A Centralized Approach to Supporting Adjunct Instructors
Three years ago, Davidson County Community College hired P. Nathanael Gough for the newly created position of director of instructional services, a position that focuses exclusively on recruiting, supporting, and retaining adjunct instructors—all for the goal of supporting student success.
To better understand the experiences and needs of adjuncts at the college, Gough felt that it was essential to do some internal research, including an adjunct survey, which revealed that the biggest concern among adjuncts was inadequate communication. Gough made it a point to address the communication infrastructure before taking on other issues.
“The first thing we decided was that we had to work on ways to be able to systematically communicate with our adjunct faculty,” Gough says. That meant being able to give specific messages to adjunct instructors to provide focused and relevant information to them.
“I think we’ve seen over the past two or three years a much greater interest in communicating directly with [adjuncts], providing the face-to-face and online support they need, and their needs are constantly being represented at the highest levels of the school,” Gough says.
As director of instructional services, Gough participates in all adjunct-related functions, which include:
- Working with deans and associate deans to recruit adjuncts in specific areas
- Participating in interviews with each prospective adjunct
- Maintaining and updating the online orientation that each adjunct must complete within one year—The orientation is completely online, but “we also do some face-to-face work and try to create an environment of openness and support and most of all inclusion. Over the past three years, we’ve really tried to open up the school,” Gough says. “When it comes to meetings within the different schools, we’re making adjunct faculty aware of them. We try to bring them on campus or at least let them know that they’re welcome to be here for any of that.”
- Acting as a clearinghouse for all adjuncts’ questions—“I make the connection between the person asking the question and the person who has the answer. Sometimes that in and of itself is helpful for adjunct faculty members. They get hit with a lot of information very quickly, and knowing who to ask what questions is not something I want them to have to worry about. When they ask a question, I will get the answer for them, but I will also tell them who I got the answer from, and I will copy that person on the email. And a lot of times that person follows up with the adjunct,” Gough says.
- Connecting adjuncts to resources—The college provides videos that highlight the services offered by the student learning center and institutional research. “A lot of what I do is connect the adjunct faculty with resources that are going to be important to their success as teachers,” Gough says. This includes all professional development opportunities offered to full-time faculty members—both online and face-to-face.
Gough says that it’s important to give adjunct faculty members opportunities to be heard. To that end, the college has established an academic advisory board made up of administrators and adjunct faculty. In addition, adjuncts have representation in the faculty senate. In addition, Gough created a blog called “Adjunct Faculty Reader,” which provides a forum for adjuncts to communicate with each other about their concerns.
Much of what Gough does is informed by the research on adjuncts. The Delphi Project (http://thechangingfaculty.org/) is one resource that influences his thinking about faculty issues. One of the priorities of the Delphi Project is to encourage institutions to disaggregate adjunct and full-time faculty data.
For example, the disaggregation of data nationally indicates that adjunct faculty may give higher grades than full-time faculty do. “That’s the sort of information that is helpful to know because then we can start trying to understand why that is,” Gough says.
One of Gough’s goals is to help foster a sense of community for adjunct instructors, which entails an understanding of their motivations for teaching.
“Adjunct faculty teach for a number of different reasons. We try to honor whatever those reasons are. We have one [adjunct] who rides the bus to campus and stays much of the day. If he has students who are in volleyball or basketball, he’ll attend their games. That’s very different from the adjunct faculty member who wants to build his or her credentials and gain full-time employment. All of them are here for different reasons, and you get the sense that those who want the social connection are able to find it and we are able to provide it for them. And we also have those who want to teach and then go home. That’s OK as well.
“One of the misconceptions about adjunct faculty is that everybody who teaches as an adjunct would teach full time if given the opportunity. But the numbers just don’t support that. There are a lot of adjunct faculty who love doing what they’re doing, and very often I think their voices are not heard as much,” Gough says.
In the near future Gough hopes to offer a course that provides a program of study for content experts who have never taught before. He also would like to see a statewide conference on best practices related to adjunct faculty. There seems to be growing interest in adjunct support, he says. In September 2014, Gough sent out emails to colleagues at the other community colleges in North Carolina, and to date 17 colleges have responded. Gough has created a blog (https://ncadjunctfacultyadministration.wordpress.com/) to foster this community.
“We’re finding out from the initial questions we’re asking each other that we’re doing things very differently from one community college to another, but the one commonality is that every community college recognizes the importance of treating adjunct faculty right,” Gough says.
The challenge is providing, without many resources, the kind of support that adjuncts need. “I try to keep up with the research that is out there, and a lot of the things that we’re doing are absolutely based on the research on adjunct faculty. One of the problems, not surprising, is that the colleges and universities most effective in dealing with contingent faculty are those that are able to pour the most money into this. We’re just not able to do that. The challenge is in making the experience for the adjuncts on your campus positive and supportive while working with a very small budget,” Gough says.