In line with its institutional values, Occidental actively touts its low student-faculty ratio, assigns students an advisor from their very first day on campus and promotes the opportunity to conduct research in small settings with professors over the summer break. But that vision for student-faculty relationships is in jeopardy, owing to the fact that the proportion of courses taught by adjunct professors is astonishingly high.
The problem manifests itself in some of Occidental’s most popular majors. This semester, adjuncts taught 39 percent of economics courses, 50 percent of lecture-style chemistry courses and 55 percent of Diplomacy and World Affairs classes. And these trends extend across all majors, affecting the education of all students.
The issue with the college’s inordinate reliance on adjunct labor is not that adjuncts are less capable than their tenured or tenure-track colleagues; the issue is that adjuncts are rarely a part of the faculty long enough to offer mentorship to students and make an impact on the college at large. As most are hired on semester- or year-long contracts, adjunct professors simply cannot establish the kinds of relationships that one hopes to find in a small environment like Occidental.
Students often cite adjunct professors as equally talented and ambitious as their tenured counterparts, but unfortunately, adjunct faculty are often gone after a year. That phenomenon might be acceptable if the proportion of adjunct-taught courses was smaller, but when more than half a major’s courses are taught by adjuncts, the situation must change.
Much of the academic program is at stake with the faculty composition at Occidental. The process for hiring adjunct faculty cannot be nearly as rigorous when it is completed within a few months of the start of the semester. Furthermore, when the faculty is composed of many adjuncts who cannot officially advise students, the amount of advisees increases for the more permanent faculty.
As of now, the institution attributes hiring adjunct professors as a means of maintaining the low student to faculty ratio. No amount of pointing to a bloated student body justifies a compromise in so fundamental a part of an Occidental education.
This editorial represents the collective opinion of the Occidental Weekly Editorial Board. Each week, the Editorial Board will publish its viewpoint on a matter relevant to the Occidental community.
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