Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Why Your Adjunct Professor Doesn’t Need a Master’s Degree
When hiring a professor, nearly every college uses commonly agreed-upon criteria. Among these, perhaps the most important is whether the applicant has a graduate degree.
On one hand, credentials are a critical part of a school’s brand. Given that students are coughing up an arm and a leg for today’s tuition, it’s helpful when a school can boast that “every single one of our faculty holds an advanced degree.” Indeed, this percentage contributes to a school’s ranking.
This argument makes sense, especially from a marketing perspective. Yet it’s less compelling when applied to adjunct, rather than tenure-track, professors — i.e., those who teach as a sideline. We adjuncts typically have another job that pays the bills; we don’t teach for the money, but because we love doing it.
Here, then, is the question: should part-timers be held to the same standards as full-timers? (For the sake of essentialization, let’s put aside the gross pay disparity.) For most colleges, the answer is clear: every professor, regardless of rank, must have a Masters degree or more. But this blanket rule seems myopic. Isn’t it preferable to judge each person on his own merits, rather than deploying a one-diploma-fits-all catchall? Isn’t a scalpel a better judge of ability than a sledgehammer?
Fair enough, says the ivory tower. But shouldn’t educators be well-educated? Shouldn’t they master the theories of pedagogy before they practice on live minds? Just as we require everyone from a manicurist to a lawyer to get licensed, so we should demand certain credentials of a professor.
That sounds reasonable, right? It does… until you talk with longtime educators. They’ll tell you that teaching is more of an art than a science. Just because you earned a PhD from Princeton in 17th-century French literature doesn’t mean you know how to make Molière come alive for two hours at the front of a classroom of easily distracted students.
Ultimately, what you think comes down to which you care more about: rules, or outcomes? Put another way: is your primary goal to perpetuate the perception of excellence, or to make that perception an everyday reality?
My take: let’s not rule out an entire class of people based solely on their resume. As any user of Ashley Madison now well-knows, who you are on paper (or pixels) is often decidedly different from who you are in person.