With thousands of Rutgers faculty contracts up for renegotiation, the AAUP weighs in
The University has more part time lecturers than its peers in the Big Ten
A majority of Rutgers faculty contracts will be renegotiated in 2018. For the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), this represents an opportunity to remedy some of the administration's policy-based issues.
David Hughes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and the vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said that in recent years, the administration has preferred to hire part-time lecturers and other contingent faculty rather than tenure track professors — which can be detrimental to students.
“They can shut down a program, shut down a department more easily if it's staffed with part-time lecturers than if it's staffed with people like me (tenured professors),” Hughes said.
In the School of Arts and Sciences, the administration can cancel a course if it is taught by a part-time lecturer and has fewer than 15 students enrolled, he said.
Because of this policy, advanced courses in relatively obscure subjects are routinely canceled. This tends to reduce student interest in the whole subject, Hughes said. If Rutgers only offers courses in a particular subject up until the intermediate level, there is little incentive for students to pursue that subject. This creates the circumstances for intermediate and beginner courses to be likewise canceled.
“The administration looks at that and says, 'Well, we're not getting much tuition from Advanced Bengali. Can we cut it? Oh great, there's a part-time lecturer teaching it.' Advanced Bengali ... gone. And before you know it, Bengali is gone,” Hughes said.
Consequentially, part-time lecturers have little job security, he said.
Unlike a tenure-track professor, a part-time lecturer must be reappointed each semester. Hughes said their reappointment depends entirely on two factors — student surveys and the number of students enrolled in their courses.
This incentivizes part-time lecturers to teach classes that students want to take, he said. The most reliable way to do this is to issue higher grades.
“I'm not saying that this is what everybody's thought process is, but the incentives are there for people to grade easy,” Hughes said. “Part-time lecturers are trying to gain job security by not penalizing students — which is to say, by not exercising their academic freedom to provide proper feedback to students.”
Data from the past 30 years show that the proportion of "A's" in almost every school at Rutgers has doubled. This trend devalues the Rutgers degree.
Hughes said that AAUP-AFT has not yet done a study to prove a correlation between grade inflation and part-time lecturers seeking job security, but the incentives should be removed.
“This is a long-term interest that the faculty have, the University has, students have, the administration should have, in maintaining the value of the degree,” Hughes said. “And we only do that by preserving the job security of the people who give grades.”
He said that the administration has shifted to hiring mostly “contingent faculty” — non-tenure track faculty with titles such as instructor, assistant teaching professor or research professor — because they require less salary and can be easily fired.
Currently, 53 percent of full-time faculty are contingent, Hughes said. The percentage is higher when part-time lecturers are included. Thirty percent of courses are now taught by part-time lecturers.
“It's basically creating a temporary workforce instead of a contracted workforce,” he said. “This is the way corporations function. It's deeply disillusioning to find our administration functioning this way too.”
The AAUP-AFT cannot reveal the details of its proposals yet. But in general, the organization is fighting for contracts to be longer-term and higher-paid. This would afford teachers the freedom to exercise academic judgment, and thus provide fair grades and useful feedback to students, he said.
“Everything we propose is good for Rutgers, good for higher ed in New Jersey and good for undergraduate students,” Hughes said.
The board of governors with whom the AAUP-AFT will be negotiating is comprised of people who do not have regular contact with students on campus, and as a result are ignorant of their concerns, he said.
“I think that they think about the enterprise as a set of financial calculations,” Hughes said. “These questions of quality really don't come up very much for them, at least in the meetings I've been to, and I've been to many board of governors meetings. Things that can't be measured easily by numbers or by dollars, I think they don't tend to analyze them as much as they should.”