Adjunct Faculty Usage and Technology:
the impact of their increasing employment
on the community college organizational structure.

©2001 Carol Keeth Williams

edited 12/26/10

The first two-year public college was founded in 1901, namely, Joliet Junior College in Illinois (AACC, 2001). The first community colleges were basically committed to liberal arts programs.  Then during the Depression these colleges began to offer job training.  The economic transformation that took place after World War II  and the GI Bill were key developments that lead to the creation of more educational opportunities for the masses.  Then, in 1948 the Truman Commission was the impetus for the creation of a network of public, community-based colleges to serve local needs (AACC,2001)

A national network of community colleges was established in the 1960s when additional 457 public community colleges opened.  Today there are 1132 in this country which are responsible for educating more than fifty percent of the nation’s undergraduates. 

Community colleges will celebrate their 100th anniversary this year.  An analysis by the Institute for Future Studies at Macomb Community College highlighted several issues facing community colleges in the 1990s and beyond.  They include managing public policy and public opinion, working with limited resources, documenting results, staffing for the next generation, utilizing technology, and providing workforce education (Lorenzo and Banach, 1992, Kiefer, 1997).

The Context

According to Kiefer (1997) the United States economy began the transition from the industrial to the information era in the 1980s.  The nature of work began to change as jobs in the manufacturing sector declined while those in the service sector increased.  Service sector organizations are characterized by their processes, which “transform resources into intangible outputs, creating time or place utility for their customers, rather than by the creation of a material good (Griffin, 1996, Kiefer, 1997).  With the advent of new information technologies and services, organizations in both economic sectors have come to recognize the use of information as an essential factor required for growth in almost any industry (Davis and Davison, 1991, Kiefer, 1997).  Improved access to and usage of information has created a  new economic environment, which is increasingly fast-paced and competitive (Kiefer, 1997).  Tapscott and Caston cite seven driving forces, which will shape the work of organizations in this new economy:






partnering, and

social and environmental responsibility (1993, Kiefer, 1997).

This is the environment in which our country's higher education system resides.  Higher education has its own set of driving forces, which are shaping the work of its member institutions.  These are:

shrinking pool of traditional funding sources

increasing competition for existing resources

changing student population

increase use of information technology, and

public demands for accountability (Kiefer, 1997)

Our community colleges are part of this higher education system. According to Cohen and Brawer this public two-year sector is a twentieth-century phenomenon firmly set in the landscape of American education. With five million students enrolled in institutions in every state the two year colleges constitute an important sector;they stand alone as important units of analysis, worthy of study in their own right.

The community colleges provide pre-baccalaureate and occupational entry education for many students who would not otherwise participate in postsecondary studies (Cohen and Brawer, 1994, Kiefer, 1997).

Organizational Theory and Structure

According to Robert Birnbaum an organization is composed of three levels of responsibility and control, namely, technical, managerial and institutional (Thompson, 1967, Birnbaum,1988).  In colleges and universities, the technical level includes research, teaching and service responsibilities carried out primarily by the faculty.  The trustees and presidents whose major responsibility is to respond appropriately to the uncertainty of external social forces represent the institutional level in higher education.  The managerial level is represented by the administration that must mediate between these two levels and buffer the faculty and researchers (technical core) against disruption caused by problems in the acquisition of funding, fluctuations in student enrollments, or governmental interference (1988).

Birnbaum believes that the distinctions between levels are clearer in community colleges.  Therefore this should make the technical core, the faculty, more rational and management more bureaucratized without creating problems (1988).  However, this remains to be seen when considering the impact of environmental trends.

Birnbaum addresses the structure and dynamics of organizations by addressing systems, both simple and complex with interacting components, boundaries, input & outputs, and open or closed (1988).  Again viewing the technical subsystem, according to Birnbaum it is comprised of the elements of the system that turns inputs into outputs (1988).  For example, faculty, department chairs, academic freedom policy statements at a college turn inputs such as students, money, societal expectations, chemicals, and looks into outputs such as graduates, knowledge, service and status (Birnbaum,1988).  If the system is open the boundaries are permeable, and interactions of many kinds are likely to occur between the environment and many of the system elements (Birnbaum,1988) . Inputs to open systems are much more complex and may consist of people, ideas, tangible resources or involvement with other institutions of involvement  of other institutions or systems, … and inputs cannot be accurately assessed or controlled (Birnbaum, 1988). Outputs return to the environment where they again become inputs (1988).  Open systems are dynamic and nonlinear; the systems are themselves systems and they constantly change as they interact with themselves and with the environment (Birnbaum, 1988).  Dynamic, nonlinear systems at sometimes may appear to operate in an orderly manner, and at other times may fluctuate erratically Birnbaum, 1988).  If this is the case, what impact would there be on the organizational structure if the technical core, namely, the faculty’s work, begins a major transformation in response to the Information Age.

