All Adjuncts, All the Time

The rest of the academic world might debatethe merits of using part-time faculty to teach a growing course load at colleges and universities, but those who teach and take graduate-level education courses at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., think they’ve got a system that’s working out pretty well.

Since the 1970s, courses in the liberal arts college’s graduate program in educational administration have been taught solely by adjuncts. All are either retired or currently employed school superintendents and upper-level administrators. The McDaniel situation isn’t one of happenstance, says Brian Lockard, the program’s coordinator and only full-time faculty member. It’s by design, and for the last 30 years the model has worked for the 1,600-student college, which changed its name on July 1 from Western Maryland College.

“It’s a resource issue,” says Lockard, who spent 30 of his 33 years in the public schools as an administrator. “We’re not big enough to have full-time people.”

McDaniel’s master’s program in educational administration, which started in the 1950s, averages about 160 students.

The program works this way: Most adjuncts teach one course a semester, although some teach additional courses at off-campus sites. They typically earn $2,600 a course per semester. Lockard requires adjuncts to attend a certain number of faculty meetings a semester and maintains an active advisory board composed of administrators from local school districts.

The advisory board meets with Lockard twice yearly to review program requirements, recommend new courses, and give feedback on the program from a graduate’s perspective or from the perspective of someone hiring McDaniel alumni. Board members talk about current issues school administrators deal with, which Lockard says keeps the curriculum current and viable.

Even if he could hire an entire cadre of tenure-track professors to teach McDaniel’s graduate courses, Lockard is not sure he would. “If I had my druthers, I still would want educational administration teachers to have experience as administrators,” he says.

A Dose of Currency
Herb Phelps heartily agrees with that attitude. After retiring from the superintendent’s post in the 2,000-student Bermudian Springs School District across the state line in Pennsylvania, Phelps assumed direction of McDaniel’s internship program for graduate students. Each master’s candidate must complete 180 hours of practical experience with administrative tasks within their school districts. Phelps travels around Pennsylvania and Maryland, coordinating the interns’ work with district administrators.

He earlier spent several years as an adjunct professor teaching graduate courses at McDaniel, something that made him a better superintendent, he says. Conversely, his work as a school system leader made him a better professor, Phelps adds.

“I think adjuncts bring a rich expertise to the classroom,” he says. “And what it did for me was it forced me to stay current.”

That’s something Robin Straub appreciated. A May graduate of McDaniel’s educational administration program, Straub valued the chance to learn from those in the trenches. Twenty years earlier, when Straub was an undergraduate at McDaniel, her education focused on theory, something she views as important, too. But this time around, she wanted to know what to expect in the arena of public school leadership, she says.

“You need the pedagogy,” says Straub, an 8th-grade teacher at Oklahoma Road Middle School in the 28,000-student Carroll County, Md., School District. “But all the theory in the world is not going to help you if you get through and can’t deliver it to the kids.”

Straub began her master’s in 1999 after spending almost 20 years as a classroom teacher. Her impetus was a change in Maryland law mandating that educators take six hours of continuing education every five years to keep their certificates. Straub decided if she was going to take courses, she should pursue something that interested her.

The change that led Straub back to school is affecting all of Maryland’s teachers and school administrators and is leading McDaniel to seek accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. The college adopted the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards in 1998, and its first NCATE site visit is set for 2004.

Lockard is excited about the chance to seek accreditation from a national body, but he’s apprehensive, too. McDaniel’s system of relying so heavily on adjuncts isn’t universally favored. Lockard hopes the national standards don’t attempt a fix that he believes isn’t necessary, though he’s realistic.

“The standards are going to drive us to a whole new level,” he says.