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February 4, 2016

Senate Matters: Reflecting on life as a part-time faculty member

By Lorraine Denman

Nearly 10 years ago, I became the Italian language program coordinator in the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures. In this non-tenure-stream (NTS) lecturer position, I oversee the four-semester Italian language course sequence, develop the curriculum for those courses, and teach two or three courses per semester. I also help supervise, observe and mentor our teaching assistants and part-time language instructors. However, before I was hired as the program coordinator, I was a part-time instructor in the Italian program. While my time teaching as a part-time instructor was challenging, I am glad to have had that experience, for it not only allowed me to develop the skills that I would need as the coordinator for the Italian program, but it also gave me invaluable insight into the part-time instructor experience. As someone who now works closely with part-time instructors, I try my best to help support and mentor them, but I often am disheartened by the challenges that they face.

As a part-time instructor, I taught three five-credit courses per semester. I worked in a very collaborative and supportive environment, and was made to feel part of a team of TAs, part-time instructors, lecturers and professors, who all had the goal of promoting intercultural competence through the study of Italian and Francophone languages, literatures and cultures. Part-time teaching was my sole source of income at that time, which I knew was neither feasible nor sustainable for very long. When the position of Italian language program coordinator opened, I was hired on a one-year contract. When I later was hired for the longer-term position of lecturer, I was elated, knowing that it was fairly rare to transition from part-time to full-time employment.

Many of the challenges of teaching part-time then were the same as they are now. Your position (and ultimately your income) often is precarious, determined by student enrollment numbers. Classes frequently are canceled, leaving you scrambling to find another job. Schedules and classes can be changed at the last minute, giving you little time to prepare your syllabus and lessons. Office space and access to technology are not guaranteed. Despite these difficulties, I was truly happy in the classroom. Teaching language has the incredible reward of seeing immediate effects. Students sometimes come to class disengaged, tired or stressed. However, soon they are talking in Italian about a story they read, or a song they just heard, and are using novel lexical and grammatical items that you’ve just taught them. It is a wonderful feeling to see students engaged in this way, and it was one of the many reasons that I desperately wanted to stay in the profession. Despite the long hours and insufficient pay that part-timers endure, I would have continued to teach part-time if that had been my only option. Once you’ve worked hard to master your craft and become adept at teaching, it is hard to imagine a more rewarding or satisfying career.

In my current role as the Italian language program coordinator, I do whatever I can to alleviate the challenges that our part-time instructors face. We now use a textbook that has an online workbook component that gives students immediate feedback, which requires less grading on the part of the instructors. I hold weekly meetings where the TAs and I write lesson plans and create and share lesson materials, and part-time instructors are welcome to attend and take advantage of these materials. All of our shared materials are available on Box so that all instructors can save time in developing classroom activities, and I create and share major assessments for all of the language classes.

There are many things that are beyond my control, however. This is one of the reasons I decided to serve on the University Senate ad hoc committee to investigate part-time and other NTS issues, which is chaired by Irene Frieze. By serving on this committee, I hope to come to better understand part-time instructors’ roles and experiences, and how I can help better serve them.

The Senate ad hoc committee is continuing the work that they started in 2013 on full-time NTS faculty issues ( One of the committee’s primary goals is to determine just how many faculty hold positions at Pitt that are considered part-time. Another is to better understand the many nuanced roles that part-time faculty play. Part-time faculty are visiting lecturers and professors, researchers, preceptors of students in clinical settings, supervisors of students’ fieldwork, and adjuncts, a term that frequently is contested. The term “adjunct” traditionally has been used to denote a person whose primary employment is outside of the university, but who fulfills part of the duties of a faculty member; today the term frequently is used to describe a part-time faculty member whose sole source of income comes from teaching.

I commend the committee’s and the University’s efforts to review policies regarding part-time faculty. I hope we will see changes nationwide regarding how part-time faculty are integrated in academic institutions and how they are valued and compensated. In the meantime, let us all continue to create collegial work environments for our part-time faculty and value their contributions to the University.

Lorraine Denman is an NTS lecturer and the Italian language program coordinator in the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures.

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