How RIT is Building An Adjunct Community

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by Lisa Cook, Academic Impressions

When thinking about a student issue or working on a syllabus, faculty members often seek the advice of a colleague — usually by just walking to the office next door. For adjunct faculty, however, the colleague next door has often left for the day and administration offices may also be shut. Adjunct faculty often operate largely on their own, and have a difficult time meeting colleagues who can provide feedback and support.

When institutions deliberately build adjunct communities, this allows the faculty to support each other, helps make adjunct faculty feel appreciated and rewarded, and improves adjunct teaching and student success in the classroom.

The Rochester Institute of Technology is working to build an adjunct community to foster the kinds of relationships that many full-time faculty and staff take for granted. We talked with Anne Marie Canale and Cheryl Herdklotz, Faculty Career Development Consultants, to learn more about the project and the response it's receiving from their adjuncts.

The "Lunch and Learn" Model

A “lunch and learn” or “dinner and discussion” model serves as the basis of RIT's adjunct community initiative, which was started in Spring 2015 after a successful pilot. Adjuncts gather over a meal, hear a presentation, and have time for questions with the presenter, sharing ideas and strategies about the topic, or for social networking, Canale explains.

For example, RIT's first adjunct event featured a presentation focused on teaching to Millennials and dealing with behavioral issues, and was followed by dinner and socializing. A second session focused on how to handle high-tech cheating.

The Early Impact RIT is Seeing

One immediate result of these events is that the adjuncts who participate are building supportive relationships with each other. For example, at one recent dinner event, two adjunct faculty discussed their syllabi and offered to share each other's to provide constructive feedback. "Sometimes, this is kind of a lonesome group," Herdklotz adds.

Events have averaged about 20-25 adjunct faculty each, with several participants attending all of the events. "For us, a group of 25 is a home run," Herdklotz notes. Canale adds, "The faculty want to be part of the community and establish connections with Faculty Career Development Services (FCDS) and our partners, their fellow adjuncts."

"It would be our intention to have folks know each other through these events so that when it is midnight and I forgot how to login to the grading system to report final grades, I can call on another adjunct who I met through the community to help me post grades on time."
Cheryl Herdklotz, RIT

Early feedback is equally promising. Some participants commented that they enjoy being invited to campus and appreciate the opportunity for professional development. In an evaluation of the event, another adjunct added that it was "great to be able to network with other adjuncts and seasoned instructors in order to share ideas and experiences."

Next Steps

The program is now in its second year, and the office is developing new marketing plans to advertise the activities to the broader adjunct population. They are also encouraging department chairs to spread the word as well.

Advice for Creating an Adjunct Learning Community at Your Institution

What can you do at your institution? Canale and Herdklotz advise:

  • Reach out to your adjunct population to determine their interests and needs via a needs assessment survey or a focus group.
  • Partner with a colleague who is interested in starting or promoting a community to establish a "faculty to faculty" call to join the community.
  • Connect with department chairs across campus to see what ideas they have about adjuncts' professional development needs in their departments, and to get their support to build and promote the group's development.