What Institutions, Departments, and Individuals Can Do to Help Adjuncts

Part Three of a Three-part Series on Adjunct Teaching and Student Learning (Part 1 / Part 2)

by Alexandra Bradner

Here a few things we can do—some at very little cost—to support part-time philosophy instructors and their students. Many of these policies identify ways to correct the support imbalances that exist in our field and among institutions. Several of these policies have been adopted to good effect by the institutions at which I have taught.

Use Your Power to Advocate on Behalf of Contingent Faculty 

  • Keep data on the percentage of courses taught by full- and part-time contingent faculty, the levels of courses taught by full- and part-time contingent faculty, the enrollments of courses taught by contingent faculty, and the percentage of your departmental faculty that are full- and part-time contingent.
  • Encourage your institution to establish and publicize targets for each of the above areas.
  • Publicize this data on your website, so parents and students can use it when judging your institution’s priorities.
  • If your institution does not treat its teachers equitably, use your power to help your contingent faculty establish labor unions. Contingent faculty members cannot do this on their own. They’re not on campus long enough, and they cannot afford to make waves, as they usually have low incomes and no job security.
  • Whenever your institution expresses interest in a new capital project or takes pride in the accomplishments of a successful athletic program, check to make sure that it already has supported the people at the heart of its mission (its teachers).
  • Encourage your institution and the APA to appoint contingent faculty members to committees in numbers that accurately represent the proportion of such philosophers in the field.
  • Propose that the APA develop a list of requirements that an institution must meet, in order to qualify as an institution that adequately supports its contingent faculty members. Publicize the list of institutions that meet the requirements, as a way to foster change among the institutions that do not yet support their contingent faculty

 Recognize Philosophy Teaching as an Area of Expertise

  •  Advertise your part-time positions nationally and a year ahead of time, instead of hiring without due process (i.e. locally and at the chair’s personal discretion).
  • When interviewing, look for exceptional teachers, not teachers in-hand. Treat teaching philosophy as an area of philosophical expertise. Look for philosophy teachers with many years of classroom experience, philosophical breadth, deep knowledge of the history of philosophy, consistently positive student evaluations, teaching awards, teaching publications, inside understanding of your student population, and innovative ideas about philosophy teaching.
  • If your institution is committed to the respectful treatment of adjuncts and teachers more generally, note this on your job listings, as you might include your institution’s equal opportunity statement.

 Push for Equitable and Responsive Working Conditions

  •  Start your contingent teaching faculty full-time and at the same salary as your new, tenure-track assistant professors. Offer the same merit pay opportunities, moving allowances, and benefits.
  • Move your best part-timers into full-time, continuing positions (with at least three-year contracts) whenever possible. If that’s not possible, work together with other local institutions to ensure that your best part-timers can patch together regular employment in your region.
  • Make sure that your contingent faculty receive actual contracts spelling out their job duties, not, for example, one-page e-mails referring them to the faculty handbook. Contingent faculty should be free to “teach to the contract,” if they so prefer.
  • Offer your contingent teaching faculty the title “Visiting Assistant Professor.”
  • List nationally and rehire whenever a contract is up, in order to make the case for longer term contracts. For instance, if you have a teacher on a one-term contract and then need someone the very next semester, list nationally and hire for that next semester position, instead of moving the one-term hire without due process into that next position without a search. Teach your university that it should have offered the one-term hire a yearlong contract in the first place.
  • Ensure that the first paychecks arrive before classes start, in order to compensate your teachers for their prep work. If a class is taken over by a tenure-track faculty member or cancelled at the last minute, compensate the originally assigned contract faculty member for work completed.

Improve Student Learning by Supporting the Classroom Efforts of Contingent Faculty

  •  Assign your contingent faculty to teach in their area of expertise. Match their particular teaching skills to the appropriate courses, for example: gifted lecturers in intros, good readers of student written work in gateway courses, community activists in service-learning courses, etc.
  • Avoid “just-in-time” hiring. Give your contingent faculty members pre-term time to develop a course that meets the skill level of your student population. Send new faculty successful syllabi and forward along contact information for a permanent faculty member who has taught the course to which the adjunct has been assigned.
  • Courses take two or three installments to perfect. Reassign continuing part-timers to the same courses term after term, so they can develop those courses into something special.
  • Support the courses taught by your contingent faculty and ensure that their courses enroll by posting fliers; e-mailing course descriptions and contingent faculty bios to both majors and academic advisors; and chatting up your contingent faculty informally.
  • When you list the next term’s courses on your department website, list faculty members’ names and add links to their web pages, instead of listing “staff.”
  • In order to assess and develop the teaching of your contingent faculty (and get to know your own intro students), visit at least one class each term. Create an appropriate set of formative and summative assessment procedures for contingent faculty. These procedures might mirror those used to review the teaching of the permanent faculty, and they might not. There are good arguments on both sides of that issue. Departments should determine mindfully what will work best for their institution and its students.
  • Reserve one fully equipped, private office for each contingent faculty member for the hours they are required to be on campus.
  • Ensure that your contingent faculty members have access to the use of both a desktop office computer and a laptop for the period during which they will be teaching on your campus.
  • If you cannot hire part-timers into full-time positions, give your part-timers first choice in the scheduling of classes, as they are likely to have more constraints on their schedules than the tenure-track faculty.
  • Establish a mailbox for each contingent faculty member, in the same location as the mailboxes for the permanent faculty.
  • Invite your best contingent faculty members to offer required workshops on teaching for your tenure-track faculty and graduate students. If these contingent faculty members are employed part-time, pay them for this work.
  • Include contingent faculty in the design and implementation of your department’s assessment activities.
  • Ensure that convenient (and, ideally, free and reserved) parking is available for teachers who must commute among different campuses in the middle of the day.

