Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I don't mean to detract from Andrew's much more interesting post on Lady Gaga (see below), but I wanted to stir things up a bit.

A brief bit of background: The MLA is currently circulating a resolution to all of its members for commentary. This resolution essentially argues that tenure should be available to all university professors--full and part time. As I'm sure you're all aware, there is a very large mass of part time/"adjunct" professors here at GWU (and elsewhere). In fact, yours truly is one of them.

As I was reading through these comments, I was taken aback by the one that I've quoted, in part, below. The comment is in support of the resolution, but I was struck by some of the reasons why. Here are the reasons that struck me:

"Part-time employees, although not necessarily expected to produce scholarship, are nonetheless an integral part of a department's labor force. They often have more time to devote to students and are fundamental to the development of introductory courses that prepare students for upper-level courses taught by tenured faculty. Furthermore, they are routinely subjected to harsher criticism (and lower scores on evaluative materials) because they teach required courses to non-majors who resent them (for example, non-English majors in a composition course)."

I'm curious--sincerely curious--about your reactions to these statements, particularly the closing ones about non-majors taking courses taught by adjunct professors. I guess what I'm asking is this: What is it like taking a course like ours--an intro level lit course--that is required for English majors but is also available for Gen Ed credit? In cases like these, do you find that being a "non-major" in a particular department is a disadvantage?

Again, I'm not asking you to weigh in on me, our course, or other specific professors (and specific courses). You certainly have plenty of time to reflect on our class--here and elsewhere. I think I'm just interested in hearing about your experiences are as students in the contemporary university. Feel free to weigh in below. And no, none of this will impact your final grades ;-)


  1. many of our classes are needed for general credit but not for the major... so I sort of look at it as an opportunity to take a variety of classes that I am interested in. I don't think that not being a major has any disadvantage in a literature course really, writing a paper is stressful but we all have done research papers. I took both Russian lit courses last year and enjoyed them quite a bit. Its nice to have a break from science classes and be able to read novels. The only thing I am not really crazy about is the time of the class eeek.

  2. Even students within the major are often more critical of adjuncts. In my major, Political Communication, I hear people complain all the time that we have so many terrible brand new professors. Sometimes new professor can be good professors, [For the record, I think Prof. Fisher is a good adjunct professor!] but I've had plenty of old and tenured professors who are just awful too. But I think people tend to cut older professors more slack, because they might be really boring but they "know their stuff"

    It stinks that students often have to wait until they're are able to enter higher level classes to take classes with some of the better faculty. Because if they could take seasoned faculty at an intro-level it could inspire an interest in the department or subject matter.

  3. I am actually a whole lot more critical of my business classes. I guess with elective courses I do not really know what to expect, and for the most part do not have a ton of experience with classes within that particular field, thus I cannot judge them as harshly.

    I think that you are at a slight disadvantage taking classes outside of your major (with others in the class who are majoring in the subject). However, I do not think there is anything wrong with that. Perhaps, it would make a non-major try even harder to succeed.

  4. I agree with LeeCali (I won't be Deep Throat and reveal any identities here!). As students in the school of Arts and Science we are required to take a lot of classes that are outside of our major. Because of the accumulated amount of work we get on daily and weekly basis from all of our classes, I find myself more prone to view the work for my non-major classes as work that I just "need to get done" to succeed in the class. That is not to say I do not care about the subject matter, but I just do not bring the same passion that I do for my major classes and work to my non-major classes. With that said, it is nice to take non-major classes where I actually feel like the work is worthwhile, and although not necessarily directly related to my major, it is indeed causing me to think and write about consequential issues and furthering my intellectual and writing skills. I personally find American Literature to be one of those classes (promise, not trying to earn brownie points) where I can relate my interest to and work as a poli sci major to the readings and writing I do in English.

    In regards to students being more critical of their non-major--and thus adjunct--professors, I would assume that the reasoning behind that is, at least personally-speaking, I prefer my major professors to evaluate my work more harshly than my non-major professors. For instance, I think it is fairer for one of my poli sci profs to have a stricter criteria for grading my poli sci midterm than my chem prof in grading my chem midterm. I understand that such variations in evaluations are difficult to substantiate and quantify, but the logic is that I think students are more critical of non-major profs because they see it as a class that they are taking simply for credit or to explore another discipline, rather than to be as strictly and rigorously scrutinized and evaluated as in the classes of their major of choice. I feel I am rambling (not uncommon for me), but I hope what I am saying is helpful.

    The bottom line for me is that college is supposed to be about learning and unfortunately we are too consumed in our grades and doing work simply to earn a high mark on it. I'd love to take marketing classes and astronomy classes and walk-away feeling like I truly gained from it, but the pressures of doing well in the classes are often overbearing and take away from the pleasures of the subject matter.

    Lastly, tenure in itself is a controversial subject. There are obviously passionate arguments to both sides of it, and I am not going to speculate on the merits of each, as I am not equipped to do so. But, I will say as a student I really do not differentiate between what type of professors I have in respect to their place on the staff hierarchy. If you are a good professor and are passionate about your subject and bring that to the classroom that is all that matters and ultimately, what I evaluate my professors on.