An on-campus community must include faculty, students, staff and administrators, but ‘faculty’ may not wholeheartedly include adjunct faculty. I have been working as a non-tenure-track part-time faculty member, or an adjunct, since fall of 2011. For me and many others a variety of courses are in my normal rotation; Anatomy and Physiology, Human Biology, General Biology, Nutrition, Medical Terminology and Genetics. I currently teach at five Bay Area community colleges, usually 3-4 concurrently. We adjuncts are hired for content knowledge and are comfortable with the subject matter, but most lack formal training in teaching/education. While not all individuals that accept a short-term teaching contract desire a long-term college teaching career, this post focuses on those who, like myself, have made part-time teaching into a full-time job. This drives me to seek professional development (PD) opportunities to maximize my efficacy, improve the classroom experience and student success, as well as make meaningful contributions to my department(s) and college(s).
In recent months, the ‘plight of the adjunct’ has been sensationalized in the media, February 2015 saw the first National Adjunct Walkout Day approach and pass, leaving the public, students, faculty and parents concerned about the quality and working conditions of ‘the new majority;’ the growing faction of adjunct faculty who have become essential in educating the next generation nationwide2.
I (and many of my biology colleagues) feel fortunate to teach a variety of in-demand courses for pre-professional or allied health students; and have yet to encounter a shortage of available work, however we often struggle to fit together our various contracts into an operational schedule. Rather than a shortage of contracts, I found that there appears, at least to many adjuncts, to be a shortage of opportunities to participate in a campus community. As an elected adjunct faculty representative for my local Academic Senate, I have worked to communicate with my constituents and find ways to improve the opportunities for adjuncts on several campuses. One difficulty we face is the scheduling of committee meetings, workgroups and professional development seminars, which frequently conflict with teaching contracts, meetings or workshops at other colleges, especially leading up to a new semester.
As The Higher Learning Commission described the value and necessity of professional development for adjuncts in a recent article, (which I would encourage anyone involved in planning or facilitating professional development to read), especially when considering the needs, interests and desires of adjunct faculty. The article outlines six areas that should be considered when planning PD and building a community that includes adjunct faculty. I largely agree with these and would like to offer some additional suggestions based my own experiences, which can hopefully be used at other colleges.
6 Suggestions for Building a Community that Includes Adjunct Faculty
1. Offer professional development in series
Many adjuncts struggle when developing activities and authentic assessments, both tasks which become exponentially harder when teaching several different classes at several schools, using different textbooks, on an unpredictably rotating basis. Although I do not have personal experience with the tenure process, and am certain that it varies between colleges, I hear that the tenure process often consists of weekly meetings with a tenure committee, peer-mentoring, frequent classroom evaluations with feedback and other processes that help the newly hired faculty flourish as a member of the community. I have yet to find a similar process that allows new adjuncts who desire a long-term teaching career to similarly improve, but feel that any effort put into this at a college would provide boundless benefits to the faculty, departments, students and college.
2. Enlist full-time faculty and staff members to facilitate professional development sessions
This is one that I think needs to be revised, as I strongly believe that adjuncts should also be included in the planning processes, to ensure that the next point #3 is being satisfied.
3. Offer relevant topics that include institutional policies and procedures as well as pedagogical best practices
In order to help adjunct faculty (many of whom have little formal pedagogical training), workshops should focus on helping faculty learn via interactive workshops and classroom simulations active and experiential methods such as collaborative assignments and high-impact practices, especially those that focus on building student critical thinking skills and active learning. Anyone planning and scheduling PD workshops must consider the level of training that many adjuncts bring to the classroom. I have heard many adjuncts lament what they could have done with the morning rather than attend a PD session that did not provide tangible strategies to enhance student learning. For many, it feels like a waste of precious time to attend an unpaid session, and may deter them from future attendance. This brings us to the next point.
4. Provide stipends to adjuncts that complete workshop series
Even if not for a series, stipends wherever possible for adjuncts completing workshops or work outside of the classroom should be considered. In my experience, equity funds and other special sources of money may be used. In addition to on campus work, adjunct faculty should also be supported in terms of being able to attend outside seminars, the majority of the off-campus PD I have been involved in was made possible through scholarship or grant opportunities that I sought on my own. Often, it is very difficult for us to get a substitute, while the lost wages, cost of travel and the workshop make out of state seminars cost prohibitive for many part-timers who are not eligible for reimbursement or leave pay.
5. Provide coffee and tea at every session; provide light meals where appropriate
6. Employ a visible hands-on approach to community building
A major area where we adjunct faculty could be better supported is in our involvement on campus outside of teaching (e.g., committee work or new course or curricula development). I have found that at some campuses we are allowed to attend such meetings, but are unaware of when the meetings are scheduled, discouraged from ‘working for free’ or are told that we are not eligible to actually serve on a specific committee. Being clear about eligibility criteria, holding regular meeting times and keeping websites with agendas or action items up-to-date are essential. For many adjunct faculty and their colleges, a major challenge is to raise awareness, disseminate information and gather participants and contributors.
With these challenges in mind, I believe the LifeSciTRC is a great resource to facilitate the expansion of on and off-campus resources and opportunities for faculty to share high-impact practices, activities and assessments related to specific content areas or learning outcomes. Lastly when it comes to upcoming professional development, funding opportunities or seminars, please do not hesitate to invite us personally with an email or even a note in our mailbox because it is difficult to keep up with 5 institutional email accounts.
Roseann Berg is an adjunct faculty member at 5 Bay Area community colleges, teaching a variety of Biology classes. She received her B.S. in General Biology from the University of Washington, and her Doctorate of Chiropractic from Palmer College of Chiropractic West, in San Jose, CA. She is involved on campus in her third year as a Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment Co-Coordinator at Foothill College, an Academic Senate representative, and a GE curriculum reviewer. At Mission College, she participates in a Reading Apprenticeship Faculty Inquiry Group, and helped plan and carry out a pilot study on the effects of Reading Apprenticeship in the classroom on student engagement across several disciplines.