Political science department hires two adjunct professors

Trotter Hall, where the Political Science Department is housed.

Next year, the political science department will welcome two visiting professors to support its tenure-track staff while several professors go on leave and the college decreases teaching loads. The political science department, which has nine official professors handling around 100 prospective majors, will use the adjuncts to teach introductory and core courses. This strategy helps keep class sizes in check, and also frees up established professors to teach to their specialties.

“[The administration is] helping … by allowing us to bring in people to provide coverage as [others] draw down a course or go on leave during this transition period,” said Professor Carol Nackenoff.

The department’s transition to a four-course load coincides with the scheduled absences of several long-term professors, including Keith Reeves and Ayse Kaya. Although the college’s Strategic Plan, which first announced the drawdown in 2011, called for a corresponding increase in tenure-track positions, former Political Science Chair Cynthia Halpern voiced frustration in getting these job opportunities approved by the Council on Education Policy (CEP).

“We’ve had the application [for new tenure lines] in front of the CEP for years,” she said. “Every year for the last three years, we’ve needed two or three adjuncts to teach our basic courses.”

Although such use of adjunct professors is not unusual, Halpern does not believe that it is a valid substitute for hiring permanent staff. Contracts for adjunct professors run for one year only, which Halpern argues is not particularly conducive to building loyalty with students.

Nackenoff agreed that course majors typically want the chance to take higher-level classes with professors they can really get to know. In the short term, however, assigning adjunct professors to lower or intermediate level courses ensures a “better payoff” on both sides. She expects that for pragmatic reasons, the department will continue to rely on adjunct faculty for the next few years.

“We are short-staffed, and the transition to a four-course load is putting on some pressure,” she said, but she expressed appreciation for the administration’s support in facilitating the provision of extra staff, even on a temporary basis.

“It’s not always easy to find people who are willing to come in for a course or two, [but] we’ve really done well for next year. We have people with PhDs in hand and teaching experience,” she said.

Kathy Javian, a recent graduate of the doctoral program at Temple University, will join the department to lead two survey courses on American politics, as well as an intermediate elective on public opinion’s relationship with American political behavior, which is her area of expertise. She came to the attention of the political science department while working as a research assistant for Professor Rick Valelly.

Javian did her undergraduate work in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Looking back, she said that while she enjoyed learning about political theory, she wishes her own experience had focused more on what the “cutting edge” issues are in political science today, citing an understanding of how biology and environment affect political decision making as an example. Javian works mostly with quantitative data analysis, and has been teaching classes at Widener University in Chester and researching the evolution of American public opinion on gay rights with Valelly.

The department is also looking to hire an adjunct professor to focus on the politics of South Asia. A Swarthmore alumnus, whose name the department declined to release until his hire is official and who recently finished a doctorate at the University of California Berkeley was offered the position. He will teach one course on the politics of India and Pakistan and another on violence and development in South Asia.

Nackenoff pointed out that using temporary help can help the department to feature different specialties and accommodate more of the gaps in areas of study created when professors go on leave.

However, Halpern cautioned that while this strategy may be very effective in introductory courses, only the addition of new tenure lines can help to ease the pinch which staff shortages create in the facilitation of honors seminars. In large departments like Political Science, the desire to keep classes small means that only Honors upperclassmen are able to enroll in many popular seminars.

Halpern also argues that there is unfairness on both sides of this situation. Although the adjuncts will gain teaching experience, she said, their positions are ultimately temporary.

“It’s exploitation, frankly, of junior faculty,” she said. Still, Halpern said that the hiring of the adjuncts is “better than nothing.”

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