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Who Is Training The Chemists Of Tomorrow?

by Cynthia K. Larive, Chair, and Lee Y. Park, Vice Chair, Committee on Professional Training
October 18, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 42

Growing discussion about the role of non-tenure-track faculty at colleges and universities and their part in undergraduate education prompted the ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) to survey 1,012 chemistry programs about their faculty employment and course staffing practices. Departments were asked to provide data on faculty gender, ethnicity, and level of training. They were also asked to identify the types of faculty who teach students in introductory chemistry courses and first-term organic courses appropriate for majors as well as the corresponding courses designed for nonmajors.

Responses from 422 chemistry programs were sorted by type of institution and type of faculty contract: tenured/tenure-track; long-term, full-time, non-tenure-track (LT/FT); long-term, part-time, non-tenure-track (LT/PT); and temporary.

The data collected present a snapshot of current staffing practices in departments that offer a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. A brief summary of key findings is provided here; CPT encourages those interested in the full report and raw survey data to access them online at statusreport. We believe that this information will be of interest to the broader chemistry community: educators, medical professionals, companies interested in hiring students with chemistry training, and aspiring faculty.

The survey responses indicate that 68% of chemistry faculty members are tenured/tenure-track, 11% are LT/FT, 8% are LT/PT, and 13% hold temporary appointments.

Across all types of institutions, women account for 22% of the tenure-track faculty, and their share of non-tenure-track positions is much greater. Women account for only 16% of the tenured/tenure-track faculty at Ph.D.-granting institutions, although the number is considerably higher at both B.S.- and M.S.-granting institutions (as high as 33% at private B.S. institutions). Women account for 48% of LT/FT faculty overall; their share is lower at Ph.D.-granting institutions and higher at B.S.- and M.S.-granting institutions (as high as 60% at private B.S. institutions). The overall LT/PT and temporary faculty categories are 40% and 41% women, respectively.

Across institution and faculty type, the racial/ethnic makeup of chemistry faculty remains predominantly white/Caucasian. The percentage distribution of faculty among other racial/ethnic groups is relatively consistent (and small) across the different categories of faculty, and these distributions are fairly consistent among all types of institutions. Details are available online in the full report.

Anywhere from 16 to 29% of LT/PT and temporary faculty at non-Ph.D.-granting departments teach at more than one institution. In general, non-tenure-track faculty receive fewer benefits than their tenure-track counterparts, with LT/PT faculty receiving the fewest of what might be considered quality-of-life benefits: private computer access, private offices, secretarial support, photocopy access, parking, library privileges, or access to a medical plan of any kind.

The survey also collected data on lecture and laboratory contact hours—time spent in direct supervision of students—for each category of faculty at each type of institution. At Ph.D.-granting institutions, LT/FT faculty members have more contact hours than tenure-track faculty. At B.S.- and M.S.-granting institutions, however, LT/FT faculty members have fewer contact hours than tenure-track faculty, perhaps because LT/FT positions encompass additional nonteaching duties.

The survey also determined the type of faculty that students encounter in introductory and organic classes suitable for chemistry majors. Although the majority of classroom contact hours in courses appropriate for chemistry majors are accounted for by tenure-track faculty, LT/FT faculty also account for a significant portion of this assignment. Non-tenure-track faculty of all types account for a large proportion of lab contact hours. Overall, about 70% of students in introductory courses appropriate for chemistry majors see tenure-track faculty in lecture; however, nearly 40% of students in these lecture courses at public Ph.D.-granting institutions are taught by LT/FT faculty.

The picture is quite different for introductory courses in which the intended audience does not include chemistry majors. In these courses non-tenure-track faculty of all types account for the majority of lecture contact hours, and the majority of students see non-tenure-track faculty in lecture.

The survey data offer a number of insights into chemistry instruction and who is teaching whom. The gender and ethnic/racial makeup of the faculty does not reflect that of our society as a whole. On average, 30% of students in introductory chemistry lecture courses appropriate for chemistry majors see non-tenure-track faculty, but this increases to 55% at public Ph.D.-granting institutions. There are also clear differences at some institutions regarding what types of faculty are assigned to courses for majors versus nonmajors, as well as which faculty are given responsibility for teaching in the classroom versus hands-on laboratory instruction. Finally, the benefits made available to non-tenure-track faculty (including LT/FT faculty) are considerably less generous than those offered to tenure-track faculty.

The results of this survey will help inform CPT’s future discussions of how departments can best provide a rigorous and excellent undergraduate education in chemistry. They also provide baseline data useful in monitoring future chemistry-program staffing trends.

Cynthia K. Larive, Chair, and Lee Y. Park, Vice Chair, Committee on Professional Training

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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