Admin replaces professors with ‘lecturers,’ downplays hiring concerns

In light of the university’s budget issues, hiring at Fordham has plateaued in 2014, worrying many faculty members and students. Rather than positioning this as a negative development, however, administration is pointing to the fluidity of faculty size as a natural outgrowth of student need.

According to a letter sent to faculty over the summer by Rev. Joseph M. McShane S.J., president of the university, for the 2014-2015 school year, 10 new professors were appointed to the Arts and Sciences faculty, along with eight to the Gabelli School of Business. Twenty-two individuals were made clinical instructors, postdoctoral instructors and lecturers throughout the university.

These lecturers are not the same as part time adjunct professors — the lecturers are on campus full time to teach and advise students. But a lecturer gets much less money than a professor, and they also have much less job security. So the university benefits from hiring these kinds of staff instead of tenure track professors —instructors/postdocs make less money and also can be fired or not renewed without much process.

Dr. Jonathan Crystal

Dr. Jonathan Crystal

Dr. Jonathan Crystal, associate vice president and associate chief academic officer in the Office of the Provost, took a more positive approach to the situation.

“There are many reasons why in certain areas, it makes sense to hire these instructors,” Crystal told Fordham Daily via email. “People who have professional experience really add something different to the classroom.”

Crystal said these short-term faculty members, who normally have contracts of one to five years, can also be test cases when the university starts a new program.

“It might make sense to do a temporary hire while we see how the enrollments play out and whether the program is sustainable,” Crystal said.

Because of this, Crystal said that overall faculty size was a better indicator than the number of new hires in a given year. The data on this year’s faculty will be revealed at the Faculty Senate meeting in December.

The minutes from last year’s Faculty Senate meeting, however, which Fordham Daily obtained from Dean John Harrington’s office, still offer some revealing statistics.

The number of tenured and tenure track faculty at Fordham actually rose from 572 in 2009-10 to 597 in 2013-14. The number of clinical instructors, lecturers and postdocs also increased from 93 in 2009-10 to 134 in 2013-14. This shows that the university is trying to shift as many jobs as possible from higher paid professors to lower paid clinical faculty, lecturers and postdocs.

The low numbers five years ago were a symptom of the hiring freeze after the 2008 economic crisis. This freeze was lifted before the 2011-12 school year, which led to a large increase in hires in the short term- the number of professors increased from 397 to 411, and clinical, lecturer and postdoc positions rose from 105 to 117. The pace of hiring slowed down, however, once the faculty was back at pre-crisis levels.

As of the 2013-14 school year, student-to-faculty ratio was steady at 11:1.

Some Rose Hill department chairs say they still face hiring challenges.

Professor Glenn Hendler, chair of the English department, said he is at a disadvantage, because Fordham’s small endowment ($592.5 million compared to $9.2 billion at Columbia) and lack of benefits (the university does not subsidize faculty housing, unlike at NYU and Columbia) could turn new professors away, which would be detrimental to students.

“I don’t think our curriculum is weak, or that students are suffering, because of the slow hiring at Fordham,” Hendler said in an email. “That could happen soon, if hiring stays virtually frozen for us.”

Even though the English department is one of Fordham’s largest, with 48 full-time faculty members, Hendler said it is still at a disadvantage.

“The English department’s needs are great, both because we serve a lot of students in the major and in the Core, and because we have gaps in our course offerings,” Hendler said in an email, citing in particular the lack of a professor of African American literature at Rose Hill.

Crystal cautioned against such broad generalizations.

“It is important to look at the whole university,” he said. “Our decisions about hiring are not based simply on how many faculty have historically been in various departments.”

Crystal said that if course enrollments are surging in certain areas (as they have in the science departments of late), the university will hire additional faculty to service these students.

“We look at curricular needs and we think about the strategic direction we want the university to move in,” Crystal said.

J. Patrick Hornbeck, chair of the theology department and a Faculty Senator, endorsed this approach.

“The opportunity to work at Fordham continues to appeal to scholars at various stages of their careers,” Hornbeck said in an email. “It is not necessarily unwise of the university to limit tenure-track hiring in a time when, throughout the higher education sector, there is substantial uncertainty.”

Hornbeck also said an additional 15 tenure-track lines are scheduled to be created before fiscal year 2018.

Given the many reasons behind administrative decision making, Crystal concluded by saying that this year’s hiring numbers should not be cause for concern.

“Be skeptical if someone tells you that the university is reducing faculty hiring,” he said.