Regular vs. temporary part-time faculty rules vary widely


Whether a part-time faculty member is hired as “regular” or “temporary” usually means the difference between getting benefits (for “regular” employees) or not.

The designations vary so much across departments, schools and campuses that the University Senate’s Faculty Affairs committee may urge the University to devise uniform rules or may propose new rules itself.

Whether part-time faculty are classified as either temporary or regular, “is determined by the department. It has nothing to do with salary. It has nothing to do with how many courses you teach,” said Linda Tashbook, adjunct professor of law and law librarian at Pitt's School of Law, who told Faculty affairs that the committee she chairs, Benefits and Welfare, would probably endorse a new policy.

“There is no definition threshold for what constitutes a temporary part-time faculty member or a regular part-time faculty member,” she said. “What is needed is for somebody to define and establish thresholds for what constitutes (both designations). It needs to be done for consistency.

“It could be a recruiting issue,” she added. “There may be some schools or departments that can’t lure people in without saying, ‘We’ll give you benefits.’ ”

Debating the issue at its January meeting, Faculty Affairs committee members noted that the number of courses taught per semester and per year varies widely among part-time faculty, as do the number of semesters they may teach per year, and the number of years they may have served as part-timers.

Some part-time faculty have spent a decade or longer teaching a single course during one semester per year and are apparently not dependent on Pitt for their sole income. Others are teaching full-time class loads, perhaps stepping in for a faculty member on leave, or teaching many part-time courses with the aim of being hired eventually as a full-timer.  Such variation calls for codifying both regular practices and exceptions, the committee concluded.

809 regular part-time faculty, compared to 4,447 regular full-time faculty at Pitt

Across all Pitt campuses, there are 809 regular part-time faculty, compared to 4,447 regular full-time faculty, according to the 2019 Fact Book. On the Pittsburgh campus, there are 748 regular part-time faculty and an additional 61 on the regional campuses. The Fact Book does not include tallies for temporary part-time faculty.

The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences is tops in hiring part-time faculty, with 309, followed by the School of Dental Medicine (108), School of Medicine (84), School of Social Work (61) and School of Computing and Information (49). At the bottom of the list are the School of Nursing (4), Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (4), School of Education (5) and School of Law (9).

Inquiries at all Pittsburgh campus schools found policies and practices varied widely.

The Dietrich School, for instance, hires all part-time faculty as “regular” but makes exceptions in four categories, according to Adam Leibovich, associate dean for faculty recruitment and research development — those appointed in the fall or spring terms for less than four months; those teaching in a summer session at the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology; emeritus faculty returning as part-timers; and those teaching through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

At the School of Medicine, reported Vice Dean Ann E. Thompson, part-time faculty are usually “regular” hires. However, faculty who have retired but come back “for limited amounts of time and percentage effort” across a semester or year are designated part-time temporary, she said.

School of Law Dean Amy Wildermuth explained that “our part-time faculty are all practicing attorneys with a primary job outside of the law school. For this reason, they are temporary (they typically teach one class for us one semester a year or every other year).”

In the School of Nursing, “the need for part-time faculty varies from year to year,” said Linda Chang, personnel manager. “It is our practice to hire part-time faculty working less than 80 percent effort as ‘temporary.’ Part-time faculty who are hired at or above 80 percent effort are hired as ‘regular.’ ”

The School of Pharmacy, however, hires most part-time faculty as “regular” faculty. “The only time we use temporary is when someone will truly be at Pitt for a few months,” said Dean Patricia Kroboth.

The final report and recommendations issued by the Senate ad-hoc committee on part-time non-tenure stream faculty in February 2017, found that, at Pitt, “Part-time, NTS faculty will typically be hired as temporary employees.  After being on the payroll for at least two semesters, and being formally evaluated within their unit, the PT-NTS faculty member can request to be considered as a regular or recurring PT-NTS faculty member. This designation should be approved within the unit, and by the appropriate higher administration.”

HR and provost’s office researching policy change implications

Appearing at Faculty Affairs’ January meeting, Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Benefits John Kozar called the designation of part-time faculty as regular or part-time “inconsistent. It’s all over the board. It truly depends on the individual school or department. We’d love to see consistency there because you should probably have some ground rules.”

Under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), Kozar said, workers employed at 80 percent of full-time effort must be offered health care. The University actually offers benefits to regular employees at 50 percent effort or greater, which he said was “very generous” compared to other educational institutions and businesses.

But benefits have a cost to the employee and to the University, he noted. For some part-time faculty, a health care premium may be something they cannot afford to pay year-round. Some universities have instituted higher premium costs for part-time faculty to offset the institution’s costs, “and that’s problematic because they can’t afford it,” Kozar said of part-time faculty.

For the University, health care coverage represents “an unlimited liability,” he added. “You could rack up a million dollars in charges” just from paying the health care costs incurred by a single employee earning $3,000 a year from one University course.

Four and a half years ago, when Kozar’s office last compiled data, he found 70 percent of part-time faculty were temporary and 30 percent regular, across the entire University. He said his office was looking into more current numbers and would present them to the committee as early as their February meeting.

Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for faculty affairs, development and diversity, said her latest tally, for last year, found the proportions roughly even between temporary and regular.

“I think guidelines would be very useful,” she said.

Faculty Affairs chair Yodit Betru, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, said the committee would likely consider a resolution about this issue at its next meeting.

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.