Partnerships between Tenure-Track and Adjunct Music Faculty in the Ethnomusicology Lecture Classroom: Some Models

October 1, 2009

Personnel directories of music departments across the United States, even those at small colleges, reveal an abundance of names.1 Insiders know that, in many cases, the majority of those listed are not full time faculty members, but rather hold adjunct positions, titled variously “instructor,” “lecturer,” “artist,” and so on. The use, overuse, and abuse of adjunct positions, and the abuse of those holding them, has justifiably become a sore topic in academia generally,2 but it is difficult to imagine how many music departments, especially comparatively small ones, could offer applied study without such positions. In our case at Carleton College, we could hardly find a way to instruct our small handfuls of harp, trumpet, banjo, sitar, and our large truckloads of voice and piano, students without such a model.

As indispensable as such adjunct positions are, no one who has worked in a department with both adjunct and full-time faculty can reasonably deny that relationships between the groups are often fraught. Questions of status, studio space, lesson timing, titles, access to budgets, computers, mailboxes, coffee, photocopying, and other issues provide fodder for dozens of department meetings, and many institutions arrive at an uneasy truce, at best.3 This situation is unfortunate for many reasons, but I will not focus here on the whole host of adjunct-related workplace issues. Rather, I will examine the missed educational opportunities, and on how we might successfully incorporate adjunct contributions into the lecture classroom.

What can adjunct instructors add to our classes? Most obviously, they can provide demonstrations or performances on their instruments. These can include entire pieces, but also illustrations of specific techniques. These can be invaluable, and remain lamentably rare in recorded instructional materials; they include demonstrations of various kinds of ornamentation, bending, dampening, and others and they are all significantly more powerful and memorable with live demonstration. Adjunct instructors can also offer some performance activities to students, teaching them parts, having them accompany, etc. In a number of cases, the tenure-track ethnomusicologist4 will be able to provide such illustrations, too; but it is unlikely that he or she can do so for each geographic/cultural area. The adjunct instructor may also be able to shed light on musical training and transmission by speaking about his or her path to musicianship within the given tradition. Through discussion with adjunct instructors/performers in my classroom, I am able to bring to life the sorts of issues—the status of musicians, the nature of practice, how one improvises, how and when one departs from a teacher’s model, and so on—typically described in rather dry and general terms in our texts.

For several of my classes, “Introduction to World Music,” “Anthropology of Music,” “The U.S. Folk Music Revival,” and “Music of India,” including adjunct instructors has proven vital. One of our adjunct instructors, a percussionist, teaches various forms of West African and Cuban drumming; another is an accomplished sitarist who teaches Hindustani vocal and instrumental music. A third teaches folk guitar, banjo, and related instruments. I will outline here the ways I have found to include adjunct faculty in my own classes, and the challenges I encountered along the way.

As a result of the often troubled history between tenure-track and adjunct faculty members, the mere proposal of such partnerships is enough to raise issues which cause agitation and worry, particularly at the departmental level where adjunct relations are typically managed. The objections which arise fall into two categories. The first, I call the “You can’t chew gum unless you brought enough for the whole class” objection. This position holds that you can’t offer something to one adjunct faculty member unless you have the resources to offer it to all. It stems from a genuine concern about the (often unspoken) issues of equity among and between adjunct and full time faculty. But this objection is misguided—the offerings are already lopsided, often for good reason. Few schools can offer to the adjunct instructor as many harpsichord students as guitar students, for example. Some instruments lend themselves to chamber music or class offerings while others do not; at Carleton, for example, we have class piano and class guitar and African drum class, but not class cello. As long as the reasons for unequal offerings are rooted in the curriculum and not in something less defensible (paying less to a folk or rock guitar teacher than a classical guitar teacher, for example,) this concern may be a minor one.

The second objection is a bit more complicated, and I call it the “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree” objection. This position holds that once adjunct faculty get a taste of the lecture classroom, they will be clamoring for more opportunities. It too is rooted in worries about different status levels, and concerned (at least in some cases) with “keeping adjuncts in their place,” namely teaching applied students, and not in the rarified air of the lecture classroom, ostensibly suitable only for those of us who have spent the precious years between twenty-one and early middle age in graduate school. For the most part, I’ve found this objection unfounded: while some adjunct instructors may have wished to find themselves in the lecture classroom, but were not able to secure such a position, more often they are doing what they do and love best. However, situations do sometimes arise that adjunct instructors desire a place in the lecture classroom. In many cases, this may be appropriate and desirable. Where it is not, clear institutional hiring policies, terminology (for example, my classes are not team-taught; they are taught by me with the assistance of adjunct faculty), and frank discussion can help. I have found that confronting and dealing with these objections is far more productive than dismissing the whole enterprise of partnering with adjuncts because of them. Having moved past these objections, then, we’re free to confront the specific pedagogical challenges of partnerships between adjunct and full time faculty.

