What's In a Name: Today's Adjunct

When I went to school, as my kids would say "back in the day," an adjunct was someone who came from the professional world and taught a class or two in some subject that required insights into a particle skill or skill set. For example, I had an adjunct instructor for Employment Law when I was a law student. He was a lawyer who came from Ft. Wayne, Indiana to Valparaiso University on Saturday mornings to teach my class the nitty-gritty of employment law. We loved his stories and his practical advice. He loved coming to meet law students and share his experiences. According to Webster, the definition of the word adjunct is "something that is joined or added to another thing but is not an essential part of it." In some sense the traditional way of viewing adjunct teachers lined up with this definition. Adjuncts were not part of the regular faculty and only filled-in when regular faculty members were not available. That is not the case today however. The Chronicle of Higher Education estimates that 70 % of instructors are teaching off the tenure track. It is more likely than not that a student will have an adjunct professor not a tenured professor. Adjuncts are hardly "just filling in". Today adjuncts teach for many different reasons and have many different sorts of roles at higher education institutions. Some adjuncts are new teachers, fresh out of doctoral programs, who not yet landed a tenure-track position. Some see teaching as their vocation but may not have completed a terminal degree so they serve as full-time lecturers or work as itinerant faculty. Some are professionals who are looking for an encore career, while others are professionals who have another career other than teaching but may teach a course or two. Given the increase in the number and variety of adjuncts that teach today perhaps it is time to distinguish these groups. One way to do this would be to identify anyone who views teaching as his or her primary profession as a Professional Educator and anyone who has another primary profession and is teaching as an Expert Instructor. In any case the word adjunct no longer seems to work since those that make up 70% of a work force hardly seems like something "added but not essential."