Friday, January 2, 2015

Ways to Include Adjunct Faculty, Part 2

In a past post, I talked about practices for hiring part-time faculty. There are several steps we can take after hiring to ensure that part-time faculty feel as included as possible in their day-to-day jobs.

One of the issues that many part-time faculty members face is the availability of resources. Resources include not only office supplies, but also office space and access to the right people when they need help. This issue is even larger for those who teach evenings and weekends, when offices are closed and full-time employees are scarce.

One of the easiest resources to provide is information. Faculty need access to policy information, contact information, course descriptions and syllabi, and teaching materials such as mini-lessons, handouts and problem sets, exams and other assessments, supplemental materials, and links to websites with even more materials. All of this sort of thing can be posted on the department website. If getting materials onto a department website is difficult, there are plenty of ways to create outside sites for free. One can use a blog, or, to create a space where everyone can contribute, a wiki.

Other resources aren't so easy to provide, but are as necessary, such as office space for adjunct faculty. They should have a place to work, type up and print assignments, make copies, and meet with students. The more part-time faculty members an institution employs, the more space it should dedicate to office space for them. If possible, lockers or some other means of storage should be available. Cars too often serve as portable offices for part-time faculty.

Photo of workspace provided to residence in the health sciences program at Texas Tech University.

Part-time faculty need the basics as well. I continue to find it surprising how many part-time faculty report having to purchase their own office supplies, even paper for printing. Any office supplies that are available to full-time faculty must also be provided to part-time faculty. Office space and department offices should be stocked with paper, markers, pens, pencils, board erasers, etc. There should also be an easy way for part-time faculty to access whatever technology accessories they need, such as pens for SMART Boards, proper cords for connecting devices, keys to locked podiums containing computers, etc. If centralizing access to supplies is difficult (as it often can be), each department should disseminate information about where and how these items can be obtained.

Finally, probably the most important resource to provide is access to full-time faculty and staff. Departments should make sure their hours and locations are posted, and, if necessary, set aside special "office hours" for faculty. Full-time faculty, especially those who have leadership roles, should do the same. Part-time faculty should know their schedules and availability. In my department, our level coordinators make themselves available to answer faculty questions and assist in resolving problems. They even hold monthly office hours/meetings for faculty, where they devote their time to answering questions and checking in with "their" faculty. 

This access is especially important for faculty who teach evenings and weekends, when most of the college offices are closed. The best-case scenario would be for department offices to hold some evening and weekend office hours, even if only a few times a month. In addition, full-time faculty should be encouraged to teach in the evenings and/or on weekends, and they should make sure part-time faculty know when they'll be on campus and can answer questions or help out in an emergency. Evening and weekend faculty should also be provided with contact information and availability for any administrators who do work those hours.

Providing resources for part-time faculty can take some creativity, and may certainly take some sacrifice on the part of full-time department members. However, these resources are provided as a matter of course for full-time faculty. Since, as stated previously, part-time faculty teach 50%-75% of our classes, we are doing the students a disservice by not automatically providing them for part-time faculty as well.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ways to Include Adjunct Faculty, Part I

People and cogs
© iStockphoto/alexsl
A while ago I published a post about why it's important to make adjunct faculty feel like part of the college community. I have been remiss in not posting some ideas as to how that can be done.

A feeling of inclusion (or exclusion) begins at the point of hire. Those who staff classes and hire part-time faculty know that there are often cases where a last-minute change is made, leaving a class without a professor and leading to hiring someone at the eleventh hour. When we talk about hiring last minute, usually we complain about the "quality" of faculty who are able to take on jobs right at the start of a semester. They are often new, with no teaching experience at all.

There is, however, another side to the topic that isn't considered nearly as much as it should be. Part-time faculty hired at the last minute miss out on orientation and other beginning-of-the-semester professional development activities and meetings. They start on the outside and often without important information that they need. They miss out on the opportunity to meet other faculty members (full- and part-time) and administrators and network with them.

Obviously, last-minute hires should be avoided whenever possible. One method of avoiding last-minute hiring is keeping a database of potential instructors who have already been vetted and perhaps taught in the department previously. One way to accomplish something like that is to keep in touch with adjunct faculty who take a semester off or fall victim to class cancellation. These faculty members should still be included in department activities, invited to meetings, and encouraged to attend professional development activities at the college.

