In Praise of Adjuncts

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Having served my share of adjunct and one-year appointments, I finally landed my first full-time tenure-track position. I had arrived! Okay, what I had “arrived at” was the opportunity to serve as the sole faculty member assigned to teach all of the history, political science and geography courses at my small institution. As a result, I literally taught all over the map (pardon the geographical humor), creating and delivering 14 different courses in the first three years alone. I was also given the privilege of researching and developing a new history major, as all my coursework to that point had been performed in service to the core curriculum and other majors. Even before the new major was approved, it became obvious to me that for the benefit of our students, and my own health, it was critical that I not continue as a solo act.

As God would have it, my institution was blessed to be located only a few miles from one of the top-ranked universities in the country and, although it was a Catholic institution, its history department featured some of the leading evangelical scholars in the country. Ironically, one of my biggest challenges was convincing the administration to allow me to hire adjuncts. Ultimately this was a resounding value-added experience for all involved. The doctoral students were extremely eager for the opportunity to move beyond the realm of TAs, enhancing their resumes and positioning themselves better to face an increasingly competitive academic job market, while the students benefitted from the latest concepts and trends in the field of history, the diversity of faculty perspectives and the unbridled passion these professors brought to the classroom. Serving at a small, denominationally sponsored college, these adjuncts, who came from all over the country and from a wide variety of faith traditions, spiritually enriched the campus while serving in a manner consistent with its foundational evangelical ethos.

This experience underscores the role of one of the two primary categories of today’s adjunct labor force—the adjunct whose goal and passion is to one day secure a full-time faculty position. There is a second major category, however, and that is represented by the many individuals who are currently working full-time outside of higher education who, for various reasons, desire to “give back” by serving as adjunct instructors. Historically, these instructors have proven invaluable in academic programs which place a strong premium on providing up-to-date practical information from active practitioners—fields such as business, education, engineering, counseling, nursing, music and other so-called “professional” fields. These active “practitioners” not only share out of their wealth of experience at the intersection of theory and practice, faith and life, they also provide valuable contacts for students for internships and future employment, as well as important bridges to the local communities we serve.

At FPU, examples of both types of adjunct can be seen in the outstanding service of people such as:

  • Lynne Ashbeck, the former mayor of Clovis and now senior vice president at Valley Children’s Healthcare, who teaches in our health care administration program. Lynne holds two MAs, one of which is in peacemaking from FPU, and she formerly served on FPU’s Board of Trustees.
  • Rudy Roberts, founder and president of BULA Ministries, a Christian non-profit that facilitates all-ages mission trips around the world to build homes for families who have never had one. She fell in love with teaching while getting her master’s at FPU and from there wanted to share her experience in both her nonprofit and her business experience with students.
  • Brandon Cain, one of our own distinguished majors in English and classics, went on to study literature at St. John’s. Upon his return, Brandon began teaching broadly for us, from the civ series to literature courses, TUG and DC. He is an eager participant in program and division events. He works with students on senior projects and helps coordinate program resources. Students report Brandon makes the world of ancient Rome come alive through its literature. He makes the class a place in which people really listen to each other and uncover meaning in community.
  • Vicki Mulvaney-Trask, a former county and state teacher of the year who works with high-risk students for the Stanislaus County of Education, teaches primarily in our Merced Campus and does a tremendous job pushing students to doing phenomenal work as they learn marketing and management in their final years before graduation. She teaches students communication and presentation skills in each course and helps them learn to communicate the plethora of skills they have acquired while at FPU. Vicki’s passion is seen in all she does and her willingness to do whatever is asked has always been seen and appreciated from the school of business.
  • Suzana Dobric Veiss, FPU trustee, brings an international perspective to students and is now looking at full-time teaching with FPU as she works on her Ph.D. She loves teaching and takes a lot of pride in what she brings to the classroom. She is passionate about leadership, learning and developing one’s self, and believes in everyone she comes across. Suzana inspires and motivates as she pushes students to higher levels of rigor and writing abilities.
  • Rod Frese, Ph.D., one of our longest-serving adjuncts, Rod began teaching at FPU in the early 1990s as an adjunct professor for the School of Business. For over 20 years, while full time as assistant superintendent of business for Kings Canyon Unified School District and vice president of finance at College of Sequoias, he was passionately dedicated to educating adult learners and serving as a major adjunct professor in the management and organizational development degree completion bachelor’s programs. Since retirement, Rod has given his time to teaching our graduate students in both the Master of Arts in Leadership and Organizational Studies (LEAD) and MBA programs. He brings alive important finance concepts and instills in students the ability to use them. He also serves as a mentor to graduate students as he guides them through their capstone research and organizational project in the LEAD program. He establishes deep and long-lasting friendships with the students and represents FPU and the School of Business well in all he does.

While the majority of adjuncts serve in the evening hours, they do not labor in obscurity. Please join me in thanking them for the manifold ways they further our shared mission while serving our students.

  • Sonia Medina Pranger

    I’d like to add Caine Christensen, a FPU alumni, to the list of adjuncts to recognize! Not only has he been adjunct in our social work department for 10 years, he has contributed to the program by being a field instructor and opening doors for our interning seniors to find placements, wherever he is employed at for the past 10+ years. He also is a member of our Field Advisory Council where we meet on a quarterly basis to ensure our social work field education program is thriving and delivering social work practice and involvement in our community. He always avails himself to give of his time, efforts, and passion for teaching social work to students in our valley. Caine currently holds the position as Director of Student Support Services in Fresno Unified School District and is a recognized leader in our field!