Tennessee and Georgia colleges have contributed less to faculty salaries in the past decade than most states in the Southeast.Studies show at the same time, fewer tenured faculty members -- who usually receive the highest salaries -- are being hired and replacements are cheaper, part-time adjunct instructors.
"(Adjuncts) are cheap labor," said Dr. Shela Van Ness, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and vice president of the UT faculty and staff union. "The university saves a lot of money, but the students are not getting the same thing they would with people with (doctorates)."
Tennessee colleges have increased faculty salaries by 3 percent since 1998, bringing average pay to $66,200, according to a report released last week by the Southeast Regional Education Board. In Georgia, salaries have been cut by 3 percent in the past 10 years to an average of $70,400, the report shows.
Overall, Southeastern states increased faculty pay by an average of 7 percent, according to the report.
Faculty on campuses in North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee say they've come to expect no change in salaries, even as living costs increase.
"I think, for the most part, many faculty didn't go into this profession to make a lot of money," said Dr. John Lugthart, a biology professor who has taught at Dalton State College for 18 years. "Most of us enjoy teaching and enjoy our interactions with students. But it can be discouraging when we feel our compensation isn't sufficient."
Over the last few years, landing better-paying jobs in higher education has been increasingly difficult as the percentage of tenured faculty shrinks.
In 1975, the percentage of jobs at degree-granting institutions that were either tenured or tenure-track was more than 56 percent. In 2007, the percentage was down to 31.2 percent, according to a national study by the American Association of University Professors. "All institutions are using a lot more adjuncts," UTC Provost Phil Oldham said. "It gives you more management flexibility."
Tenured faculty usually are given lifetime job security, making it much more difficult to let them go or terminate their position.
Flexibility has become more important in the current economy, when enrollment numbers are growing just as budgets are being cut, he said.
Between 20 percent and 25 percent of UTC faculty is part time and, of the full-time work force, 25 percent are not on tenure track, Dr. Oldham said. Those numbers will grow in the next few years because UTC can't afford to hire permanent faculty, he said.
John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, said the decreasing size of tenured faculty at universities could threaten academic freedom.
While tenured faculty are protected when they spark controversy in the classroom, nontenured faculty can be fired anytime.
Whether they keep their jobs often can be determined by their popularity among students, which can affect grading standards and classroom rigor, he said.
"The instructors always have to worry about losing their job if they do anything controversial," he said.
A less permanent faculty also can have a negative effect on students, who can gain a lot from developing relationships with longtime tenured faculty, he said.
"The instructors may not be there the next semester," he said. "They are really being used, as if all they have to do is show up and deliver what is in the textbook, and they are not being supported as career faculty."
On the other hand, Dr. Lugthart said part-time faculty can bring a lot of enthusiasm and real-world experience to the classroom.
Often adjunct faculty members have worked in the fields they are teaching and have at least a master's degree. They can help students network in the career field they are studying, he said.
Dalton State has increased its part-time and nontenured faculty significantly over the last few years, he said. The decision has helped the school survive a tough budget climate.
"It helps us deal with increased enrollment," he said. "It is a matter of the economy."