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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Campus

A look into the lives of adjunct professors


PhD candidate in Hotel and Restaurant Management Elizabeth Whalen offers high praise for the University of Houston | Courtesy of Elizabeth Whalen

Between classes, studying and whatever free time students can manage, there’s not a lot of time for anyone to get to know who’s leading their classrooms — namely more than 1,620 visiting and adjunct professors and lecturers at the University of Houston.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that as of 2015, nearly half of all faculty at institutions of higher education are part-time. At UH, that number is much higher — more than 60 percent of the total number of faculty is part time.

The new reality of higher education means professors can dedicate themselves to work outside the classroom while receiving the backing of a university invested in their passions.

Gone are the woes of proving one’s research abilities over and over in a bid to receive tenure. Yet for some, that avenue is closed altogether.

Caryn Honig is an adjunct professor in the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, which is a part of the department of Health and Human Performance. Honig has been in her position for 14 years and says that she would like to be full time in the future. For now, she is happy where she is. 

Honig is a registered and licensed dietitian, specializing in treating disordered eating. Honig has five employees who work directly with her, and she has employment contracts with three hospitals.

“I have a fulfilling full-time job, and teaching is a part-time passion of mine,” Honig said. 

She has witnessed the continuing growth of the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, and although her private practice keeps her from being as involved with the department, she believes it is heading in a positive direction.

Her employment at the University was a process that happened over time, and there are a number of reasons why she took up teaching.

“I was frequently asked to be a guest speaker at UH, so I finally requested that I create a class in nutritional counseling,” Honig said. “I love teaching and hopefully making a difference in future dietitians’ lives.”

She believes that the University has provided her with the tools and supplies she needs to successfully create interactive classes. For her experience at the University, Honig has nothing but praise.

University of Houston has been an amazing school at which to teach.  I feel as though I am totally and completely supported by my department, other faculty members and staff,” Honig said.

From veterans to novices, adjunct professors speaking of the desire to be independent and their passion for teaching are running threads.

Elizabeth Whalen is a .5FTE — full-time equivalent employee, four days, 20 hours per week — Executive Masters Program Director & Lecturer and doctoral candidate in the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. She began the Ph.D. program in 2015 and is employed only by the University.

“I was able to stay on teaching, which I love, and better myself and further my expertise in the field through my own studies at the same time,” Whalen said.

In her eight years with the Hilton College, Whalen says that it has gotten better with each one. As someone who has seen it from the perspective of a student and a faculty member, she says she is impressed with the heights that the college has reached.

She echoes the praise Honig offered for the University and values her position in it.

“I am extremely happy and proud to be a member of our community,” Whalen said. “I love teaching. I love research, and I love the field I teach in.”

Not everyone is completely satisfied with where they are at the university.

A professor in the Art Department who declined to be named said that she is actively looking for a full-time position and that she has several other jobs that she’s currently maintaining.

She began her work as an adjunct in the spring of 2016, and says that she isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the department, but she’s content with where it’s headed.

Like Whalen and Honig, her passion for what she does shines through, even amidst some critiques.

“I very much enjoy researching my discipline and sharing it with students,” she said. “I also like mentoring my assigned TAs.”

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