Reliance on part-time faculty hurts GW

When GW failed to crack the U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 schools yet again this year, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg dismissed the importance of our rank at No. 52.

Still, the U.S. News rankings do tell an important story, especially if you break down the numbers behind our ranking. One figure, in particular, seems to be a cause for concern – out of 111 ranked universities, GW’s percentage of full-time faculty, at an anemic 67 percent, falls dead last.

A Faculty Senate report contends that reliance on part-time faculty members affects the quality of instruction “negatively, despite dedication from numerous part-timers” and identifies the language departments and the English Department as suffering most acutely from the lack of full-time professors. The chair of the Romance languages department has written that “the education of our students is in the hands of an uncommitted faculty,” with 35 of 51 professors working part-time in that department.

A school touted for international affairs shouldn’t shortchange language programs. It also appears counterproductive for GW to try to improve students’ writing through the University Writing Program, and then employ instructors – at $2,600 per class – who are unlikely to invest the time it takes to meticulously grade students’ writing.

Hiring some professors who earn less per class than one student’s cost for that class is not necessarily bad. Plenty of part-time faculty members from this overeducated city are competent. It’s great that GW can employ professionals who would otherwise be standing on the street corner after their day jobs, holding signs that read “Will Analyze Geopolitics for Food.” State Department staffers and others with experience outside of academia can offer perspectives that make GW unique.

But for each part-time professor who brings real-world experience to the classroom, how many part-timers are less-than-committed graduate students or overburdened professors teaching five or six classes at local colleges? There aren’t any hard numbers to answer this question definitively, but it seems as if GW’s high percentage of part-timers is not explained merely by the large supply of professionals in the D.C. area. Georgetown University and American University, both district-area schools, hire 82 percent and 78 percent full-time faculty members respectively, a far cry from GW’s 67 percent.

GW should try to find good professors and keep them around by adding incentives over time. Professors who stick around are valuable to students not just for their instructional ability, but also as advisors and writers of all-important recommendation letters.

The administration should publicize a more detailed budget, and then the GW community can have an honest discussion about where its fiscal priorities should be. It appears that to recruit new students, GW opted for the all-inclusive Disney World version of higher education. Perhaps some of the money used to pay for a laser light show during Colonial Inauguration should instead go to recruiting some quality full-time professors.

Despite the attempt to cater to every student need – from “free” housekeeping, condoms and STD testing to concerts, counseling and diversity training, some GW students leave after four years feeling as if they didn’t get their money’s worth and never plan on giving back to the University. Our alumni giving rate is 11 percent, another inconvenient statistic in U.S. News that places GW among the worst in the nation.

Will you, as an alum, be inspired someday to contribute to GW, knowing that your money can’t go toward your favorite professor who is gone? I feel as if a more stable, permanent staff would do more for alumni giving than an extravagant CI.

When administrators are calculating whether they should hire more underpaid part-time faculty to help the bottom line now, they should not forget to factor in the feelings this policy will leave with current students. In addition to the current benefits of hiring a more stable and dedicated teaching staff, employing more full-time faculty would be a win-win situation for the University.

-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs and history.

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