• October 21, 2014

English Departments Are Increasingly Staffed by Full-Time Lecturers

A rising share of English courses at colleges are taught by full-time, nontenured lecturers who generally lack doctorates, according to a report released today by the Association of Departments of English and the Modern Language Association.

Such faculty members, most of whom are hired on multiyear contracts, “have become an increasingly crucial component of English-department staffing,” says the report, which was compiled by the English-department group’s committee on staffing issues.

Its analysis of data collected from 135 colleges’ English departments found that the share of their faculty members who are nontenured and full time rose from 12.9 percent in 1999 to 16.8 percent in 2006. Meanwhile, the proportion of faculty members who are part time actually declined.

Although most nontenure-track faculty members are assigned to lower-division courses, they also teach a significant share of the upper-division courses offered to undergraduates — at least 22 percent at baccalaureate and master’s institutions, and at least 36 percent at those classified as doctoral/research. Such a finding suggests either that there are not enough tenured or tenure-track faculty members to cover upper-division undergraduate courses, or that department chairs are turning to nontenure-track faculty members to teach upper-division courses to free up tenure-track professors to teach lower-division offerings, the report says.

All of the growth in nontenured, full-time faculty members at four-year colleges was at institutions classified as master’s or doctoral/research. Their numbers declined slightly at baccalaureate institutions, which reported an increase in the share of their English faculty members who are tenured or tenure-track.

The study found that the salaries paid to full-time, nontenured English department faculty members had risen substantially in recent years, even as growth in the salaries of the departments’ part-time faculty members remained fairly flat.

In its report, the committee says it had assumed that most full-time, nontenure-track faculty members would hold doctorates. But the study found instead that “a master’s degree seems to be the qualifying degree for teaching off the tenure track (and teaching in the lower division).”

“This finding,” the report says, “should cause us to reconsider the role of the M.A. in English and the minimum level of preparation we assume to be appropriate for lower-division teaching.”

The report, “Education in the Balance: A Report on the Academic Workforce in English,” is based mainly on Education Department data, a 1999 staffing survey by the MLA, and the results of a survey of English departments conducted by the association last year. —Peter Schmidt

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