Milan, 2–3 February 2020

Design Education as If Adjuncts Mattered

Interaction Design Education Summit
Published in
9 min readMar 2, 2020


Cassini Nazir, Clinical Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Dallas
Eric Farrar, Associate Professor; Undergraduate Dean in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at The University of Texas at Dallas
Alix Kast, Research Coordinator Masters Student in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience, The University of Texas at Dallas

The makeup of faculty in American academic institutions has dramatically changed over the past 50 years. In 1969, tenure and tenure-track positions made up approximately 78% of all faculty in the US, while non-tenure-track positions accounted for only 22% [1]. Today, non-tenure track faculty represent the majority (73%) of faculty positions in most higher education institutions [2]. The primary driver of this change seems to be shrinking university budgets and increasing costs. Growing financial pressure in public and private institutions makes hiring of lower-cost faculty members increasingly attractive.

Figure 1: Non-tenure-track faculty represent the major of all faculty positions for all disciplines, not just design.

Cost savings aside, there often exists a “second-class” status associated with non-tenure positions. In academic literature, two terms are often used to refer to faculty without tenure lines: contingent or non-tenure track faculty. Both terms label the faculty based on what they are not: neither permanent, nor tenured. Contingent is a term that not only minimizes faculty contributions to general education as well as the specific institution, but also minimizes any commitment the faculty has to both. The term non-tenure track reinforces the notion that tenure in higher education is normal and ideal. Adjunct faculty, a term used more colloquially, implies that the faculty are supplementary rather than essential. The term clinical professor, with its origins in medical institutions, has been adopted for non-medical purposes and is equivalent to an adjunct faculty. The adjective clinical relates to the observation and treatment of patients. Appropriate titles would more accurately describe a faculty member’s primary role(s). Such titles might include teaching faculty, professor of practice, or professor of instruction, or simply design educator.

Figure 2: Common faculty titles for non-tenure lines.

The work of teaching may be satisfying, but working conditions are often not. These full- or part-time non-tenure track faculty are employed on fixed-term or term-to-term contracts [6] with the primary role of teaching [7]. Many have little or no access to benefits, are hired quickly and often last-minute, and have little input on larger curricular matters [8]. Institutions pay full-time non-tenure track faculty a 25% lower salary per hour on average than those on the tenure track [9]. Colleges often have little or no professional development, formal criteria or systematic processes for recruiting and hiring non-tenure-track faculty [10]. As a result of these conditions, faculty commit to the institution only what their institution has committed to them.

A Historical Perspective: Considering Scholarship Reconsidered

Whereas tenure-track involves faculty in research, teaching, and service, a non-tenure position typically asks faculty to focus on only one of those activities, most often teaching. A non-tenure track faculty whose time is occupied in teaching often does so without significantly advancing their research interests, which may make them less competitive when seeking future tenure-track positions.

Research and discovery have historically been the most “legitimate and preferred form of scholarship” [11]. In the early 1990s, Ernest Boyer argued that scholarship needed to be broadened and made more flexible to include not only the new social and environmental challenges beyond the campus but also the reality of contemporary life. “Faculty reward systems do not match the full range of academic functions,” he said [12].

In Scholarship Reconsidered, Boyer introduced a more comprehensive view of what it means to be a scholar, recognizing that knowledge is acquired through discovery, through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching. Teaching is the natural output of discovery, integration, and application. Together, these four areas more fully embody Aristotle’s statement that, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.”

Figure 3: Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered introduced a more comprehensive view of what it means to be a scholar.

Forward-thinking campus administrators began reforming reward systems so that faculty members get more credit for the work that they do every day that is not traditional scholarship. Changes to academic policies, however, are not enough to dislodge deeply entrenched notions around the primacy of traditional scholarship.

The Changing Academic Workforce

Figure 4: Six implications of the changing academic workforce.

The shift from a largely tenured workforce to a non-tenure workforce carries small- and large-scale repercussions. Institutions of design education may feel these effects more acutely because they tend to have a higher-than-average number of non-tenure line faculty. Kezar and Maxey [13] identify six implications of this changing academic workforce:

  1. Poor hiring and recruitment practices
  2. Limited job security
  3. Inequitable salaries and access to benefits
  4. Lack of orientation, professional development, and formal evaluation
  5. No involvement in curriculum planning and faculty meetings
  6. Lack of office space, clerical support, and instructional materials

These implications are significant and require a variety of approaches. Using the tools and approaches from service design is useful for design practitioners who become design educators. Service design approaches have been successfully employed in public and private sectors. Our approach applies service design to the academy.

Service Design: Co-Creating in Academia

Sabine Junginger and Daniela Sangiorgi [14] identify three levels of potential impact that service design may foster: interactions, interventions, and transformations. Each approach gives rise to increasingly large outcomes and impacts in organizations and institutions.

Figure 5: Service design can affect various levels of change in an organization, each affording different outcomes and impacts.

The lowest rung, service interactions design (shortened here to interactions) shape practices, processes, and to a lesser degree institutional culture through the design of artifacts and behaviors. Designers draw on their skills of designing interactive products interfaces and their knowledge of user-centered design. The size, impact, and durability of the change is dependent on how well the designers understand and designed around the larger institutional culture that informs the practices.

