Do Students Really Know?

In a discussion of why students are failing to engage in their undergraduate education, Thomas H. Benton wrote:

[S]tudents recognize that most of the teachers with whom they have more personal contact—graduate students, adjuncts, and other part-timers—are not well regarded by their institutions. Their lack of income, benefits, and job security are an insidious advertisement for the low status of some kinds of learning. Moreover, transient faculty members can’t help your career, since they may not be around next year and their recommendations carry little weight.

I think this is an interesting observation for several reasons.

My first thought when reading this was to question whether students really know which of their professors are full-time, part-time, grad students, etc. I think that some of them might know the graduate students, but I also think that most undergraduate students don’t have any conception of the concept of professor as anything other than full-time. I know I didn’t. And even when I was in college, there were adjuncts.

As a long-time adjunct and first-year full-timer (in my second incarnation in that category), I am also interested in the idea that references can’t be procured from professors who are transient. I had not ever thought of that as an issue, but perhaps that is because I have been transient so long. I do know that I am looking for a student from a college I used to adjunct for to give him a book I had promised him. But I don’t know where he is now or how to get in touch with him. Since I am no longer on the faculty there, they are far less forthcoming about details of students.

It is true that the college where I spent my undergraduate years, a small liberal arts college, does still employ–some thirty years later–a few of the professors whom I had as an undergraduate. Most have retired, but even some of those are teaching part-time. So if I needed references from those professors, I could still obtain them.

I wonder, though, how many of my community college students will even think of professors as references. I have only had two requests in my nine years of teaching at a community college for references. I agreed to both. Only one reference had to be written and the other person’s folks never contacted me.

Perhaps the concept of “professor as reference” could be used in developmental writing classes particularly to encourage student engagement and involvement.”

Do your students know the status of their instructors?

4 thoughts on “Do Students Really Know?”

  1. Here are two perspectives:
    1. The program I administer is a graduate program, 100% online. Every student knows that the faculty are adjuncts, and many students ask faculty for references. Perhaps adult learners have a different view of their faculty.

    2. My younger son will receive his undergrad degree in less than a month. He knows many of the faculty, and has asked for references, advice on job-hunting, etc. He has said that it doesn’t matter if they’re full-time or part-time, if they are willing to write him a recommendation or share contacts. In the real world, I believe that’s true. Faculty status won’t matter.

    Of course, he is not going to grad school, but to employment, and that’s the case for most of my grad students. Maybe that makes the difference.

    (Unless the student you’re hunting for is named Smith, try LinkedIn).

  2. Interesting: I write at least 10 references for students each year (for their transfer applications, or for scholarships once they transfer).

    Our students know who is full and part time only if the prof tells them (and we encourage part time instructors to do so since they are not on campus as often), OR if they actually visit our offices: part timers share offices, full timers do not.

    But of course they have to be paying attention to note that. So I agree that most cc students, at least initially, have no idea of the status of their profs.

    Thanks for writing about that Benton piece: I’d love to share it with students and get their perspectives.

  3. My students have no idea. They just assume everyone standing in front of them is at the same level. Our university (mind you, a small-ish rural regional state university) made an effort a few years back to use full-time instructors rather than adjuncts. And, on paper, there is little difference between the non-tenure track and the TT (except the money, raises, etc). But they have no idea. It’s one of the things that, as someone who has worked a multiple institutions the past few years, I want to change. I would like to actually see some of my students’ move forward and graduate, be there as a resource for them.

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