Perceptions of the other: Voices of adjunct and fulltime community college faculty

Backlin, William
Major Professor
Frankie S Laanan
Committee Member
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Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

The practice of hiring adjunct instructors was initially considered to be an anomalous event (Todd, 2004). Community college employment of adjunct instructors, however, witnessed a 50% increase during the 1970s (Cain, 1999) and, by 1984, adjunct instructor utilization in community colleges rose dramatically with an additional 80% growth. Over a 33-year period, 1970-2003, the employment of adjunct faculty in the academe increased 422% (Bouton, 2010). With such a strong adjunct presence within the community college, one question came to mind: How do adjunct and fulltime faculty perceive the other?

The purpose of this study was to investigate adjunct perceptions of fulltime faculty and, vice versa, fulltime faculty perceptions of adjunct faculty. With an increasing presence of adjunct instructors within the community college environment, it was deemed important to illuminate the experiences and perceptions held by each strata of faculty concerning the "other".

Ethnomethodology was used to conduct this study. Four community college liberal arts fulltime faculty members and four community college liberal arts adjunct faculty members were selected as research participants, utilizing a purposive sampling technique involving four research sites, which were located in the same geographical location within the continental United States. One liberal arts fulltime faculty member and one liberal arts adjunct faculty member who taught in the same field were selected from each of the four sites. Data gathered from semi-structured interviews and institutional artifacts were analyzed to identify emerging themes. From the data analysis, four themes emerged regarding adjunct faculty perceptions of fulltime faculty: (1) The great collegial divide; (2) Mentoring: Fact or faked; (3) A conflict of we-ness; and (4) Cultural exclusion: An administrative contribution.

Four additional themes emerged from the data analysis regarding fulltime faculty perceptions of adjunct faculty: (1) Doppelganger: An adjunct experience; (2) A Planet of the Apes relational disconnect; (3) Dysfunctionally functional; and (4) An economic response: Hired guns and institutional blight. Finally, eighteen suggestions for best practice within faculty culture were provided, one suggestion involving the possibility of adjuncts serving on hiring and textbook selection committees.