By Austin Metz and Devin Brown
Collegiate Staff Editors
Grand Rapids Community College has been hiring significantly higher numbers of part-time teachers than full-time teachers, which has lead to an unbalanced number of credit hours taught by faculty, according to several academic department heads, and Faculty Association President Fred van Hartesveldt. The increase of adjunct faculty at GRCC, a nearly 100 percent rise in the past seven years, is attributed to the sharp rise in enrollment numbers at the college, Dr. Steven Ender, who is serving his third year as president of the college said, “I don’t have a crystal ball as to enrollment numbers, however, it should level out in the future.”
Since Ender has been with the college, he has been committed to bringing the percent of credit hours taught by full-time staff and part-time staff to 60 percent full-time and 40 percent part-time. Today this ratio stands at about 40 to 60. Ender however, has dealt with a similar situation in the past.
“At Westmoreland Community College, the ratio was at about 40-60 when I started, but we flipped that to 60-40 in about three years,” Ender said of his previous job as president of the community college about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, PA.
“Our situation depends a ton on the economy,” he said. “The costs we have are not sustainable at the rate the economy is going.”
Two concerns to the schools budget this school year are millage and state appropriation. GRCC gets money from Kent County property taxes, and according to Ender the millage rate is too low due to sinking property values.
He also said for the 2009-2010 school year GRCC acquired $17 million, which has been cut to $16.5 million for the 2010-2011 school year.
The department heads said that more full-time staff is necessary.
“Adjunct teachers reap the full-timers’ hard work,” said Alejandro Saldivar, head of the mathematics department at GRCC. Saldivar said sections in the math department taught by adjunct faculty in the past ten years increased by almost 175 percent, while sections taught by full-time faculty increased about 10 percent.
Ender remains confident in the quality of teaching from full and part-time teachers alike. However, he acknowledges the issues with adjunct teachers are curriculum development and lack of work on committees. A message that resonated among most of the department heads is curriculum development and delivery.
“If I’m short full-time teachers, we can’t develop a new curriculum, or develop our current curriculum,” said science department head Robert Long. The science department, with 11 full-time teachers compared to 36 adjunct teachers, is “stretched extremely thin.”
Janice Balyeat, head of the English department said, “The worry we have is with the delivery of the curriculum.”
Adjunct teachers generally don’t participate in the development of new curriculum, leaving the shrinking percentage of full-time teachers the work of preparing curriculum. This is crucial in the math and science departments, where scientific studies and breakthroughs are constantly reshaping those fields.
Saldivar made this clear when he said, “We need to be continually developing this by calling Grand Valley and other schools to ensure we are keeping up. We need to prepare students for four-year schools. Our curriculum development needs to be stronger.”
The culinary department at GRCC doesn’t have an issue with over loaded full-time staff, but culinary department head Randy Sahajdack understands the problems in other departments. “When you have lots of adjuncts, it’s hard to manage and ensure the quality of teaching.”
Performing arts department head Kevin J. Dobreff says the school’s health relies on full-time, tenure track faculty, “It’s about nurturing semester after semester.”
While adjunct faculty is a quick fix for the increase in students, hiring more full-time faculty is ultimately the goal of most departments. This however can take time.
“I would be comfortable with 9 more full-time staff,” Saldivar explained. “The problem is that this could comfortably be done in 3 to 4 years because we only take around the top 2 in each hiring pool.”
In dealing with the time crunch, the place where Long gets an “extra bang for his buck” is with the overload credits full-time faculty is able to teach. Long points out that the ratio of full-time to adjunct faculty is around 40 percent to 60 percent, but said “these numbers would be even higher if full time employees didn’t teach overload.”
When asked to elaborate on the idea of overload, Long explained, “Full time teachers teach 15 contact hours a semester and the hours they teach beyond that are overload and are paid at adjunct pricing.”
Data provided by Long about the science department during the Fall 2010 semester shows that full time faculty taught 158 credits. Additionally, they taught 63 credits of overload. All but one full-time teacher’s are teaching overload credits, which makes the number of credit hours taught by adjunct faculty lower.
Having too many adjunct teachers compounds the problem of overload hours. Adjunct faculty taught 267 credits hours during the Fall 2010 semester, while full time teachers, with overload, taught 221 credit hours.
“This rapid growth doesn’t allow us to have a solid base,” Saldivar said. He worries that without that base, curriculum won’t be developed well enough to prepare students for transferring to other colleges.
“Our courses should be as strong as the courses at four-year schools. An example being that our Calculus 1 course should prepare our students for Calculus 2 at any other school,” he said.
“It boils down to consistency,” Balyeat said. “An important quality that full time faculty brings is consistency. As the school continues to hire adjunct faculty, it is losing consistency across the board.”
Balyeat explained that in the English department there are 130 adjunct and 27 full time teachers. There were 29 full time teachers, but two recently retired and two more are set to retire soon. The English department has 100 different faculty teaching English 97, 101 and 102. “To us, its about finding the consistency,” and consistency is vital in Balyeat’s eyes because “the classes are so important to student education. We have so many different people and we want to be consistent across the board.”
Although it’s generally better to have more full-time than adjunct, Ender explained the benefits for the school to continue hiring adjuncts.
“The basic cost of full time faculty is $52,000 and they teach 30 contact hours a year,” Ender said. “That comes out to be $1,733 per contact hour. Additionally, they get health insurance and retirement benefits. Adjunct teachers get $935 per contact hour, plus retirement benefits. There is no way money is saved with benefits and incentives for full time faculty compared to adjunct costs down the line.”
Another point that gets overlooked is the ability full time faculty can get a two to six or seven percent pay raise, on top of additional percent increases each year.
The second benefit of hiring adjunct faculty is the real life experience they bring to the classroom. “Between the Van Andel Institute and the hospital, we have pulled a lot of faculty,” said Long. These professionals bring the experience of working day in and day out in the field. Not only have they studied their profession, they have lived it. The music department has benefited from hiring current professionals as adjunct faculty.
“All the adjuncts are experts in what they teach. Most of them have doctorates and some play with the Grand Rapids Symphony,” said Dobreff. He was quick to point out that his department’s goals are not met without adjunct faculty.
While the economy, as well as the rapid increase in students, has made it hard on GRCC’s full-time staff, Sahajdack expressed concern.
“If we keep up the growth of students, I want to be sure that the option to add full time faculty exists and right now, I’m not confident about that.”