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WCU bucks national trend toward more part-time hires

Western Carolina University has held steady on its rate of tenured and tenure-track professors over the last decade, keeping numbers of permanent faculty that far outstrip the national average.


That’s cause for celebration, said Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar. 

“I think that’s a huge plus for the stability of faculty,” she said.

Overall, about 75 percent of WCU faculty work there full-time, compared to an average of about 55 percent at other masters-level institutions in the United States, according to a February article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Of full-time faculty at WCU, about 23 percent are temporary — either part-time or full-time hires not on track for tenure — while the remaining 52 percent are permanent hires — either tenured or on a tenure track. Those numbers have held steady between 2005 and 2014, while nationally part-time hires have slacked in favor of more full-time temporary hires. 

“It really has a lot to do with our location in that we don’t really have a large pool to get part-time workers from,” said Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.

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The by-product is a good one, though, Metz said, because part-time faculty tend to come and go, as most of them are constantly looking for full-time employment, and because they typically have other jobs, they’re not as available to students as full-timers with an office on campus. 

At WCU, permanent faculty taught about 60 percent of courses in 2013-14, a slight decrease from the 67 percent they taught in 2009-10 — Metz attributes this to growing pains from increased enrollment — but the proportion of courses taught by full-time faculty has held steady between 2008 and 2013 at 86 percent. The Chronicle article did not provide national averages on this metric. 

WCU also boasts a higher proportion of permanent faculty than the nation as a whole. According to the Chronicle, 39 percent of faculty at masters-level colleges are permanent, while that number is 55 percent at Western. 

Bruce Henderson, a veteran professor in the psychology department, is pleased to see those numbers. He believes the use of non-tenure track faculty in the academic world is a “serious problem,” and he’s written about the issue before. 

Though they’re cheaper to hire, he said, “Adjunct faculty don’t get the chance to do the kind of scholarship that I think is central to being a good teacher, being a good provider of service to the community. You need time to do the reading required to keep up with your field and do research in your field. Adjunct and contingent faculty are often not given those opportunities.”

Gurney Chambers, a WCU alumnus who retired in 2006 from a 40-year career with the university, sees the numbers as a continuation of his university’s commitment to students. 

“We are student-oriented, and as long as I have been associated with the university, that has been my perception of it,” he said. 

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