When former Barnard adjunct professor Hussein Rashid, CC ’96, first came to Columbia, he navigated his way through his undergraduate years as a first-generation low-income student with some difficulty. Twenty years later, when he returned as an adjunct professor of religion, he also took on an informal advising role in order to pass on his knowledge to students at Barnard.
“I’d talk to students about being a student of color when I was in school versus what it’s like now, what it’s like being a Muslim on campus, what it’s like being first generation and being on a lot of financial aid and still being conscious of class, as they themselves try to navigate that space,” Rashid said.
Rashid is just one of Barnard’s many adjunct faculty members who have been making an active effort to facilitate conversations surrounding diversity, inclusivity, and equity in the classroom.
In an effort to institute these conversations to the College-level, the 2016 Faculty Diversity and Development (FDD) Committee’s issued a Report on the Faculty Diversity Survey which highlighted faculty concerns surrounding the faculty body’s racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity, and proposed solutions to enhance initiatives related to inclusivity. The survey revealed that only 48 percent of faculty were satisfied with the racial/ethnic composition of faculty and only 29 percent were satisfied with the socioeconomic composition of faculty.
In response, Barnard has strengthened its focus over the past few years on increasing inclusive pedagogy in the classroom, as seen through the creation of the Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Barnard Bold Conference, and a number of workshops. Many of these programs utilize feedback from department chairs, full-time faculty, and administrators as a vehicle for improving teaching methodologies.
However, interviews with Barnard adjunct professors—who teach a significant amount of coursework and interact with a considerable amount of the undergraduate body—show that they often do not attend these programs, even though many said they would be more than willing to engage with issues of diversity and inclusivity in the classroom. Citing both their schedules—which often include teaching courses at other universities—and lack of direct outreach to adjuncts, faculty emphasized that these programs do not seem open to adjuncts, and that the initiatives are largely or exclusively attended by full-time faculty.
Further, committees—both on a departmental and college-wide level—that can help guide curricular changes, such as the Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, are not open to adjunct members. For adjunct faculty who are only here for a semester, these roles would add to their workload, but given that adjuncts interface consistently with students, this lack of participation limits their ability to improve their teaching.
“I already came to my class with a commitment to viewpoint diversity because I think it’s something that I value and it’s part of my syllabus,” psychology professor Scott Kaufman said. “But as an adjunct, I haven’t been invited to any of the [department] faculty meetings, for instance. I don’t know if there’s room at the table for me.”
The role and involvement of adjunct faculty at Barnard vary significantly, ranging from teaching one or two courses over the span of a year, to teaching three courses a semester over the course of a decade.
Within this wide range, adjunct faculty hold many roles in teaching across the board, and are thus largely able to attend FDD initiatives, Yvette Christiansë, Chair of the Africana Studies Department and Interim Chair of the Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said.
“It is a reality that adjunct faculty are teaching heavily… That’s why there’s a complete openness to adjunct faculty joining these developments,” Christiansë said.
Currently, adjunct faculty are able to attend only some FDD initiatives such as Willen seminars, Junior Faculty talks, Professional Development Workshops, and inclusive pedagogy trainings, each of which provide a space for faculty to share their research and informally discuss their teaching philosophies.
However, adjuncts are not allowed to attend certain other FDD programming such as New Faculty Orientation and the Faculty Mentoring Program—where senior faculty members pair up and guide new faculty through professional challenges and formulate goals for the department. Adjuncts are also not included in certain Professional Development Workshops, where full time faculty receive training from Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning on how to be aware of and engage with differences in the classroom.
Christiansë noted that the disparate roles of adjunct faculty, in addition to their external commitments beyond Barnard, complicates the extent to which adjuncts may be directly involved in administrative decision-making and full-time faculty initiatives.
“This is in some ways the nature of adjunct [faculty]. We are really sensitive, we are aware that adjuncts have other jobs,” Christiansë said. “It is also one reason why some of us are so careful about adding to that load, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t invited.”
Kaufman, who teaches the Science of Living Well to over 200 students, says he has not been explicitly invited to these events or received communication about when they happen, and thus has not attended any.
“I’m not on any of the email lists. I wouldn’t even know who to go up to and say, ‘Hey can I go to one of the meetings?’” Kaufman said. “I was trying to figure out how to go to these meetings and bring my own unique perspective on diversity initiatives.”
According to Dean of the FDD Committee, Monica Miller, the forthcoming hiring of a permanent Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and adjunct contribution to the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s quarterly newsletter present opportunities for increased communication and adjunct involvement.
But even when adjunct faculty are explicitly invited to all-faculty programming, such as Willen seminars and Junior Faculty talks, some adjunct faculty feel unwelcome in these spaces due to their in-between roles within departments.
Adjunct English lecturer Sonam Singh, who teaches First Year Writing, believes that invitations don’t entail acceptance nor the ability to have a say in college-wide decision-making.
“There’s really no effort made to welcome us. Yes, we get the emails, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Singh said. “Almost all of those [programs] act like only tenured faculty count. All of them, I would have no clear voice. If I went to them I would be an oddity… I’m not sure what my role there would be.”
Adjunct dance lecturer Siobhan Burke, who teaches Dance in New York City, echoed Singh’s sentiments and emphasized that the internal hierarchy of departments has excluded adjunct faculty from open conversations.
“You get the invitation and you could go, but there’s this sense of hierarchy,” Burke said. “There’s this sort of unspoken code that your voice doesn’t matter in a room full of full-time people.”
For Rashid, the multiple roles that adjunct faculty have give them a unique perspective on the progress of initiatives and college-wide changes.
“I think it’s really important that adjunct labor is present because often, because we teach at multiple institutions, have to be more nimble, have to read higher education in ways that our livelihood depends on, have a much better sense of what’s happening and where the future of higher ed is than people who are more well established,” Rashid said.