Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On Being a PR Adjunct Professor

At college campuses across the country, adjunct instructors are common in the classroom. In any public relations program, there are likely a good mix of part-time adjunct instructors and full-time professors. As one who currently has responsibility of coordinating the schedule for classes in the Advertising and Public Relations major at my university, I can say it is not a cliche to say that "we could not do it without them."

However, there is a good and bad way to do it.

Most of the adjuncts who teach for us have a relationship with me or one of my full-time colleagues. They have solid experience in the field, ideally a master's degree at minimum, and proven ability to teach. With a little initial coaching, coddling and setting them up with resources, they do a great job. But there are some behaviors of aspiring adjuncts that need correction.

1. The "Put Me in Coach" Approach
It's great when a professional comes to me and inquires about teaching. But there are some who grate on nerves when this is an announcement as opposed to an inquiry, as if we can just make room for them because they now want to teach. Professionals who want to teach need to realize that adjunct positions, even though part time, are like any other position. There needs to be a need or opening. There likely are several other candidates. We need to see a resume showing relevant experience--ideally both professional practice and teaching.

2. Disrespect for Subject Matter
I recently chatted with an associate who is an adjunct in a completely different field. She in turn has a friend who recently was downsized out of a teaching job in yet another completely different field. She advocated for her friend as a potential adjunct for me. "But she's in (name of field)," I said. "Oh," my associate puffed, "she can teach anything."

Well, no. There are people with actual experience in PR who can't teach it, or at least not well. There are people with advanced degrees in something related to PR who just don't have the depth of understanding, the "savvy" of the field to sustain them in front of a room of 30 bright and eager students for a semester. Also, I look for passion, integrity and commitment for the field of PR. Saying you "can teach anything" shows a lack of all of those. I would add that those with PR experience should look at the curriculum and say which specific courses you want to--and are well-suited to--teach.

3. The Over-Eager Innovator
Once on-board, it is a common behavior for a new adjunct to suggest large-scale "innovation." I put that in quotes because we probably have thought of it already and done it or rejected it with good reason. Every hiccup or blurb or trend in the trades becomes occasion for "a new class." Take some time, as in any job, to learn the landscape of the program, university, and curriculum before making suggestions. We love ideas from professionals and adjuncts, but they need to be sound. Also, consider the implementation factor--will the idea replace a class, be a required or elective class, how many sections, what is the staffing plan? Higher education is our "business," You're new here. Keep that in mind.

4. The Event Planner or War Story Blowhard
I had another woman from out-of-state planning to relocate to my region contact me about the prospect of being an adjunct. Her main selling point is that where she taught before  she brought in PR professionals from near that campus for every class period. Well, any of us can do that too. And sometimes we do. But not to replace our own teaching. We don't need event-planners or talk show hosts who bring in guests to tell stories. We also don't want adjuncts who only tell their own war stories of how they did or do things in their singular experience, however stellar their career. Students like this to a point, but they want instruction and not just entertainment. We want students to see the big picture. Examples should supplement and not replace sound teaching. We need adjuncts who can put together structured lesson plans, with learning objectives, integrating theory and practice--you know, "teaching." 

5. The Anti-Intellectual
Another potential adjunct actually bragged to me that her classes have no theory. She only discussed practical things. This is a sure way to lose favor in the company of academics. While adjuncts do have the advantage of being in the trenches with current practice experience, they lack the theoretical perspective that is why college is called "higher education." It is not mere job training. This person poo-poohed theory in a way that revealed she did not have a grasp of it. There is nothing more practical than theory. Theory actually describes the "real world" (a term I despise) better than one person's experience. Good theory is the result of the empirical observation of multiple people--professionals or the public--tested repeatedly, analyzed statistically  or formally. In my program--and in those of many around the country judging from the many professors I talk to--we talk about integrating theory and practice. We need adjuncts who can do that, not arrogantly and ignorantly diminish educational value.

So, if you have thought about being an adjunct one day, I encourage you. But please, go forward thoughtfully, with a game-plan and some respect for the institution and the classroom.