VCU Relies Heavily on Adjuncts, Data Show

November 21, 2011

By Ashley Sabin

Virginia Commonwealth University relies more heavily on part-time faculty members than all but one other public university in the state, according to statistics collected for the Virginia General Assembly.

About 38 percent of VCU’s 3,088 employees were part-time adjuncts, according to data prepared for the state legislators. Only Old Dominion University, at 43 percent, had a higher proportion of part-time faculty members.

Statewide, 21 percent of the faculty members at Virginia’s 15 public colleges and universities were part-time faculty. The proportion varies widely among schools. For instance, adjuncts made up only 4 percent of the faculty at the University of Virginia and 5 percent at Virginia Tech.

The reliance on adjuncts is directly linked to budget cuts, according to Laura J. Moriarty, VCU’s vice provost for academic and faculty affairs. She said the university’s mission is to hire more full-time faculty members and to rely less on adjuncts.

However, adjuncts are important because they bring current professional expertise and connections to the classroom.

“If we could have all the faculty that we wanted to, would we still need adjuncts?” Moriarty asked. “The answer is yes.”

The university first looks within VCU for someone to teach a class. Otherwise departments turn to the greater Richmond area for someone with a specific expertise. In some cases, full-time faculty members recommend prospective adjuncts.

Moriarty said Richmond is rich with people who hold advanced degrees and have some previous teaching experience.

Dan Ream, associate professor and director of outreach and distance education at VCU libraries, said adjuncts fill a vital role at VCU.

“Brilliant teachers sometimes lack advanced degrees, but the best of all is a brilliant teacher with an advanced degree. The more advanced our students are, the more advanced their teachers need to be,” Ream said.

Part-time faculty can teach as few as three credit hours a semester and as many as 12. Even for adjuncts who are on campus only three hours a week, departments are making every effort to include them in meetings and provide them with office space.

Adjunct Will Daniel says he appreciates the efforts by his co-workers.

“I feel that they respect me for what I bring to the work place. I feel that they support me and that they appreciate what I have to offer the program. And they show that appreciation,” Daniel said.

Daniel, who has worked in newspapers and public relations and recently published a book about the James River, teaches journalism in the School of Mass Communications.

Dr. Patricia Cummins, a professor in the School of World Studies, says that her department relies too much on adjuncts even though they are a great asset. She blames the university’s expansion on the high numbers of adjuncts in her department.

“If we’re adding new programs, we can’t just say we can do it with no new tenure faculty,” Cummins said. “I think it was the fault of administrators adding programs without adding faculty. We need to reverse the trend.”

Even state legislators are taking interest in how much schools rely on adjuncts. That is why they requested data on Virginia’s institutions of higher education.

Tony Maggio, a staff member for the House Appropriations Committee, collected the statistics last spring. His report showed the numbers and percentages of full-time and part-time faculty members at each public college and university for 2001-02 and 2008-09.

In 2001-02, adjuncts made up 37 percent of VCU’s faculty; in 2008-09, they made up 38 percent.

Here is the data used in the story.