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University hires adjunct, visiting faculty for specialty, need

Non-regular faculty cite mixed reactions to instability, flexibility of teaching positions at University

By
Senior Reporter
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Two-thirds of faculty at U.S. colleges are not tenured or tenure-track. But the national increase in the employment of non-tenure track and temporary teaching faculty, known as the adjunctification of universities, is a trend that the University’s faculty does not reflect, said Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12.

“We don’t want to move in that direction, and we don’t have to,” McLaughlin said.

According to the University’s Handbook of Academic Administration, the titles of adjunct and visiting faculty refer to a group of non-regular — and therefore non-voting — faculty who are usually appointed to teach courses or seminars. Adjunct and visiting instructors, lecturers and professors can be appointed for definite terms of one, two or three years, which are renewable “if this is justified by departmental need,” according to the handbook.

The University currently employs approximately 60 paid adjunct and visiting faculty in teaching roles, said Joel Revill, associate dean of the faculty. This is in addition to the 758 regular faculty, which includes 688 tenure-track faculty and 70 lecturers. The adjunct and visiting faculty are one group within the approximate 700 non-regular faculty — a number nearly equal to the regular faculty at the University. Many of these non-regular faculty are post-doctoral students, research faculty or teaching associates in the language departments, Revill said.

Multiple regular and non-regular faculty members expressed concern that the University is experiencing a more moderate version of the national trend. “In the 27 years that I’ve been on the faculty, we have gradually raised the amount done by adjuncts, visitors and lecturers,” said David Weil, chair of the economics department.

  While the seven adjunct and visiting faculty members interviewed for this story said they relish the experience of teaching at Brown, others expressed dissatisfaction with uncertainty and instability of their positions .

Filling the gaps

Adjuncts and visitors are employed to cover “some margin that might not exist for more than a year” or because they have specific experience or expertise that makes them particularly qualified to teach certain courses, McLaughlin said.

Because the international relations concentration consists of courses in multiple departments, three adjuncts are required to teach classes specific to the concentration that are not provided by any department at Brown, said Nina Tannenwald, director of the international relations program. For example, one of these three adjuncts has a law degree, which brings a unique perspective to the classroom, she added.

Four of the adjunct and visiting faculty interviewed attributed their positions to unique knowledge or skills. Richard Arenberg, adjunct lecturer in international and public affairs, said that his 34-year career in the Senate primed him to impart an “enthusiasm for public service” to students.

Frank Sciuto, adjunct lecturer in economics, has been teaching financial accounting for almost 30 years while simultaneously working full-time as a certified public accountant. “That is something that none of the tenure-track faculty in the department could teach. … It’s not something that PhD economists really have sufficient expertise in,” Weil said.

Two of the adjunct and visiting faculty members interviewed said that they were hired because regular faculty members left the University or went on sabbatical. “There was a need,” said Charles Morton, adjunct lecturer in chemistry, who was hired in summer 2016 to teach organic chemistry and is currently leading a lecture section.

The physics department also turns to adjunct faculty when the department has “too many professors on sabbatical leaves and … may not have enough professors to cover every course,” said Gang Xiao, chair of the physics department.

A part of the department

Due to the temporary and often part-time nature of adjunct and visiting positions, several of the faculty interviewed said that they struggled to feel involved and included in their respective departments.

“Because you’re only here part-time … you don’t have the contact with the other faculty,” said David Wyss, adjunct professor in English, adding that this lack of contact would matter most to faculty members just beginning their careers.

“If you’re an adjunct faculty member who’s using that as sort of a CV-builder to apply for tenure-track positions, then I can see how you might feel left out,” Morton said. Adjuncts are often not present on campus and therefore miss meetings and events, he added.

John Jannotti, adjunct assistant professor in computer science, was on a tenure-track position at Brown before withdrawing from the tenure process to run his company. Upon returning to the University as an adjunct, he said he felt that he was “participating less in the direction of Brown or (his) department.”

A visiting faculty member in the humanities who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions said that they were “not welcome at department meetings and at decision-making meetings,” adding that this barrier limits how invested non-regular faculty feel in their department.

“I do feel a little bit separated. … I would have loved to have been more plugged into the community,” Sciuto said. However, the economics department always includes him in events, he added. “It’s not like ‘Mean Girls’ in high school,” he said.