The contingency approach to organization suggests that there is no one best pattern but at the same time that not all patterns are equally effective (Galbraith, 1973, Birnbaum, 1988)  Therefore according to Birnbaum in a given situation some ways of organizing are better than others.  The school system model suggests at  least two things must be considered in designing an effective administrative system—the environment and the technical subsystem (Birnbaum,1988).  Understanding the technical subsystem is important because it describes the characteristic ways in which colleges transform their inputs into outputs, those processes through which teaching, research and  service are accomplished are the way the organization actually does its work.  These two elements pose the greatest degree of uncertainty for an organization, and it is the differences in these dimensions that lead to differences in organizations (Thompson, 1967, Birnbaum, 1988).  Therefore the premise follows that the extent to which colleges have different environments and technologies they, would also find different management and governance systems to be most effective (Birnbaum,1988).  Therefore applying this to the  bureaucratic governance system of community colleges indicates that the resulting  technical subsystem is directly the opposite of what the Information Age needs as an instructional delivery system.

According to Birnbaum one can understand why institutions act as they do if one understands that they are responding to their perception of their environment.  Colleges must respond to environments that have different economic, social value, political, information and physical characteristics (1988).  Just as college environments differ so do their technical subsystems.  Teaching, research and service are each performed with the use of different technologies.  For example, teaching typically involves classroom instruction, student advising, final examination and communication with colleagues in the same institution.(Birnbaum,1988)  Institutions allocate their work effort differently, e.g., some given primary attention to teaching and secondary attention to service.  The raw materials to be worked on differ and they affect the technologies employed.  As in community colleges, undergraduate education is based on an open-door admissions policy and may give considerable attention to remedial education, which are not utilized at other selective institutions.  The people applying the technology at various institutions differ in terms of their preparation and skills.  As in community colleges, most full time faculty have only masters degrees, while four year colleges have predominantly Ph.D.s  (Birnbaum, 1988).

These differences create distinctive patterns of technologies (Clark, 1983, Birnbaum,1988).  Since the technical and managerial levels of the organization are interdependent, these differences in technologies can be best supported by different management structures and processes (Newman, 1971, Birnbaum, 1988).  According to Birnbaum when change is infrequent and the problems are precedented, a stable management system may be appropriate (1988).  Centralized decision making, coordination by rules and regulations, specific planning with short horizons and limited participation, close supervision, and emphasis on efficiency and dependability may all be effective (Birnbaum, 1988).  Therefore the bureaucratic model utilized at People’s Community College would serve the technical core well in this type of environment.

Also according to Birnbaum, when change is frequent and the problems are precedented, the technology type calls for less centralization, coordination by specialized planning units, planning interlocking activities with attention to intermediate goals and emphasis on quality.  When there is frequent need for change and there are few precedents, the technology must be adaptive.  Management processes supporting adaptive systems are likely to be decentralized, to be coordinated through face-to-face interaction within the units, to emphasize general plans that are adjusted according to feedback, and to give attention to learning based on experience (1988). 

Applying Kiefer’s (1997) higher education driving forces of declining traditional funding sources, increasing competition for existing resources, changing student population, increasing use of information technology and public demands for accountability it is evident that the third type of technology, adaptive is the “best fit”.  Therefore the organizational structure must be composed of management processes that are decentralized, coordinated through face-to-face interaction within the units, emphasis is on general plans that are adjusted based on feedback and attention is given to experiential learning.

Community College Faculty, Technology & Learning Paradigm

In 1997 public community colleges were comprised of 66% part-time faculty versus 34% full time faculty.  The traditional reasons for hiring adjunct faculty are flexibility in meeting the fluctuating enrollment, economic cost reductions and for real-life experience, not necessarily present in the full-time faculty group.

To connect Birnbaum’s organizational theory with Kiefer’s faculty transition, community colleges need to transform their organizational structure in order to meet the twenty first century’s faculty requirements (1988, 1997).  At present the bureaucratic structure of community colleges is not conducive for the professional needs required by the Information Age.  The traditional academic structure during the Industrial Era focused on faculty specialization.  The future faculty, then, pursued doctorates that were segregated by disciplines and these disciplines were departmentalized within colleges and universities.  The instructional delivery system was comprised of lecture, the three credit course, academic semesters and a grading system.  Productivity was measured by the number of students or course sections taught (Kiefer, 1997).

