Adjuncts plentiful at UF J-school for good reason, dean says
Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 8:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 8:19 p.m.
Correction: Wayne Wanta, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Florida, formerly served on the national Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated he was still on the council.
The number of part-time adjunct lecturers nosed out the number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty teaching at the University Florida College of Journalism and Communications during spring semester.
That concerns Wayne Wanta, who chairs the journalism department and who formerly served on the national Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, which sets standards for and reviews journalism schools of higher education every seven years.
"One of the standards is a majority of classes have to be taught with full-time faculty, and that is not the case right now," Wanta said.
The College of Journalism and Communications had 50 adjuncts and 48 faculty teaching 2,641 students, as of spring 2014. By the start of fall 2014, the number of faculty will rise to 52 due to several recent hires, while the number of adjuncts starting in the fall is unknown.
In fall 2013, the college had 46 faculty and 44 adjuncts.
Adjuncts are people who work by the semester and are paid for each class they teach, without benefits or guarantee of future employment.
"Our adjuncts are doing an excellent job," Wanta said. "It's just that technically, according to the accrediting standards, we are in non-compliance."
Faculty to adjunct ratio is one of nine standards reviewed by the accrediting council that include things like student-teacher ratios, graduation and retention rates, and a balance between teaching and scholarly research.
UF passed its 2012 review with high marks and was reaccredited. At the time it listed 53 full-time faculty, 19 fewer than it had during its previous review seven years earlier. Its next review is scheduled for 2017.
Wanta is less concerned about losing accreditation as he is about the declining number of faculty and the impact it has had on class size and workload.
"It would be nice to hire replacements for the people we've lost," Wanta said. "I've been department chair for three years, and we've lost five faculty without replacing them."
Diane McFarlin, dean of the UF College of Journalism and Communications, said that rebuilding the faculty ranks is her highest priority,
"There was some hemorrhaging during the recession," she said. "The college lost a number of faculty largely through attrition, and because of the declines in revenues, the positions were not replaced."
Use of adjuncts is on the rise across all academic disciplines in higher education, said Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
"These are issues everybody is wrestling with," Dalglish said. "And the more professional your school is, the more you're going in that direction."
Her journalism program has 24 full-time faculty and 62 adjuncts teaching 551 undergraduates — or three adjuncts to every full-time faculty member.
While colleges and departments throughout higher education are fleshing out their teaching staff with adjuncts, most academic programs are hiring people with Ph.D.s unable to find other work. Journalism schools are hiring professional journalists, advertising executives and other media professionals who already have a full-time job and are looking for an extra paycheck.
Journalism is a very expensive program to teach, Dalglish said, because there is lots of hands-on learning. Huge lecture halls filled with hundreds of students are less common than in other disciplines, and one of the accreditation benchmarks is that skills labs have no more than 20 students per teacher.
Journalism programs are closer to professional training centers than more traditional academic disciplines, too. "Skills classes are being taught by professionals who are learning those skills every day," Dalglish said.
Those professionals can also serve as connections that can help students get internships and jobs after graduation, she said.
One of the accreditation standards requires that full-time faculty have primary responsibility for research and teaching.
"No school has ever been put on provisional status or denied accreditation because of the number of adjuncts," said Susanne Shaw, executive director of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
Several schools among the accrediting council's 116 members have had more adjuncts than professors because they're in a metropolitan area like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, where they have a greater number of professional journalists to draw from.
"Some places are drawing more from the profession to keep up with the ever changing world we are trying to educate students in," Shaw said.
McFarlin — who became dean of the journalism college in January 2013 — is adding more faculty positions, hiring new people to replace the ones who are leaving and providing support services that give faculty more time to focus on teaching and research.
Also, she has taken advising and administrative responsibilities away from faculty to free them up for their classroom responsibilities.
The college recently hired two pre-eminent faculty members — one starting Tuesday. She's hired two other new faculty to start in the fall, and she said she is committed to replacing three faculty who recently left UF. Those new hires will bring the total faculty count to 52.
McFarlin said she hopes to strike a balance to give faculty time to engage in meaningful academic research as well as teaching.
"Research is increasingly important in general," she said. "We don't have a deep history in our college, and need to build our prowess."
The biggest area of research will be STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) translational communication research, McFarlin said. She hired Janice Krieger from the Ohio State University School of Communication to run the STEM Translational Communication Program, which McFarlin hopes to turn into a center. Krieger will start Tuesday as an associate professor in advertising.
The translational communication research program will help determine how "research findings can best be conveyed to potential beneficiaries, how to best resonate with the population that can most use it or need it," McFarlin said.
Other areas ripe for research include women's studies, plagiarism and the First Amendment. "Applied research is an area where we want to move into in a big way — helping to define the business model of the future for the media, audience engagement," McFarlin said.
Adjuncts will continue to play a large role in the college's need to stay current and complement the faculty with outside expertise, McFarlin said. Professionals will be sought who have skills in coding, data analytics, web design and other highly specialized, rapidly developing areas, she said.
"With so much change in the media, the advent of digital, hiring adjuncts is a really effective way to bring in expertise in specialization that we might not have on faculty," she said. "I don't worry too much. If we were reliant on adjuncts for too many of the fundamental courses, that would be cause for concern."