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CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale is asking department chairs to recruit graduates to serve as adjunct faculty on a volunteer basis.

A statement from the office of SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, posted on the chancellor’s website Tuesday afternoon, indicated that the university is developing a “pilot project” in collaboration with the SIU Alumni Association to "create a pool of potential, volunteer adjuncts with advanced academic degrees who might contribute as needed for up to three years after their approval."

Qualified alumni would not teach entire courses, but might deliver an individual lecture, lead a seminar discussion, mentor students or contribute to thesis committees, according to the statement. 

The chancellor’s statement came after an email apparently sent out by Michael Molino, associate dean for budget, personnel and research in the College of Liberal Arts, went viral nationally on social media Tuesday

According to the email posted on Facebook page "The Professor Is In," an academic industry blog, chairs in three of the university’s colleges are being asked to recruit alumni with terminal degrees for zero-time adjunct faculty appointments.

The post containing Molino’s apparent email indicates that the duties of volunteer graduates would consist of the following: "service on graduate student thesis committees, teaching specific graduate or undergraduate lectures in one’s area of expertise, service on departmental or university committees, and collaborations on grant proposals and research projects."

The statement from the chancellor said alumni participating in the program would “enhance — not replace — the work of our faculty.”

“The use of adjuncts is not unusual on our campus and in higher education generally. This exploratory project simply fosters the ability of academic programs to identify and connect with potential adjunct faculty already invested in the university. It benefits current faculty, students and alumni,” the statement reads.

Dave Johnson, president of the SIUC Faculty Association, said that there must be a certain number of SIUC faculty on thesis committees, and that the university could be trying to outsource those roles in response to declining numbers of faculty.

"It may well come with perfectly good intentions from alumni who want to help out, and from leaders of the Alumni Association who are trying to do what they can to give something back to the institution," Johnson said.

He said he's concerned by the apparent attempt to make alumni into "ersatz faculty" by giving them zero-percent appointments, which could allow them to take on duties normally performed by regular SIUC faculty with 100-percent appointments. 

“… What SIU is asking alumni to do is to volunteer unpaid labor, and in some ways that’s going to take pressure off the university to pay people to do this, and this work is important. Graduate faculty are highly trained and committed to their students,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that for underemployed and unemployed recent graduates who want to do some academic work, even if it’s unpaid, there might be some motivation to do it.

“But I think there’s also a risk that alumni, particularly recent graduates, who feel they need to keep in the good graces of their alma mater would feel some pressure to do this even if they don’t want to do it,” Johnson said.

He said the union is consulting with lawyers to find out whether the program would violate the faculty contract.

Neither Molino nor university spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith returned requests for comment Tuesday.

This story has been updated.

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janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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