However, when last-minute hiring cannot be avoided, there are some things we can do to create a sense of inclusion. Interview processes are different depending on the institution and who is conducting the interview. However, all potential adjunct faculty, no matter when they are hired, should be put through a standard interview process that in some way approximates what is done in interviews for full-time faculty. For example, many institutions require a teaching demonstration when interviewing candidates for a full-time position. Adjunct interviews should require something similar; they should be asked at least to walk the interviewer through a lesson. Since I oversee an English department, I also ask potential adjuncts to score student essays using the department rubric and then explain their reasoning for the score they give. I conduct interviews the same way each time, even when I hire at the last minute. It may sound counter-intuitive, but part-time faculty who are hired based on a rigorous interview will feel that they belong and are truly wanted, rather than being hired out of desperation.

When we do hire last minute, we need to do what we can to make up for missed orientations and meetings. They should be given a handbook with pertinent information about the department. It might also be a good idea to have a short video series that can serve in place of a live orientation. While the networking and discussion opportunities may still be lost, videos are an easy way for new hires to get pertinent information quickly. And, let's face it, we are all more likely to watch a few short videos than read a handbook, especially if we have only a few days to prepare for the semester.

Finally, special trainings and/or meeting sessions should be held very early in the semester for people who missed out on orientation sessions. There they can meet senior faculty, do a little networking, and ask whatever questions they have early on. Availability of senior members of the department is crucial to a sense of well being and belonging.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why It's Important to Include Adjunct Faculty

It's common knowledge that adjunct faculty members teach more than half of the courses at community colleges in America, and in developmental education that number is at about 75% and growing. Developmental education programs are often the place where new faculty are "tried out," so to speak. If an instructor is new to the college, and especially if s/he is new to teaching, s/he is assigned a developmental course. The first courses I ever taught were developmental English courses, in fact.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that there aren't enough full-time faculty members to go around. Budgets are shrinking, and adjuncts are simply more affordable. Another is that the number of students placing into developmental programs has grown significantly over the past several years, which has led to rapid growth in the number of developmental courses offered, sometimes at the last minute if there is a sudden influx of new students. Also, in developmental programs, the full-time faculty frequently teach at least one college-level course, and many teach more, especially if developmental programs are not housed in a separate department. This phenomenon is less common in degree programs. The practice is not bad, and should be encouraged, but the result is that more developmental sections need to be staffed with part-time faculty.

High turnover rates have an effect on the number of new and/or inexperienced faculty who teach in developmental programs. It's rare to get a part-time instructor who is a developmental education specialist. Most have degrees in the content areas (literature, mathematics), and if given the opportunity to teach higher-level courses, they take it. Many times, part-time faculty in developmental education programs "work their way up" to teaching college-level classes. Those who do specialize in developmental education are snapped up quickly for full-time positions.

With all of that being said, implied in this pairing is that both groups -- students taking developmental courses and part-time faculty -- are somehow inferior. Developmental programs become a stepping stone, a place for people to get their feet wet and see if they're any good at teaching. In fact, I have heard colleagues at my own and other institutions say that they thought so-and-so (adjunct faculty member) wasn't a good teacher, so they assigned him/her a "basic" course or sent him/her to teach in the developmental department. At first I was shocked and appalled. Now I'm still appalled, but shock has been replaced with frustration at the number of times I've heard comments like this.

We are in need of a massive cultural shift. If the trend continues, and I see no reason why it will not, the percentage of part-time faculty teaching classes at community colleges is only going to grow. If colleges and especially developmental programs are going to survive on the backs of adjuncts, this contribution needs to be recognized and appreciated. Lip service is not enough.

One shift to make is in hiring practices. We need our best teachers in developmental courses. They should be seasoned, trained instructors who know not only about content but also the college in which they work. Their students are at risk for more than just academic reasons, and the students' first experiences in college are likely to determine the path of the rest of their college careers, including whether they even stay in college. Colleges need to do everything they can to make sure those first experiences are positive, and that includes assigning the best and brightest to developmental courses.

They should be informed and trained on more than teaching and content. In order to be of best service to students, they need to know how a college operates and its major policies. They need to know where to find answers when they do not know something, and they need to be given access to information, including student records. They need technology support, administrative support, and teaching materials.

Additionally, part-time faculty should be recognized as experts with something to offer. They should be included in decisions made in and by colleges. Their opinions should be sought out and listened to. They should be encouraged to showcase their best practices and asked to be a part of an intellectual community.

