Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ask the Administrator: What Fresh Hell is This?

A new correspondent asks for help decoding a job ad:

I would like to solicit input from you and your audience concerning a position posted recently by my employer, a medium- community college in a rural area. They are looking for someone to coordinate services for adjunct faculty. This is a new position, so there’s not any track record about how serving in that capacity might affect one’s career path. Salary/benefits, while not great, are consistent (as near as I can tell) with other positions of similar rank/function at the college.

One issue worth considering is the overall climate at my institution. The college is undergoing a lot of change, both at the very top and within various divisions. For example, the dean over the division where this job resides is retiring. Other areas of the college also have lame ducks or brand-new leaders. All these changes have created a great deal of turmoil. My current position keeps me out of the loop to some extent, which has the advantage of keeping me out of the line of fire, but it also leaves me with less information than I’d like.

My interest in this position is fueled mainly by the fact that it is full-time, which my current position is not. I would bring to the table 4 years of adjunct teaching experience plus a previous (full-time) position as a faculty trainer in a grant position, and I have the requested educational background.

My question is twofold:

1) Do I even want this job? Yes, it’s full-time with benefits (no small thing), but it has the potential to be a chance to be the whipping boy for everyone’s frustrations with the system, with no real funding or authority to make any changes of substance. Moreover, the job would include visits to satellite centers, so there would be some degree of road time. I could be stepping on to an exhausting treadmill. Alternately, it might be a vehicle for real change within the limits of the possible, but it’s not clear which.

2) If pursuing this IS a good idea, what would be points I should raise during an interview? Include both points I should raise when selling myself for the job, and points I should mention so they can sell themselves to me.

In addition to all the leadership mess, an additional complication would be the fiscal climate at the state level. State leadership has been abysmal, with our leaders spending more time posturing and stabbing one another in the back than doing anything to benefit the citizenry. (An earlier version of this email gave far too much detail. Sadly, however, the above statement does NOT rule out very many locations).

I'll admit, I've never seen quite this combination of duties before. It looks like a cross between “evening/weekend dean” and “instructional specialist,” maybe laced with some wishful thinking.

At Proprietary U, the full-time faculty reported to academic deans, each of whom specialized in one part of the curriculum. (I was the token liberal arts guy. Among other duties, I became the unofficial proofreader for most official documents. In a parallel universe, I'm a pretty good copy editor.) In addition to the academic deans, there were 'evening and weekend' deans, whose job it was to keep a lid on the evening and weekend programs. The lines of jurisdiction there got murky, since the evening and weekend deans were responsible across every curriculum, but couldn't be experts in everything. So the daytime curricular deans (often with the help of faculty coordinators in specialized areas) would make the adjunct hires, but the evening/weekend admins had to deal with them. Over time, their jobs morphed into something like 'keepers of the adjuncts.' That's a terminal position, really, since doing it well involves nobody noticing, but mistakes are conspicuous. The usual upward path on the academic side typically involves moving through content areas.

That said, if you're at a college in a great degree of flux, it's always possible to make your mark and move in ways that ordinarily couldn't be done. And you're certainly right that salary-and-benefits is much more attractive than adjunct pay and praying for good health.

What I wouldn't do is look at the job as an opportunity to effect change from the inside. Unless I'm misreading badly (which is possible), this doesn't look like a policymaking position. It looks more like an operational position, where your job is to smooth out the quotidian details so the adjuncts can focus on teaching. That's no small thing; even the most brilliant pedagogue can be derailed by a book order gone missing, a contract misplaced, or the ever-present Temperamental Photocopier. I'm guessing that your college has made the policy decision (for all the usual reasons) to go with a substantial adjunct population, so it's trying to make that work as best it can. Your job would be to make that happen.

If you go in thinking that you'll persuade the college to see the light and make everybody full-time, I foresee doom. But if you can see the daily good of smoothing the road for the faculty you do have, and you're willing to see this as an experiment that may or may not lead somewhere, then give it a shot.

Your experience adjuncting there is an excellent source to draw upon for the interview. What daily logistical issues got in your way? Other than crappy pay and job insecurity, what did the adjuncts gripe about to each other? What could you imagine fixing without a huge new infusion of money? If you can cast yourself as 'problem solver,' rather than 'crusader,' you'll likely be an attractive candidate.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.