OFTEN Comes Just in Time

by Evelyn Beck

Not too long ago, Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) brought its adjuncts into the twenty-first century.

“It’s hard to imagine anyone working without e-mail and computers even though it’s only been a few years since they became standards for adjuncts,” says Kathryn Baker, a former adjunct who has been teaching full time at the Florida-based college for nearly four years.

The implementation of a project called The Online Faculty Teaching Excellence Network (OFTEN) not only provided e-mail and computers, but it has improved the entire communication system for part-time instructors at SFCC.

“All adjuncts now have individual phone extensions, shared office space, computer access with SFCC e-mail accounts, invitations to department meetings (many departments excluded adjuncts, but no more), and access to professional development such as the Center for Academic Technologies workshops,” says William Wall, who was hired as an adjunct in 1998 and then as a full-time instructor in 2000.

Adjuncts received Web space, too. Says Kress: “A lot of the things we were proposing seemed radical at the time.”

In 1998, under a three-year grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), English department faculty members Suellyn Winkle and Anne Kress sought to integrate English department adjuncts more fully into the college community. By 2000, the project had expanded to include part-time faculty in the entire Arts and Sciences division.

One issue addressed by this effort was the way adjuncts were trained. The face-to-face faculty mentoring tradition, while written about as an exemplary model, had lost its effectiveness as the number of adjuncts increased and as adjuncts found themselves stretched thinner and thinner by teaching at multiple campuses.

“They couldn’t always make their appointments for mentoring,” says Kress, herself a former adjunct.

So SFCC built an on-line, open-entry, open-exit training environment. Not only would this provide round-the-clock access to information about college policies, campus services, and course syllabi, sample tests, and grading rubrics, but it also treated experienced adjuncts with the dignity they deserved. Kress remembers having mixed feelings about her own face-to-face orientation years ago.

“The orientation was good,” she says, “but it assumed that I’d never graded a paper, which seemed an odd assumption. I was seen as a teaching novice, but in fact most of the people who come here as adjunct faculty have been teaching for years. The big issue is to get them to see how Santa Fe is different from where they’ve taught before.”

So in order to recognize the professionalism of its adjuncts, the Web site offers the option of starting training at a level appropriate with the instructor’s experience.

This access to information also helped make adjuncts aware of campus services. For example, says Kress, national data shows that part-timers make less use of audio-visual equipment in the classroom-simply because they don’t know that it’s available.

Of course, not all aspects of the project panned out as predicted. The adjunct faculty discussion board, for example, did not engender the high level of participation anticipated. However, e-mail use far exceeded expectations.

“I heard from people constantly,” says Kress. “They were asking critical questions at times of day I would otherwise not be available, and with some questions that need concrete details, you can’t leave a phone message. They were also using it to communicate with students more quickly. It was like unleashing the floodgates.”

And that flood continued, driven by adjunct faculty’s new power to communicate—not only with full-time faculty and staff, but also with each other. Officemates who never saw each other became acquainted, and adjuncts became able to bring their shared concerns forward as a group. Today, SFCC adjuncts publish a newsletter, serve on an adjunct ad hoc committee that meets with the Vice President for Academic Affairs to voice concerns, and serve in two positions on the Faculty Senate. At the very least, they are more visible to administrators, who in turn have invited adjuncts to training on everything from distance learning to how to handle students who are belligerent or ill. And adjuncts are able to apply for grant money, too.

The environment for adjuncts has improved at SFCC, especially in the college’s eagerness to alert them to full-time openings–and to hire them. And their political awareness has been heightened by newsletter calls to support organizations like the Community College Faculty Coalition of the State of Florida, which is open to both full-time and part-time instructors. However, while issues of concern to adjuncts regularly receive public airing and sharing, some things change more slowly. Says Baker: “What all adjuncts want is more pay and benefits.”

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