Hire More Faculty

Why do professors always say, “the administration should hire more faculty”? It seems to be the universal solution to all academic problems that professors face. There are a few sound reasons for this, but some bogus reasons as well.

A sound reason is that adjuncts constitute around 75 percent of the faculty, and full-time faculty only about 25 percent. Part-time faculty cannot (under present structures and rules) fully integrate into department or university affairs, including shared governance. The burden to raise the ranking and reputation of the department, school, or university (through research) – which almost every top administrator wants – falls to ever-smaller numbers of full-time faculty. Often, these faculty are mid-career or later, and may lack the burning fire and fresh, creative mind to do cutting-edge research that younger minds have. They will also cut back on service work (“been there, done that”) that younger faculty would gladly participate in. So, the “old-timers” (50+ crowd) focuses on teaching instead, which does little to raise the ranking of a university.

Another reason, one that seems to be quite sound, is enrollment growth. All things being equal, more students means larger classes and less individualized attention to students. So, it makes sense that a department with 25 or 50 new students should hire a new faculty. Or does it? Faculty hiring cannot be in direct proportion to enrollment growth. A department with 25 or 50 new students should not hire one additional faculty, unless there is an unusual circumstance such as the need for a professor with highly specialized knowledge (more on that in a moment).

Taiichi Ohno, the so-called father of Toyota’s production system, recounts a story in his book, Toyota Production System (p.69) about hiring in direct proportion to demand. He teaches us that large increases in productive output that are possible, with the addition of only a few more people, when waste, inconsistencies (unevenness), and excesses (unreasonableness) are thoroughly eliminated:

“Corolla’s were fairly popular and selling well. We started with a plan to make 5,000 cars. I instructed the head of the engine section to make 5,000 units and use under 100 workers. After two or three months, he reported, ‘We can make 5,000 units with 80 workers.’

After that, the Corolla kept selling well. So I asked him, ‘How many workers can make 10,000 units?’ He instantly answered, ‘160 workers.’

So I yelled at him. ‘In grade school I was taught that two times eight equals sixteen. After all these years, do you think I should learn that from you? Do you think I’m a fool?’

Before long, 100 workers were making over 10,000 units. We might say that mass production made this possible. But it was due largely to the Toyota production system in which waste, inconsistencies, and excesses were thoroughly eliminated.”

Here is the lesson: A department with 200 students should be able to grow to 400 students with the addition of only one or two faculty. But, to do that that requires the thorough elimination of waste, inconsistencies, and excesses in all process that faculty participate in – including those demanded by the administration and accreditors (e.g. reports, reports, and more reports, and committee work, committee work, and more committee work). 

Thorough elimination of waste, inconsistencies, and excesses requires two things: Firstly, university leadership that allows departments to totally re-think everything they do and significantly improve all processes via kaizen. Secondly, it requires faculty who are eager to quickly study and improve how they perform administrative work (such as academic advising, academic program assessment, etc.), teaching , research, and service to the department and to the university – and to share with other departments how their new processes work so that their peers can learn from them.

Most universities are an entrepreneurial environment where individual faculty and departments can create new courses and academic programs. However, the processes for creating these new services are poor. So, historically, departments have overproduced both courses and degree programs in the hope that some will become popular among students and payers. Over time, universities offer much more than they are capable of delivering with both high quality and low cost.

As a result of bad management at the highest levels of institutional leadership for long periods of time, a painful effort to reduce and consolidate courses and programs eventually ensues. Hopefully, improved processes (both simple and quick) emerge so that new courses and degree programs are created that serve actual needs (versus politically motivated, such as the recent emphasis on STEM programs). And, that should include improved processes for modifying or shutting down courses and degree programs when demand wanes.

Needless to say, there should be concurrent activity to eliminate waste, inconsistencies, and excesses in administrative processes, including re-deployment of administrators to schools and departments to teach or to support teaching and research.

Another bogus reason for hiring faculty is academic over-specialization. If you owned a business, for-profit or not-for-profit, you would like the people you hire to be multi-skilled so that they can flexibly respond to changing circumstances (e.g. customer demand). You would hire specialists only where they are truly needed.

Universities usually hire single-skilled specialists throughout, and who have limited capability and little interest in doing something else. Faculty hiring practices and promotion processes assure that the university has an inflexible full-time faculty workforce. This, once again, is the result of bad management at the highest levels of institutional leadership for long periods of time. 

Even if the administration did hire more faculty, as professors ask, doing so would simply feed existing process problems that are mired in waste, inconsistency, and excess. The only answer, from faculty’s perspective, would again be to hire more faculty. That just cannot happen. Nor can the incessant hiring of administrators (at any level) – jobs postings for which typically outpace full-time tenure/tenure track faculty positions by 3.5 to 1 or more.

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