More than half the faculty at Boston University, Northeastern, Tufts, and Harvard are part-time or are not on the tenure track, according to a report released yesterday.
These prominent institutions performed poorly compared with their peers around the country, according to the study by the American Association of University Professors, a union organization.
Professors and advocates for students have raised concerns for years that colleges are increasingly turning to less expensive, temporary labor and eroding the tenure system, to the detriment of students and scholars alike. The study, based on fall 2005 data from the US Education Department, heightens such concern.
At private research universities nationally, 55 percent of academic staff are part-timers, known as adjuncts, or full-timers who do not have an opportunity to earn tenure, the AAUP reported.
At well-known Boston-area universities, the proportions are even higher: 71 percent at Boston University, 67 percent at Northeastern, 66 percent at Tufts, and 57 percent at Harvard, according to the study.
The state's flagship public university, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, did better compared with its peers: 35 percent of faculty fall into the non-tenure-track and part-time category, compared with 43 percent of faculty at public research universities nationwide.
Officials at several universities said the study gives a skewed impression of their campuses.
Northeastern spokesman Fred McGrail said more than half of the university's part-time faculty teach in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, which offers both degree and nondegree programs to part-time students. In the traditional undergraduate program, 62 percent of the faculty are tenured or on the tenure track, he said.
At Tufts, professors in the nutrition, dental, and veterinary schools have always lacked tenure, said Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts professor and president of the school's chapter of AAUP. The chapter is an advocacy group, not a union.
"I personally believe you cannot have full academic freedom without tenure, but professors [at the three professional schools] have compensation and benefits equivalent to the tenured faculty," Krimsky said.
"If I saw the university all of a sudden trying to circumvent the tenure process, I'd be out there protesting it."
At Boston College, 55 percent of the faculty are part time or not on the tenure track. Spokesman Jack Dunn wrote in an e-mail: "In certain disciplines, such as communications, nursing, education, social work, and law, it is advantageous to hire part-time faculty to provide a practical, field experience to complement the teaching of tenure track faculty. We are committed to hiring full-time faculty, however, whenever possible, in all areas."
Emerson College was close to its peers in the study; 70 percent of Emerson's faculty are part-time or not on the tenure track, compared with 67 percent nationally for private, master's-level institutions.
Emerson spokesman David Rosen, agreeing with Dunn, said students benefit from learning directly from industry professionals teaching part time in fields such as film, marketing, and journalism. Still, Rosen said, Emerson realizes it needs to increase the size of its tenure-track faculty and has been creating new positions each year.
Officials at Harvard and Boston University said yesterday that they could not comment because they had not yet had an opportunity to analyze the study.
The decline in full-time, tenure-track faculty positions hurts students, said several education experts yesterday.
Part-time professors are often rushing from one campus to another and don't have as much time to answer students' questions, said John W. Curtis, director of research and public policy at the AAUP and coauthor of the study.
Non-tenure-track, full-time professors often work on short, one- to three-year contracts. Students can be affected a few years later when they try to find one of those professors to write a recommendation for graduate school, said Dan Clawson, a sociology professor and a vice president of the faculty union at UMass-Amherst. UMass has a plan to hire more tenure-track faculty, but Clawson said it's moving at a snail's pace.
The faculty highlighted in the study are often very good teachers, Clawson said, but the university still applies much higher standards to its tenure-track hiring and gets many more applications.
The AAUP study said universities' use of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty is at a high.
Between 1975 and 2003, the proportion of faculty members at the nation's universities in those categories grew from 43 percent to 65 percent, the report found.
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