3 best practices for onboarding contingent faculty

3 best practices for onboarding contingent faculty

Despite the significant role contingent faculty members (sometimes called adjunct faculty) play in higher education — often serving a majority of undergraduate students — the nature of their part-time status often leaves these educators feeling like an afterthought.

What’s more, that notion is often further affirmed when colleges and universities struggle to comprehensively welcome and prepare contingent faculty for their new roles.

“There was a general understanding that our university could use a more efficient onboarding process,” said Edward Wilson Jr., Ph.D., former director of academic affairs and HR director at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “But the lack of flexibility to accommodate different processes and difficulty keeping the information organized were barriers to centralizing the process.”

Edward said his team overcame those initial barriers by first mapping out the processes for each department and employee type to identify each unique need.

Institutions can then work to accommodate contingent faculty members’ needs with a meaningful, convenient and holistic onboarding experience, which will increase the instructors’ effectiveness, improve faculty engagement and build instructional continuity by keeping the best employees coming back each semester.

“SelectSuite’s Onboarding module [now Employee Records] allowed us to automate and synthesize a variety of manual processes and information, which enabled new faculty to begin focusing on student engagement and learning much faster than before.”

Here are a few best practices when onboarding contingent faculty members: 

Accommodate contingent instructors’ unique circumstances

  • Many contingent professors are employed by other organizations and have limited time or availability. Leverage online resources to give these employees the option to complete pre-employment tasks remotely. This will improve efficiency for your staff and allow faculty to complete administrative tasks before their first day of work, so they can focus exclusively on students.
  • Contingent faculty face unique classroom situations: travelling to multiple campuses, not being involved in the development of their curriculum, and trying to connect with students without the ability to mentor or advis.e Help them cope with these challenges by creating networking and collaboration opportunities for them to meet with peers who face the same situations.
  • Busy instructors may not have much time for on-site new hire activities. Establish internal processes to onboard new contingent faculty prior to their start date. A cloud-based solution that provides relevant departments with visibility into new hire activities can help you automate and monitor this process. For example, it can streamline notifications to IT and transportation departments as soon as a start date has been established, so that email accounts and parking permissions are complete prior to day one.

Invite all instructors to provide feedback on their experiences

  • Many institutions already include onboarding surveys or engagement surveys for full-time employees. Contingent faculty can easily be included in this process.
  • Leverage an online solution to support your onboarding surveys, which will streamline the process, provide convenience for employees to respond and make it easy for you to separate responses by employment role.
  • Monitor feedback from this important cross-section of your workforce and align initiatives to meet their needs. This will give you the information you need to improve the onboarding experience and work environment for contingent employees, contribute to their employment satisfaction and hopefully help retain more top talent each semester.

Offer contingent faculty similar benefits to traditional faculty

  • Faculty members benefit greatly from mentor programs and many instructors will also appreciate this opportunity for professional development. Provide participation details during onboarding and if compensation or time availability is a concern, consider offering co-instructing with tenure-track mentors.
  • Include contingent employees in academic freedom statements. This gesture demonstrates your care and concern for the work of all your instructors.
  • Provide your contingent faculty a list of faculty senate meetings and encourage them to attend. Since these instructors often teach a large portion of students, they have a unique perspective from which to provide profound insights.