Part-time faculty identify needs for further training and information

How much do you know about maintaining a safe and secure environment where you teach? If you don’t know your campus’ safety and security protocols and expectations of faculty in emergencies, do you know where to find them?

Soon after an isolated incident at Sacramento City College in September that left one person dead and another hospitalized, part-time Sociology instructor Angelo Williams began thinking about campus safety, what he needed to know, and how to support students in the wake of the event.

“Students wanted to talk,” he reports. “We spent substantial class time over the next few weeks discussing the events in relation to sociology concepts. The student body president visited my class and listened to the students’ concerns, which was great. Some students even got involved in initiatives to increase safety on campus.”

While a relative rarity on college campuses, widely reported violence at Sacramento City College, UC Merced, and Umqua College in Oregon has made part-time faculty think more about how to prepare for a range of possible emergencies at work.

Beth Verhage, part-time ESL instructor at American River College, feels anxious about what to do in the event of a medical emergency in class. Following the recent arrest of a student overheard making threats toward the campus that were deemed “credible,” Verhage began wondering how prepared she is for emergencies. “There is a list of emergency protocols in all my classrooms, which I appreciate. But I’d love to have more direct training in what I need to do in a range of possible scenarios.”

Many part-timers are unable to attend safety and emergency preparedness trainings offered on their campuses due to the nature of part-time faculty schedules. The “just-in-time professor” can easily be frustrated by the gap between a desire for training and real-world scheduling conflicts.

Williams wonders whether technology can be leveraged to make essential information available in new ways: “Could we make videos — short videos on safety, emergency preparedness, and protocols for handling various classroom issues — available to faculty? Could workshops and trainings be filmed to offer some of the important material presented to those of us unable to attend live events?”

Williams recently found himself needing to intervene when one of his students appeared to be sexually harassing another student. “I was glad that I had attended a workshop alerting me to whom I should contact to help me resolve this problem,” he reflects. “I knew I shouldn’t try to handle this situation by myself, and those I contacted resolved the situation swiftly and sensitively. But I’m not sure I know how to respond in all situations that may pose danger to students.”

Indeed, Inside Higher Education recently reported a study by the New Faculty Majority finding that many contingent faculty are unsure how to respond properly in a variety of situations involving student and staff safety and well-being.

Williams encourages part-time faculty to ask themselves what they do and don’t know about responding appropriately to these circumstances and to reach out to colleagues, union representatives, and administrators: “If you don’t know how to act in a particular situation, ask. And if you’d like more training opportunities and materials, ask for that, too.”