Increasingly, more and more classes — especially undergraduate ones — are taught by adjunct faculty members instead of tenured professors.

On Thursday afternoon, I chatted about all-things-faculty with Jonathan Robe of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and the subject of colleges using adjuncts instead of tenured professors kept popping up. (You can read the full transcript, here.)

One reader wrote in: “I just graduated from a masters program in public policy here in the DC area. I had always heard that while the “experts” didn’t teach the undergrads, I sort of expected that would be different in grad school. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The experts who were full faculty were no where to be seen... The most useless classes were the ones taught by “adjunct faculty” who were supposed experts in their fields. With one exception, all of the adjuncts were poor at best when it came to actual teaching...”

Robe responded (read his answer after the jump):

“This is actually one of the very problems we identified in our analysis of the University of Texas at Austin (which is one of the largest campuses in the country). About 1/3 of graduate students are taught by non-tenured faculty, despite the fact that it is common to assume that grad students are the ones who get the most attention from tenured faculty. There is one caveat here, though. Some professional programs (i.e., law, medicine, etc.) probably have to rely upon non-tenured faculty who are active in their professions. But for most non-professional grad students, the expectation would be that they benefit from full-time tenured faculty.

Another reader chimed in to stand up for adjuncts: “I am a recent grad of the George Washington University. Many of my professors were adjunct faculty due to the fact that they still worked in their respective fields... These adjunct faculty members were a fantastic resource with relevant, up-to-the-moment experience in the subject matters they were teaching. So, why does GW get such a bad rap for having predominantly adjunct faculty? The rankings fault us for our lack of tenured professors, but truthfully it was adjunct faculty still active in their fields that enriched my college experience.”

I responded: “There are two kinds of adjuncts: There are the working professionals who occasionally teach courses in their field. And then there are those who want to be full-time instructors at one school, but can’t find such a job so they cobble together a living by teaching random classes here and there.

Former White House aide and author Bob Lehrman is an adjunct at American University and recently wrote an opinion piece for The Post headlined, “What unions could bring to American University.”

Lehrman says he is a “hobbyist” who would actually pay the university to teach there, but here’s the lifestyle of many of his fellow adjuncts: “They teach at three or four campuses, tend bar to supplement their incomes, hold student conferences at Starbucks, and keep books in the trunks of their cars. Schools can let them go at a moment’s notice, and do. They need a union.”

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. (And, again, make sure to check out the full transcript.)