Limited adjunct professors expand Baylor’s horizons

Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

By Rewon Shimray | Reporter

When registering for classes, students often reference and cross-reference the professors listed. When the professor’s name doesn’t come up on BUbooks or Rate My Professors, students proceed with caution.

More likely than not, the people teaching the class are what Baylor calls “adjunct lecturers,” also known as contingent faculty. Adjunct lecturers are part-time workers selected by the department and approved by the administration.

These part-time positions can be filled by many different types of people, such as graduate students, business professionals with a full time job on the side, a Baylor employee working full-time in another department, etc.

In 2016, the American Association of University Professors analyzed trends in higher education between the mid-1970s to 2011. The study found that the hiring of full-time tenure-track faculty increased by 23 percent and part-time faculty by 286 percent. Research conducted by College Factual, a college informational website, shows that Baylor has one of the highest utilizations of full-time staff in the U.S. with 79 percent full-time, as opposed to the national average of 49 percent.

Director of Undergraduate Studies Doug Weaver said Baylor’s shift toward being a research institution has created “a push to focus the current faculty base toward more research and written production.”

To fulfill research demands, full-time faculty have sabbatical, a paid leave granted to university professors to conduct research. Along with research requirements, full-time professors are expected to have administrative responsibilities (such as committee-work, advising, service, etc.) and may consequently get course-load reductions so that they teach one to two classes. Both of these factors contribute to a decreased number of classes taught by full-time professors and the growing need for adjuncts.

Weaver also said “it might be less expensive to have adjuncts.” He said there is a greater investment put into full-time staff, because besides being paid more, they are also given health benefits.

Forbes reported that more than half of adjuncts make less than $35,000 a year, even with working an additional job outside of academia.

Henry Wright, adjunct lecturer and civil attorney, said that because of the hours it takes to prepare for class, adjunct work is “not an economically advantageous thing.” He said it is “a labor of love.”

Dr. Ginny Brewer-Boydston works part time at both Baylor and Mary-Hardin Baylor. While she started to teach at Mary-Hardin Baylor as a way to get more teaching experience, she said she now continues to do it because of “salary issues.”

“The frustration for me, is I’m doing … what qualifies as full-time work, across two universities. I’m doing all of this work that normally full-time faculty do,” Brewer-Boydston said. “The reality is that I make a third of what full-time instructors would make as an adjunct, and that’s not counting the benefits that would come with it, like insurance and retirement.”

Financial instability for adjuncts may also be caused by call-back uncertainty. Weaver said departments make judgments on the need of adjuncts largely based on the size of the student body. After calculating the number of classes needed based on the incoming class, the registrar is posted.

Eric Eckert, adjunct lecturer and assistant director of media communications for faculty development, started teaching one class per semester in 2013, two years after beginning work in Baylor’s communications office. He said he finds out what classes he will be teaching the following semester when the registrar is posted.

“I never know; I always wonder each year if this will be the year they kick me out,” Eckert said. “That’s the other thing, you never know. You’re hopeful that they keep hiring you.”

Brewer-Boydston said the passing nature of adjuncts is detrimental to building relationships with students.

“I don’t think universities think about the benefits students get when they have a familiar face who’s always around, who’s always able to help them and walk them through the process, when there’s nothing I can do but help you with the class you have with me,” Brewer-Boydston said.

Eckert and Wright said their full-time professions outside of the classroom allow them to provide their students with knowledge of their field.

As an attorney, Wright said he is able advise students about law school, tell “war stories” from the courtroom, and “give them a little insight to what is going on outside the world of Baylor.” Wright said there is an “intermix” between his career and class.

Eckert said his students write in his evaluations that they learn from his stories from his 20 plus years of full-time journalism work.

“The use of adjuncts enhances the work of a particular department,” Weaver said. “We would tell you, you’re paying to come to our school to get us to do what we know best. So when we hire adjuncts, we also want that adjunct to teach something related to them.”

Wright said he would not want students to think that having an adjunct professor meant “they have an inferior professor who’s less capable.”

“I think it’s the responsibility of the university to make sure that the adjuncts are integrated with the departments in which they’re working so that, the students, through the adjunct, still have the same amount of access and communication with the department,” Wright said. “One of my concerns is that adjuncts are less involved in departmental issues, less involved in relationships between faculty members in the department, and that can be a barrier of access to other faculty members who could be of great benefit to the student.”

The inclusion of adjuncts into full-time staff varies on the individual department.

Brewer-Boydston said she feels as though she “hangs off to the side” and gets the “feeling of being divorced from the school.” Eckert said he feels “like a full-fledged faculty member.”

The Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) is the “singular institute dedicate to teaching development at Baylor,” according to Dr. Lenore Wright, ATL Director. Lenore Wright said ATL hosts workshops to help all Baylor educators improve their teaching skills and feel more integrated into the Baylor community, to achieve the ultimate goal of enhancing student learning.

Two weeks before fall classes begin, ATL hosts an all-day Adjunct Teaching Workshop for part-time faculty. Along with reviewing new policies surrounding Title IX, Human Resources and Pro Futuris, the workshop provides “training for essential elements of course design,” Lenore Wright said. Lenore Wright said some past workshop participants will return to the ATL to receive one-on-one help, then come back with improved evaluations and higher rubric grades to show for the progress they and their students have made.

“I think it’s essential that all people who teach at Baylor, who have any instructional role whatsoever, see themselves as Baylor people,” Lenore Wright said.

Lenore Wright said it is important that all professors, despite what other profession they may have outside academia, are equals in the classroom.