Letter to the Editor: A response to ‘Plateauing in expansion, enrollment?’

John Kilbourne, Professor of Movement Science

Editorial Note: The editorial referenced was published in the Nov. 11 issue of the Lanthorn, titled “Plateauing in expansion, enrollment?” The following letter to the editor is a response to the piece, which reflects the views of the editorial board as a whole. 

I was moved reading the editorial, “Plateauing in expansion, enrollment?” in the Nov. 11 Lanthorn. The (editorial board) makes several very important points, i.e., “…perhaps the focus should be on fostering the buildings, programs and initiatives we already have.”  The editorial also raises the important topic of student retention.

In line with these points, I would like to recommend that the university take a serious look at the relationship faculty have to student retention. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Retention in the Trenches” examines the important role faculty play in retaining students.

At Grand Valley State University, 30 percent of the faculty are adjunct instructors. These faculty teach 50 percent of the classes and 68 percent of first year classes. Adjunct faculty at GVSU are committed to their roles as teachers and those that I know, including my wife (Adjunct Integrative, Religious and Intercultural Studies), work incredibly hard.

That said, their responsibilities do not include student advising, curriculum development, committee participation, etc.  What is more, most are paid only nominally for their efforts. In my time at GVSU, the university has spent nearly $1 billion on new construction while adjunct pay has increased only slightly.

The last paragraph of the Lanthorn editorial states: “Perhaps after years of rapid expansion, the university can take a breath and start focusing on the renovation of what we do have – making our existing campus the best it can be.”

My hope is that this renovation begins with:  1. increasing the numbers of tenure-line and full-time faculty; and 2. providing our adjunct faculty with the resources, most importantly appropriate compensation for the important work they do. Moreover, considering how important retention is for first-year students, and the fact that 68 percent of first year classes at GVSU are taught by adjunct faculty, the university may wish to explore how these faculty can enhance their time and relationships with students, be compensated for this additional work, thus “making our existing campus the best it can be.”