Adjunct actualities: What part-time professors provide classes

By Logan Peterson

petersonlo@mnstate.edu

MSUM students are turning their attention to who is preparing them for their careers.

In recent decades, the number of adjunct faculty at universities has risen dramatically. According to an article on Forbes by Dan Edmonds, almost 75 percent of American professors are “contingent faculty,” or non-tenured—an increase of around 45 percentage points from 1975.

The reasons may vary, from costs to availability, but MSUM isn’t following the country’s trend. The university has 152 part-time instructors out of a total 370 faculty members. This is well below the national average of 51 percent.

One advantage is that adjunct faculty typically worked in the fields they teach before coming to MSUM, which makes their experience more current than professors who spent years in a masters or doctorate program.

“Adjuncts teach a minimum of three credits a semester,” MSUM adjunct professor Hayden Goethe said. He explained that most adjuncts teach based on their experience in their field, while full-time and tenured professorships require a master’s degree.

Students seem to appreciate the concrete understanding of their field. Jazz studies major Antonio Johnson said his adjunct jazz professor, Max Finke, was very helpful.

“I don’t think he was great because he went through any program,” Johnson said. “(He’s great because) he plays jazz all the time and has a lot of practical experience.”

Music isn’t the only field this applies to.

“I think professors with real-world experience can be helpful,” student Maria Jensen said. “With subjects like design and photography, these types of professors can be a big help. I don’t think it works as well with subjects like math and science.”

Goethe agreed, explaining that in some fields, rapid updates make adjuncts’ experiences more valuable.

“With the classes I teach, the programs change every year,” Goethe said. “It’s important to learn from someone who works with these programs in the field.”

Goethe said his classes are very hands-on; he does his best to replicate the feel of an apprenticeship, which most students will be doing after they graduate.

Goethe became interested in teaching after his time at the Forum.

“I used to work with college students at the Forum—college students who were motivated and just wanted to get their foot in the door,” Goethe said. “This felt like a natural transition.”

However, not everyone shares this rosy view of adjunct faculty.

“Using adjunct professors sacrifices a lot of organization,” MSUM graduate Timothy Walker said.

Walker’s main complaint was their lack of training and knowledge of the school’s inner workings. He cited instances of miscommunication, unprepared lesson plans and misunderstandings of school policy.

These issues are definitely possible, if not inevitable across a large number of classes. Even students with a positive view of adjuncts have some critiques.

“Teaching just isn’t their number one priority,” said senior MaKayla McLain-Graning. She has had several adjunct professors while at MSUM. “They’re mostly focused on their other jobs or seeking another degree.”

Students may love or loathe their adjunct faculty; some can connect with their unique teaching styles and practical experience, while others prefer a more traditional route.

Either way, the half-and-half blend of adjunct and tenured professors provides a mix of experiences and viewpoints for students to learn from.

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