Even the word "adjunct" is problematic. defines "adjunct" as "something added to another thing but not essential to it; a person associated with lesser status, rank, authority, etc., in some duty or service; assistant" before it gives the definition, "a person working at an institution, as a college or university, without having full or permanent status," which is still unflattering. As an adjective, "adjunct" means "joined or associated, especially in an auxiliary or subordinate relationship; attached or belonging without full or permanent status." (All emphasis is mine.) At this point, I don't think there is a college in America who would say that part-time faculty are not essential to its operations. Colleges need to support part-time faculty as much as the part-time faculty support them.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading Across the Curriculum

Writing across the Curriculum, it seems, has been a part of our education system forever. In reality,  "WAC" didn't come about until the 1970s, when James Britton and others fostered "writing to learn," that is, the idea that writing about a topic helps students learn important content information.

Since then there's been a love/hate relationship between the education system and WAC. WAC has been retooled as WID (Writing in the Disciplines) and later WAD (Writing across the Disciplines). The three are not necessarily the same, but they are all founded on the same idea that writing doesn't belong just in English classes.

What about Reading across the Curriculum? RAC (or Reading across the Disciplines--RAD--which sounds a bit more hip), doesn't have nearly as prominent a place in higher education. A quick Google search brings up RAC initiatives mostly in elementary and high schools. When students enter college, if they come in at the college level, it's assumed that they "know" how to read.

There seems to me to be a bit of a paradox here. We acknowledge that students may need to learn to write differently for different disciplines. A report for a chemistry class will look different from an essay for a history class. The same thing is true for reading. Different texts change the way we read. We are looking for different things from a newspaper than from a novel. Even different novels are read differently. Engaging with the latest James Paterson novel will be a different experience from reading The Portrait of a Lady. We teach our students to write "like scientists," for example, and think "like scientists," but do we teach them how to read like scientists? I'm not so sure.

In "Reading Across the Curriculum as the Key to Student Success"(2007), Alice S. Horning makes an argument for more reading instruction at the college level. She states, "students are uneducated in ways [of reading] that derive from reading a wide variety of materials and seeing varied points of view, research, and information relating to ideas or issues." Some acknowledge that students "can't read," yet we repeatedly ask and expect them to read without further instruction on how to do so. As Horning points out, the unfortunate result is that students don't do the reading at all.

Reading instruction should not be consigned to "basic skills" departments. As with writing, students need continually to be taught new ways to read and to have them reinforced in their college-level classes.

 Horning, Alice S. (2007, May 14). Reading across the curriculum as the key to student success. Across the Disciplines, 4. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from

Friday, September 13, 2013

TYCA Northeast 48th Annual Conference

The TYCA Northeast Annual Conference has come to New Jersey and Hudson County Community College is one of the host colleges! We are very excited to have the opportunity to sponsor a major regional conference.

This year the conference will take place in historic Morristown, NJ at the Morristown Hyatt, on October 3-5. The conference theme is "R/evolutions: Addressing Pedagogical and Institutional Change in Higher Education." Conference sessions will discuss innovations in pedagogy and andragogy in the English classroom, whether it is composition, developmental writing, ESL, creative writing, or writing across the curriculum. Other topics include high school/college collaboration initiatives, moving from faculty to college administrator, the future of journalism, and the impact of legislation on developmental education.

HCCC is sending two of our own to present at the conference: AF English instructor Sean Egan will present Teaching Grammar as Though It Were an Interesting Subject (Because It Is) and Dean of Arts and Sciences Christopher Wahl will speak on a the Cengage Learning-sponsored breakfast panel "From Professor to Administrator."

In addition, Friday's keynote speaker is Gary Shteyngart, author of the novels The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Absurdistan and Super Sad True LoveStory, and frequent contributor to The New Yorker. Born in Russia, Shteyngart uses his experience as an immigrant to take a look at American culture from an outside perspective, with satirical and often hilarious results.

Our Saturday keynote speaker Richard Miller brings with him innovations in teaching and learning and is at the forefront of using technology as a way to engage students and stimulate critical thinking. Miller is the author of As if Learning Mattered: Reforming Higher Education and Writing at the End of the World. He is a professor at Rutgers University and is taking a leave from teaching English to teach in the Doctoral Program in Clinical Social Work this academic year.

Other conference highlights include two cocktail parties and a musical performance, sponsored by publishers Bedford/St. Martins and Pearson and breakfast sponsored by Cengage Learning.

For more information about the conference or to register, go to