The Tenure-Track (Busy) Sociologist

A discipline finds that -- unlike much of higher education -- it is not increasing its reliance on adjuncts, but is seeing the permanent faculty's teaching load go up.
March 24, 2009

Report after report from faculty groups these days bemoans the "adjunctification" of higher education. Tenure-track lines aren't filled, while sections are covered by adjuncts. And this trend has been growing for years, well before the current economic mess.

The American Sociological Association has done an analysis of its field and found that it runs counter to the trend. In recent years, sociology departments appear to have held steady at the percentage of permanent faculty members (tenured, tenure-track and those with some other permanent status) in departments, at around 64 percent in both 2001 and 2007.

How has sociology managed to preserve the idea of a permanent faculty? Apparently by making professors spend more time teaching. The teaching loads of the permanent faculty have gone up substantially during that time, across four-year sectors of higher education.

The findings on adjuncts run so counter to conventional wisdom on higher education these days that the sociology association has invited departments to offer their own experiences in possible contrast to the study. But so far, the reactions from departments since the association started distributing the study suggest agreement with its findings, which are based on data provided by departments in a national survey.

With regard to the use of adjuncts, the survey found variations among categories (using old Carnegie Classifications to group like institutions), with some categories of research and doctoral institutions increasing their share of permanent faculty members over the six years studied, while some master's and baccalaureate institutions saw decreases.

Percentage of Permanent Faculty in Sociology Departments

Sector 2001 2007
Research I 68.6% 68.6%
Research II 66.0% 70.9%
Doctoral I 60.2% 62.5%
Doctoral II 68.4% 68.9%
Master's I 64.8% 67.1%
Master's II 54.9% 37.0%
Baccalaureate I 76.1% 74.9%
Baccalaureate II 54.4% 47.1%
All 64.8% 64.1%

In a situation of declining enrollment, permanent professors in departments without as many adjuncts could avoid teaching more. But in sociology -- across sectors -- the number of majors per permanent faculty member is up during the years studied, from 11.3 students majors per full-time faculty member to 14.7. And the new data suggest that the permanent faculty members have responded by teaching more. While there is variation across sectors -- with smaller course loads for those at doctoral and research institutions -- the average number of courses per year showed increases across sectors.

Average Course Loads of Permanent Faculty in Sociology Departments

Sector 2001 2007
Research I
Research II
Doctoral I
Doctoral II
Master's I
Master's II
Baccalaureate I
Baccalaureate II

Not surprising, given those findings, the study also found that the percentage of courses taught by permanent faculty members increased during the years studied. Across sectors, permanent faculty members were teaching 76.7 percent of courses in 2001 and 83.8 percent in 2007.

Share Article

Back to Top