Tufts for 19 years, believes it benefits the students to have continuity with faculty they can work with over the course of their undergraduate career.

“I think it’s to Tufts’ credit that there is a culture of recognizing when someone is doing a good job,” Lemons said. “There are a lot of part-time faculty that are very committed to and put a lot of energy into their teaching. This makes the whole community work better together.”

Litvak emphasized that part-time faculty bring an important perspective to many of the courses offered in the English department.

“Part-time lecturers teaching our creative writing courses are poets, fiction writers, journalists,” Litvak said. “They have experience in their respective genres outside Tufts, which adds to the classroom experience.”

Writing, language and practice-based courses are more likely to be taught by part-time faculty, but according to Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering, there is a growing need for part-time lecturers in STEM subjects as well.

“Technological advances have increased exponentially over the past decade and as a result, engineering education has become much more complex and specialized,” Qu told the Daily in an email. “In order to address teaching the vast amounts of technical skills necessary to become a well-rounded engineer today, we hire [part-time faculty] with specialized knowledge to teach specific courses that either fulfill our current curricular requirements or add additional elective choices for our students.”

While there may be increasing number of part-time faculty in the School of Engineering, within the School of Arts and Sciences, part-time faculty numbers are low in the natural science departments, such as biology (two part-time faculty members) and chemistry (one part-time faculty member).

Harry Bernheim, vice chair of the Department of Biology, said that unlike the writing and language requirement, where students often have to take specific courses such as English 1 and 2, course requirements are not as strict within the natural sciences.

“Even though each student has to take two of these types of course, most departments in the natural sciences have non-major intro courses taught by full-time lecturers or tenured or tenure-track professors,” Bernheim told the Daily via email. “Since there are many of these types of courses, part-time lecturers are not needed since collectively the demand can be met.”

Part-time faculty members are hired to handle the large student enrollments that arise from the huge demand for required courses and because of this, lecturers fill an important role at a research university, Lemons added.

“Our primary job is teaching and I think we don’t do it for the money, but when you love teaching, when you love working with students, it’s rewarding and we would hope to be recognized for that by the institution and since we’ve unionized I feel like we have made progress with that,” Lemons said.

Palou emphasized that part-time faculty are not only important to their departments, but also that they are indispensable members of the Tufts community.

“Part-timers who teach at say three different places, they come and go, and they don’t have that feeling of a home department. I feel I can speak for my faculty that this is their department,” Palou said. “This is important for me because in small programs like Italian or Portuguese, you talk with a student and they say, ‘I’m continuing [with this language], I want to go into a minor or even a major because of this professor,’ and that professor is a part-timer.”