As community colleges shift from the Instruction paradigm to the Learning Paradigm, the role of the faculty must change as well (Kiefer, 1997). The traditional classroom with faculty lecture will no longer be the norm.  Faculty will be expected to produce a learning environment where they will act as a facilitator or coach in creating the appropriate means for diverse students to learn.  This will include technology whether computerized teaching methodology and application, distance learning, or television instruction to name a few. The new measure of productivity will be the cost per unit of learning (Barr & Tagg, 1995, Kiefer, 1997).  

The Information Age will require a technical core that will manage this new learning process.  This faculty will be characterized as professional generalists that will operate in an organizational structure that is decentralized and team oriented. Lorenzo & LeCroy believe that the current emphasis on disciplinary specialties will be replaced by instructional specialties, such as designing curriculum, preparing presentations, managing the learning process, and assessing learning outcomes (1994, Kiefer, 1997).

The work of the community college technical core requires fundamental, not incremental change.   Those areas that will be the focus of this change are the structure and design, technology and operations, and human resources (Griffin, 1996, Kiefer, 1997).   Again, this points to a need to address the increasing numbers of adjunct faculty, expanded use of technology and the paradigm shift to a learning environment.


In order to accomplish the fundamental change required to transform community colleges in the aforementioned areas, Birnbaum again offers a solution.  Birnbaum describes four different organizational models, e.g., bureaucracy, collegium, political system and organized anarchy.  His cybernetic institution offers a different perspective that colleges and universities result from the interaction of social norms, hierarchical structures, contending preferences and cognitive limits and biases.  It is the culture that ultimately develops the boundaries for acceptable behavior. 

Therefore, since the culture is derived from the institution’s leadership, one must define a cybernetic institution’s leadership and determine whether it is applicable to the community college’s transformational needs.  According to Birnbaum the cybernetic institution provides direction through their self-regulation (1988).  Birnbaum believes that this self-regulation is accomplished through cybernetic controls—that is, through self-correcting mechanisms that monitor organizational functions and provides attention cues, or negative feedback, to participants when things are not going well (1988).  Simply put Birnbaum believes coordination is provided by the spontaneous corrective action of the college’s parts (1988).  Birnbaum believes as the environments become complex, institutions must become equally complex if they are to sense changes and make appropriate adaptations; as complexity increases, the ability of one person to make decisions is increasingly restricted by the limits to rationality (1988).  Therefore effective leadership in cybernetic systems depends on functioning according to specific cybernetic principles; they can influence which organizational constraints get optimized, but have little control over how units function within those constraints (1988).

Avahian indicated that as the usage of part-time faculty percentage increases, there is greater pressure on the performance of full time faculty to meet goals of the institution (1995, Kiefer, 1997).   Researchers in two recent national studies both cite the lack of a systematic plan for the use of part-time faculty in most institutions as their most disturbing discovery (Gappa and Leslie, 1993, Roueche, Roueche and Milliron, 1996, Kiefer, 1997).  The characteristics of these “out of control” uses include:

Program decisions are made for fiscal reasons

Planning horizons were short and often externally driven

Faculty staffing was ad hoc and driven by non-educational factors

Policies on the sue of part-time faculty were informal and capriciously administered.

Little or no centralized record keeping or monitoring existed

Integration of part-time faculty into the institutions and/or department was minimal

Evaluation of performance was erratic or nonexistent (Gappa and Leslie, 1993, Kiefer, 1997).

Gappa and Leslie believe that these types of practices contribute to the “bifurcation” of the academic profession into two separate faculties and the inability of community colleges to provide the types of quality educational services that its environment demands (1993, Kiefer, 1997). 

Therefore, to end this practice Kiefer recommends that the full time faculty become involved in recruitment, selection, hiring, orientation, development, evaluation and integration of the part-time faculty.  They will be asked to serve as mentors and essentially as managers of the use of part-time faculty in their department. 

A professional development plan needs to be developed to bring all faculty to the technological level necessary to meet the challenges of the Information Age as well as compete.  With this plan in place faculty will finally obtain the required computer skills to adapt their instructional style to that of a learning environment.

The cybernetic model according to Birnbaum does not replace the bureaucratic, collegial, political or anarchical institution, but rather integrates them to create a more complete understanding of the dilemmas and complexities of how colleges work (1988).  It is this organizational structure coupled with effective administration that will create the environment for this fundamental change in community colleges to occur.


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