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Embrace Adjunct Faculty as part of the Department

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Adjunct (also known as part-time or contingent) faculty play a large and increasing role in delivering courses to students at many two- and four-year institutions, accounting for nearly 70% of those teaching at two-year colleges (Wallin, 2007; Kezar and Maxey, 2013). Academics choose adjunct teaching positions for a variety of reasons. Some are retired faculty who wish to remain active in the classroom. Some are professionals in industry who want to contribute to the preparation of professionals for their discipline. Still others are teaching as adjuncts because they have been unable to find full-time or tenure-track faculty positions.

Whatever their reason for being an adjunct, the nature of the position makes it more difficult for these faculty members to be fully engaged in their departments or to take part in professional development opportunities available to full-time faculty.

  • Adjuncts may earn as little as 35% of the salary of a full-time faculty member (Monks, 2007). Many adjuncts therefore teach at multiple campuses, commuting many miles every week. This leaves little time to participate in activities such as department meetings or professional development sessions at even one of their institutions.
  • Adjuncts who are employed in industry settings will likely find it difficult or impossible to take part in activities that are scheduled during the work day.
Solutions to some of these issues require administrative or institutional leadership, but there are a number of ways that divisions or departments can work to make adjunct faculty members feel like they are valued members of the community. Regardless of the strategies undertaken, be intentional about efforts to include adjunct faculty in the life of the department.

Strategies

1. Provide space and support

Providing dedicated office space and access to administrative support can go a long way to making adjunct faculty feel like they are valued members of the department community. The support situation for adjuncts varies widely across institutions. Some have no regular office space and little clerical support or access to supplies (Feldman and Turnley, 2001; Green, 2007; Gappa et al., 2007). The lack of dedicated space makes it difficult for these faculty to meet one-on-one with their students or establish a comfortable work environment. The lack of administrative support can leave adjunct faculty feeling like they are "on their own," without resources to draw on.

  • When space is at a premium, arrangements like office sharing between adjuncts who typically teach at different times can be useful.
  • For faculty who teach outside regular office hours (such as evenings or weekends), establish ways for them to access administrative support and supplies either directly or by being able to request materials or assistance ahead of time.
  • If the department has work-study students, dedicate one to supporting the adjuncts. Assistance in grading, copying, or lab setup can make a large positive difference in the lives of adjunct faculty.

2. Include adjuncts in department life

Adjuncts too often feel isolated from and invisible to others in the department, particularly if they teach evening classes when no one else is around (Feldman and Turnley, 2001; Gappa et al., 2007). Some simple actions on the part of the department can reduce this and make these faculty members feel more connected.

  • Include adjunct faculty in departmental email lists and be deliberate about information sharing about departmental events.
  • Invite adjuncts to department social functions. Even if they can't attend, being invited will be appreciated. On the flip side, it is also important that they not be compelled to take part in activities on their own time.
  • Ensure that adjunct faculty have opportunities to participate in departmental decision making and governance.
  • Allow adjuncts to serve as advisors for student clubs.

3. Provide professional development opportunities that cater to adjunct faculty needs

It is important that some portion of the professional development opportunities offered to the department will be valuable to adjunct faculty. Conducting a needs assessment can demonstrate a willingness to listen and help build momentum. The assessment is an opportunity for faculty to voice their needs and concerns. The results will provide a road map for departmental leadership to create opportunities that the faculty will value. Following through on the recommendations from the assessment results can show that department leaders are committed to supporting their faculty.

As a part of the development opportunities, address teaching topics as well as disciplinary content and systems and processes of the institution. It could be something simple like having periodic brown bag gatherings to talk about successes and challenges in the classroom or more involved like bringing in a visiting speaker to address a teaching method. Many adjuncts are looking for new and more effective ways of teaching their material and this will likely be one finding of a needs assessment.

