Write On! An Interview With Dana S. Dunn

This week we’re shifting focus a bit. Dana S. Dunn is Professor of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Moravian is a small and selective liberal arts college with a long and distinguished history. Professor Dunn has edited several books on pedagogical practices, published scores of articles, and several of his own books, including A Short Guide to Writing about Psychology. Professor Dunn was gracious enough to share his perspective on adjuncts and writing.

Adjunct Advocate (AA): What specific challenges do adjuncts face when writing?

Professor Dunn: The most common challenge the adjunct writer faces is discretionary time. Time to reflect. Time to read. And most of all, time to actually write. Multiple courses, which are sometimes taught on multiple campuses, which adds a commuting time, take a toll. So does lecture and discussion preparation and grading. Factoring in some “down” time for family or leisure pursuits (or possibly additional, non-teaching-related work) leaves little time for writing. So, the aspiring writer who is an adjunct must either be or become a whiz at time management. He or she must also learn to make maximum use of small amounts of writing time. For concrete guidance about writing often but in small amounts, I suggest adjunct colleagues consult the very good works of Robert Boice, who researched effective and not-so-effective strategies pursued by new and junior faculty. (AA: Boice is author of books such as Advice for New Faculty Members [2000] and Professors as Writers [1990].)  

Having a quiet space to write can be a challenge. Adjunct offices are also usually shared by several adjuncts, which means they are a quick way station for students and the adjuncts themselves for before or after class meetings.

AA: Do you find that adjunct faculty members focus their writing on different areas than tenure track faculty do? Are more or less in touch with current theory?

Dunn: I can really only speak for psychology, but my guess is that adjuncts are apt to focus on carving out writing projects from their dissertations simply because the primary research has already been done. For writing in new scholarly directions, it may well depend upon the field. Faculty in the humanities, for example, may be able to continue in their intended area of interest if they have access to adequate library or other archival resources. Faculty in the natural sciences and some social sciences (including psychology) really need access to dedicated lab facilities. Unless a college or university is willing to provide such facilities (and few do), adjuncts in those area will be hard pressed to begin or continue original research. One possible solution is to develop a scholarly collaboration with a colleague who has access to a lab or the equivalent or to continue working with one’s graduate mentor (if one exists).

Keeping in touch with current theory is a matter of reading journals, monitoring or taking part in online discussions, and attending conferences. The first two options are easier than the last, which requires funding. But even the first two are a challenge if you are teaching 3, 4, or 5 courses a term to make ends meet.

AA: What could interested institutions do to help adjuncts engage in more writing/write and publish more successfully?

Dunn: I don’t mean to be flip, but for starters such institutions could pay adjunct colleagues more on a per class basis and/or reward longer term adjuncts with use of institutional resources (e.g., copying privileges, secretarial support, paper and other supplies, a place to work).

Adjuncts can try to orient writing assignments in class to pedagogical outcomes that might be publishable in teaching or pedagogy journals. Interested institutions could run adjunct training workshops devoted to professional development activities (e.g., time management skills, manuscript preparation, negotiating with editors) in addition to teaching strategies. Everyone benefits if graduate students, new faculty, and adjunct faculty all receive guidance preparing for the classroom and professional/scholarly activities.

AA: Are there writing-related challenges or opportunities that are specific to psychology as a discipline?

Dunn: Psychology is a science, which means it is driven (largely) by empirical data. Academic psychologists conduct research, which means they need access to research participants, resources to pay for research expenses, and so on. Research is a big undertaking and not for the faint of heart. The chief writing-related challenge is having data or access to data that can be written up into publishable journal articles. Besides empirical articles, of course, psychologists also write theory and review articles, commentary pieces, book reviews, pedagogy and teaching articles, and so on. However, empirical journal articles are the coin of the realm for new and untenured faculty. I would advise an adjunct faculty member in psychology to complete and defend the dissertation at all costs, and then pull out as many empirical articles from it as can be done.

The article(s) should be placed in as rigorous a journal as possible through the peer review process. I would then counsel the adjunct colleague to network in order to form a collaboration with a colleague or colleagues who has research facilities. The goal is to continue to produce a record of reasonable scholarship (e.g., co-authored papers or chapters, conference presentations) while being an effective adjunct faculty member and continuing to search for a full-time position (if that is the adjunct colleague’s goal).

AA: Let us shift focus a moment. Is there a benefit to schools and/or administrators to provide the kind of support you suggest for adjuncts? (What might motivate them to do so?)

The main benefits for creating such support are to (a) develop some institutional loyalty on the part of the adjuncts (i.e., what is to be lost by treating them well?) and (b) markedly improving the experience for our students (i.e., faculty who are treated well and fairly, whether adjunct or full-time, will perform better in the classroom, take their work more seriously, be more conscientious, and so on). Kindness and decency are always good ideas.

Motivating administrators is, of course, always a challenge, more so now due to the economy. Still, an argument can be made that modest outlays of resources for adjunct colleagues will pay dividends to the institution where reliability, professionalism, and students’ experiences in the classroom are concerned. If nothing else, trying an “experiment” in this vein is probably a good idea. Perhaps encouraging an administration to do a trial run (say, a year or two) where resources for adjuncts is concerned is one way to learn whether it is cost effective and beneficial to the institution. Again, I don’t see any great risks here, although I am sure that some administrators would worry that creating (positive) expectations can be problematic if the (experimental) benefits are later withdrawn. To deal with this problem, I would counsel candor at the start.

Thanks so much for inviting me to comment. I hope my observations prove to be useful.

AA: Thank you! Your comments have been very helpful indeed. 

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