By Shawn Simpson
A professor’s role is to educate, inspire and create an environment for the free exchange of ideas. Before a class of students with varying levels of motivation, these education professionals ply their craft with a deft sense of balance for personal experience, black and white pedagogy and delicate relational posturing.
More shocking than the amount of work that goes into collegiate teaching is that nearly half of all classes taught at this college are by part-time professors hired on contract basis. Known collectively as “adjunct professors,” they come from a wide cross-section of demographics ranging from stay-at-home parents to aspiring full-time professors working their way through the ranks. The degrees and qualifications they hold are as solid as any you’ll see, but whether by choice or circumstance, they fill a role within the classrooms of colleges all over.
Emily Sewell is an adjunct professor of interpersonal communication and speech in her sixth year of teaching at the college. Her original plans in college were to pursue a doctorate in communications and be a university professor. Along the way, she’s worked in advertising and marketing analysis in the corporate world.
Professor Sewell’s focus changed over time. She taught as a graduate assistant at the University of Central Missouri while working on her master’s of communication, and that’s where she learned to be a teacher. She later got her second master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and now has her own counseling practice.
“I really enjoy teaching. I love being here. I just try to make it work around my life so I can do my other career as well as be here,” Sewell said.
Life and family have shaped her choices, and it’s proven to be a beneficial situation for the college, as well as the students. Having a highly credentialed professor with a deep and ongoing professional career provides an invaluable context in the classroom.
“I think interpersonal [communications class] can sometimes tend to be a therapy class where students are supporting one another. You’re really opening up. It’s always stirring up things that are happening in their personal lives,” said Sewell. “I feel like my role as a therapist has given me an opportunity to bring in that other education that I have and help my students to create some insight why it’s important to listen to your family member or romantic partner … This is how you can resolve conflict.”
The keen view of a professional is always valuable in the classroom, especially in the engineering and technology disciplines. Tiffany Moore, professor of construction management, has been at the college since 2013.
Professor Moore has 25 years of experience in construction management and currently runs her own consulting business with a list of clients that reads like the yellow pages of the design and construction industry. Two nights each week, she is in the classroom providing valuable context to a complex and demanding craft.
“I prefer to look at it more like content versus delivery. We teach to a particular process that’s very structured because that’s how it is in the real world,” said Moore. “It’s the delivery that I get to create myself. Am I using photos from the jobsite? Am I using stories? Am I using personal experiences? It’s my choice as to how that works.”
Having a successful and demanding career can be enough strain for a person. Professor Moore was introduced to formalized teaching through a professional organization. Finding some satisfaction, she’s continued to pursue the craft.
“I enjoy the classroom. I started doing it on a small scale for [Metropolitan Community College] for one of their affiliate partners and just caught the bug,” said Moore. “When I came over here, one of the advantages is that this is a more formalized program than what I had been teaching in. [I can] see students as they progress through the degree program. It’s a little more consistent, and I like that”
As much as the college and students are benefitting from the expertise of these part-time professors in the classroom, there are questions as to how they are used and whether they are exploited. Within the structure of a corporation exists limitations on the employment rigors that can rest on the shoulders of part-time employees. For adjunct professors, those same limitations may not extend into the world of academia.
Irene Schmidt is an adjunct professor of Spanish and advocate for the equal treatment of the part-time faculty. The list of potential grievances that deserve redress is extensive, not the least of which is compensated time.
“While the adjunct’s role is to teach only, and we’re really only compensated to teach, many adjuncts also help students outside of class keeping informal office hours,” said Schmidt. “We respond to countless emails, texts or phone calls.”
Since most students are unaware of whether a professor is full-time or adjunct, they are likely to go to the person to whom they feel the most connected.
“[Adjunct professors] provide unofficial academic advising. We write letters of recommendation for students who ask for them, we participate in assessment activities and we are constantly engaged in technology or professional training that usually goes unpaid. These are many of the services we provide and the roles that we play without costing students an extra dime [of tuition].”
As a campus with a diverse student population, having a highly trained professional team of professors benefits the college, the students and the community at large. Professors Sewell, Moore and Schmidt stressed individually that their primary goal is to provide an excellent educational experience to their students. Regardless of employment status, these professionals are an invaluable part of the college’s structure.