When and how to offer development opportunities is also important. Those who work in industry or government likely can't attend events during the day and those who teach during the day may have other responsibilities in the evenings. Try providing development opportunities at a variety of times and places so that most faculty can attend some fraction of them. Also bear in mind that if professional development is not considered "on the clock," those struggling to stitch together several adjunct positions have little incentive to prioritize them over other activities that constitute paid time. Departments can make the most of orientations and other mandatory gathering times as times to learn together.

Another way to help adjunct faculty get the professional development they need is to make sure they know of opportunities available outside the department. There are many workshops and webinars being run by national, regional, and local organizations addressing the whole gamut of higher education topics. Webinars, in particular, are low-barrier opportunities to learn from experts and are often recorded for asynchronous participation. Actively sharing these opportunities with adjunct colleagues when they arise demonstrates a concern for their professional development and also provides them with valuable tools for pursuing their own goals.

Teach the Earth: Professional Development Opportunities »

4. Support adjunct faculty members' pursuit of their long-term goals

Faculty become adjuncts for different reasons. Understanding what an adjunct is trying to achieve can help full-time faculty and administrators provide meaningful support to help them reach those goals. For example, those seeking a full-time faculty position would benefit from supports like mentoring on job search strategies, conducting mock interviews, and teaching feedback based on classroom observation can be extremely valuable.

5. Recognize and Celebrate Adjunct Contributions to the Department

Adjunct faculty provide critical services in most departments. They teach many courses. They can bring industry and agency experience into the classroom. They might be energetic, recent graduates who want more classroom experience. Demonstrate that they are valued for what they bring to the department and the institution.

  • Being intentional about doing many of the strategies on this page will begin to show your adjunct faculty that they are a valued part of your department.
  • Recognize adjuncts who step up to take on extra responsibilities, such as advising the Geo Club or other student group, providing career mentoring, or other activities beyond their contractual obligations.
  • Make adjunct faculty eligible for course development grants so that they can improve the courses they teach.
  • Nominate your best adjunct faculty for awards like the NAGT Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award.

References

Fagan-Willen, R., Spring, D.W., Ambrosino, B., and White, B.W. (2006). The Support of Adjunct Faculty: An Academic Perspective. Social Work Education, 25(1): 29-51.

Feldman, D.C. and Turnley, W.H. (2001). Contingent employment in academic careers: Relative deprivation among adjunct faculty. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 64(2004): 284-307.

Gappa, J. M., Austin, A. E., and Trice, A. G. Rethinking Faculty Work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Kezar, A. and Maxey, D. (2013). The changing academic workforce. Trusteeship, 3/(21). https://web.archive.org/web/20180129161459/http://agb.org/trusteeship/2013/5/changing-academic-workforce

Monks, J. (2007). The relative earnings of contingent faculty in higher education. Journal of Labor Research, 28(3): 487–501.

Wallin, D.L. (2007). Part-Time Faculty and Professional Development: Notes from the Field. New Directions for Community Colleges, no. 140, Winter 2007. DOI: 10.1002/cc.306

Essential Elements of Faculty Work

In their book Rethinking Faculty Work (2007), Gappa and others proposed a framework of essential elements of faculty work and the academic workplace that would support all faculty members regardless of their appointment type and term. Reality often falls short of this ideal, but the framework represents a goal to work toward.

Respect
The five elements all revolve around a shared core of Respect. It is the foundation for each element and recognizes the basic human worth of every member of the department, regardless of status.

Employment Equity
Every faculty member, regardless of type or term, has the right to be treated fairly in regards to their employment conditions. The rules of employment should be applied equitably and every faculty member should receive the support and tools to be successful.

Academic Freedom and Autonomy
Academic freedom rights are clearly defined and extended to all faculty regardless of type or term. All faculty have autonomy in how they deliver the courses they are assigned to teach.

Flexibility
Faculty are able to construct work arrangements to maximize their professional productivity as well as work-life balance.

Professional Growth
Orientation and professional development opportunities are available to all faculty. Faculty are able to broaden their knowledge, skillls, and abilities in their content area as well as their teaching.

Collegiality
All faculty are treated as belonging to a community of practice in the department regardless of their appointment type or term.