The Changing Landscape of Social Work Teaching
Herb Childress’ new book, The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission, provides an eye-opening look at staffing for the classroom in America’s colleges and universities. Childress details the move from full-time, “permanent”/tenured faculty to staffing patterns that consist of part-time workers. He maintains that teaching at universities has become part of the “gig economy,” like Uber or TaskRabbit, where work is parceled out. Childress proposes that current staffing methodologies have a profound impact on the adjunct faculty employed, the tenured faculty in the department, the institution as a whole, and, most importantly, on the students. Specifically, Childress notes that the most vulnerable students, often concentrated in community colleges and nonelite state colleges, are facing the least consistency in the classroom setting. The Adjunct Underclass is an important and compelling read for all, including social workers who serve as adjunct faculty, as field placement supervisors, or in other types of leadership and mentoring roles.
Social Work Programs
A 2017 report from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) reveals that this trend is occurring in social work departments/programs. It does not appear to be as prevalent as Childress notes is occurring in some settings, but it is worth noting that the CSWE report is voluntary and includes graduate and undergraduate program data, as well as likely data from elite schools. A trending chart in the 2017 Annual Statistics Report indicates that since 2012, social work programs have increased their reliance on part-time faculty and now, as a whole, have nearly 60% of faculty who are not full time. Further, even among those reported as full-time faculty, one notes many position titles in the report that are temporary in nature (eg, adjunct, instructor, lecturer, clinical appointment), consistent with Childress’ notation from The Chronicle of Higher Education that many full-time positions are actually short-term contracts.
— Source: 2017 Statistics Report, Council on Social Work Education
It is widely recognized in social work education that there can be significant benefits to having adjunct faculty who are practicing in “the real world” and who are current with practice trends and contemporary social issues. However, tenured faculty can also have social work practice or policy experience. Further, the replacement of tenured faculty with part-time faculty is likely to have the same impact on social work education that Childress notes is occurring at universities across the United States; the effect on student connectedness to the department and university, as well as, in the case of social work, potential impact on field practice. It is unlikely that social work students are aware of this trend and the impact that it may have on their access to faculty or to addressing issues in the social work department.
Teaching of Social Work Students
Rethinking the Current State
— Lisa M. Eible, DSW, MSW, LCSW, is a consultant and educator with more than 27 years of social work experience. She has advanced certificates in cultural competence and trauma. Her professional interests include social work in health care, administration, leadership, supervision, relational-cultural theory, and diversity issues. Eible serves as adjunct faculty at two universities.