Ian Firns, the courageous (possibly in a Sir Humphrey Appleby sense) contract academic at the centre of the Newcastle University plagiarism cover-up scandal, contributes some fascinating observations to the comment box of my previous post.
One of them is to express a degree of irritation at what he seems to have perceived as a slur on external contract academics (like him) as contributing to a lowering of academic standards. I certainly didn’t intend to convey any such message. I do, however, worry about the increasing resort to contract rather than tenured staff. Ian sees freelance status as giving him the freedom to be fearlessly independent, but many others experience lack of tenure as a serious constraint on freedom of expression.
The other potential problem with increasing resort to external teaching staff at universities lies in the thoroughness of preparation and quality of materials they’re able to produce. It clearly doesn’t apply to full-time freelancers like Ian, but it certainly does to many of the external part-time lecturers my law school is increasingly being forced to rely on as a result of staff reductions caused by budget cutbacks. Part-time external lecturers (especially in professional disciplines like law) typically hold down a full-time job elsewhere, and rush out to the campus after work to deliver lectures. These lecturers have many positive qualities to offer; not least their current “hands on” practical professional expertise. However, they inevitably don’t have the same amount of time as a full-time staff member to devote to preparation of lectures or learning materials.