Professional Development ...

... off the Tenure Track

August 4, 2014

Earlier this year, a blog post on University of Venus addressed the issue of Part-Time Faculty and Professional Development, just as we were preparing a manuscript on the topic. Professional development, particularly for contingent faculty, has been on our minds for some time, both in our work with colleagues and from our own experiences as contingent faculty who worked to maintain an active publication and professional development agenda.

Across institutions of higher education, as many of us are aware, teaching loads are increasing as contingent positions increase. Because these positions are created in most cases to fulfill immediate teaching demands only, teachers receive little support for professional development, scholarly engagement, or innovative or experimental pedagogy and are often overlooked in faculty decisions that impact them significantly. Furthermore, their extensive experience is often missing from scholarship on teaching and learning because they may not be encouraged or supported with travel or research funding.

Although we do not offer publication as a Pollyannish panacea for all the ills of contingent faculty status, in our experience, professional development activities, when growing naturally out of interests, experiences, and current duties, can offer encouragement, alleviate burnout, and help build a CV capable of expanding career options considerably. We see publication (broadly interpreted) as a way to become and remain active in an academic and scholarly community, the kind of community that can sustain teacher-scholars and create venues for vibrant intellectual exchange. For both contingent faculty members as well as those on the tenure-track, the recent “crisis in academic publishing,” the various economic downturns and department restructurings, the technological revolution’s influence upon research and publishing practices, and—perhaps most importantly—the rigid adherence by promotion and tenure/hiring committees to outdated guidelines and unrealistic expectations, create a number of challenges for establishing and maintaining an active scholarly agenda. With these challenges in mind, we envision professional development working to meet three goals in particular:

First, professional development activities should be connected to opportunities for scholarship for all teaching faculty, including workshops and initiatives that focus on alternate forms of publication. Teacher-scholars need supportive communities in which they can share ideas, address current questions in their fields of expertise, and seek opportunities for collaboration. Second, we must expand notions of who can/should join scholarly discussions in light of who is doing much of the teaching and we must find ways to fund this work, including expanding definitions of who is eligible for existing professional development funding on individual campuses. Third, we should illustrate how scholarship can be tied to the work that contingent faculty members are already doing; added pressure to publish is not our goal, but rather we hope that by expanding venues for disseminating their work, contingent faculty members can actively participate in intellectual inquiry and publication.

Virtually no guides are on the market to explain to overworked teacher-scholars precisely how their ideas might be disseminated, and notably absent in much of the scholarship on publishing are the voices of contingent faculty across institutions.

The first-hand narratives interspersed throughout the chapters of our book Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape: Models for Success (Palgrave Pivot, 2014) address a variety of topics, including:

  • Occasions for professional development that led to publication, for example using department pilot projects or experience online distance learning as occasions for scholarship

  • Strategies for successful collaboration in publishing or professional development, for example creating writing groups or collaborating with undergraduate students on topics that grow out of teaching

  • Frustrations and experiences of being “passed over” for lack of publishing

  • Strategies for enacting and making public the scholarship of administration

  • Strategies for securing grants for scholarship or professional development

  • Connections between teaching, scholarship, and service, for example using faculty or student learning communities to prompt presentations and publications funded by campus centers for teaching excellence

  • Creative discoveries of scholarship opportunities and topics for research, for example creating an edited collection addressing mentoring or approaches to teaching a specific course

  • Workshop and faculty development ideas for empowering contingent faculty, for example sponsoring faculty-led brownbag sessions and workshop series to highlight best practices; hosting in-house (departmental) or local conferences

These anecdotes work as a starting point for drawing all teacher-scholars into scholarly conversations and for building collaborative communities across disciplines; we hope that these stories prompt many more adjunct faculty to join these conversations and seek professional development opportunities that don’t require a huge time commitment or external funding. We invite you to begin by sharing your stories here.

Lynée Lewis Gaillet is Professor of English at Georgia State University where she directs the Writing Studio and Lower Division Studies. She is the former Executive Director of SAMLA and Past-President of the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.

Letizia Guglielmo is Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies at Kennesaw State University. Her research and writing focus on feminist rhetoric and pedagogy, gender and pop culture, multiliteracies, digital media in the writing classroom, and the intersections of feminist action and digital communication. 

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