How exactly can we combine an applied component and a lecture portion into a coherent class. How can we assess its effectiveness? How can we address the difficulties of partnership in an inherently unequal relationship? I will outline four models for combining applied and lecture components.


Model #1: World Music with Guest Artists:

This is probably the most common model, for visitors within and without the institution. Here the adjunct instructors come in and typically provide content in a lecture-demonstration format, with a variety of potential mixes of demonstrating, talking, and music-making with or without student participation. In some cases, for example Ghanaian drumming, it is easy to assign parts to students and to actually have them “doing” some music. This model has clear benefits: it’s fairly inexpensive;roles are clearly circumscribed; it provides exposure for the adjunct instructor.5 The drawbacks of this model include the lack of sustained contact with the adjunct instructor, and somewhat less emphasis, typically, on student music-making. Moreover, it is more difficult to integrate fully this kind of one-off contribution into the course. If there are several such appearances, though, rich opportunities for comparison may compensate for this.


Model #2: Lecture class with applied sections:

In my courses, Anthropology of Music, (essentially a world music class but with emphasis on theory), the class was split into three sections one day a week, with groups alternating study of Ghanaian drumming, Hindustani vocal music (both with adjunct instructors), and mbira with me. I observed several benefits from this model. Students experience genuine engagement with actual music-making and gain understanding of the music from the “doing” perspective. Each student rotated through all of the sections, gaining playing experience in three traditions. Since the class was split into the sections, these were comparatively small and students received feedback on their mastery of technique. Since the applied portion of class took place only in the smaller sections, I could admit a larger number of students into the lecture portion.

One drawback of this model would be true in almost any instance except the guest-artist format, and that is that there are natural limitations on enrollment. This may be limited by how many students the instructor feels he or she can adequately assist, or by how many instruments are available. Another drawback was that, as I was one of the applied instructors in this model, I could not simultaneously monitor the other sections. At the institutional level, though, my participating in the applied instruction made this class more affordable and efficient. The problem of not being able to monitor the other two sections was substantially mitigated by my familiarity with the teaching methods of both instructors, by conferences with the instructors, and by having the students maintain weekly journals documenting their progress. As the lecture instructor, the most problematic aspect of this model was the fact that students were taking the different sections at different times, and so I could never fully incorporate their knowledge of, say, Ewe drumming, into the lecture portion, because only 1/3 or 2/3 of them would have had that experience by the time it was addressed in lecture. As I gained experience, though, I was able to call on students to make or demonstrate these connections in class, reviewing content for some while foreshadowing it for others.


Model #3: Lecture class with embedded applied component:

In my Music of India class, I had previously used the “guest artist” model, having our adjunct instructor come in to give a sitar demonstration and talk about his own experiences with his guru and with the Hindustani musical establishment. While no musical system is well addressed in a single guest lecture, this seemed an especially impoverished model for Indian classical music. David, the guest artist, and I began discussions about how to combine our efforts into a single class. Even in the early stages, these discussions held the promise of a far more exciting, multi-dimensional class, than I’d been able to offer on my own. I will admit that these discussions sometimes made me think I had been too quick in dismissing the “down on the farm” objection outlined above. At one meeting, my colleague came with a whole course in Indian music mapped out. Even after I made it clear that it was my course (a delicate matter, since my expertise in Indian music is clearly less than his, while my expertise as an ethnomusicologist, the position hired by the College, is clearly greater), he had suggestions for texts, lesson plans, course listening, and other aspects. While, in some cases, he knows the material better than I do, I have a much more refined sense of classroom pacing, student level, which readings will “work” with the population, etc. We had very different senses of what you might do with an hour or two in the classroom. Eventually, we settled on a model in which he would come in on eight Wednesdays to teach various vocal techniques and genres to the whole class.