Service design interventions (shortened to interventions), the second rung, challenge an institution’s culture and mission by reshaping its norms and values. Designers investigate and seek to understand the institution’s current culture, re-think practices, and visualize and demonstrate the value of proposed changes. The size, impact, and durability of the change is dependent on how well designers identify and account for deeply held assumptions inside the institution.

The third rung, service transformations, enables deeper institutional transformations by uncovering spoken and unspoken deeply held fundamental assumptions and then reshaping those beliefs. At this level, designers converse with the institution to unveil its deeper assumptions and how these assumptions frame their current situation. This kind of transformation requires a long-term collaboration and a strong commitment from the organization.

These three approaches — interactions, interventions, and transformations — can be directly applied to the six implications of the changing academic workforce identified by Kezar and Maxey.

Our presentation (linked at the end) provides a short case study from UT Dallas.

Figure 6: Interactions, interventions, and transforms can affect academia’s practices and processes, culture, mission, and beliefs with varying size, impact, and durability of change.


Change is needed to make design educator-practitioners successful. This can only be done in shoulder-to-shoulder work. As E.F. Schumacher notes: “To talk about the future is useful only if it leads to action now.”

Slide Deck

Download the full slide deck at:

Acknowledgements: This article would not have been possible without the help of Roxanne Minnish, Chip Wood, Donna Aldridge, and Sumayah Abdulla.


[1] Schuster, J. H. & Finkelstein, M. J. (2006). The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers. (Johns Hopkins University Press).

[2] AAUP. (2016). Data Snapshot: Contingent Faculty in US Higher Ed. Retrieved from

[3] Hurlburt, S. & McGarrah, M. (2016). The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty? NY: TIAA Institute.

[4] Craft, R.K., Baker, J. G., & Finn, M. G. (2016). “The Value of Tenure in Higher Education.” The Journal of Business Inquiry 15(2): 100–115.

[5] Levin, J. S., & Shaker, G. G. (2011). The hybrid and dualistic identity of full-time non- tenure-track faculty. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(11), 1461–1484.

[6] Hearn, J., Burns, R. A., & Riffe, K. A. (2017). Academic workforce flexibility and strategic outcomes in four-year colleges and universities. New York, NY: TIAA Institute. Retrieved from 12/TIAA%20Institute_Hearn_Academic%20Workforce%20Flexibility_December%202 017.pdf

[7] Sorcinelli, M. D., Berg J. J., Bond, H., & Watson, C. E. (2017). „Why Now is The Time for Evidence-Based Faculty Development“. In C. Haras, S. C. Taylor, M. D. Sorcinelli, & L. von Hoene (Eds.), Institutional commitment to teaching excellence: Assessing the impacts and outcomes of faculty development (pp. 5–16). Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

[8] Kezar, A., Holcombe, E., & Maxey, D. (2016). Rethinking Faculty Models/Roles:
An Emerging Consensus about Future Directions for the Professoriate
. New York, NY: TIAA Institute. Retrieved from

[9] (Monk, 2007)

[10] Cross, J. G. & Goldenberg, E. N. (2011). Off-Track Profs: Nontenured Teachers in Higher Education. Boston, MA: MIT Press.

[11] O’Meara, K. (2015). “How Scholarship Reconsidered Disrupted the Promotion and Tenure System”. In E. L. Boyer (Ed.), Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Expanded Edition) (pp. 41–47). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[12] Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. NY: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

[13] Kezar, A. & Maxey, D. (2013). The Changing Academic Workforce. Washington, DC: The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. Retrieved from

[14] Junginger, S. & Sangiorgi, D. (2009). “Service Design and Organizational Change: Bridging the Gap between Rigour and Relevance,” Proceedings of the 3rd IASDR Conference on Design Research, 4339–4348. Seoul: Korean Society of Design Science.

About the Authors

Cassini Nazir

Cassini is a designer of conversations, curriculum, and interfaces. He is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas where he teaches classes in interaction design. He is also Director of the ATEC Usability Lab, which fosters collaborative research with community partners and offers experiential learning to students. He was previously Director of Design and Research for the ArtSciLab, a transdisciplinary research lab helping the arts, science, and technology communities by pursuing initiatives of societal urgency and cultural timeliness.

Eric Farrar

Eric is Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at The University of Texas at Dallas. Eric’s interests center around elegant motion graphic design and techniques for combining music and animation. With a background in music and visual communication design, he completed an MFA in Design with an emphasis in Computer Animation and Visualization working through the Advanced Computing Center for Art and Design (ACCAD) at The Ohio State University. Working at the Los Angeles based visual-effects studio Rhythm & Hues as a character rigger, he created internal motion structures and control systems for digital characters, helping to bring a variety of computer-generated animals and fantasy characters to life. Films on which he worked include Night at the Museum and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. He currently teaches courses in 3D animation and in motion graphics.

Alix Kast

Alix is a student at UT Dallas pursuing her MS in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience, with a specialization in Human-Computer Interaction. She is passionate about design and using technology to better people’s lives. Alix is currently a research coordinator in UT Dallas’ Usability Laboratory and hopes to use her experience to pursue a career in UX and HCI research.



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