Tuesday, August 08, 2006

 

Ask the Administrator: A Bird in the Hand...

A place-bound correspondent writes:

I applied for a tenure-track position at a CC this spring, and was told that I was the top candidate, but the TT search was cancelled, and they are now authorized to offer me a one-year position. There is a possibility the one-year position will be renewed, or that they will conduct the TT search again, in which case the department chair told me I'd be the top candidate. Here's my dilemma: I'm currently in a full-time administrative position (with teaching duties) at the director level. I've never taught at a CC before. If I took the one-year position, I'd be giving up a certain amount of job security (and the familiarity of a four-year institution). But I'd really like to move into faculty (I just earned my Ph.D.), and I think I would like a CC, although that remains to be seen. I'm willing to continue my research if I must, but my heart's not really in it. I'm trying to figure out if the risk is worth it. I wish I knew the likelihood that either the one-year would get renewed or that the department would get authorized to do the TT search again (and that I'd remain the top candidate). Any insights or advice?


In a subsequent email, she clarified that the cc is relatively local, and that she’s place-bound for the foreseeable future.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that when a college changes a tenure-track line to a one-year line late in the game, it’s a sign of trouble (usually financial). The college wants you to believe that the switch is little more than a formality, but from an admin perspective, I can tell you that those switches aren’t made lightly. Red flag number 1.

Red flag number 2 is the assumption by the chair (maybe even in naïve good faith) that you’d automatically be the top candidate if the line goes tenure-track in a year. It’s possible, of course, but every public college I know would be obligated to do a new full search for what would amount to a new position. You came out on top this time; there’s no guarantee that you would next time. That’s assuming that the line gets converted at all. (Renewal to a second year is another story; that wouldn’t require a new search, but again, there’s no guarantee it would happen at all.)

Right now, you hold the cards. You have a job, so you don’t need the cc position to feed yourself. The department wants you, even if the college overall is lukewarm on the position (which is almost certainly NOT a judgment about you). You have options.

If you take the cc job, though, you suddenly become the powerless one. You lose the secure gig, and suddenly getting renewed or converted is a bread-and-butter issue for you. Your bargaining power is shot, and the fact that you’re place-bound means that, if the cc doesn’t come through after the first year, you could well be left without anything desirable next year. (Some locations have more opportunities than others, so your mileage may vary.) Even if it comes through with a renewal or t-t conversion, your bargaining power for salary is essentially zero, since they’ve got you right where they want you.

I’m also concerned that you’ve never taught at a cc before. Depending on the four-year school at which you’re currently working, you may find the teaching environment surprisingly different. (You’ll also find the teaching load surprisingly high.) If you discover that it isn’t to your taste, next year, you’re stuck.

You’re in the enviable position right now of being able to play hardball. Use it. My two cents: tell the cc it’s the tenure-track position they advertised, or nothing. The beauty of that is that you can actually follow through on it either way. You have a good job now, so if the cc just can’t commit, you’re no worse off than you are now. Next year, you can use your current job as a perch from which to find something else you really want.

Teaching is a great job, but it’s a job. It’s not a religious calling, and you shouldn’t feel the need to wear the hair shirt. If the college can’t commit to not firing you next Spring, I wouldn’t leave a solid job for it.

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

Comments:
Good analysis, as always. This actually validated my thinking on a similar employment decision I'm facing right now.

Also, I've had the opportunity to teach essentially the same course at a prestigious 4-year college and a CC, and the difference in my enjoyment really was night and day. Based on that experience, the idea of teaching at a CC full time would give me pause.
 
I would advise your correspondent to teach a course at a CC (not necessarily the one jerking her around), if possible, to familiarize herself to the environment. Like Jon stated before me, she may not find that an optimal environment for her. Or she may love it and then she will have a better idea of where to focus her job search.
 
As someone who has taught at both CCs and 4-year colleges and universities, I really agree that the correspondent should teach some courses at a CC before making it their career.

Generally, CC students are less well-prepared and more challenged in other ways than the traditional 4-year student. Taking on a CC class on-top of their usual work duties will give some idea of what it feels like to teach at a CC as well, as the workload is high.
 
Great response, especially your explanation. It really helps to see the reasoning explained so well.

Thanks for another great posting. (Did I mention I'm glad you're back from vacation?)
 
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