What Can I Do? How Full Time Faculty can Help Adjuncts

In Philly Blog on June 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm

help wanted


Post by Jennie Shanker

Summer is here! Our three-month span off campus is called a vacation, and indeed many faculty members are able to travel, have time to focus on their scholarly work, and enjoy great freedom in their schedule. It’s important for teachers to have a break from the responsibilities and demands that accompany each school term. Without it, the research and creative endeavors of the faculty are diminished, ultimately affecting what they have to offer the institution and their students.

Certainly for those of us who teach on a part-time basis, there is no summer vacation. Summer teaching opportunities condense a semester’s worth of contact time into an intensive few weeks. Classes are longer, and there is little or no time between them to prepare. But those who teach in the summer are fortunate, since the number of classes available is limited. Most contingent faculty members will finish the spring term with great uncertainty ahead. Three months is a long time to not have any source of income. At the same time, it’s too brief to commit to some other meaningful form of work.

Few adjuncts make enough money in the fall and spring terms to put away savings which will get them through the break. Many go from living in a two-income household to relying on a single provider. Most adjuncts will take on almost any form of work that offers some cash flow.

Summer may seem an odd moment to suggest things that full timers can do to help their colleagues, but it is a critical time for those who are not on a contract. There are several things to consider for the new academic year that could make a difference. Many are in a departmental chair’s hands, but there are things that all full time faculty members can help with.


Be Clear About Fall Course Assignments

If you are a department chair, you may not realize that you have a lot of say as to whether a part timer will receive summer income. If you’ve offered an adjunct a class for the fall that you now believe will not fill, you can help both your students and the teacher by cancelling that section now. Students can switch into other courses that they need, which will help in filling under-enrolled sections and could also help to keep them on track to graduate in time. When there is no assumption of employment in the fall term for adjuncts, it is possible to collect unemployment during the summer in many states.  If you don’t know if a section will run, don’t leave an adjunct waiting. Make decisions now. It will free that teacher to pursue other work for the fall, keep them from having to do unnecessary course prep, and allow them to have a source of income for the summer. Promising a class does the opposite.

Being clear about your intent has legal significance. In most states, if a school gives an adjunct “reasonable assurance” that they’ll have work in the fall semester, she or he will be unable to receive support over the summer. Reasonable assurance in some cases does not even need to be spoken – it could be an ongoing assumption that someone will always have a class.  Having good intent can be more damaging than it is helpful. It’s nice to be well-meaning, but your kindness could result in a denial of benefits for someone who needs and deserves them.  Be clear about the facts: will they or won’t they have a job in the new term? If you can’t promise it, then don’t. If at the end of the summer you find you have to open up a new section, you can then ask that adjunct if they are available.

Plan a Beginning of the Semester Orientation

New adjuncts need, but rarely receive, a thorough orientation to a new department. They may need to meet with faculty who have taught the course they’ve been assigned, or at least be shown a sample syllabus or two. They should be given a tour, introduced to key staff members and given information about accessing internet, their classrooms, audio visual equipment, a copier and should be shown how to order books, materials, etc.  Ask them if they would like to attend your first faculty meeting to introduce them to the other members of the department, and welcome them to attend others.

Foster Community

Invite, but don’t require adjuncts to regularly attend meetings that are scheduled for the convenience of full time faculty. Being forced to be on campus outside of one’s teaching load is a hardship for most adjuncts.  Senior faculty members can be assigned to specific part timers to communicate information.

Make it clear to full timers that they need to extend themselves to the junior and contingent faculty. Support and community are lacking for most adjuncts, and there is no reason or excuse for it. Students sense what is (or is not) going on within their faculty, and being within a truly collegial environment makes a difference. There is nothing to lose and a lot to gain by encouraging communication, respect and support.

Provide Office Space

If you do not currently have an office for your adjuncts, take time this summer to re-assess your space usage. The chair of one of the departments I work for has a desk for adjuncts in her office. I couldn’t think of a more ideal set up. She gets to know the people who are working in the department and can mentor them as needed. Adjuncts in the program have a greater understanding of the department’s issues from being allowed to hear and participate in the conversations she has with students, staff and other faculty. If adjuncts do not have an office in your department, the faculty who do have offices need to make room and share.

Support Labor Organizing

There is a movement throughout the country among adjunct and contingent faculty to form unions. If you can understand why this has become so necessary, and if you support these efforts, talk to the adjuncts you cross paths with. Let them know that you’re supportive. People who are tenuously employed are often afraid to talk about problems that need to be discussed.  Adjuncts work in fear. It makes a big difference when senior colleagues, especially a departmental chair, show support.

The adjuncts who are organizing are working to create conditions that will allow them to do the best work that they can as teachers. When contingent workers have more security, respect and support, they will not be benefitting at the expense of the majority. These changes will improve the education that departments offer and students receive.  They will make departments more professional and consistent in quality. They will improve the working conditions for all faculty, the learning conditions for all students, and the overall excellence of a college education.

Further writing for adjunct advocates:

Meranda Merklein

Elizabeth Keenan