Thursday, January 22, 2009

 

Ask the Administrator: The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight

A new correspondent writes:

The letter about the horrible adjunct struck a cord for me, but for a very different reason. I am an adjunct at a local community college and it while I have enjoyed it, and learned a lot about what works and what doesn't in the CC classroom, I can't help but wonder if there aren't more 'horrible adjuncts' out there. I can imagine there are, because although I believe I am competent and capable, I have never had an official evaluation (in fact, no one has ever come to watch me teach), nor are there official student evaluations of courses. And that doesn't even begin to address the issues with the dean, who has told instructors that students shouldn't be called out for texting in class and has accused others of racism for questioning the removal of basic English language competency requirements, or for failing students who stop showing up to class.

So I guess my question is, where does one go when it seems the whole college is one giant lump of incompetence? And yes, this is partly selfish, because the school I'm teaching at is on the brink of losing its accreditation, and how does that look on a CV? But more than that, I worry about the students who pay good money, and think that they are getting an education, when what they are getting may or may not be.


Been there.

The short answer is, you go someplace else.

Back at Proprietary U, at least toward the end of my time there, there was a single-minded focus on finding excuses to pass students. Since the place was tuition-driven and enrollment was dropping, the idea was that anything that encouraged attrition – like, say, failing students – was bad for business.

(In fairness, that attitude wasn't there when enrollments were growing. It was a stupid response to a crisis, rather than a stupid philosophical position.)

For a while, I tried fighting the good fight from within. I argued up the chain that graduating incompetent people would permanently devalue the degree, thereby precluding the possibility of recovery. I tried to shift the focus from 'punishing faculty' to 'supporting students,' even going so far as to do a PowerPoint presentation (and I hate PowerPoint presentations) to senior management about the effects of inappropriate 'cut scores' on student success. And I grabbed any extenuating nugget I could, and used it until it just couldn't be used any more.

And I lost. The direction was set from on high, and the direction was to retain by any means necessary.

When I got wind of some particularly objectionable directives that, had I stayed, I would have had to implement, I knew it was time to go. The organization was a lot bigger than I was, and its leadership had a clear, if mistaken, sense of what it wanted. So I sent out c.v.'s, and took the first reasonable offer I received.

Put differently, this is what a bad 'fit' looks like from the employee side.

The top brass at PU was wrong, in my view, in some pretty fundamental ways. But it had the right to be wrong. Those calls fell within its purview. If it wanted to hollow out the organization's reason to exist, it could. I just didn't want to be a part of that.

Adjuncting is a lousy gig in any number of well-documented ways, but at least it's an easy gig to leave without having to have some awkward conversations.

Depending on how bad the place is, though, you might be able to salvage some useful nuggets before you go. If you can find a thoughtful (or at least reasonable) person there with some kind of title, you might be able to swing a decent letter of recommendation. I've had adjuncts request class observations specifically for that purpose, and I've gone along with the requests I've received. If you're leaving, others probably are, too, and some of them may land in interesting and/or useful places. Maintain the positive contacts you've built, if any.

I wouldn't worry overly much about resume stain from having adjuncted there. In this market, it's widely understood that academics in evergreen disciplines generally take what they can get.

For the record, hearing of deans who treat faculty this way really grinds my gears. The stereotypes of emptyheaded administrators are bad enough without providing empirical confirmation. And memories of bad behavior linger much longer, and more strongly, than memories of good. If we had a deans' union, I'd want these folks kicked out of it.

The good news is that not all community colleges are run this way. The grass really is greener.

Alas.

Good luck with your situation. I don't envy you.

Wise and worldly readers – how have you handled situations in which it seemed that everybody else drank the Kool-Aid?

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

Comments:
Admin wants author to not: "[fail] students who stop showing up to class."

If your students are receiving federal aid, it's a violation of federal law not to fail students who quit showing up at a certain point. (We now have to differentiate "fail" from "failed b/c didn't show up" for reporting requirements.)

I don't know how many options you have, but if you have other ones, I'd get out of a place that's so unconcerned with its federal aid standing that it's violating federal laws to pass students.
 
Just pass everyone, do the best you can in teaching them (comment on papers very intently), give A's to everyone who shows up and hands in stuff, B's to everyone else, and take your paltry money and live your life and have fun without working too hard.

Who in blazes are you, a peon making, what, a crappy $2,000 a course, to question things?

Don't be a moron.
 
I gotta say, I like Anon's attitude. Give 'em what they're paying you for.
 
I have finally learned to enjoy adjuncting, since I once interviewed for full-time and witnessed all the non-teaching requirements. With the age of the Internet I find it possible to keep in contact with students outside of the class.

I also worked for a prop. u. and am glad I left. It got so bad that I was hoping for the school to be investigated and lose its accreding. There were not standards for hiring, pay was not equal across any department and the quality of student was less and less - I'm talking criminal records. You either have to leave or keep your mouth shut and do the best you can.
 
One problem this adjunct instructor is experiencing is a lack of proper evaluation. I too had this issue when I started out teaching nights at Too-Far-Away-CC. One solution is to conduct your own student evaluations so that you will have a record of your (presumably) good teaching skills. There are a number of standardized student survey instruments out there that you could use, such as those from The IDEA Center (www.theideacenter.org). It would cost about $25/class to purchase the forms and have them process and analyze the results (relative to other instructors in their database). This might be money well spent when it comes time to document your teaching skills to your new employer.
 
I have a packet of Kool-Ade on my bulletin board, just in case.

I second the "go somewhere else" advice. One of our adjuncts came here from a place with a similar approach to grading and has been quite happy as a result. If that reputation is well known locally, it might even help your application to mention why you left the other place. Shows you have academic integrity.

But I wonder if this person could also go to the accrediting agency. Do they have a mechanism for external comment about an institution, if only to get whistle-blower inside information on what to look for when visiting that campus? Does anyone know?
 
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