When Full-Time Faculty and Adjuncts Collide: Ideas to Maintain Departmental Peace
This article first appeared in Academic Leader on December 1, 2017© Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
At the most recent Leadership in Higher Education Conference this past October in Baltimore, I gave a session titled “What Your Adjuncts Wish You Knew.” In it, I exhorted the deans and department chairs in attendance to fight for some of their adjuncts’ rights, including access to resources such as bonus pools, research support, continuing education funding, and other ways to improve their teaching and continue their scholarship.
One attendee brought up an excellent question. Paraphrasing her comment, she said, “I know my full-time faculty, and they would be upset if I argued for my adjuncts to have access to these resources. They feel that resources are scarce enough and that they should have access to them before adjuncts.”
An excellent conversation with the audience ensued, and as our session drew to a close, I wanted to continue the discussion. It has been playing in my mind ever since, as I am well aware that the full-time, tenure-track faculty often feel this way. They have worked hard in their profession, perhaps earning a terminal degree and completing postgraduate work, climbing the promotion and tenure ladder, and serving their departments while continuing to do research and teach. Of course they feel like first crack at departmental resources should be theirs.
Resources, particularly financial ones, are finite. Sending an adjunct to a conference may mean that a full professor doesn’t go this year. It is understandable that there is competition. However, respect and fairness are not finite; a savvy department chair or dean can change the culture to bake a bigger pie of respect and collegiality, no matter how limited the resources. My suggestions follow; readers should choose ideas that will work best in their environment, perhaps saving more difficult ones for later in the culture-change process.
Remind your full-time faculty what your adjuncts do.
It may not always be obvious to a faculty member not sitting in the department chair’s seat, but we typically don’t hire adjuncts on a whim. We hire adjuncts because a full-time faculty member who might otherwise teach a class is busy with other classes or responsibilities. We hire adjuncts because our departments are responsible for several sections of an introductory- or survey-level class, and our full-time faculty can’t handle the load. We hire adjuncts so that our in-house expert faculty can be available for upper-level seminars and student research advice.
A blunt discussion may be in order. If the full-time faculty member in question wishes to avoid sharing resources with adjuncts, perhaps he or she is willing to take on that adjunct’s course sections. Changing a 2/2 or 3/3 teaching schedule to a 4/4 is something the department chair could arrange. If the full-time faculty member is not in favor, he or she must see the value of having adjuncts on the team.
Have a frank discussion about pay equity.
The average assistant professor makes $71,000 a year plus benefits, with variance for discipline and geographical location. The average adjunct makes $900 per credit hour, typically with no benefits. Therefore, a full-time faculty member teaching a 3/3 schedule with research and service responsibilities makes nearly three times what an adjunct teaching a 4/4 schedule would make.
Yes, resources are thin and finite in most departments. However, one has to ask whether full-time faculty members are doing three times the work of adjunct instructors? If adjuncts are spending most or all of their teaching time at your institution, shouldn’t they have access to some of the resources available?
Allow competition for some resources.
While I advocate for deans and department chairs to fight for their adjuncts, I by no means want to suggest that full-time faculty who are ascending or have ascended the tenure track have no right to that pool of resources. However, there are steps we can take to make things more equitable.
Let’s say your department has a limited pool of money to send faculty members to conferences. Instead of awarding travel money purely by seniority, perhaps you can devise a system by which all faculty members can present their cases as to why they deserve the money. Maybe your most senior, tenured professor will be presenting a plenary session at the top conference in your discipline; that’s certainly worthy of support. However, perhaps your most productive adjunct wants to attend a conference in his or her specialty, increasing the knowledge brought directly into the classroom; this is another possible reason to award money. Decide which factors your department most values, and put your money behind those factors; consider not just faculty rank, but time in service, prestige of the opportunity, and the potential benefit to both the department’s reputation and the professor’s career goals.
Remember environmental cues.
How we organize our departmental environment makes a tremendous difference in how our students—and our colleagues—treat and think about our adjuncts. Most of these cues cost little or nothing to implement.
As chair or dean, you can set the tone for how adjuncts are treated. When you introduce your adjuncts or refer to them, especially in front of students, use the same honorifics you would for full-time faculty, such as “Dr.” or “Professor.” Do this even if you are on a first name basis behind closed doors, and even if the adjunct goes by his or her first name in the classroom.
Look at your department signage. Do you have all of your full-timers listed by name, but only a single listing for “adjuncts” referring to their office or phone? Do you have a space set aside for your adjuncts to meet with students, or are they relegated to the building atrium or told to just find an open classroom?
Additionally, consider listing your adjuncts on your department website. Make their bios as robust as those for your full-time faculty. If they lack academic accomplishments such as conference presentations or journal publications, they certainly have accomplishments within their other professional activities, such as patents, companies founded, or industry activities of note.
Use your support resources.
So many relatively inexpensive support resources are taken for granted by full-time faculty but are greatly appreciated by adjuncts, who often need to arrive, teach class, meet with students, and move along to the next item in their schedules with a minimum of friction. If you have a departmental student worker, consider designating part of his or her week to supporting the adjuncts. Making copies, researching slide presentations, and assembling materials for class are all things a student can do that will make the adjunct’s class go much more smoothly.
Make sure you have considered the logistics for your adjuncts, especially if your adjunct teaches after normal business hours when the copier, the supply closet, or even the classroom may be behind locked doors. Make sure you have supplied building keys and made supplies easy to find.
Finally, make sure that your departmental email distribution list includes your adjuncts. Adjuncts need to be able to answer student questions, promote departmental activities, and even attend events as schedules permit.
Just as in any office, academic departments will always have political struggles and episodes of jockeying for position. However, if your department employs adjuncts, it is critical that you help those professionals feel part of the team, and that includes accessing the resources available to the department as a whole to help them be successful. Your department, and your students, depend on these efforts.