Adjunct / part-time faculty now make up more than 50% of the academic employees in higher education. With the increase in online courses, the percentage of part-time instructors is anticipated to continue to rise. Intermittent, part-time, and contingent faculty hires have a significant impact on the student learning experience. Whether your school hires many part-time faculty a year or just a few, there are some strategies and best practices for recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and engaging these contributors.
In this article, we will look at best practices for recruiting part-time faculty. An intentionally developed part-time faculty strategy can greatly benefit the students and the institution. Part-time faculty can contribute in the following ways:
A strong, organized recruiting process is the first step in finding and securing quality part-time faculty. Many academics in charge of finding the program’s part- time instructors approach it in the same way they identify a new dentist or hairdresser. They “ask around.” Friends and colleagues become the primary referral source and they only determine if the referred professional actually meets their expectations after trying them out – in the classroom. Another drawback to this approach is that it can lead to less diversity; referrals tend to be limited by social circles.
A well-designed and coordinated recruiting strategy requires the same level of attention that is given to recruiting a full-time faculty member. However, schools hire many more part-timers than full-time faculty. The argument against a protracted hiring process for adjuncts is that there is not the defined commitment to the adjunct hire as there is for a core or tenure-track faculty hire. Although this is true, it should not be the criterion for less effort put into the hiring. The student takes a course once, and if the instructor is not very good, that is the student’s only experience of the course. Students do not differentiate between adjuncts and full-time faculty when they are assessing the experience they have in the classroom.
Universities that seem to do a good job recruiting part-time faculty not only have a high percentage of adjunct faculty (often 80% – 90%), but they also have a significant budget designated to the effort. They place ads beyond the typical sources, i.e. Chronicle of Higher Ed and HigherEdJobs.com. They have a faculty development office with a staff of 2 – 3 people, and they centralize many of the recruiting efforts. Some schools that have figured out the formula for attracting part-time faculty have large online programs, these include: University of Maryland University College, Southern New Hampshire University, and Brandman University.
The key components to recruiting are: sourcing, vetting, and interviewing.
Sourcing includes measures that are commonly taken today:
More proactive sourcing techniques include going to job boards, searching resume databases, contacting professional organizations, strategically researching industry trends and trendsetters, and finding where the people who know what you need taught hang out (both physically and virtually).
Applicant tracking systems (ATS) often boast that they pre-screen candidates. It is true that many of them have a feature that allows you to ask applicants questions. Based on their responses, the applicant is considered qualified or not. Vetting goes many steps further than asking a few questions. With vetting you check for multiple things:
Ideally, all of this is done prior to the interview. One way to mitigate wasted time interviewing candidates that are clearly not a fit is thoroughly vetting them before you spend your valuable time interviewing them. Vetting is a time-consuming process.
The vetting process is best centralized. For a smaller institution, human resources or the provost’s office is the best place to centralize this activity. As mentioned earlier in this article, some institutions have an office of faculty affairs where this activity resides.
Most colleges and universities have a very systematic approach to interviewing for full-time faculty appointments. However, when it comes to part-time appointments, the process ranges from an email or a telephone conversation with a program director or designated faculty member, to an in-person panel interview. Regardless of the method of interviewing, the process allows you to determine if the person is a “fit” for your institution in terms of philosophy, mannerism, and student support and responsibility. Of course, the interview also assesses the candidate’s knowledge of the subject matter.
A technique called behavioral interviewing has been used to gain an understanding of how a candidate has handled prior situations. If you believe that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, then questions constructed with, “Tell me about a situation when...” are able to give you a better understanding of how the candidate has performed in a situation, than a theoretical question about how they would handle a situation. Henderson State University has developed an excellent set of behavioral interview questions.
Ideally, part-time faculty would go through the same interview process as full-time faculty. However, part-time faculty are often hired with short lead-times and that tends not to be conducive to group interviews or a more thorough interview process. Therefore, having one person designated to interview or a very small team designated is a good way to infuse consistency in the process. Over time, that person will become experienced and strong at detecting the best hires.
Recruiting qualified and diverse part-time faculty with verified academic credentials, industry-expertise, and proven teaching ability is crucial to higher education’s primary mission of teaching critical thinking skills, as well as, specialized knowledge and abilities to future generations. Recent developments in human resources technology (HR Tech) are providing innovative solutions to some of these problems. Given the unique nuances of the higher education space, the developers of these systems should have years of diverse academic experience to understand the specific needs of higher education and the platforms currently in use. Keeping in mind the mission of preparing tomorrow’s leaders, well-qualified part-time faculty can bring lasting value to the educational institutions that hire them—even if it is only for one semester.
AAUP (2013) Trends in Instructional Staff Employment Status, 1975 – 2011. http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/AAUP_Report_InstrStaff-75- 11_apr2013.pdf
Coburn-Collins A. (2014) Best Practices for Supporting Adjunct Faculty. Higher Learning Commission 2015 http://cop.hlcommission.org/Learning- Environments/coburn-collins.html
Kelly, R. (2006) Department Chair Online Resource Center Recruiting, Developing, Retaining Adjuncts. ACE Conference paper, July, 2006 reprint Magna Publications, Inc. http://www2.acenet.edu/resources/chairs/docs/Kelly_Adjuncts.pdf
National Center for Education Statistics. Table 315.60. Full-time and part-time faculty and instructional staff in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, sex, and selected characteristics: Fall 2003. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_315.60.asp
Recruiting and Hiring Non-Tenure Track Part-time/Temporary (Adjunct) Faculty Texas A&M University (2012) http://education.tamu.edu/recruiting-hiring-non- tenure-track-part-timetemporary-adjunct-faculty
Rudloff, A., Complete List of Behavioral Interview Questions. Henderson University. http://www.hsu.edu/Career/completelistofbehavioral.pdf
The Delphi Project on The Changing Faculty and Student Success. (2014). http://www.thechangingfaculty.org/.