 Help Contingent Faculty Develop their Research Programs and Careers 

  • Invite contingent faculty to give internal talks about their research and participate in department colloquia.
  • Offer some form of conference travel and research funding to your contingent faculty. If your department cannot fund individual research accounts, start with a pot to which contingent faculty might apply.
  • Remind the contingent faculty that they can rely upon your department’s office/administrative staff for support with teaching, research and professional service. Make clear to your staff, whenever a new adjunct starts, that supporting adjunct faculty is among the admin’s job responsibilities.
  • When writing calls for summer workshops, anthologies and grants, designate and reserve several spaces for scholars in adjunct or teaching-intensive positions (i.e. for scholars who teach more than four courses each term), as the National Endowment for the Humanities does for its summer seminars and institutes.
  • When organizing conferences, waive registration fees for adjunct faculty, who do not have research/travel accounts.
  • Write detailed and informed letters of recommendation for visiting faculty members who have done impressive work in your classrooms.
  • Ask your contingent faculty about their professional goals and offer them the opportunity to meet with tenure-track faculty mentors for career advice. Advocate for your best contingent faculty members in their job searches, just as you might for your graduate students.
  • If you become aware of a terrific paper written by one of your adjunct professors, pass it along to other philosophers and consider nominating it for the APA’s Routledge, Taylor & Francis Prize.
  • Make it easy for contingent faculty to leave your institution for a better position by specifying in their contracts that they can be released from their adjunct position if they land a tenure-track job.

 Welcome and Integrate Contingent Faculty into the Department and Institutional Community

  • Invite your contingent faculty to all new faculty orientation events and introduce them as new faculty in all public opening ceremonies.
  • Include your contingent faculty in department meetings at which teaching and the curriculum will be discussed and ask contingent faculty to offer feedback in curricular policy discussions.
  • Make sure that new contingent faculty members are introduced to the other members of the department—both tenure-track and contingent—who work in their subfield of philosophy.
  • Include adjunct faculty in all department holiday and social events.

All of this said, the contingent faculty population is a diverse one, consisting of career aspirants searching for tenure-track positions, trailing partners, career-enders, the geographically bound, administrators, and graduate students, among others. Philosophy departments should begin to assemble an indigenous list of what their own contingent faculty members require, in order to excel at their jobs.

Alexandra Bradner has served as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern University, University of Michigan, Marshall University, Denison University, University of Kentucky, Kenyon College, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, the Fayette County Public Schools (k-12), and Eastern Kentucky University. She currently chairs the APA Committee on the Teaching of Philosophy.

3 thoughts on “What Institutions, Departments, and Individuals Can Do to Help Adjuncts

  1. There are lots of excellent points here, but I would take issue with two of them:

    “Encourage your institution and the APA to appoint contingent faculty members to committees in numbers that accurately represent the proportion of such philosophers in the field.”

    This is a mixed bag, as I’m sure you know, since committee work is typically free work for contingent faculty – especially for those who are part-time. You acknowledge this with some of your other bullet points, but remember that most institutions aren’t paying their contingent faculty enough to expect this kind of work and commitment from them.

    “Advertise your part-time positions nationally and a year ahead of time, instead of hiring without due process…” and When interviewing, look for exceptional teachers … with many years of classroom experience, philosophical breadth, deep knowledge of the history of philosophy, consistently positive student evaluations, teaching awards, teaching publications, inside understanding of your student population, and innovative ideas about philosophy teaching.”

    This is good advice for assuring that institutions treat their part-time teachers seriously as part of the education offered to their students. But taking the educational role of part-time teachers seriously requires actually offering pay and advancement opportunities commensurate with that role. As long as the basic pay and job security pay the same, it’s insulting to ask candidates to submit to the time and effort required for participating in a national search for a poorly paid part-time position. And it’s absurd to demand this level of qualification for a poorly paid adjunct position.

  2. Seth and Derek have important comments above. Please write your recommendations for additions to this list below. Perhaps this page will become a policy resource for departments and institutions looking to support their teachers (and students).

    For instance, I received the following addition from a reader via e-mail:

    Excuse contingent faculty from online seclusion and restraint, sexual harassment, and emergency procedures training, if they can prove that they have completed the required training elsewhere. This training can take up to nine (unpaid) hours, and you have to repeat it for every institution at which you teach.

    And Seth’s document adds the following:

    Contingent faculty should be eligible to apply for internal grants.
    Contingent faculty should be eligible for sabbatical, sick, and maternity leave.

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