Justifications allow professors to teach courses based on experience


    While most professors at the university can hang a degree on the wall of their office verifying that they are qualified to teach all their courses, some cannot.

    However, an instructor can teach a course outside of their degree field if they have enough experience to qualify them, said Catherine Wehlburg, assistant provost for institutional effectiveness.

    Most full-time faculty at the university possess a terminal degree in their teaching field, which is the highest qualification offered in an area of study, usually a doctorate.

    If an instructor does not have a terminal degree, the department their course falls under must file a justification form explaining why the instructor is qualified, Wehlburg said. The justification details the instructor’s background, including work history, research and other experiences that qualify the individual to teach the course.

    For example, choral music and music theory instructor Amy Stewart has been performing music from a young age. She said she started her music career by touring with her family and singing on the soundtrack for children’s storybooks. From there, she progressed to performing four times in Carnegie Hall.

    However, Stewart’s doctorate is in worship studies, which means she does not have the correct degree to teach many courses in the School of Music. The department filed justifications to enable her to teach the jazz ensemble and ear training.

    “Having heard it and done it, I can help my students hear and do it,” she said.

    The John V. Roach Honors College had to file a justification to allow Daniel Terry to co-teach a course titled Identity, Purpose and Transformation.

    His experience working with students as a director with Student Development Services and his research on moral development qualified him to teach the course, Terry said.

    Terry, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said having experience in a subject widens the perspective of the whole class.

    “It gives me a different way to think about topics in class beyond how elegant a theory sounds,” Terry said. “It leads to having richer conversations.”

    Katie Knight, a junior finance major, is currently enrolled in Terry’s class. Knight said she thinks the professor’s experience is as important as a degree.

    “The degree is important to understand the bigger issues, but experience is, I think, is what gives it a meaningful, extra touch,” she said.

    About 20 percent of the adjuncts hired by the university to teach each year require justification in order to lead a course, said Ann Sewell, associate provost for academic planning and budgeting. That figure does not include faculty members who teach courses that require justification.

    However, both Sewell and Wehlburg said the number of justified instructors does not bother them because it allows departments to ensure that the best possible candidate is teaching each course.