As with the second model, the benefits of this format include genuine engagement with actual music-making and understanding the music from the “doing.” Unlike the second model, all students do the same work at the same time, and have the same interaction with the teacher, thus maintaining a consistent sense of the group. I was free to monitor the section or to act as a student. There was much more coordination between the lecture and applied portions, as I participated in every session led by my colleague, and he completed all the readings and sat in on some of my lectures. We formed a true, if not equal, partnership. An added potential benefit of all the models was, predictably, best manifested here: increased enrollment in the adjunct instructor’s lessons, as students wanted a deeper experience in the music after the end of the class. The drawbacks of this model did not seem overwhelming. I could not “cover” what I usually did in this class, but I found this a very acceptable trade-off—what students learned they knew well, rather than simply remembering it for an exam. The terminology (of structure, ornamentation, vocal techniques) they learned in class had real meaning for them as they learned to sing. Many tell me they still sing the material they studied. Still, the partnership was not perfect. We were unavoidably (and visibly) inventing it as we went along, no matter how many planning talks or pre-class discussions we had. And the combination of our efforts felt odd to me at times—what had one part of this class to do with the other? We brought very different sorts of information to the students. As the term went on, though, I began to feel more comfortable with this, and in fact found it fertile ground for student discussions. These students were approaching Hindustani music from two directions nearly simultaneously, something neither of us had ever done, really. There was some discomfort for both of us as we worried about the other judging our approach or coverage.6 I am most proud of this collaboration because, in every case, we confronted and dealt with these difficult issues, rather than avoiding or dismissing them. In so doing, we gave our students an immeasurably richer experience. We spent much of the term talking about how we will do it differently next time, and I am already unable to imagine teaching the course without him.


Model #4: Student lessons

I have taught a class on the U.S. Folk Music Revival three times, bringing in guest artists to demonstrate ballad singing, and banjo and guitar technique. I have also offered a performance option, whereby students could substitute learning an instrument (very much in the spirit of the revival) or writing songs, for the more traditional research paper. When we were finally able to hire an adjunct instructor in folk instruments, I asked my new folk instrumentalist colleague if he would visit the class, and also whether I could invite my students to study with him as a more formal way of learning to play. Before this, students pursuing this option were obliged to learn from book or online sources.

This was a very successful model, with more than one third of the class taking lessons with this instructor. In this way I knew that their progress was being monitored, that they were receiving expert instruction, and that errors of technique or approach were being addressed. It also led to a number of ad hoc collaborations, and two performances involved students playing together. While not all students were studying privately, enough were so that their experiences were frequently mentioned as examples of phenomena addressed in the lecture portion (e.g. use of tablature, transmission of folk repertoire, multiple versions of songs).



Many institutions already have some provision for a guest lecturer who comes in to provide one or two lectures for a class. He or she is paid a standard stipend, often between $100 and $200. Such monies may be drawn from college-wide funds reserved for guest lecturers, curricular innovation grants, visiting artist funds, and other such sources. Just to provide an example, five or six sessions taught by an adjunct member, might cost the institution $500-900, so funds are crucial to any of the models described above. I have often used the guest lecturer fee as a standard for including adjunct faculty. It has the advantage of being institutionally, rather than departmentally, based. In some cases, class instruction compensation fees have already been set, and it makes sense to transfer this system. Here, the issue arises of charging an additional fee for the class. Depending on the planned enrollment (and clearly, applied instruction is harder to envision on a grand scale), even a modest fee of $40 or $50 per student might be sufficient. In such a case, instructors might be paid $1000, or $200 per session (twenty students @$50 for 5 sessions).7 Tenure-track faculty members will have a sense of how such experiments could best be supported at their own institutions.


Negotiating the Relationship

I had some concerns about having someone join me in a classroom. After all, I had worked for years to attain complete control over the content and approach I offer my students. I did not want to spoil what seemed like good relationships with these adjunct faculty, and was somewhat fearful that we would end up in a power struggle, thus reinforcing, rather than transcending, the adjunct/full-time split. I found the term “guest lecture” or “guest artist” useful in defining the kind of role I envisioned. I can imagine many circumstances in which I would like to co-teach a course, but that is not what I sought in these settings. Rather, I wanted my students to have an “applied experience,” or several, within the bounds of a fairly traditional ethnomusicology course. I was responsible for planning, designing the syllabus, gathering the materials and making them available online or in hard copy, assessment, grading, and so on.

