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It doesn’t seem inappropriate, I hope, to launch the new year with a fairly specific topic. This weekend I have the pleasure of helping to greet our new adjunct instructional staff. For several years, thanks particularly to Human Resources and the Center for Teaching Excellence, we’ve been meeting formally with new adjuncts and providing them at least some of the information they need to teach successfully and feel part of the University. It’s a tribute to the adjuncts, by the way, to note that attendance is quite good and the atmosphere typically very positive — the occasion constitutes an excellent start for adjunct engagement and effectiveness.

Mason depends heavily on adjuncts, both for flexibility in meeting student demand and for additional professional experience and insight. By the same token, we take adjuncts seriously. Departmental policies vary a bit, but overall we’re eager to have adjuncts (as time permits) see themselves as participants in the University intellectual community — and we’re open to suggestions in this regard. We also evaluate adjunct performance seriously, which is the flip side of serious mutual commitment.

We’re fortunate as an institution to operate in a region with a great deal of professional talent, with many people eager to add some teaching to established careers. We’re delighted as well that many successful adjuncts choose to stay with us for extended periods of time, even as we regularly look to add to and enrich the existing mix.

As I tell the new adjuncts — and it’s true — the most sincere praise I can offer this important teaching segment comes from students themselves. More than once I’ve talked with some of our better students, in a number of different majors, about their learning experience at Mason, only to discover that one of the top instructors, in their mind, was an adjunct (of which they may or may not have been aware).

Adjuncting is not easy, and it raises some institutional issues as well. For the most part, however, this component of our faculty makes very positive contributions to our overall teaching mission, and it’s fitting not only to greet them, but to thank them.