Bhushan Deshpande | Words of Wisdom
A shortchanged education
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 03:09
Today is the final day in a two-week vote for part-time lecturers at Tufts to decide whether or not to unionize. I hadn’t been paying much attention until some friends who have been involved with the unionization effort pointed me toward some interesting notes.
First off, I’m sure most of you have had part-time lecturers. The first-year writing requirement courses and a large chunk of the foreign language courses are taught by them, as are other courses scattered throughout the university.
They are paid $5,115 per course (a minimum figure; it might range up a few thousand dollars), which is somewhat higher than industry norms. As is standard for part-time lecturers (who often teach at several other schools as adjunct professors to make up for not having a single full-time position), it isn’t all that much more than minimum wage once considering class time, prep time, office hours and grading, especially for those who have invested years of their lives getting advanced graduate degrees.
Plenty has been written about that already, though. I want to look at another side of it: how Tufts’ practice of regularly using part-time lecturers hurts students. Very often, the only reason that Tufts hires part-time lecturers is to save money. Unfortunately for students, those courses are generally an imperfect substitute for those taught by full-time faculty, even if the course would be taught in the exact same way by the part-time lecturer.
Every year in the economics department, about half of the sections of core courses — such as microeconomics or statistics — are taught by part-time lecturers. These courses are required for all econ majors, as well as many econ minors and IR majors.
This has a significantly detrimental impact on potential economics majors.
Don’t get me wrong: I have had great experiences with part-time lecturers. The first class I took after declaring my major was statistics. The course was taught exactly how it needed to be taught for the majority of people who had had no prior exposure to the material.
However, because he was a part-time lecturer, he was on campus only on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. His rest of the week was spent at another college across the city, and so TAs were frequently the only point of contact. Not that the professor had any reason to be on campus the rest of the week; it wasn’t as if he was being paid for that.
There are significant downsides to all this. Part-time lecturers cannot serve as advisors. They are not nearly as engaged with research and the broader academic and scholarly community. With some significant exceptions, they are not as interested in mentoring undergraduates. And perhaps most importantly, they are not as engaged with the rest of campus as a full-time faculty member would be.
A common defense that the administration gives for not hiring the best possible teachers for our courses is that Tufts is a research university, and they must hire the people who are top-notch researchers as well. If some of our part-time lecturers are top-notch teachers, then let us treat them as such: Hire them as full-time lecturers. If the part-time lecturers aren’t good teachers, as some of mine weren’t, there is no reason to keep them around. Find the money to hire tenure-track professors. There are plenty of those who are only adequate teachers but make up for it by being excellent researchers.
Instead, Tufts will continue to rely on dozens of part-time lecturers. Every time we have to take a course with one, we aren’t taking the course that we were promised in our admissions tours. When part-time lecturers are denied full-time status, they aren’t the only ones who are negatively affected: So too is the student body.
Bhushan Deshpande is a senior majoring in quantitative economics. He can be reached at Bhushan.Deshpande@tufts.edu.