Adjunct Faculty Voices
reviewed by Janet Lawrence & Molly Ott - June 05, 2018
Title: Adjunct Faculty Voices
Author(s): Roy Fuller, Marie Kendall Brown, & Kimberly Smith (Eds.)
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620363720, Pages: 170, Year: 2017
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Adjunct Faculty Voices: Cultivating Professional Development and Community at the Front Lines of Higher Education is the second volume in a series supported by the New Faculty Majority (NFM), a national organization that advocates for non-tenure track faculty interests. At the center of the NFMs mission is promoting equitable working conditions, particularly around compensation, benefits, job security, academic freedom, governance, and professional development. Adjunct Faculty Voices aligns with this final goal, offering insight into models and activities that institutions can implement to provide more professionalized support for contingent instructors. Although the NFM represents the interests of all non-tenure track faculty, this volume primarily focuses on professional development for part-time instructors.
The book is organized into two sections. The first six chapters provide an overview of adjunct faculty demographics and experiences, making the case for building and strengthening professional communities and career development opportunities for this group. The second part of the book includes seven chapters that portray the current state of adjunct faculty development and describe best practice models already in place at colleges and universities across the country.
Adjunct Faculty Voices is framed around the assumption that in general, adjunct faculty are deprived of professional working conditions, denied opportunities for professional improvement, and excluded from a professional academic community. As researchers whose work mostly focuses on faculty careers and workplace experiences, we concur. However, we also caution the authors (and readers) that many of the issues and trends related to de-professionalization described in the book are not necessarily unique to part-timers or even to all faculty appointed off the tenure track.
Faculty in general are experiencing the loss of a professional academic community, and while ones contingency status may be a contributing factor, it is important to remember that it is likely one of several. For example, as Julie Rowlands (2016) suggests in her analysis of Australian, U.S., and U.K. university governance, managerialism has largely replaced whatever traditional collegium might have once existed. Reductions in state support and the corresponding pressure for faculty to be more entrepreneurial has led many to pursue collaborations with the private sector rather than primarily engage with other academics at their own institutions or fellow professors in their areas of expertise. Advances in technology, especially the growth in online programs, have created more opportunities to teach and conduct scholarship without being physically on campus. As the stories in the book demonstrate, institutional context plays a key role in shaping faculty perceptions of their workplaces as well as the types of communities that address their needs.
Specific to professional development, the authors of Adjunct Faculty Voices argue that colleges and universities must provide resources, create more professional opportunities, and correct campus policies and practices that negatively affect part-time faculty. We fully agree. However, at times, the authors imply that in contrast to the adjunct group, tenure line faculty have plenty of resources provided by their institutions to do their work. This leads us to a second cautionary note: across appointment types, faculty experience inadequate professional support. An analysis of data collected by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (representing approximately 14,000 faculty) indicates that tenured professors are less satisfied with internal resources available for teaching improvement and scholarly work compared to their non-tenure track colleagues (Ott & Cisneros, 2015). Such findings suggest it is important that professional development staff consider general campus needs and also unpack the particular needs of subgroups (e.g., non-tenure track, tenure track, tenured, and untenured faculty). The results may highlight faculty development opportunities for all faculty that might serve to anchor a community of teaching practice, drawing together individuals who share an interest in teaching.
A strength of Adjunct Voices is the array of best practices the editors chose to showcase. The specific initiatives that have been implemented are drawn from across a range of institution types, including teaching-oriented universities (e.g., Saginaw Valley State), research universities (e.g., Texas Tech, UT Austin), and community colleges (e.g., GateWay, Kirkwood). The cases are sensitive to and underscore the importance of organizational context as a factor in administrators willingness to invest resources. For example, the chapter focused on Kirkwood Community College, a rural campus, describes how part-time faculty have been extensively integrated, with tailored orientations, compensation for participating in internal professional development programs, funding for external professional development, tuition remission, inclusion in department meetings, service awards, etc. These best practices are aimed at promoting part-time faculty development, but arguably, a rural community college in eastern Iowa must cultivate adjuncts. Readily available and qualified candidates are in shorter supply compared to an urban institution or one located near a busy interstate highway. At colleges able to draw from a far larger pool of potential instructors, convincing cash-strapped administrators to fund robust adjunct development can be more challenging but, as other examples in the book demonstrate, not impossible.
Other chapters illustrate that while administrative backing (financial or otherwise) is helpful, it is not required to promote professional communities and other support systems. The activities and groups described here highlight individual characteristics that may motivate adjuncts to connect with one another and sustain a community of practice devoted to members professional development. In Chapter Three, Brandon Hensley calls for adjuncts to share their stories more widely, arguing that their collective narratives will help to build community and mobilize reform. In Chapter Four, Victoria Shropshire highlights how she sought out a mentor as well as adjunct colleagues to create her own support network. In Chapter Six, Paul Putman and Bridget Kriner describe a professionally focused community of practice organized and sustained by adjuncts. These grassroots-type successes offer hope particularly for faculty at institutions without formal support for adjuncts. Of course, as Marie Kendall Brown, Roy Fuller, and Kimberly Smith explain in Chapter One, the adjunct workforce is massive and heterogeneous. Some part-time faculty, especially those who are seeking full-time employment in the academy, may be more likely than others to pursue such connections and opportunities.
Adjunct Voices will be a useful volume for administrators, faculty leaders, and individual adjuncts seeking to establish professionalized working conditions for part-time instructors. Institutions could directly apply the best practices identified in the book, as well as leverage its themes to inform a survey of non-tenure track faculty to ascertain interest in existing and potential professional development opportunities on their own campuses. Adjuncts themselves can draw from the experiences of others to create their own networks and communities on campus as well as advance their personal professional development. Most significantly, Adjunct Voices serves an important function by bringing to the forefront the stories and needs of a faculty group that is typically marginalized but essential to higher education.
Ott, M. & Cisneros, J. (2015). Understanding the changing faculty workforce in higher education: A comparison of non-tenure track and tenure line experiences. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(95). Retrieved from https://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/1934
Rowlands, J. (2016). Academic governance in the contemporary university: Perspectives from Anglophone nations. Singapore: Springer Nature.