Non-tenure-track—also known as adjunct or contingent—faculty members now make up more than 70 percent of those who teach in higher education. The trend—which shows little sign of abating—threatens national goals of maintaining global preeminence in science and technology, including biology, say education experts.
According to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (the most recent available), just under 30 percent of higher-education faculty members today are tenured or on the tenure track. In contrast, in 1969, 78 percent of faculty members were tenured or tenure track, and less than 22 percent were not. The majority of today’s non-tenure-track faculty members are low-paid part-timers, whose working conditions often adversely affect learning outcomes for students.
“In the biology department at Rowan University, it is possible for a freshman biology major to go their entire 4 years for a bachelor’s of science without taking a course taught by a tenure-track professor,” says Nathan Ruhl, an adjunct professor at the Glassboro, New Jersey–based school.