University offers teaching training to adjuncts

Part-time professors will be able to secure University funds to improve teaching and professional skills for the first time this month after years of departments providing scattered or scant training.

Adjuncts – who make up over 70 percent of GW’s faculty and are sometimes hired abruptly even if they lack teaching backgrounds –can grab up to $600 each for if they attend development trainings, like teaching seminars or research conferences.

The $15,000 funding pool, designed to better prepare adjuncts for academic roles, is the result of a collective bargaining agreement signed by GW and the adjunct professors’ union last summer.

“I think this is a really positive thing,” adjunct music professor Kip Lornell, who leads the union of GW’s adjuncts, said. “The University paused and thought about it, but they embraced the concept. They realized that part-time faculty need money for professional development.”

The money could help subsidize adjuncts to seek outside teaching improvements. Now, teacher training specifically for part-time faculty – who often work government, business or nonprofit jobs in the area – is nonexistent in many departments and colleges across GW.

But Lornell said the $600 is meager compared to the funds available to adjuncts at other universities. He added that adjuncts should not be left to look outside the University for training.

Adjuncts sometimes arrive at the University when departments scramble to find someone to teach an overflowing course, resulting in “a lot more variability in part-time faculty,” anthropology department chair Brian Richmond said.

At times, Richmond added, “the process for hiring part-time faculty is at the last minute. Someone sends you their C.V., it looks okay, you check with their references – but frankly, they’re just hired because they’re around and can do it. It’s not much of a search. That’s what leads to the difference in quality.”

The University has made strides over the past year to improve training for full-time faculty and teaching assistants through new programs and seminars run out of the Teaching and Learning Collaborative, a provost’s office initiative.

Many of those programs, including optional technology training from the Academic Technologies office, are open to adjuncts but mostly go unused by the professors, who are on campus less often than full-time faculty.

Kevin Healy, a professional lecturer in the Elliott School of International Affairs who has taught Latin American development courses since 1998, said that sort of training would have helped ease him into his first time teaching and help him learn technology systems like Blackboard.

“I don’t recall getting any training, period. It really would have been useful. It might have been offered, but I didn’t know about it,” he said. “Learning by doing is good, but that takes time.”

He added that the new fund would give adjuncts “some of the support for opportunities which the full-time faculty enjoy.”

John Prostko, associate dean for learning and faculty development in the College of Professional Studies, said part-time professors have been left out of the loop on some resources.

“In [the University], the majority of resources go into supporting full-time or tenure-track faculty, and the adjuncts get left out of a lot of stuff,” Prostko said. “It would be eye-opening to people at the University.”

Still, Prostko, who leads the training for a school made up mostly of adjuncts, said he gives each part-time professor guidance to create syllabi and improve teaching, bucking the need for full-time training.

Administrators and many students tout adjuncts’ real-world experience as an added benefit to GW’s D.C. location.

Adjuncts have slowly built up clout at the University, which struck its first collective bargaining agreement with the part-time faculty union in 2008. Over the past five years, adjuncts have won rights to higher pay – a minimum of $4,032 per course – and more power over contract disputes.

The University’s adjuncts made waves in 2006 by becoming the nation’s third part-time faculty core to unionize.

Unionizing has not dampened the University’s outlook of hiring adjuncts, though Provost Steven Lerman said training for them should be dealt with at the department level.

Lerman’s office has added grants and resources for teaching initiatives geared toward full-time professors. He said lately, the University has tried to place adjuncts in classrooms more sensibly.

“If you want to understand how political campaigns are run, maybe you should ask someone who runs a political campaign,” he said. “We’re trying to be very careful to make sure we’re bringing people here who can add value, but once in awhile it doesn’t work out.”

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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