Dipping in to the Research

One of the things that struck me when I started working on this blog was how little research had been done into the great sea change of academic labor that is using adjuncts instead of tenure-track faculty. However, little research is not no research, and this week I went looking for studies related to adjuncts and writing.

I was fortunate enough to locate papers by Jeffrey Klausman, who has been Writing Program Administrator at Whatcom Community College  since 2007. Klausman had presented a paper on the role of adjunct faculty in writing programs at the 2009 TYCA-PNW and another on the same topic at CCCCs. An article on the subject is scheduled for publication in the journal Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and Klausman and was gracious enough to both share a copy of the paper with me and to answer a few questions about his research.

As is often the case with discussions of pedagogy, Klausman starts his study with a brief contextualizing narrative. Interestingly, this account includes a mention that when he began his research, Klausman found “almost nothing” on how depending on adjunct faculty affects writing programs.

To address this, and to give himself tools for his new position as administrator of a writing program (at a community college depending heavily on adjuncts), Klausman began his own research on the subject. He developed a survey (using Survey Monkey) to review adjunct attitudes on their relationship to writing programs. The survey covered a fairly wide range of factors, such as how much voice adjuncts should have on curriculum and if the administrator of their writing program valued adjuncts.

When I asked him why he started with the attitudes, rather than other places (such as, for example, affects on student learning, Klausman indicated it was to deal with specific issues he’d faced, namely difficulty implementing changes in his own program due to resistance from the adjuncts. (This resonates well with my experience as an adjunct.)

His initial findings were useful but not overly surprising: adjuncts wanted an equal voice in developing programs, wanted to be respected, and enjoyed their work, but found the conditions under which they worked to be the main obstacles to improving that work. More interesting were the results of the follow up interviews Klausman did to address seemingly contradictory responses to one area of the initial survey: that adjuncts reported feeling respected but undervalued at the same time. These interviews exposed that adjuncts often have little or no say in the writing programs they teach for, and little or no loyalty as a result—but that those who do feel loyal and respected.

This seems to arise not from agreement or disagreement with the program’s actual decisions or from clashes with individual administrators, but rather from institutional structures and attitudes: adjuncts who were invited to play full roles in programs often did so, while adjuncts who were treated as disposable labor…felt like it.

While the survey and interviews focused on adjunct writing faculty, and on their relations to writing programs, in this case, I have to suspect the results would apply to other disciplines as well. Is there, I have to ask, anything specific about adjuncts teaching writing—or do working conditions trump all? I’ll keep looking.

In the meantime, thank you, Dr. Klausman. I’ll be looking for your future work.

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