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By Rich Wilson

A recent report issued by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce titled “The Just in Time Professor” outlines the challenges adjunct and other contingent faculty face as colleges and universities increasingly enlist them to pick up more of the teaching load. The report summarizes responses from an eForum on the topic and highlights the tenuous nature of an adjuncts existence in post-secondary education and the potential negative impact on teaching and student success. The experiences related by adjuncts in the eForum echo frustrations we’ve been hearing from threat assessment team members seeking to reach out to this ephemeral cadre who orbit barely beyond the gravitational pull of the campus constellation. Some of those challenges include:

  • Many adjuncts are hired on short notice sometimes within days of the start of class. This provides little time for preparation and even less -if any – to become acquainted with the policies, procedures and resources available for dealing with troubled students.
  • A majority of the respondents – especially at the community college level – teach courses at multiple institutions further complicating the awareness dilemma. The varied protocols among teams on multiple campuses – assuming each even has a team – could easily confound someone trying to understand who does what to whom on which campus and how to engage the system.
  • Because of their transitory affiliation with institutions, many adjuncts eschew the colleges e-mail system in favor of their existing personal email accounts. Others may only check their e-mail intermittently and miss time sensitive notifications and outreach messages.
  • Many adjuncts have neither offices nor office hours. Some are paid only the equivalent of ½ an hour a week for office hours. In either case, there is little incentive for adjuncts to spend extra time with students outside of class thus missing opportunities to notice simmering signs of trouble.
  • Marginal classroom management skills, limited occasions to engage with other faculty and administrators and unawareness with student norms or campus culture can also inhibit the identification and sharing of safety concerns.

The report clearly focuses on what it terms as “an alarming snapshot of life for contingent faculty” and bolsters the case being made by those protesting the burgeoning exploitation of adjuncts.; however, on the other end of the spectrum organized efforts to improve conditions are germinating. Georgetown, American University and George Washington University joined several other private and public colleges in the D.C. area to recognize adjunct faculty unions. NPR recently ran a segment on adjunct compensation in other parts of the country as well. Nonetheless, the trend of increasing adjuncts and the accompanying challenges is not likely to stall or decline in the foreseeable future. So where does that leave campus threat assessment teams in the way of outreach and education efforts? Here are some strategies we’ve seen that might be customizable to your particular campus:

  • Encourage adjuncts to have campus email forwarded to their personal email accounts and mobile devices. Most colleges have IT protocols to make it easy – especially as more colleges outsource eMail services to Google.
  • Many colleges distribute quick reference cards and file folders that provide information and flow charts on how to report concerning behavior. Others have gone digital using social media links such as facebook and twitter. Mobile apps are emerging as a medium as well. While these tools are best used to augment general awareness training, they can also serve as a primer for those who need to know what to do in the absence of specific training.
  • Reconcile your threat assessment and human resources policies. If your policy mandates frequent or annual training, is there a means to compensate and incentivize adjuncts for participating?
  • Identify an appropriate common area that can be designated as a “bullpen” where adjuncts can prep for classes and offer office hours. Advocate for compensating adjunct office hours commensurate to the need by emphasizing how this investment extends beyond safety and impacts student retention and success as well.
  • Specifically address adjunct outreach and education in your team’s strategic plan. Use SWOT analysis to survey the landscape and forge the types of liaisons, and formal and informal relationships that can advance your goals and objectives. Educate advisory groups and campus executives on the importance of these efforts.
  • Use faculty type (i.e. tenure, visiting, adjunct etc) when coding your case management database. This can help provide metrics in identifying trends, training outcomes, etc.
  • Finally, never underestimate the passion or compassion of adjunct faculty. While their standing and compensation in academia may be nebulous, the vast majority remain unambiguously committed to the students they serve. Offer them the partnership and tools to enhance a campus environment of safety and success.

Effective outreach and education is one of the hallmarks of a sound threat assessment program. Those of us who have undertaken those efforts have learned from experience that you never get good or stay good at it without being relentless in seeking fresh, innovative and “sticky” training targeted for specific audiences. If your team doesn’t meet on a regular basis, then these are some good reasons for getting together.