The annual Delphi Award presents a $15,000 cash award to each of two applicants who have worked to support non-tenure-track, contingent and/or adjunct faculty. In the first installment of this article, we examined how California State University, Dominguez Hills, supports its non-tenure-track faculty. We continue with the next institution recognized by the Delphi Project.
In 2014, Harper College embarked on a process of reflecting on and redesigning the evaluation process for adjunct faculty. The awards committee found this proposal meritorious for its effort to tackle an often overlooked and important area that has major implications for NTT faculty. Evaluations are often used to hire and fire adjunct faculty and are not only high stakes but often poorly developed and relying heavily on student evaluations. Harper’s approach to evaluation serves as a national model for this work.
The efforts began when the college’s Center for Adjunct Faculty Engagement (CAFE), created to standardize and improve adjunct faculty teaching evaluations and provide access to better professional development opportunities, learned from non-tenure-track faculty that the classroom observation portion of faculty teaching evaluations may not be contributing to professional growth. To faculty, these observations often felt transactional, in part because the administrators who conducted the classroom observations often did not have content expertise in the disciplines of the non-tenure-track faculty they were evaluating.
To improve its evaluation system, Harper College updated the way classroom observations were conducted to make them more effective and relevant. Today, non-tenure-track faculty can choose from these three different options (goal-based, reverse peer observation, and traditional classroom observation), outlined below. With goal-based self-evaluation, non-tenure-track faculty have the opportunity to identify a goal for their evaluation. For example, faculty might set a goal to pursue a specific pedagogical approach to engage students. Once the goal is selected, the evaluation is conducted in alignment with this goal. Faculty submit a planning document and meet with an instructional designer at the start of the semester to finalize goals and discuss strategies and two resources for achieving it. Professional development opportunities and suggested goal topics are provided on the evaluation sign-up webpage to inspire faculty. Non-tenure-track faculty then submit a final report and any artifacts they may have generated during the implementation of their new pedagogical practice, including lesson plans, assignments, student work samples, or surveys. Ultimately, this work is shared with the appropriate academic dean and department chair.
With reverse peer observation, non-tenure-track faculty have the opportunity to observe another faculty member’s class and meet with the faculty member to learn more about the practices they observed. The faculty then submit a short reflection indicating how the experience may influence changes in their own practice and what support or resources from the Academy for Teaching Excellence may support implementing the new practices. The non-tenure-track faculty member then meets with an instructional designer to discuss the experience and potential professional development or change implementation opportunities that have emerged as a result of the observation process. The reverse peer observation option offers non-tenure-track faculty a menu of observation opportunities that all faculty have the chance to volunteer to provide. Additionally, it dedicates time so that non-tenure-track faculty, who seldom get to observe other instructors due to their demanding schedules, are able to do so in a way that is convenient for them. For further convenience, reverse peer observation is coordinated using an online system.
The traditional classroom observation still remains a choice for adjunct faculty, but the option has been modified to make it more effective based on feedback from non-tenure-track faculty. First, department chairs, rather than administrators, now conduct the observations, so the evaluators have more knowledge of the discipline in which the faculty member is teaching. The change also moves the evaluative function out of the Academy for Teaching Excellence, better aligning the center with its purpose of providing support and professional development. Instead, the center now provides teaching consultations to non-tenure-track faculty who wish to have them, either before or after the evaluation per the faculty member’s preference. In examining impact, Harper College found that faculty choosing the alternative evaluation options implemented new classroom practices at rates roughly 30 percent higher than those who chose the classroom observation option.
Harper College established the following three guiding principles (inclusiveness, intentionality, and integration) in designing the new non-tenure-track faculty evaluation system and options:
Harper College wanted the faculty development efforts to be fully inclusive of non-tenure-track faculty. This meant designing an equitable process for non-tenure-track faculty evaluation, which required a focus on the unique needs of non-tenure-track faculty. Thus, non-tenure-track faculty were solicited for input in their process of establishing new practices, and non-tenure-track leadership formed a key dimension of the process. Harper College maintained a sense of intentionality while establishing new practices by placing at the center of its efforts the goal of continuous faculty improvement and the implementation of new faculty improvement through three programs. This meant linking strategic goals to faculty development and ensuring that faculty development programs and services were designed to encourage rapid prototyping, classroom implementation, assessment, and dissemination. The college wanted the new faculty development efforts to be integrated with critical teaching and learning processes. Integration moves faculty development efforts from the periphery to the center of change management and critical processes related to teaching and learning. Every institution has processes and procedures that compel faculty to engage with the institution in some way. These processes may be leveraged to embed relevant and meaningful learning opportunities and experiences for faculty that lead to change and improvement in practice.
The Delphi Award is an initiative of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, an effort of the Pullias Center dedicated to enhancing awareness about changing faculty trends using research and data to better support faculty off the tenure track and to help create new faculty models to support higher education institutions in the future.
Adrianna Kezar, PhD, is a dean's professor of leadership at USC, co-director of the Pullias Center (pullias.usc.edu) and director of the Delphi Project. She is a member of the editorial board for Academic Leader.