Officials struggle to hire part-time faculty six months after end of hiring freeze

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

Department chairs said hiring new faculty has been a challenge even after the University’s hiring freeze has been lifted.

The number of faculty the University hired last fall decreased by 6 percent compared to fall 2020 after officials eliminated a freeze on most hiring this summer.

University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said they hired 76 new faculty last fall – eight fewer than the 84 hired during fall 2020 – after officials eliminated the Resource Allocation Committee in July, which was tasked with hiring employees during the hiring freeze throughout the pandemic. Department heads said they have struggled finding part-time faculty members because of high demand, low pay and COVID-19 safety concerns that have made prospective faculty members hesitant about accepting positions at GW.

Danika Myers, the director of first-year writing for the University Writing Program, said officials asked program leaders during the pandemic to limit UW classes to full-time faculty and a small group of “regular part-time faculty,” who can have their contracts to teach UW courses be renewed. She said this fall, most of the program’s part-time faculty sought employment from other universities that could better meet their demands for higher pay.

“Our need for part-time faculty was further increased by several of our full-time faculty choosing to retire or taking positions with other institutions that offered them resources that our program could not match,” she said in an email. “We needed to hire many more part-timers than we have ever hired in a single cohort.”

Myers said the program is hiring temporary and regular part-time faculty but depended more on temporary professors this year because many full-time professors retired during the pandemic. She said the program can’t compete with other universities’ pay for temporary part-time faculty because GW requires they teach four-credit UW classes, while other institutions pay the same for less-demanding three-credit courses.

“If we want to be able to hire the strongest instructors on the job market to teach UW1020, we need to be able to pay them competitively,” she said. “And right now we not only can’t compete with the other area institutions like American and Howard that staff many of their writing classes with one-year, full-time contracts. We can’t even compete with other GW units that can offer our instructors the same pay to teach fewer credits”

Tadeusz Zawidzki, the chair of the philosophy department, said his department is unable to hire new faculty. He said the department started struggling to hire faculty six years ago when the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences introduced a budget crunch in 2014, when the number of faculty hires hit a low.

He said the pandemic made it more difficult to hire full-time tenure-track faculty because the department doesn’t have any open tenure-track positions.

“Although we request tenure-track or contract full-time positions of CCAS every year and we have massive needs in teaching, none of these requests have been approved in the last six years,” Zawidzki said. “We’re clearly not a priority for CCAS.”

Robert Van Order, the chair of the finance department in the School of Business and a professor of economics and finance, said given the hiring freeze, bringing on full-time faculty has become easier with a pool of candidates that is twice as large as before the pandemic, now including doctoral graduates who weren’t hired during hiring freezes.

“Basically, the supply of new PhDs has gone up and the demand hasn’t changed much, so we’re finding a lot of very good candidates,” he said.

Van Order said finding qualified faculty is a “competitive market,” and GW is competing with universities across the United States. He added that Washington D.C. is an attractive location for faculty and their families, which may encourage them to work at GW.

“We’re finding a lot of very good candidates, and we’ve hired one,” he said. “We’ll hire another one that we think is very good, and we had a strong response to our advertisement.”

Experts in higher education said officials must listen to the demands of prospective faculty when it comes to decisions like fair wages and instruction-related COVID-19 safety precautions.

Gerardo Blanco, a professor of higher education at Boston College, said if the University needs to fill a large number of positions in a short period of time, GW could hire more adjunct professors on a contractual basis who don’t need to start working on new tenure lines. He said part-time faculty’s temporary employment could be difficult because prospective faculty members might be unwilling to move to a high cost of living in the District for a temporary position.

As part of prospective faculty members’ decision to join GW, Blanco said they are looking for evidence that universities are working to ensure the safety of their community during the pandemic. He said University policies like mask and vaccine mandates could encourage prospective hires to join GW.

Officials announced a booster vaccine requirement late last year and reaffirmed the University’s mask mandate in November.

“Faculty members who are looking for a position, whether it’s long term or short term, are paying attention to the kinds of decisions that universities have made during the pandemic,” Blanco said. “Has the University laid off staff or frozen hiring? Have they implemented appropriate vaccinations and mask mandates? In other words, have they made priority the safety of staff and students?”

Teboho Moja, a professor of higher education at New York University, said universities must listen to faculty and students’ recommendations, like hybrid teaching options as the University returns to in-person instruction, to hire more effectively. Moja said universities that don’t show flexibility in faculty pay and in-person teaching requirements will drive away those who feel like their needs are being ignored.

After department heads demanded officials “cluster hire” multiple underrepresented faculty to increase the school’s diversity, CCAS officials announced they would target new prospective faculty members from minority backgrounds as part of the school’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative to increase diversity among faculty and curriculum.

Moja said if GW wants to hire more underrepresented faculty, the University must demonstrate a commitment to welcome a diverse environment for prospective faculty members to see. She said the University will have a difficult “starting point” hiring more underrepresented faculty if it already has a reputation of being an unwelcoming environment.

“If I want to come to George Washington, and I look at the department and see that I’m going to be the first person of color to belong to a minority group, I might not be attracted to that,” Moja said.

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