Thursday, December 13, 2007
This week I ran into another of those “the policies make sense, but the application is silly” scenarios. A wonderful, well-credentialed, hardworking, and well-respected leader of the full-time staff asked me about redefining her job so that it would include a half-time teaching component in her field of expertise. (It's a relatively specialized area, and her academic credentials are more than good enough. She has taught courses for us on an adjunct basis, and done an outstanding job.) We're currently doing a search in her field of expertise, so it wouldn't involve creating a job out of thin air.
Under our current system, it can't be done. You can be faculty with release time to do some admin work on the side, or you can be admin/staff and teach as an adjunct. But you can't be half and half. (That's why deans here don't carry faculty rank or tenure. When I teach a class, it's on an adjunct basis.) Your primary function has to be on one side or the other.
Tenure is the single biggest sticking point. Under our system, any full-time employee for whom teaching is a part of their regular job – as opposed to something additional – accrues credits towards tenure. At a certain point, that employee is either awarded tenure or fired. Someone whose job is half faculty and half staff would get tenure in half her job (or get fired from half her job). If the other half of her job didn't work out, she'd have half a job, but with full benefits and lifetime security. From the college's perspective, that doesn't work.
There's also an issue with dual union membership. The staff has one union, and the faculty another. (Each is affiliated with a different larger union, too.) Someone who is half-and-half would be under separate and sometimes conflicting contracts. (She'd also have to pay two sets of dues, though I file that under 'her problem.')
Defining workload would be tricky. It couldn't just be a matter of setting aside, say, six hours a week from the office job to teach. Full-time faculty teach fifteen hours per week, yet get full-time status. We don't count teaching hours on a one-to-one basis towards workload. I don't begrudge that; having been faculty, I understand that class prep and grading and committees take time. As long as someone is purely in a faculty role, it's really a non-issue. But straddling the two camps means having to convert – literally, mathematically, convert – class time to total hours of worktime per week. Nobody really wants to have that conversation, since there's no elegant way to do it. Do you only count semester weeks, or do you factor in summer and winter vacations, too, since staff don't get those? What about preparation days? Sabbaticals? I get a headache just thinking about it.
(These issues don't arise when the staffer works a full-time staff job, then picks up an adjunct course at night. In that case, the adjunct course is paid at the adjunct rate, and that's that. She has done that, but is trying to avoid it to avoid a crushing overall workload.)
The shame of it is that, in many ways, it's a great idea. The students would get the benefit of learning from someone in the field. We'd get the benefit of keeping a great staff person who is also excellent in the classroom. She'd get the benefit of doing what she loves and still getting home at a reasonable hour. And over the long term, I suspect the college as a whole would benefit as some of the negative stereotypes that faculty and staff have of each other would melt away.
The optimist in me says that 'halfway' positions like this make too much sense not to happen eventually. But the realist in me isn't holding my breath.