Thanks to Dan Hirschman, who provided me with a copy of the paper by Figlio, Schapiro, and Soter comparing tenure-track to non-tenure-track faculty at Northwestern, I was able to find an answer to my question from the other day about whether the non-tenure-track faculty included graduate students. The answer is no. As the authors note on page 7:
“We exclude graduate students and visiting professors who hold faculty appointments at other institutions from our analysis. Our results are fundamentally unchanged if we include these two groups, regardless of whether we assign them to the tenure track/tenured category or to the non-tenure line category of instructor.”
Not only are graduate students not included, then, but their inclusion does not affect the analysis in any meaningful way! I don’t know how the number of graduate student instructors at Northwestern compares to the number of other non-tenure-track faculty, but the fact that they can be placed in either category without changing the results seems to indicate that this number is either relatively small or that graduate students fall between the two categories that Figlio et al. focus on, which seems interesting in itself.
Also interesting, and incredibly important for the interpretation of their results, is the fact that most of the non-tenure-track faculty at Northwestern are not “adjuncts” in the typical sense. Rather, they are classified as Continued Lecturer Faculty, as Jeremy Freese describes in a comment at Orghtheory:
I haven’t read the study yet, but it’s worth noting that (to my understanding) most non-tenure track teaching at Northwestern is not done by “adjuncts” but by what we call Continuing Lecturer Faculty, who are on multi-year renewable contracts for which the pay is less than tenure-line but substantially more than what adjuncts get paid at Northwestern, which is in turn substantially more than what adjuncts get paid at other places in the area that have used our students as adjuncts. Also, at least in sociology and neighboring disciplines, CLF are expected to teach 6 courses a year, but we are on quarters, which means that the actual number of hours a CLF spends standing in front of a classroom is roughly the same the standard load for a tenure-line faculty member teaching 4 courses at, say, Wisconsin.
In short, if you are not at a similarly well-heeled place, there’s good reason to suppose our non-tenure track faculty are better teachers than your non-tenure track faculty, whereas I’m not sure the same is true for tenure-track and if it is I wouldn’t expect the difference to be as large.
Dan Hirschman discusses the implications of this for the generalizability of the study (which it seems that outlets like Inside Higher Ed would consider important):
Rather than asking (just) about comparability of students, or even the capacity to attract elite non-tenure track faculty, we have to ask, where do non-tenure track positions look like the ones at Northwestern? For example, here at Michigan, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) has successfully fought to unionize non-tenure track faculty, securing multi-year contracts for more senior instructors, along with benefits, and etc. So we can imagine these findings mapping reasonably well onto Michigan.* But could we say the same for Eastern Michigan? For Washtenaw Community College? For the (seemingly) typical adjunct making less than $3,000 per course with no benefits?
Figlio et al.’s study looks to my not especially expert eyes like an excellent evaluation of the efficacy of NU’s non-tenure track lecturers, with obvious relevance to the potential for such full-time faculty at other reasonably selective universities. But it’s just not a study about part-time adjuncts and says nothing about such instructors. So, let’s stop framing it that way.
While the “Adjuncts are better!” framing certainly helped the study gain attention among academics, it is not in line with the authors’ own claims. Nevertheless, I fear that this framing will stick as those in positions of power use these reports to justify the increasing adjunctification of higher education.