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Fewer professors spend a full day on campus

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Randy Arroyave, a junior majoring in biology, had an introductory English class with a part-time professor who also teaches elsewhere and was not always present for his office hours. "It made a difference not having him here at school," says Mr. Arroyave. "If you know that they're not there during their office hours, then you feel kind of iffy about the rest of the class."

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Jessica Perez, a senior in psychology at Hunter, wonders about having so many classes taught by graduate students rather than more experienced professors.

"The graduate students, especially if you're a senior, they're not that far away from you," she says. "They're sort of confused and trying things out."

CUNY reports that in fall 2002, at all of its campuses, 52 percent of its classes were taught by part-timers, some of whom were graduate-student teachers.

At the University of Texas at Dallas, 34 percent of the faculty worked part time in the fall of 2003, as opposed to 20 percent in 1986-7. It's all about economic necessity, says Lawrence Redlinger, executive director of strategic planning at the school.

"Since the mid-'80s the amount of state assistance and the amount of federal government assistance have slowly been declining," he says. "So as the higher-education index rises and the amount of state assistance in real terms declines, there are cost pressures, and the easiest way to relieve those cost pressures is to go to part-time faculty members whom you ... pay less, on average."

Students are not the only ones affected by the trend. For career academics, it means less job security and fewer opportunities to advance. Part-timers are often not included in conferences and other aspects of university life.

"In some cases they're not even able to use the libraries at the universities or colleges where they teach unless they can do it as a member of the public, and that's sort of the ultimate indignity," says Curtis of the AAUP.

They also lack job security and can be hired or fired at the last minute, according to levels of enrollment. In an environment where fewer and fewer tenure-track jobs are available, an adjunct position can mean endless academic limbo instead of a path toward a career.

At the same time, the graduate students who sometimes teach in place of full-time faculty are often unhappy as well. Many complain of low wages and few benefits.

"It seems to be that it's more and more common that graduate students will be teaching courses on their own," says Curtis. "The model used to be that they would serve as teaching assistants to a regular faculty member."

Many graduate students begin teaching with no experience and a plate full of other responsibilities.

Jennifer Kong, a third-year doctoral student in Education Psychology at CUNY's Graduate Center, taught an introductory class on child development last semester. She found it difficult to balance her first teaching experience with four classes, a two-day-a-week externship, and two other part-time jobs.

"They don't really have a course that teaches you how to go about teaching," she says. "I sort of had to do it as a trial-and-error type of thing."

As colleges cut back on full-timers, some observers worry, they whittle away at the essential academic experience.

Some schools are now acting to correct the situation. CUNY, for example, hired 500 new full-timers this year, and its chancellor is working toward a goal of having 70 percent of instruction done by full-time professors.

But few believe most universities will return to past levels of full-time staffing.

"What's interesting is that [use of part-time faculty] has leveled off," says Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges in Washington, D.C.

But as for the likelihood of a return to full-time staffing levels of the past, he says, "I doubt [it], given the finances of colleges and universities."