Face to Face with Inequality

Wretched Refuse of our Teeming Shore

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The National Bureau of Economic Research recently released a study of the impact of contingent faculty at Northwestern University on student outcomes, concluding that they did better than their tenure-track counterparts. “We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses,” the authors write. They also found that students in classes taught by contingent faculty are more likely to take another class in the same subject. Most interestingly, these differences “are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and less-qualified students.”

A couple of data points are in order:

1, There are more contingent faculty than tenured and tenure-track faculty in American universities, and they account for the overwhelming majority of courses taught.

2. At many universities, contingent faculty make at or even below the minimum wage. They typically receive a set amount per course–a pittance more often than not–that bears no relationship to the work required to do the work.

Bully for them that they are actually better teachers, and bully for the students that this be so. But exactly how does it compute that tuition has been going up by leaps and bounds year after year even as teaching happens more and more on the dirt cheap?


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