Magazine article University Business

Adjunct 101: Enhancing the Adjunct Faculty Orientation

Magazine article University Business

Adjunct 101: Enhancing the Adjunct Faculty Orientation

Article excerpt

An email from the department chair with a building and classroom number, a schedule, a syllabus, and instructions for getting a parking permit is about all the orientation many adjuncts receive before arriving on campus to teach their first class. It's no wonder many of them don't assimilate into campus.

But with part-time instructors now making up about half of all U.S. higher education faculty, at some campuses administrators have decided to make the adjunct orientation more meaningful, efficient, and convenient--that is, make it more than an afterthought.

Joe Berry, a member of the American Association of University Professor's committee on contingent faculty, says existing adjuncts and any unions or other organizations that advocate for adjuncts on campus should be involved in presenting the orientation for new arrivals and encouraged to share their experiences frankly. At the best orientations, he adds, new adjuncts have the opportunity to meet with veteran adjuncts without administrators present, which allows for honest and open discussion.

Berry also thinks new adjuncts should be paid for attending orientation, as they are at Columbus State Community College in Ohio, for example. He says compensation is a sign of respect that sends this message: "Your time is valuable. We understand that. We are not going to have you do required work without paying you."

"Even if it's voluntary, if people are getting paid, you'll get much better attendance," he adds.

Here are some approaches college and university administrators are taking to move their adjunct orientations beyond what may have traditionally been a cursory welcome message--and, in turn, bring adjuncts to campus who are more likely to improve student outcomes and experiences.

A group welcome

The right name for an orientation can go a long way in helping adjuncts feel appreciated, prepared, and connected. At McKendree University in Illinois, that name is MVP, for McKendree Values Part-Time Faculty.

Of course, substance is the real key. The number of adjuncts at McKendree fluctuates between 150 and 170, compared to its 98 full-time faculty, says Shirley Rentz, director of human resources. Adjunct orientation sessions, which have ranged in size from four to 12 people, are held about once a month on the main campus in Lebanon. Representatives from human resources, academic affairs, academic records, and information technology take part in the program. Adjuncts can hear more from these offices by watching their short welcome videos, posted on the MVP web page.

In the past, when each new adjunct professor went through orientation individually, it took about half an hour to meet with the human resources officer and complete the payroll paperwork. Even more concerning, Rentz says, adjuncts weren't receiving enough information about other essentials, like how to access academic records or get help from IT.

Also, while new faculty members met with the chairperson of their respective academic divisions, the associate dean who oversaw the hiring of part-time faculty wanted to meet everyone, too. A group orientation seemed to offer the best solution to all those concerns.

The current orientation lasts about three hours. First, new faculty members meet with Rentz for a half hour, and then the associate dean leads them on a campus tour. Finally, they meet with representatives from IT, academic records, and student affairs.

Online orientation

Many adjunct faculty teach part time or have full-time jobs elsewhere, and institutions are beginning to accommodate their needs through online orientations.

At National Louis University in Illinois, at least 45 percent of the university's courses are taught by adjuncts, says Tom Bergmann, vice president of human resources. So bringing them all onsite for a full day of orientation would be a difficult proposition. …

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