Full-time professionals share experiences with college students

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – In many ways, Tim Titus lacks the markings of a typical college professor. He doesn’t hold a PhD, has never published any scholarly work and spends most of his time working for LexisNexis Courtlink in Washington, D.C, where he is the director for litigation strategy.

Yet every Thursday after work, Titus commutes cross-town to American University where he holds office hours and teaches a pair of political science courses, lecturing undergrads on constitutional liberties.

“I love it,” Titus said of his dual jobs. “It allows me to really focus on the things I love about studying law while keeping my hand in development at high levels.”

Titus is part of a unique brand of adjunct professors who are first and foremost professionals. These individuals work full-time jobs during the day in various fields, then pass on their expertise through classroom lectures in the evening. The idea is to give students a more practical knowledge of what’s going on their area of study.

“I’m constantly having to stay up on what’s going on in the legal industry, and I bring that information into the students,” said Titus. “It’s not stagnant for them. A lot of the things we talk about they probably wouldn’t get from someone more focused on academic literature.”

Instructors like Titus are becoming more common in universities across the country. Figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that the percentage of part-time faculty within American colleges and universities swelled from 35 to 44 percent between 1991 and 2001.

Though it’s impossible to know how many of those are working professionals, such professors are in line with current public attitudes on the role of higher education. In a 2004 survey done by the Chronicle for Higher Education, 70 percent of Americans said it was “very important” for universities to prepare its undergraduate students for a career, while 49 percent said it was as important for schools to discover more about the world through research.

The trend is particularly strong in Washington, where beltway veterans are using their knowledge of the national political scene to teach courses in political science, international affairs and journalism.

Jerry Zremski, Washington correspondent for The Buffalo News and a part-time professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, said he frequently uses his own experiences in teach his students the trade.

“I’ve done a lot and I can tie a lot of my experiences here into my teaching, which I do all the time,” said Zremski. “We really are bringing something of value to the classroom that a professor with a PhD and no journalism experience would not have.”

Such professors frequently use their professional backgrounds to attract top guest speakers and allow their students access to do research at high levels of the government. William Lane, Washington director for governmental affairs at Caterpillar who teaches an international affairs course at George Washington University, said he often structures class projects to involve students directly in the capitol scene.

“We’re very current about what’s going on in the administration and on the Hill, and I can intervene to the degree necessary to make sure students have the access to do research on their topics of interest,” said Lane. “For example, I’ve had students who were very interested in China, and I’ve made sure they have access to people in the embassy or in the commerce department who can help them.”

Instructors like Lane can also be especially effective in providing networking opportunities to their students. Several professionals-turned-professors said they see themselves as grooming a new generation of specialists, frequently tapping their best students for internships either with their own companies or others they have links to.

However, these classroom professionals are also bound by limitations. Working up to 70 hours a week in some cases, many said they find it tough to make time for their students and must be careful not to lose track of their responsibilities.

In addition, many part-time instructors conceded that they are not as versed in current academic literature and cannot provide the same level of depth as working academics. Their role, they stress, is to supplement — not replace — full-time faculty.

“I think it provides a nice counterbalance to some degree have someone who can show (students) the more practical side of things,” said Titus, the AU professor. “But I certainly think that academics are important and that academia is important, and I don’t think you can have a full university experience without interacting with people who truly specialize in their fields.”

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