Sessional Instructors


What does the term mean?

In this website I use the terms 'sessionals' and 'sessional instructors', but in the literature a variety of terms are used to describe university instructors who are not in a tenure-track or permanent position, including:
  • Sessionals
  • Part-time faculty
  • Adjunct faculty
  • Contingent faculty
  • Contract academic staff
Sessional instructors can include graduate students who are teaching a course or two while working on their degree, tutors, lecturers, and professionals.


Concerns about sessional instructors

Some of the major concerns with sessional instructors are itemized below:
  • Less opportunities for faculty development and support than permanent instructors
  • A lack of equity between sessional staff and permanent instructors
  • Marginalization within the institution
In this pathfinder I will focus primarily on the first issue, though I recognize that the other two major concerns certainly need to be addressed.


Why is this issue important?

The literature suggests that most universities are hiring proportionally more sessional instructors than they have in the past, and that this trend can be partially explained by the financial position that higher education institutions are currently in. Since the number of sessional instructors employed on campuses in Canada is unlikely to decrease in the near future, issues about the employment of sessionals are gaining importance.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that sessional instructors are more likely to teach first and second year courses than advanced undergraduate courses and graduate courses (I will be looking for some statistics to support this claim). Additionally, first and second year courses tend to have a higher enrollment than more advanced courses. Therefore, sessional instructors tend to assume a significant part of the teaching load, especially in faculties and departments that use sessionals extensively. For some beginning students, sessional instructors are their first major point of contact with the institution.


Sessionals and Teaching Quality

Ultimately this issue is critical because it impacts on students' education. There is ongoing debate as to whether or not sessional instructors provide as high a level of teaching quality as permanent instructors; more formal studies need to be done on this issue. Considerations reported in the literature include:
  • The primary interest of sessionals is teaching; therefore they could be more focused that tenured faculty who split their time between teaching and research.
  • Due to the fact that sessionals don't necessarily conduct research, they could stagnate in their field, making them less effective as instructors.
  • Sessionals who teach in professional faculties such as business or engineering can bring their subjects to life with real examples and ties to the field.
  • Sessionals sometimes lack the same credentials or depth of teaching experience as permanent instructors.
  • Sessionals are sometimes hired at the last minute, giving them little time to prepare their courses.

Less opportunities for faculty development and support
  • Sessionals may be less aware of professional development opportunities
  • They often work at other jobs, limiting their access professional development workshops and seminars
  • They usually aren't paid for attending professional development events
  • They may not attend departmental meetings, giving them less opportunity to benefit from tacit professional development
  • They might teach late at night, on weekends or online, which also gives them less opportunity to interact with other instructors and gain tacit knowledge


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