No doubt about it, Northwestern University (NU) in Evanston, Illinois, is a top-tier university.
Yet, NU's academic administrators seem to be doing what their peers in most U.S. colleges and universities have been doing: In the drive to appear more "cutting edge," adjuncts are hired to teach undergraduate courses rather than committing institutional resources to adjuncts through the traditional rank and tenure process.
At most institutions, adjuncts earn far less than their tenure-track and post-tenure colleagues, raising questions concerning equity and social justice. Equity concerns whether adjuncts are paid a "just wage"? But, concerning social justice, The Motley Monk wonders, social justice for whom?
A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that new students at NU learn more when adjuncts teach them rather than when tenure-track professors teach them. Achievement gains are greatest for students with the weakest academic preparation and across a wide range of disciplines.
This study measured actual student learning, not just retention or graduation rates, to identify the impact of teaching at NU. The study notes:
There are many aspects relating to changes in the tenure status of faculty – from the impact on research productivity to the protection of academic freedom. But certainly learning outcomes are an important consideration in evaluating whether the observed trend away from tenure track/tenured towards non-tenure line faculty is good or bad. 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. Perhaps the growing practice of hiring a combination of research-intensive tenure track faculty members and teaching-intensive lecturers may be an efficient and educationally positive solution to a research university’s multi-tasking problem.
While adjunct advocacy groups will use a study like this to advance their equity agenda, The Motley Monk wonders about all of those undergraduate students who are compelled to take courses from arguably good researchers who are demonstrably inferior teachers. That's an issue of social justice about which many tenure-track and post-tenure professors are surprisingly mute considering their thirst for social justice in other matters.
Let the discussion begin...
To read the study's abstract, click on the following link: