Nov. 16, 2015

CSU adjunct faculty roles, qualifications explained

By Carissa Woytach

The faculty at Cleveland State University is made up of educators from varied backgrounds with multiple skill sets and levels. Of these faculty members, part-time employees or adjuncts — faculty who are contracted on a semester or single-year basis — teach classes alongside tenured or full-time professors.

In colleges across the university, qualification standards for these faculty members are similar. While they may not have a doctoral degree, there is an emphasis for adjunct professors to have practical, real-world experience in their field rather than just a research-based résumé.

In the College of Engineering, for example, most part-time faculty have master’s degrees with 10 or more years of job experience, according to Paul Lin, associate dean for the College of Engineering.
“We hire many adjunct professors because our enrollment is increasing and we are way short [on] faculty,” he said. “But in terms of qualifications, I think they all have masters or doctoral degrees and they all have several years of industrial experience. Some of them even have prior teaching experience.”

According to Lin, the two main reasons the College of Engineering hires adjuncts is that their current faculty lack the skill set required to teach a specialized course — or they are trying to develop a new program. The department lacks the full-time manpower to match an increase in student enrollment.

“They may just come teach one or two courses a year and they don’t come back,” he said. “Some may actually come to teach one course in the fall [and] another one in the spring semester — so it depends on our needs. We actually have a database on who can do what.”

While full-time faculty for the College of Engineering must demonstrate their research potential, adjunct professors must show Lin that they have valuable skills to pass on to their students.

“So tenured professors, when we hire them, we look at their research potential, their knowledge about their area,” he said. “But for adjunct professors, we only care about whether or not this person has special knowledge on that subject.”

On the other end of the campus, the Art Department handles adjuncts in a similar manner. While they have fewer teaching from semester to semester — only five working now — their qualifications are similar to that of engineering, according to Marian Bleeke, chair of the Art Department.

“For studio art or graphic design, [adjuncts] need a Master’s of Fine Arts — the highest degree possible in those areas,” she wrote in an email interview. “For art history, they need at least a master’s in the field. Some do have [doctoral degrees] or have finished their MA’s and are working on [their doctorates.] We do prefer some prior teaching experience.”

While the same level of expertise and specialization is required, for the art department, adjuncts teach more classes each year when compared to their scientific counterparts.

“Typically they teach three courses during the school year,” she wrote. “They need to have expertise in whatever area they will be teaching. For art history, we want the person to specialize [in] the area they are teaching — western, Asian or African — or have coursework or some other background in that particular area.”

“There usually isn’t much overlap between the different areas because each requires a specific background and expertise,” she continued. “But if someone had the background for more than one area — both an MFA in a studio art area and an MA in art history, for example — they could teach both.”

From a more purely academic standpoint, the Philosophy and Comparative Religions department also requires their part-time faculty to have at least Master’s degrees in their areas of expertise, but some do have doctorates.

In terms of practical experience, according to Allyson Robichaud, chair of the Philosophy and Comparative Religions department, some faculty are employed in the fields of bioethics and engineering.

“One of our part-time instructors who teaches Engineering Ethics, has a degree in engineering along with an MA in philosophy and he is employed as an engineer, along with teaching part time,” she wrote in an email interview. “The other applied ethics class we teach is bioethics and one of our instructors is a community member of the University Hospital Ethics Committee.”

This semester there are 12 philosophy and four comparative religion adjuncts. While their qualifications vary, many have prior teaching experience, even if it was only as a graduate assistant.

“Classes are assigned based on programmatic needs [and] prior experience teaching a course as a solo instructor is a plus,” she wrote. “But some of our part-time instructors started having only had experience as graduate assistants — which is like an apprenticeship where they teach a few classes and grade assignments with the aid of the course instructor. Normally, part-time instructors teach one or two classes [per semester] but occasionally we seek a waiver to have a part-time instructor teach more than two.”

According to Robichaud, the largest difference between part-time and tenured faculty is their research potential, including their work being published.

“Tenured faculty, as well as college lecturers, must have a [doctorate] and are hired to teach in their area of expertise,” she wrote. “Evidence of competence in teaching is used to evaluate candidates if and when we are given permission to hire someone. For a tenure-track position, evidence of scholarship is also important, [meaning] the candidate has scholarly publications.”

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