New Adjunct Faculty Can Diversify the Professoriate
More Stringent Standards Present Opportunity for Colleges
Recently the Higher Learning Commission announced new, more stringent, faculty qualifications to teach in higher education. Community colleges are faced with the monumental task of reviewing their faculty ranks to comply with the new standards. Many faculty, both residential and adjunct, will no longer qualify to teach. Colleges will be faced with the challenge of finding new faculty members who meet the new standards.
While this task will be daunting, it presents community colleges with an opportunity to increase their faculty diversity. One of the core missions of community colleges has always been to serve minority and first generation students. In the fall of 2012 community colleges enrolled 49 percent of all African American undergraduates and 56 percent of all Hispanic undergraduates (CCCSE, 2014). Research suggests that students perform better when they have contact with faculty from similar ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds. Yet in 2014 the American Association of Community Colleges reported that 83 percent of residential faculty and 82 percent of adjunct faculty were white. Community colleges must take this opportunity to recruit and retain more diverse faculty. Specifically, community colleges should focus on the hiring of their adjunct faculty to increase diversity.
Full-time are faculty hired through a lengthy process as the result of a nationwide search. However, the decision to hire adjunct faculty often falls to a department chair who may or may not have the time to screen and interview multiple candidates. Many community colleges utilize an “adjunct faculty pool” of interested candidates. As a result, the adjunct faculty hiring process can be fast and simple.
Community colleges must find new ways to recruit qualified and diverse individuals to teach. Rather than relying on graduate programs or notices in journals of higher education, colleges must look to community-based organizations such as local Hispanic Chambers of Commerce or the NAACP to recruit new faculty. In addition, professional organizations like minority bar associations or minority medical organizations can be fertile ground for recruitment. Members of such organizations are perfect candidates for adjunct teaching. These people are already committed to helping their community and are looking for ways to contribute beyond their full-time jobs.
Many colleges have already formed public/private partnerships with local corporations and business. However, colleges should look to these corporations and minority-owned businesses, not as a source of potential students, but to identify potential adjunct faculty.
New adjunct faculty, while experts in their subject, often have no teaching experience. In a perfect world, adjunct faculty are hired well ahead of the first day of class. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world. There are far too many stories of adjunct faculty being hired on Monday for a class that starts on Tuesday. Once hired, adjunct faculty must be connected to and supported by the college or university. What follows are suggestions that community colleges can implement to support both adjunct faculty in general and minority faculty as well.
New full-time faculty attend orientations that explain university policies, faculty services, and student services. They have offices and office staff. Most colleges have a faculty senate and/or a faculty association that provides a voice for faculty issues with the institution.
Community colleges should make an effort to connect with their adjunct faculty as well. Colleges should engage their new adjunct faculty with in-person orientations. The orientations can function as a personal welcome to the new hires as well as building a sense of community among their fellow faculty members.
Given the number of adjunct faculty, it is unrealistic to think that all adjunct faculty will have their own office on campus. However, colleges should provide a common work area for adjunct faculty. These areas should include computers, printers, copiers and supplies. In addition, there should be space to meet with students. These common work areas provide an avenue to build community as well as informal support amongst adjunct faculty. This is also a great place to post announcements about campus programs and events.
In addition to work space, institutions that employ large numbers of adjunct faculty should also create an office dedicated to supporting adjunct faculty.
These centers should focus on the creation and presentation of professional growth seminars and workshops for adjunct faculty. Whenever possible these programs should be free to adjunct faculty.
Finally, adjunct faculty should have an organization that represents their interests within the institution. Note that this does not necessarily mean a union. The unionization of adjunct faculty can be controversial and is not the subject of this piece. However, adjunct faculty should have a mechanism to communicate their interests with the administration.
The suggestions above provide a means to connect adjunct faculty with the institution. Colleges should also help to connect minority faculty with each other and minority students. Organizations like the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE) have thrived at large universities. They are organized and provide services that are specific to Hispanics in higher education. Community colleges should connect the next generation of diverse faculty with organizations like TACHE.
Colleges should also connect their new adjunct faculty with student organizations like MEChA and the National Black Student Union. These student organizations often have a faculty advisor. It is incumbent upon these advisors to identify and reach out to minority adjunct faculty to involve them with these organizations. Adjunct faculty will become more invested in teaching by becoming mentors and advisors to students. The more invested they become, the longer they will continue to teach.
The suggestions above serve as shortterm strategies to recruit and retain the next generation of diverse educators. The new HLC guidelines have provided community colleges with an opportunity to increase faculty diversity. Colleges should seize this opportunity for the benefit of themselves, their students, and their communities.