TOPICS > Education

Teachers Without Tenure

January 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM STOCKINGER: All right, let’s read a book, okay? Can we do that? (Child whines )

SPENCER MICHELS: 56-year-old Jim Stockinger, a part-time teacher at the University of California, works mornings from 9:00 to 12:00 at a child care center in Berkeley, California.

JIM STOCKINGER: "Good night, clocks. Oh, Kenny, where are the clocks?"

SPENCER MICHELS: He speaks five languages and holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the university. But in 22 years he has never taught full-time. Such college teaching jobs in his field are scarce, and tenure, a lifetime appointment at a college, has become more difficult than ever to secure. Stockinger’s part-time university job provides him with no benefits.

JIM STOCKINGER: It’s through childcare that I have my health benefits, my retirement benefits, which otherwise I wouldn’t have.


SPENCER MICHELS: On the Berkeley campus, he teaches an upper division course on the history of social theory.

JIM STOCKINGER: "But in the interest of our investigations, we will not forget that present-day man does not feel happy in his God-like character." (Speaks in German)

SPENCER MICHELS: The course he teaches counts as one-third of a full teaching load, so he earns one-third of $35,000 a year, about $12,000, and at one point was making less than his teaching assistants were. Stockinger says part-time lecturers, or adjunct professors, as they’re sometimes called, get little respect from the university.

JIM STOCKINGER: Part-time faculty members, lecturers such as myself– I call myself an intellectual migrant laborer– are playing a larger and larger role in that process.

SPENCER MICHELS: To make ends meet, Stockinger also drives 100 miles once a week to teach at Sonoma State University. The U.S. Department of Education says 43 percent of college and university faculty nationwide teach part-time, up sharply in the last two decades. Many of those travel from one campus to another, working out of their cars, so-called "freeway flyers" or "road scholars."

JIM STOCKINGER: It’s not exactly something I would choose to do, but basically you go to where they need you.

SPENCER MICHELS: At California State University at Hayward, a four- year school, part-timers, like this journalism teacher, outnumber tenure-track faculty. At two-year institutions, like Foothill Community College, near San Jose, full-time faculty members like this are increasingly rare. Here 44 percent of instructional hours are taught by part-timers, some teaching in their occupational field, like business; others hired simply to teach at lower pay than full-time faculty would get. The college depends on state support, and it can’t afford an all full-time faculty, according to Chancellor Leo Chavez.

LEO CHAVEZ, Chancellor, Foothill College: Absolutely it’s less expensive to use part-time teachers.


LEO CHAVEZ: Because we don’t pay them as much on an hourly or what’s called a pro rata basis, because we don’t provide them with the same level of health benefits.

SPENCER MICHELS: Chancellor Robert Berdahl at U.C. Berkeley says that saving money is not the only reason to hire temporary teachers. Many bring life and work experiences to the classroom.

ROBERT BERDAHL, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley: We have people who are professional practitioners, who come in as lecturers and teach part-time: Lawyers, social workers. They teach composition courses; they teach classes in what we would call obscure languages.

SPENCER MICHELS: Berdahl says the university tries to act fairly with part-time teachers.

ROBERT BERDAHL: We try to make certain that their life isn’t bad, and… and I hope that it isn’t.

SPENCER MICHELS: Part-time teachers at Berkeley struck briefly at the beginning of the school year, joining striking clerical workers. The lecturers say the university doesn’t deal with them honestly.

JIM STOCKINGER: Clerical workers and lecturers supporting each other… ( cheers ) students supporting the lecturers and the clerical workers.

SPENCER MICHELS: The issues for the lecturers: Job security, wages, benefits and respect for the part-timers. A few weeks later, lecturers at five other university of California campuses struck for two days while administrators and union officials tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a new contract. Chancellor Berdahl says most part-timers are satisfied and those who complain are in the minority.

ROBERT BERDAHL: In many cases these are… are people who had hoped for and expected to get or are waiting for tenure-track positions at universities. And so there is a certain frustration that is borne of their… of the status of their careers that they’re at. And… and… and that obviously is reflected in some cases in their attitudes towards where they’re working.

SPENCER MICHELS: Some critics say that hiring part-time teachers cheats students of contact with renowned professors, who, instead of teaching, do research that brings lucrative grants to the university. At the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, officials say a university’s national rankings depend not on teaching skills, but purely on research. And according to Lee Shulman, the President, that’s partly why they hire so many teaching temps.

LEE SHULMAN, Carnegie Foundation for Teaching: Those ranking systems are utterly dominated by the research productivity and prestige of faculty. I think if teaching were being pursued appropriately on campuses, there would be many fewer part-time teachers, and the universities and colleges would be much better places if they had a much higher proportion of full-time faculty teaching the students.

SPENCER MICHELS: Berkeley’s Berdahl contends that teaching does not get short shrift even at a distinguished research university.

ROBERT BERDAHL: We do value good teaching. There’s just absolutely… this is a myth that is… that is always a rap that we get: That somehow if you value research, you don’t value teaching. This is not a tradeoff. You can value both and reward both and recognize both in all of the… the processes by which we review and evaluate faculty, and we do.

SPENCER MICHELS: Not everyone agrees. At Berkeley, students’ opinions varied on the teaching skills of researchers verses part-timers.

STUDENT: You have, like, the professors who are doing… doing research, and for some of them that’s their primary concern, so they get in the classroom and they’re just like disgruntled about it sometimes, so they don’t always take teaching as their priority. Whereas you have some of the lecturers, that’s all they do, so that’s their priority.

STUDENT: If it’s a good teacher, I don’t care if they’re tenured or not. It matters to me more if they… how much they want to be teaching.

MARK SCHLISSEL, Biology Professor: This example is a gene that’s only expressed in this population.

SPENCER MICHELS: Mark Schlissel is a full- time, tenured professor at Berkeley. He lectures two-thirds of one course per year. That’s the teaching load for tenured faculty in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. This was his final lecture of the term, and at the end, he asked the students to evaluate him.

MARK SCHLISSEL: Please be honest. Don’t be mean, of course… ( laughter ) …and don’t think… don’t think of Tuesday’s exam. Think of the course as a whole when you… ( laughter ) okay, thank you very much. ( Applause )

SPENCER MICHELS: While Schlissel says he loves teaching, he spends much more time in the lab than he does in the classroom.

MARK SCHLISSEL: I think the way we teach is more than just standing up in front of the classroom. So I have in my lab, for example, six graduate students and four postdoctoral fellows and three undergraduates and a research technician who’s actually an M.D. I’m teaching them on a daily and continuous basis as we do our science together. In addition to the stand-up-in- front-of-the-room teaching, I have office hours, I host seminars.

SPENCER MICHELS: Because science is changing so fast and it’s hard to keep up, full-time faculty teach all but a few courses in Schlissel’s department and other life sciences. But in the humanities, the use of part-timers is much greater and the controversy more intense. Under University of California rules, sociologist Jim Stockinger, who has been teaching here more than six years, was recently given a three-year teaching contract, something of a rarity. But still his picture is not among those displayed in his department’s faculty room. He was told this semester that for lack of funds, he would not be rehired by Sonoma State University.

JIM STOCKINGER: I did not feel like a teacher. I did not feel like a member of an ancient and honorable profession. I did not feel like someone who was making important contribution to his society. I did not feel like someone whose educational attainments got the respect and the dignity they deserve. I felt like a Kleenex tissue, disposable.

SPENCER MICHELS: At the University of California, negotiations continue between the administration and the teachers’ union. And across the country, the hiring and treatment of part- time teachers is becoming an increasingly contentious issue. (Bell tolls)