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Growing pains temporarily displace special lecturers

Shelby Tankersley, Editor-in-Chief

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Aside from housing the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, O’Dowd Hall is mainly utilized for faculty office space. Dozens upon dozens of professors and special lecturers use the building to meet with students and do work outside of the classroom.

But over the summer, around 80 special lecturers from the College of Arts and Sciences were asked to vacate their offices on the first floor of O’Dowd to make room for the new CAS advising office, for which construction has not yet been started. The CAS had a not-so-good student to adviser ratio, so it added three more advisers to improve availability for students.

But there is no more room in the office’s current space in Varner Hall, so the whole office will be moved to O’Dowd once the space is renovated.

“Adjunct faculty are routinely exploited across the profession, this isn’t just an OU thing,” said Kevin Laam, the chair of the Department of English, one of the three departments affected by this move. “The idea that we have special lecturers doing terrific teaching for us and then being displaced from their home is truly disappointing.”

Special lecturers differ from professors in that they are hired on an as-needed basis and are often only responsible for introductory level courses. Although they teach  these simpler courses, they often teach more than the average professor because things like research and published works are not required for them. They are also not eligible for tenure. However, many have a Ph. D and are just as capable as any professor in their chosen field.

So, because of the as-needed nature of their jobs, special lecturers are usually the first to be moved when full-time faculty are in need of office space.

Kevin Corcoran, the dean of the CAS, is more than aware of this, but says that something had to be done because of the important role advisers play in personally talking to students. He argues that to do this well, personal offices for advisers are a necessity.

“[Advisers] have got to have a private office,” he said. “Students talk to them about personal and academic things that aren’t meant for public conversation. When we started looking around campus [for a new space], we basically found that there isn’t any room. I’ll take full responsibility, I saw the first floor of O’Dowd and thought that it was the best option.”

So, Corcoran sent an apologetic email to the chairs of English, Modern Languages and Writing and Rhetoric saying that those departments’ special lecturers would need to leave their offices, but that a solution over in Dodge Hall would be provided by fall semester.

Laam acted quickly and implemented an “office share” program that allowed his 10 special lecturers to share offices with full-time faculty. Although the space in Dodge is currently ready for them, they have not made the move just yet.

The reason seems to be that the office share program is slightly more friendly to privacy than the Dodge space. Special lecturers from Foreign Languages as well as Writing and Rhetoric have declined requests for interviews. But upon observation, Writing and Rhetoric’s office, which is meant for about 60 people, is set up like a computer lab and appears to offer little privacy.

Amy Pollard, an English special lecturer at OU for 10 years, said her biggest concern with the new space is having private conversations with students. Much like Corcoran says that advisers need privacy, Pollard thinks that special lecturers need it just as much.

“Advisers have a very important job too, so this is not about us versus them,” she said. “But this is where students come and talk to us. The students who won’t usually talk in class will talk during office hours and say things they wouldn’t say in class.”

Creative writing special lecturer of almost five years, Vanessa Stauffer, echoed Pollard’s concern.

“This makes it harder for me to ensure that my students have a good experience,” she said. “Since I teach intro courses to creative writing, I have students who are intimidated by having to do work that asks them to personally invest. So it’s nice for me to have office space that allows them to explore sensitive subjects.”

Stauffer, Pollard, Corcoran and Laam all said that the problem’s source is that OU is growing too quickly to provide space for everyone that needs it. After the 2017-18 academic year, Fitzgerald Hall is planned to be retired because the Southern Housing Complex will add hundreds of beds to Housing. Like Pryale Hall and Annibal House, it will likely be made into office space. Corcoran said that Fitzgerald could be an option, but its use has not yet been decided.

Until then, it looks like Oakland will continue to face the pains that come with being a growing university.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Growing pains temporarily displace special lecturers”

  1. Doris Plantus on October 11th, 2017 4:35 pm

    I think your distinction between SL and professor should be that SLs with Ph.D.s write books and publish papers, engage in service, and attend conferences even though it is not required of them. And the distinction between the “simpler” courses and those reserved for professors presumes SLs teach simple things, which is certainly not true. But it is true that private space for students to speak with professors–SL or tenured–is no less important than for counselors. Missing from the article is that office space includes necessary books and equipment for student meetings and scholarly activities, such as writing and research, which SLs perform without contractual incentive. It’s more about the perception of an SL, than the lack of office space which, thankfully, Kevin Laam and gracious colleagues in English acknowledge by sharing space with the displaced.

    [Reply]

  2. Ken Mitton on October 17th, 2017 5:34 pm

    The requirement for privacy to talk about a student’s academic record is law FERPA

    https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html

    However, most discussions with students that require privacy are actually between students and their professors. Special Lecturers at OU are part time faculty who are paid a flat rate per credit hour. While many spend many extra hours talking with their students, SLs are not really compensated for that extra work nor for any service they do in some committees.

    Many of these SLs provide the masses of writing courses that all OU students must complete to make sure they can continue to write at a level essential for scholarship in their fields during and after their degree programs.

    The displacement was problematic as it was not announced months before September, but just weeks with the final stretch for opening day closing fast. It was also clear that temporary space was not well identified and that is why some department chairs had to scramble for their own solutions.

    SLs are meeting students in cafes on Campus. This is not exactly FERPA compliant but it is also not something SLs have any power to fix. While I am OU faculty, I am also an OU parent, and the parent part of me wonders how disrupting 80 instructors we rely upon to deliver product to several thousand new students could possibly benefit the official policy of increasing retention?

    I do not think the change was done with ill intent, but I do think its consequences and timing could have been anticipated. It is very likely that asking faculty, SLs and department chairs for opinions before executing the plan would have brought all of these negative consequences to light quickly.

    I recommend that administrators consult with faculty they think they want to move to avoid tradung one problem for some new ones. Unfortunately, space and movement issues have historically been executed at OU without such faculty involvement.

    [Reply]

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