The growing number of departing tenure and tenure-track professors and lower hiring standards is causing holes in many colleges and departments at the University of Wyoming, and many are looking for stop-gap measures for temporary solutions.
Dozens of faculty members throughout the colleges are leaving, either for retirement or other job opportunities, but teaching loads aren’t decreasing. In fact, fall 2015 had the most first-time, first-year students enrolled ever at 1,695 — about 120 more than 2014.
The English department, headed by Peter Parolin, is down several tenured positions and is turning to non-tenured educators to fill the gaps.
“We’re not replacing people anywhere near the rate we’re losing people,” he said. “That means you either offer fewer classes and academic options to students or you rely more heavily on temporary people who are hired on year-to-year contracts. That’s the choice we’re looking at here in the English department.”
The department hired five full-time contract teachers and one part-time contract teacher to handle 44 classes that tenured faculty do not have the time for, Parolin said.
“It tends to be when you bring temporary faculty in, you just ask them to teach, and that’s very valuable and they’re usually very good at it, but it does mean these are faculty members that don’t get to do a very important aspect of what a faculty member does, and that kind of scholarly research work directly benefits students.”
Price point and no long-term commitments are the most attractive reasons temporary faculty members are hired, Parolin said.
“These are people that come in — they don’t make the best salaries compared to the rest of the university,” he said. “Temporary folks tend to make less money than a tenure-track faculty does. They teach more, but a truly rich faculty member is engaged across the entire university — research, teaching and service.”
Frank Galey, College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences dean, also places more emphasis on finding tenure-track faculty when available.
“In our college, we use adjuncts mainly to bridge certain areas, but we have not increased our reliance on long-term adjuncts yet,” he said. “Hopefully, with some reorganization, we’ll be able to fill the holes with faculty. But I certainly understand there’s opportunity for part-time adjuncts, but I don’t want to rely too heavily on them in the future.”
Another reason faculty can be more effective is the stability they offer, Parolin explained.
“You want students to be able to have ongoing relationships with faculty members,” he said. “If you’re just committing to a faculty member on a year-to-year basis, you’re not really creating the conditions where that faculty member can have long-lasting relationships with your students or can contribute in meaningful ways to building and nurturing a great culture here at the university.”
Even finding professors can sometimes be difficult. People in academia are not likely to move to Laramie for a one-year contract, College of Health Sciences Dean Ray Reutzel said, making it difficult to find short-term adjunct faculty.
“There are not enough people in the community right now,” he said. “It’s not possible that, if we cut a fourth of the faculty, we could find others in the community — we just do not have enough people with degrees here. If we were in Denver, sure, we could do that, but we’re not. There are not enough resident folks here to hire the adjuncts we would need.”
While some departments are struggling to find replacements, others are getting by pretty well. Karen Bartsch, chair of the psychology department, said they are actually gaining a faculty member after two people left the department this year.
“We experienced a certain amount of good fortune,” she said. “We’ve been searching for two years to replace someone that left earlier, and we were able to hire not only someone for that position but also obtained a spousal accommodation and successfully argued to hire a third,” she said.
Even though Bartsch is very fortunate, the departing professors will leave a gap in particular areas of study, she said.
“We’ll need to do some rearranging and rely a little on our graduate students, but I’m sure we will be fine,” she said.
College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Michael Pishko said the number of short term professors is likely to drop in the coming years because of termination procedures.
“If you look at tenure and tenure-track faculty, it’s really close to impossible or a very long process to terminate those positions, and the same is true for extended term lecturers,” he said. “The place you can trim are adjuncts who are on year-to-year contracts.”
While the want for tenured professors exists, short-term faculty will still have a place at UW, Galey said.
“There is a balance, and I’m not sure if anyone’s found out exactly what that is, but right now, we’re working hard to put tenure-track faculty or extended-term lecturers in front of our students,” he said.