Monday, March 17, 2008


Ask the Administrator: For Love or Money

A new correspondent writes:

I read your blog, and now I have a question. I am currently teaching as
an adjunct at the local CC (English dept.) -- for the past two years, I
have worked at the Regional University in a series of "temporary full
time" positions, and when no temporary positions were open this year, I
went adjunct.

Two lecturer positions have recently opened at Regional University, and
they are positions I am relatively well qualified for. I am confident
that in a matter of days, their posting will become widely known and
that everyone I know will begin telling me to apply. The problem is
that I hated most minutes of working at the university, and I love,
love, love the CC. At the university, relationships with colleagues
were basically non-existent; at the CC, the faculty are helpful and
open even to the adjuncts. At the university, my students were
sometimes great, but more often were dull and hoping to coast through a
degree their parents wanted for them; at the CC, the students
self-select to either put up or stop showing up. I am not a fan of the
university's lock-step writing program (required texts to teach,
required format for the syllabus, required grade norming once a month);
I am a huge fan of the CC's "as long as you meet the course objectives,
it's ok with us" policy of academic freedom. Beyond that, I just love
the idea of the CC and the student population it seeks to serve. Beyond
that, the CC has many options for professional development that are
unavailable at the university, such as free enrollment in courses that
have been developed purely for the professional development of their
full- and part-time faculty.

So the question is thus: do I apply for a job that, should I get it,
I'm already pretty sure I won't like (since it's just a more permanent
version of a job I did for two years). As I see it, the pros would be
money, benefits, and a higher level of "job experience" than another
year or two of adjuncting might get me. The cons would be hating my
job, working for a university that I deep down feel has screwed me a
bit in terms of employment, and stepping out of the CC where I'd like
to eventually be employed full time.

Would it be better, later on, when hopefully applying for full time
jobs at the CC, if I had been an adjunct for a few years with them,
gotten to know people, taken a few classes, etc.? Or would it look
better to have had a lecturer (non TT) position at a university for a
year or so? Is applying for the job worth it? Are there benefits or
drawbacks I'm not seeing just because, at the end of the day, I really
don't WANT to apply?

“It depends” is a pretty weaselly answer, so instead of saying it directly, I'll get to it via a discussion of things to consider. Readers who have faced similar dilemmas are invited to chime in.

Since you're asking, rather than gritting your teeth and applying, I assume that material circumstances allow you some wiggle room. That isn't always the case, so you're in a good position.

From a cc hiring perspective, either experience would count. If anything, we tend to 'count' cc teaching slightly more, on the assumption that you're more comfortable with our students. However, either is fine, so I wouldn't base a decision on that. Besides, any given position could go any given way on any given day.

(It's also usually the case that beyond the first couple of years, the value of additional teaching experience starts to fall prey to diminishing marginal returns. Since you already have a few years under your belt, another year shouldn't matter much one way or the other.)

Since this is basically a binary decision – apply for the Regional University line or don't – I'll start with my basic, when-all-else-fails method for binary decisions. Flip a coin, and see if you're disappointed in the outcome. If you're disappointed, do the 'losing' choice. Your instincts – which would show up in a sense of disappointment – are smarter than you are, but they can be cagey. Sometimes a simple trick can smoke them out.

It sounds like you've already done that, at some level; you know you don't want to apply to the RU job, but still feel like you 'should.'

There's no 'should.' If you would hate it there – and it sounds like you have good reason to think you would – then don't do it. Life is too short, and self-resentment is toxic. Do the job you love, and leave the other for those who love that.

Among other things, you'll perform better at the job you love than the one you tolerate. Whether it will lead to a full-time cc gig or not, I don't know, but the time you spend actually working will be happier. And you won't find yourself getting gradually sucked into a setting you'd really rather escape.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

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

In some ways, leaving may help you come back full time. Think about it this way, if you are a great adjunct why would they hire you into a full-time job if they had a great outside candidate for that job?? If they hire the outside person, they can now have both you AND the fantastic new person. Leaving them gives them both a chance to miss you AND a reason to put together a full-time position to try to get you back.
I have not been privy to enough hiring decisions to know of what "inside" wrote is relevant or not. I have seen existing adjuncts hired, and I have seen them passed over. Remember, it could matter as much that your weaknesses are known as that your strengths are known.

I'll also say that no one would question your decision to take a job with full benefits, especially if you make a point to tell your CC colleagues what a tough choice it was to trade benefits for those students.

My technique is the old one of drawing a line down the center of a page of paper and putting the pros and cons down on either side. It can help to look at them that way. However, I do think there was some element of "which would dissapoint me the most" in DD's coin flip suggestion that applies to one major decision I had to make. Not all reasons have equal weight.

PS - That observation comparing students at a Regional (e.g. Directional State) University to those at a CC is not an unusual one.
I may be in a similar situation soon, and I plan on applying. I don't want to make the assumption that I know it all about the as-yet-to-be-posted job or the department (even though I've taught in the department before as an adjunct) before I've a) seen the ad, b) put my hat in the ring and c) actually had an interview. If nothing else I will have put myself out there and, if I'm lucky enough to get an interview, had the opportunity to go through the process. Then if I'm offered the position (and this is a big if) I can make a decision based on the new information, not just what I learned as a part-timer.

Surely this is a better position from which to decide? And you look a lot better to any potential employer if you already have a job with security.
How about trying for the FT job, and if you get it, teaching the occasional class for the CC to keep your toe in the water? Were I on the future CC hiring committee, that would send me the clear message that all along, you wanted to teach at a CC--which we love to see.
I'm going to be blunt: Unless you're a trust fund kid, stop dorking around with part-time jobs.

ONLY pursue gull-time jobs that provide health and dental insurance, a decent salary, and some modest pension plan. The adjuncting should be a stop-gap only, not a career path.

When Marty Feldstein (Daddy Bush's chief of economic advisors) says this recession is the worst since WWII, he means the worst since the Great Depression.

Stop dorking around on this, or you're going to get flattened.

The luxury of weighing your options very, very, carefully just died.
Apply for the job and use it as leverage for the CC if you get it.

You aren't required to take an offer if you get it, so you're sacrificing next to nothing by honestly applying.
Calugg has a good point that adjuncting isn’t supposed to be a permanent situation. Let’s say you get the job. You might surprise yourself and end up liking the job. On the other hand, you might confirm your suspicions that you really are a CC kind of person. Or the U might realize in the interview process that you’re a CC kind of person and not make an offer.

I agree with PM that applying doesn’t mean committing to accepting the job if offered, but I do know that at my CC, there’s no way to use an offer from one place as leverage at our place. Once you get an offer elsewhere, my CC’s attitude is, “Fine. Go.” Also, my CC doesn’t have the attitude expressed by Inside the Philosophy Factory that good adjuncts should be kept as adjuncts because it’s a better deal to have a new full time person and a great adjunct. We try to hire great adjuncts as full timers when we can and 2/3 of our new full time hires have been adjuncts.

Applying is a good exercise even if you don’t get the job. Writing a cover letter and updating your CV will remind you of what an asset you are and of what your strengths and weaknesses are.

In any case, I don’t see any reason to not apply. Applying is not a commitment. Accepting an offer—which hasn’t been made and may not be—is. Worry about making the commitment when the U offers a commitment.
First, Apply of the Job. Second, get the job. Third decide to accept the job or not. You can always use the the offer to try to get a better deal at the CC. And it's not like you can't go back to adjuncting if you decide that's what you want to do. But before you need to worry about the decision you need to get the job.
Piet Hein said the same thing as DD, but in rhyme:
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