Another possibility is a true team-taught course, with a more equal partnership. In such circumstances, though, the drawbacks would include having to reach a consensus on virtually every aspect of the class, involving the adjunct faculty member (and the tenure-track one) in areas that may exceed their specialization. Renumeration would be rather more difficult to negotiate, and even issues like office space may arise if the person is to hold office hours and meet with students, for example.


Evaluating Student and Teacher Performance:

As indicated above, assessing teacher and student performance was much more easily accomplished when I could sit in on all of the sessions. When I did so, I sometimes took the role of the students, learning along with them. This is a reliable way to see if information is being communicated clearly and instructions are easily followed. It was sometimes awkward for my partners, though, as they felt uncertain about whether to treat me as a student (when, for example, I rendered an ornament inexpertly or made a mistake in a drumming pattern), or some strange hybrid of student/teacher. And it was also sometimes awkward for my students, though in other cases my finding the material difficult was comforting to them. In other cases, I simply observed and took notes during the session.

I also had students keep journals in every case that they had extended contact with adjunct faculty members. At first these were free-form, and I asked them only to recount their experiences and reactions in one to two pages per session, handing these in weekly. At first, I read these alone, but sharing them has proven helpful to adjunct instructors considering revised approaches or content. More recently, I have used a more directed journal format, asking them to respond to broad questions about what they learned, how it was communicated, and which aspects proved difficult.

I also occasionally required students to schedule office hour visits to demonstrate their mastery of repertoire and technique. These are sometimes anxiety-provoking, but provide clear evidence of effective teaching and learning. Perhaps most important was seeking feedback from the adjunct instructors on how students were responding to material and approaches, what they seemed able to master, and what eluded them. Such feedback has helped me make connections between the lecture and applied portions of class. These connections are also fostered by including materials from the adjunct instructors on my exams. The combination of journals, test questions on content from the adjunct-led sessions, and demonstrations of learned technique has enabled me to decide whether I want to partner with someone again, or perhaps suggest modifications to the plan.



I plan to continue experimenting with various ways of incorporating adjunct faculty into my classes. Doing so has broadened students’ understanding of musical phenomena, helping them to execute and recognize (not just describe or memorize) specific musical techniques. In more than a few cases, it has helped a student recognize his or her own musicality. Such partnerships have also deepened students’ knowledge of institutional resources beyond tenure-track faculty. Not least, I hope, they have fostered an atmosphere of mutual respect between tenure-track and adjunct faculty.



Berry, Joe. Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005.

Bousquet, Marc. How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. New York: NYU, 2008.

Bousquet, Marc, Randy Martin, and Leo Parascondola, eds. Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers: Writing Instruction in the Managed University. Carbon- dale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003.



1I am most indebted to my colleagues Jay Johnson, Mark Kreitzer, and David Whetstone, for cheerfully participating in these partnerships and sharing their considerable expertise with so many students. I thank those students for their patience and enthusiasm as we explored the various ways in which applied components might be included in a lecture course. I am grateful to my colleagues Stephen Kelly and Ronald Rodman for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and to Carleton College for the funding that allowed me to present an earlier version at the CMS Conference in Salt Lake City.

2Underlying any attempt to include adjuncts in the lecture classroom must be an existing atmosphere of mutual respect. I probably would not have attempted these partnerships in an institution lacking clear and fair guidelines for its adjunct instructors, including access to campus facilities and services, mileage reimbursement, a periodic review process, and the chance for promotion.

For sources on the many unresolved issues surrounding adjunct labor in the university, see the bibliography. is the website for The Adjunct Advocate, which began publication in 1992. Past issues and current blogs may be viewed on the site. Along with the Chronicle of Higher Education, this is the major source for current debate on such matters.

3Indeed, this has led some institutions simply to have students take music lessons out in the community, without academic credit, providing them only with a list of instructors.

4The general principles here are equally applicable to music appreciation, music theory, or other areas; I merely offer my direct experience with employing them in ethnomusicological work.

5Some might argue that this alone makes such visits worthwhile for the adjunct instructor. However, while tenure-track faculty might make such visits to the classes of colleagues simply to share their knowledge or perhaps to “drum up business,” this is a reasonable part of our salaried employment. For the adjunct instructor, everything beyond the contracted work is extra, and all such work should be decently compensated.

6David was sometimes worried about whether what he was teaching was “testable” or “enough,” or was sufficiently organized. I worried mainly that he was thinking that I sang horribly, mispronounced terminology and had a comparatively superficial understanding of the material.

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