Adjunct professor Alexander Park plays at Smothers Theatre with the Pepperdine Orchestra in 2016. Pepperdine Professor of Music Christopher Parkening offered Park a job after Park studied under him and taught his son guitar. Photo Courtesy of Alexander Park
With a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and an average of 16 students per class, Seaver College prides itself in offering small class sizes and valuable faculty relationships with students. Adjunct professors make up almost 40% of Seaver faculty, allowing Pepperdine to keep class sizes small each semester, said Kendra Killpatrick, senior associate dean of Seaver College.
Seaver College employs around 150 adjunct professors and around 250 full-time faculty members, Killpatrick said. Even in an online format, adjunct processors play a critical role in reducing class sizes and providing a true Pepperdine academic experience. They are also able to teach part-time and can teach up to eight units.
“We really cherish those faculty members who are willing to come and teach one class or two classes for us,” Killpatrick said. “They do really important work for us, and we’re grateful for that.”
Hiring During the Pandemic
Seaver hires an adjunct professor when a full-time faculty member goes on sabbatical, teaches at an International Program or when someone is specialized in one field for a specific class. Seaver looks for candidates who have at least a master’s degree and preferably some teaching experience, Killpatrick said.
In addition, Seaver looks to hire adjunct professors to reduce class sizes, Killpatrick said. For example, in the spring 2021 semester, Seaver committed to keeping class sizes small, rather than the usual large lecture capacity of 150 to 200 students. Instead, those lecture-style classes were split into subsections of 30 students. In fall 2019, the majority of classes had 10-19 students per one instructor, according to the 2019-2020 Common Data Set.
Before the fall 2020 semester, Pepperdine released COVID-19 Expense Optimization Measures the University would take during the pandemic. In regards to new employee hiring, Seaver decided “any new faculty or staff hirings will be carefully reviewed to ensure only essential roles are filled,” according to the measures.
“Delivering the education to our students is absolutely essential and a top priority during the pandemic, so hiring faculty to cover classes has been viewed as a critical expense,” Killpatrick said.
To hire an adjunct professor, Seaver relies on connections with nearby universities and current faculty members to find the right candidates, Killpatrick said. Due to COVID-19, Seaver has been able to hire adjunct professors from anywhere, not just Los Angeles.
“If our faculty knows a really good person elsewhere in the country, they can just ask them to teach remotely,” Killpatrick said. “We won’t be able to continue that, but it’s kind of a fun part of the pandemic.”
Since adjunct professors are not full-time faculty, Seaver pays them an hourly rate and they do not receive benefits such as healthcare insurance or retirement plans. Killpatrick said some adjunct professors teach for just one semester, whereas some decide to stay for several years.
“I just want our adjunct faculty and our students to know that we consider them a really critical part of our teaching faculty,” Killpatrick said.
From an Adjunct Professor’s Point of View
For Yvette Gellis, being an adjunct professor of art at Pepperdine gives her the opportunity to teach at a university that aligns with her values while working as an artist in Santa Monica, Calif.
Gellis’ work is on display nationally and internationally, and she received artist residencies in Taiwan, Austria, Arizona and Santa Monica. She also received a Foundation Tenot and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization award for her participation in an artist residency program in France. Gellis has taught as an adjunct professor since 2014.
“I fell in love with teaching at Pepperdine,” Gellis said. “I fell in love with the students, and I like teaching at a faith-based university. It’s a really strong fit for me.”
Gellis said she is able to bring her past experience as an artist into the classroom. Gellis teaches a range of classes from Art Fundamentals to Painting to Observational Drawing.
Alexander Park, an adjunct professor in the classical guitar department, said he can relate. Park graduated from Pepperdine in 2015 and started teaching guitar lessons to students two years ago. Park also performs, has his own private studio and has played concerts across the United States, Canada, Germany and Austria.
Pepperdine Professor of Music Christopher Parkening offered Park a job after Park studied under him and taught his son guitar lessons. Park said he enjoys teaching students who want to be professional musicians, especially since he has experience in the industry.
“You teach your friends and students who either take it as a hobby or their parents made them and do that and that’s fine, but I really enjoy teaching students who want to be professional musicians,” Park said.
But being an adjunct professor doesn’t come without challenges. On average, adjunct professors have less academic freedom, work long hours and receive lower salaries than full-time faculty members, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
“You have to be willing to know that you’re going to give a lot and that even a university may not always treat you the same as they do their full-time employees,” Gellis said.
For Gellis, she said she is OK with not getting the same benefits as a full-time faculty member because she is able to spend more time in her studio. She also feels like she is serving the Pepperdine community.
“[What I care about] is that I gave the best I could each day, each class, and hopefully help my students,” Gellis said. “The only person I’m trying to please is God, and that’s why Pepperdine has been such a good fit for me.”
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