What is the role of adjunct faculty in a modern university setting, and where do adjunct professors come from? I recently read an article that said, in 2000, adjunct faculty provided 40% of all instruction at institutions of higher education. Compared to full professors, they are generally paid little for their efforts, and may need to struggle against negative stereotypes. According to the article, permanent faculty often have the impression that adjunct faculty “aren’t as good as other teachers,” and equate their low rate of pay with a lower quality of teaching. This lines up with one of my personal experiences as an undergraduate, during which I had a professor tell me not to take a course from an adjunct faculty member if I could take the same course with a “real” professor. I find these attitudes really strange, because my experiences as a student taking courses with adjunct faculty have been overwhelmingly positive.
For example, I took an elementary fluid mechanics course from an adjunct professor whose primary job was with the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey). According to him, teaching was the “fun” part of his day, and he taught a course every semester because he enjoyed working with students. In addition to his enthusiasm, he brought a wealth of practical experience to the class. His work and interests included modeling tidal waves, predicting the spread of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill based on weather conditions, and various problems involving dams and river flows.
In another case, I took both an introductory and educational psychology course from an adjunct professor who had worked as a clinical psychologist and was teaching part-time. In the intro class, her stories based on actual (anonymous) patients really brought the material close to home. In the educational psychology class, her experiences from both the perspective of an educator and a mother of school-age children provided a unique perspective and, I think, made her teaching more effective.
What about you? Have you had a positive or negative experience with an adjunct professor that you would like to share?