One of the most frequent complaints expressed by colleagues around the state is how difficult it is to get volunteers for committee work and other activities around campus. Lately my answer to them has always been the same: Are you asking your adjunct faculty to participate, and if not, why not? Most people express surprise at this idea, but it is a thought worth considering.
While some of our adjunct colleagues are not interested in doing committee work (or don’t have the time to do so, because they are freeway flyers), many are actually flattered and enthused when asked to participate. Those who hope to eventually apply for full time jobs at a community college are among the most likely to volunteer, as this service strengthens their applications, but even those who are not interested in full time employment are often eager to help.
Involving adjunct faculty at your college can bring a wealth of benefits that may not be immediately obvious. Clearly, adjunct faculty members bring a wide range of experiences to our colleges. Many have recently graduated from graduate school; as a result, they are often familiar with the most up-to-date pedagogical practices and are eager to experiment with new ideas. Other adjuncts are seasoned veterans, with experiences in the classroom that can be invaluable for newer faculty and provide a different perspective for our students. Some adjuncts have experience at four-year universities, while others are knowledgeable about workforce fields and practices, and can bring relevant and current information to our students and our programs about those areas of their expertise. Ultimately, the involvement of adjunct faculty can build a stronger sense of community within a division or department, and even within a campus.
So, how can you get adjunct faculty involved? The most obvious way is to ask them to participate in departmental or divisional activities: department meetings, division gatherings or meetings, and the like. Many part time faculty are already involved in SLO assessment and curriculum development, and professional development activities planned for both the part time and full time faculty members together strengthen departments and divisions. Many part time faculty members may not be aware how much those experiences can help if they choose to apply for a full time position. Being able to adroitly discuss the student learning outcome assessment cycles within a particular discipline, or specifics on updating curriculum and course outlines of record, can make a candidate far more attractive to a hiring committee. In addition, it can be gratifying to hire someone who is already familiar with some of these processes; not having to explain some of the most basic elements of our system (the course outline of record immediately comes to mind) is a welcome change. This is not to argue that full time faculty should abdicate their responsibilities, but an extra hand in dealing with many of these issues can provide additional assistance that might not be available, especially in small or single person departments or disciplines.
In addition to departmental and divisional activities, there are plenty of campus activities that can involve adjunct faculty. At Foothill College, only the tenure review and professional development leave committees are restricted to full time faculty; otherwise adjunct faculty can participate fully in campus activities. We have part time faculty serving as divisional SLO coordinators, on our program review committee, on our college curriculum committee, and as Academic Senators (both as divisional representatives and in our two elected adjunct academic senate seats). The perspectives these faculty bring to the senate is tremendously helpful; one of our adjunct senators serves on several college wide committees and is able to report out from those, while another teaches at multiple colleges and can provide information and insights about what other colleges in our area are doing. Most unions have positions specifically designated for adjunct faculty as another means by which to participate in the campus at large. Adjunct faculty can also be involved in campus wide activities that are not entirely academic, including heritage month celebrations, club advising, and other student activities.
Ultimately, each college has to make a decision about the role of adjunct faculty on its own campus. Some colleges may have concerns about allowing adjunct faculty to serve on certain committees or governance groups, especially if those faculty are actively seeking full time employment and might leave prior to the conclusion of a term. However, for most colleges, the benefits that come from being more inclusive of adjunct faculty into the activities of the college community far outweigh the potential negatives. So, the next time you are searching for committee members, think about your adjunct faculty and what they might contribute outside the classroom.