Being of a certain age and experience I’ve a number of colleagues and partners that have taken to teaching in and around area universities as adjunct professors. An article in last month’s New Yorker magazine highlighted the writer’s experience and opinion regarding the increasing amount of courses taught at universities by adjunct professors.
My two partners and another associate all teach at NYU Stern in New York City. Personally I’ve had a half-dozen occasions to ‘guest’ lecture at various universities on the subject of direct marketing and entrepreneurship. The now fully tenured Professor who invites me to guest lecture in his class was not enamored of the New Yorker magazine writer’s article noting that it fosters misconceptions and in large part is just wrong.
Are students benefiting from the teachings of adjunct professors? The teaching (and reputations) by fully accredited professors – is it being damaged by adjunct professors? Are students and parents being dis-served when adjunct professors teach college courses at the undergraduate and graduate level?
The answer, like so many, is that it depends. Since I have not yet taken on a class for an entire semester complete with a syllabus (that is often derivative of what others have done since inexperienced adjunct professors likely have little to go on when it comes to creating a syllabus from scratch), I can only offer an outsider’s viewpoint. The reason I note that ‘it depends’ is that there are good ‘full’ professors and less-than-good ones as there are good adjunct professors and less-than-good ones as well.
My take is that most adjunct professors come from the business world and like me want to share their knowledge and experience with today’s students. This real-world experience can be invaluable to a student that wants to hear how things are from someone who’s doing them or has done them recently as opposed to only hearing from a long serving professor who has not worked outside academia for many years.
These adjunct professorships do pay a stipend by semester. It’s not all that much on an hourly basis when one takes into consideration travel, class time, student meetings, creating syllabi and grading papers and presentations. There is cachet to referring to oneself as a professor (although I have to laugh whenever a student calls me that since I am far from being one at this point) and I can offer that from personal experience that teaching is at times exhilarating and exhausting. Sometimes those two things are coincidental.
It’s important to remember that universities benefit from adjunct professors in that they make less money than full professors. But from my small sample of experience the students don’t mind at all and in fact like it since adjunct professors have direct lines into jobs and introductions to people directly associated with the student’s field.
I am continually debating with myself whether or not I wish to take on teaching a class in a coming semester. It’s a big responsibility and I am keenly aware that my partners and colleagues that are teaching put a great deal of time and effort into their teaching and truly care about their students.
I come down that this new age of adjunct professors is much more positive than it is negative – as long as the effort and desire are there to truly help the students learn.
What do you think? Are adjunct professorships a sneaky way for universities to cut expenses? Or are adjunct professorships a practical way give students a viewpoint that is outside of the normal academic approach?