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.