The university increased its cadre of part-time college teachers by 40 percent between 2002 and 2008, so UGA students now spend less than half their class time in courses taught by traditional professors.
UGA administrators say the move toward more part-timers will continue, at least until the state's budget picture improves.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has cut state appropriations to Georgia and other state universities by about 10 percent and proposes to do the same next year.
Five years ago, a task force co-chaired by Jere Morehead, vice president for instruction, called for more full-time faculty at UGA.
Instead, there are fewer, though administrators from President Michael Adams down say they would like to reverse the trend.
"We have not been able to make progress on those objectives," Morehead said.
UGA saves money in lean budget times by not replacing all the full-time faculty members who retire or leave UGA, as well as by increasing class sizes, according to Provost Arnett Mace.
Without saving money this way, the university would have to lay off workers, Mace said.
According to Morehead, by hiring more part-timers, UGA also is making sure students will be able to get the courses they need to graduate.
But the change to part-timers reduces the quality of a UGA degree, administrators, students and faculty all say.
"We have some great part-time faculty," Morehead said - but overall, tenure-track and tenured faculty are better teachers, he said.
A handful of recent research studies say the same, concluding that first-year students taught by part-time teachers are more likely to drop out than students taught by traditional faculty.
"Tenure-track faculty give the best instruction and the best field research. And they have better connections to people in the field," said senior Connor McCarthy, president of the UGA Student Government Association.
"It's a quick, easy fix to a serious problem," said Joe Hermanowicz, a sociology professor who won tenure at UGA. "You hire people who are not well-integrated with the chief mission of the university. You don't have the most well-trained and experienced individuals in the classroom."
The "quick fix" creates a class of highly educated poor people, said Hermanowicz, who presides over the faculty senate of the university's largest academic division, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
"They tend to be underpaid. They tend to be given overly heavy workloads," he said. "It's an exploitative way to get jobs done at low cost."
In some departments, part-time instructors sometimes teach four or five courses per semester, twice the normal load for a professor.
Years of work as a so-called part-time instructor took a toll on Athens artist Mary Porter.
"When I first did it, it was good. It was like going back to graduate school, and I was learning some things," Porter said. "But after a while, I just felt like it was draining."
At $3,000 a course, Porter figured her pay per hour was about the same as a cafeteria worker. Even graduate student workers in some departments earned more, she said.
Not only was the pay low, she received no benefits such as health insurance - not even a deduction for Social Security.
"It amazed me that they could ask so much professionally and pay so little," she said. "I could deal with the low pay, but when I realized I was losing my social benefits, I thought, 'I could retire in 20 years and not have any Social Security.' "
For now, administrators have little choice but to hire part-timers, McCarthy believes.
"I think we're basically doing with our money the best we can with the hand we've been dealt," he said.
Hermanowicz was more skeptical.
"The future is determined by the choices we make, and the rationales we have for making those decisions. We can make wise decisions or poor choices. We can make the decision to invest in bona fide faculty," he said.