• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


"Low Hanging Fruit" for Respecting Adjuncts

It's not that hard to show faculty respect.

May 19, 2015

A recently published study, “Supporting the Academic Majority: Policies and Practices Related to Part-Time Faculty’s Job Satisfaction,” revealed that while the vast majority of adjunct faculty suffer from underemployment, one of the things they most want is “respect.”

No one who has been an adjunct or involved with issues of adjunct labor was surprised by the findings. A career as full-time “contingent” as opposed to part-time “adjunct” faculty at four different schools, I know the experience of working with and without respect from the institution and the people within it, and it makes a significant difference.

While I firmly believe that converting more low-paying, part-time adjunct positions to decent-paying, full-time positions is quite probably the shot of penicillin that cures the problem of respect, failing that, over time I’ve come to see a few things as “low hanging fruit,” when it comes to demonstrating the respect that adjunct faculty want and deserve.

I also believe that implementing some of these may make that larger goal more possible over time. When adjunct faculty are increasingly treated like faculty, the conditions among which many of them labor will be seen as intolerable and more people will be engaged in the fight to undo the systemic inequities.

I should also note that things like office space, classroom access, and technology support should be a given, so I’m not going to bother listing them here. These are basic necessities for doing the work. When institutions can’t provide these, they have deeper structural problems that should be treated as emergencies[1].

Also, it’s possible that some of these are not as low-hanging as I think they are. My perspective is limited. If others see flaws or barriers that I’m blind to, please share in the comments.

Interview and review

A significant step towards showing adjunct faculty respect would involve establishing a reasonable hiring process, and then conducting annual reviews of all faculty.

It’s my belief that many more adjuncts are doing unseen and unheralded great work, than the opposite, but this recommendation works for those who believe that adjuncts are de facto inferior to tenure line faculty as well.

Even in cases where the hiring of adjunct faculty is not competitive, prior to start o work, a formal conversation/interview with the chair or other departmental administrator that oversees adjunct labor is beneficial, as it allows both parties to establish their expectations.

Given that many, if not most adjunct faculty will work many consecutive years for the same institutions, some process of annual review makes sense, even in the absence of current opportunities for raises or promotions[2]. Ideally, this would involve classroom observation. Existing review procedures for tenure track and contingent faculty could easily be adapted as appropriate.

While this does mean some additional work for all, including the adjunct faculty themselves, it doesn’t cost a dime.

Orient them

If you have new faculty orientation, you should include adjunct faculty in any relevant information sessions. After all, they will be experiencing all of the same interactions with students as any other faculty member, so they should be versed on policies, procedures, and resources.

This will likely cost a little bit because the adjunct faculty not on salary should be paid for their time, but this amount is relatively nominal.

Year-to-year, rather than semester-to-semester

While I can testify from many years of experience as full-time contingent faculty that the yearly wait for renewal can be unpleasant, going through it each semester is twice as bad. I recognize that fluctuating enrollment may make it difficult to hire all adjunct faculty on a yearly basis, but there is, for sure, a floor for adjunct labor need that is easily identified[3]. Give the people who have been identified via your already established robust review process first dibs on those year-long guarantees.

Again, it costs nothing, and likely saves time.

Give all faculty a title

“Adjunct faculty,” doesn’t say much, particularly to students, and what it says isn’t good. My preference would be to eliminate the word “adjunct” and simply use a title consistent with the work the person is doing, i.e., “Instructor,” or “Lecturer.”

I could see, however, how removing “adjunct” from the title may appear to be a whitewashing of the problem, but either way, it costs nothing to give someone who is doing the work of teaching college students a title that reflects that work. (Adjunct Lecturer, Adjunct Instructor)

Give all faculty a presence

By and large, adjunct laborers are either absent from, or segregated within departmental websites. Sometimes they are explicitly labeled as adjuncts, sometimes as “other,” or sometimes they have no presence at all. Often, in my travels I have been a line item on a page, a name without a link. When I’ve been a link, the page is blank, no picture, no information.

As a rule, I believe that anyone who is acting as faculty within a department should be represented with all of the relevant information available about that person, the same information (degrees, specialties, publications) that is shared about tenure line faculty[4].

It is also the department’s job to encourage adjunct laborers to provide them with this information. When I’ve landed at a new place and seen other contingent faculty not represented on the departmental page, I assumed this was the norm and didn’t bother volunteering my information.

Again, no extra expense, just a little extra time and effort.

All this low-hanging fruit is simply predicated on treating adjunct faculty as what they are: faculty. If you are tenured or have an administrative position, just ask yourself what the people who are working as faculty at your institution need to do their jobs well, and do that.

(The comments would be a great space to amend or expand on any of these ideas.)


[1] As an example, if contingent faculty don’t have office access, full-time faculty should be required to share their spaces, no matter how inconveniencing this may seem.

[2] If and when we begin to transition to something like a “teaching track” for tenure having actual information on which to transition adjunct faculty into these positions might just be valuable.

[3] I’m pleased to note that my home department is now doing this, and it seems to be working well. “Full-time” adjuncts are also eligible for health insurance. Another benefit of a year-long commitment for adjuncts is that it actually makes it easier for some of them to find other, stable, higher-paying work. Having that security makes it easier to plan for a future, conduct a job search, etc…

[4] While I primarily see this as a resource for students and the larger public, I also think it goes a long way to improving intradepartmental relationships, as it provides an avenue for permanent tenured faculty to see who their colleagues are, and understand where they’re coming from.




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