Arenberg and Morton also said that they feel accepted and appreciated by the regular faculty in their respective departments. “I found really a lot of respect for the experience and expertise that I brought to the job,” Arenberg added.

Benefits and pay

Since adjuncts and visiting faculty are often employed to fill gaps in curricula, the University views them solely as teachers rather than as researchers, said the visiting faculty member who wished to remain anonymous. Unlike regular faculty, adjuncts and visiting faculty are not offered the option of a sabbatical during which to conduct research.

Being an adjunct acts as a barrier to involvement in the research that takes place in the chemistry department, Morton said. However, for Morton, a teaching-centric appointment is ideal as the lack of pressure to conduct research allows him to focus on raising his children. “It’s an incredible kind of freedom as long as your family’s finances allow it,” he said.

Unlike his colleagues at other universities, who “have to make a decision every semester, every year” whether or not to continue as adjuncts because of the poor pay, Morton is satisfied with the compensation he receives, he said.

Brown pays its adjunct and visiting faculty per course out of a “temporary teaching budget,” McLaughlin said.

Faculty receive around $10,000 per class, as opposed to the national average of $3,000 per class, Revill said. Thirty-four of the University’s 60 adjunct and visiting faculty members make less than $50,000 per year, which is a “normal, low-end, full-time teaching salary,” he added.

Though adjunct and visiting faculty do not automatically receive the benefits package offered to regular faculty members, “we always try to provide benefits to people who don’t have it available to them otherwise, especially if they’re teaching more than one course,” McLaughlin said.

For example, the English Department recently worked with the University to begin offering some partial benefits to its adjuncts, said Philip Gould, chair of the English department.

Job insecurity

Though adjunct and visiting faculty can be appointed for terms of up to three years, most of the non-regular faculty interviewed were on one-year contracts with the University. The year-by-year nature of adjunct and visiting positions and the fact that many of these faculty are hired specifically to fill temporary roles results in a dearth of job security, said the anonymous visiting faculty member.

Because adjuncts and visiting faculty are rehired based on need, there’s a chance that they could end up teaching fewer courses than anticipated. The anonymous visiting faculty member said that last year they expected to teach four classes but were only needed for three. “That’s like a quarter of my income that’s just gone, … there’s no real recourse,” they said, adding that, because their department is in the process of hiring a new tenure-track faculty member, “I think my time is probably about to end here.”

Renewal of an adjunct or visiting faculty member’s contract depends on the amount of money allocated to the department by the University, Weil said. However, adjunct and visiting faculty members have the possibility of becoming lecturers — a regular faculty position that comes with a three-year renewable contract, he added.

“Since my first year here, we have looked for opportunities to regularize part-time faculty or full-time faculty on year-to-year contracts,” McLaughlin said. “Once it’s been demonstrated that that’s an ongoing need, we’ve looked for opportunities to move them into what we call regular faculty positions.”

In the English department’s nonfiction writing program, which employs five adjunct faculty members, “we try to create as much certainty and continuity as we can,” Gould said. He added that three of the program’s adjuncts have been at Brown for over a decade. In the last 10 years, the department has also focused on converting its adjunct positions into lecturer positions, he said.

“The bottom line is you want people who come to work each day and do good work to feel part of something,” Gould said, adding that “it’s easier to feel that way” if you have job security.

Avoiding adjunctification

Promoting adjunct and visiting faculty to regular faculty positions also combats adjunctification.

The “Brown model” values tenure-track faculty because their role as researchers gives them a unique approach to teaching, said Patrick Heller, chair of the sociology department. Because of this, Heller doesn’t think Brown is a part of adjunctification, he added.

Because the University is “wealthier than the state systems,” it does not have to resort to adjunctification, McLaughlin said, adding that the number of non-tenure track faculty has not increased during his time at Brown.

When Weil began working at Brown the teaching in the economics department was “overwhelmingly done by tenure-track faculty,” but the department now employs four adjuncts, he said. This shift can be attributed both to an increase in student enrollment in economic courses and a decrease in the teaching loads of tenured-track faculty so as to remain competitive to peer institutions, Weil added.

“The effort that we’re focused on is trying to, as much as possible — except where it’s appropriate or desirable — have regular faculty teaching in the classes,” McLaughlin said.