Adair’s research interests are studying representations of women on welfare, and analyzing the impact of welfare reform, education, and public policy. Adair was the founder and director of the ACCESS Project, a pilot program that assists disadvantaged parents in their efforts to earn college degrees.
She is the author of From Good Ma to Welfare Queen, A Genealogy of the Poor Woman in American Literature, Photography and Culture (Garland 2000) and the co-editor of Women, Poverty and the Promise of Education in America (Temple University Press, 2003). She has also written articles that have appeared in Harvard Educational Review; Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society; Feminist Studies; Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas; Pedagogy; Public Voices; Radical Teacher; On Campus with Women: Journal of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and as numerous book chapters.
In 2000 Adair received the John L. Hatch Teaching Award, awarded each year to a Hamilton faculty member "who demonstrates extraordinary commitment to teaching." In 2002 she was appointed as the Elihu Root Peace Fund Professor in Women's Studies, and in 2004 she was named the CASE/Carnegie New York State Professor of the Year, the first women’s studies professor in the nation to receive this honor.