Monday, December 19, 2005


Ask the Administrator: Should I Save Myself Until Tenure-Track?

A faithful correspondent writes:


I am an adjunct who has applied for one of three FT postions this fall at my school. I have a year of adjunct teaching under my belt. I applied for and, today, was offered a FT position at a not-for-profit. As an adjunct, I have to waitress 2 nights/week to make ends meet, and even then, I am remarkably poor.

What I really want to do is teach full-time. I really like teaching. I love my students, and for the first time, I feel engaged and challenged at a job. I have an MA in (my field) and have held several corporate jobs, which were always a drag. I was constantly late, not motivated, etc.

In contrast, I love the details about academia, even at the cc level. I love that the bottom line of teaching is getting students to learn (usually). My students seem to really like me and my evaluations are generally very positive. It may sound cliche, but I honestly think I may have found my calling. I know there are politics that muck things up, but the end result makes the downside tolerable for me. In the corporate world, the little things (meetings, the dress code, etc) irritated me. For the most part, these things don't bother me in academia. They either make sense to me or don't apply.

After I was offered the (non-profit) position, I talked to my dept. head. She said I am in the running for one of the FT positions, but--obviously--she could make no guarantees. She said my name was one they would be passing on to the hiring committee, but, ulimately, it was their decision. Fortunately, one of our well-respected profs just wrote me a letter of recommendation.

My questions are: if I take the (non-profit) job, in your estimation, will that hurt my chances for getting one of the full-time positions next fall? Would it be better for me to be around this spring and summer? Or would people understand that I had to take the job for money and still be willing to hire me?

I know the answers may vary based on the people involved, etc. But, in your opinion, what do you think? If I'm serious (and want to appear that way) about teaching and have my best possible shot at one of the positions, should I continue as an adjunct and eat ramen noodles? Or can I make a bit of money selling my soul in hopes the hiring committee will call me for an interview?


I can understand the hesitation to take the non-profit position, since it runs counter to the sacrifice-everything-for-academia ethos in which we’re inculcated. But I strongly recommend that you take the non-profit job.

I don’t see why taking the non-profit job would disqualify you for the faculty position. If anything, it forces the college to make a choice. The economic logic of ‘why buy the cow if you can get the milk for almost free?’ works against loyal adjuncts; if your loyalty can’t be assumed, then they know they have to step up or risk losing you.

The dept. head sounds commendably honest; she’s telling you that the job is not a sure thing. Believe her. Don’t give up hope – it sounds like you have a pretty good shot, although anything can happen – but don’t give up the opportunity to support yourself, either.

From a hiring perspective, I can’t really see how taking the non-profit job would work against you. At most, if you gave absolute last-minute notice about backing out of Spring classes, that might hurt, but I’ve never heard of a college blaming an adjunct for finding a full-time job. (It has probably happened somewhere, but I’ve never seen it.)

Flipped around – if they did hold it against you, that would tell you something useful about the attitude of your prospective employer. When you’re doing the ramen noodle thing, any job looks better than no job, but once you’re ensconced for a while, dysfunctional office politics can really wear you down. If they’re dysfunctional enough to punish you for trying to feed yourself, better to find that out now. Take care of yourself, and let the chips fall where they may.

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

Take the job! I would assume that working as a professional, full time, would actually make you a more attractive candidate.
My only concern for your questioner would be whether her field or the FT jobs she's looking at have any research requirement at all. I'm at a research U, and I can imagine that if I left the field for a better paying job, it would be extremely difficult for me to get another FT job because I hadn't been doing any research for a year. But if these are primarily teaching jobs, then it probably doesn't matter that much, right?
a bird in the hand is worth . . . . esp. when faced with eating ramen noodles . . .
I agree. Take the job.

Interestingly, I just had lunch today with a full-time faculty member at a local community college, who had previously worked full-time in non-profit social service agencies.

A few years ago, the cc offered her the opportunity to teach a course as an adjunct for a few semesters, which she enjoyed as a supplement to her fulltime job at the nonprofit. To her surprise, when a fulltime position opened up, the dean encouraged her to apply and she wound up getting the full-time teaching position, which she loves.
FYI: I took the not-for-profit job. And I traded in my three spring classes for one saturday class, so I'm feeling pretty good about my decision. Thank you all for your advice. Particularly DeanDad, you advice cinched my decision. And now I can buy a few Xmas presents (on credit). Thanks again.
Adjunctgrrl: I'm a bit late for the comment to do any good, but: Right decision. Way to go.

Dean Dad was exactly right: any college that would hold this decision against you is not a place you want to work.

The way I see it, it's a win-win. Maybe you'll like nonprofit work better than teaching. Or, if you do prefer the teaching, the nonprofit experience will make you more well-rounded and better in the classroom. And, either way, you're making more money in the meantime. (Living for money is not good for the soul, but constantly scraping by on ramen noodles is, IMO, corrosive to the soul too.)
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