Monday, July 27, 2009


Ask the Administrator: Tracking the Elusive Full-Time Business/Management Gig

A new correspondent writes:

I just read your post on full-time English gigs. Is the picture any brighter for those of us with MBAs who want a full-time CC gig [teaching] business/management?

Coming on the heels of the "don't do it!" advice I gave to the prospective English professor, this one is a bit different.

The 'Business' major at the community college level, in my observation, is neither exactly fish nor fowl. It's about the real world, but most of the students who major in business -- and it's typically one of the two or three largest majors at the cc's I know -- transfer to four-year programs upon graduation. Although most cc's that I've seen have some immediately employable options within their Business programs, they're usually either very specific niches (i.e. accounting, culinary) or historical survivals on their way out (i.e. 'administrative professional,' or what used to be called 'secretarial sciences'). Most of the action is in the transfer programs.

(Before the inevitable flaming, I'll just say that my observation may well be regionally specific. I'm told that 'paralegal' programs are still relatively common and viable out West, for example. Here, not so much, since paralegal jobs pay so badly.)

It isn't unusual to see business departments that encompass everything from accounting to computer science to law. The people who teach in these programs, accordingly, tend to be utility infielders (that is, people who can teach more than one thing), and they usually have significant real-world experience. We do very well recruiting from the business world, since we can offer lifestyle, benefit, and stability packages increasingly unlike what tends to be found in the private sector.

The culture of business departments tends to be markedly different from the culture of liberal arts departments. Most of the liberal arts faculty always intended to be college faculty, and many of them have never held significant lengths of employment doing anything else. This is both good (dedication to mission, plenty of focus) and bad (tunnel vision, institutional naivete). Since business faculty tend to have had significant experience in the private sector, they tend to get less caught up in the internal politics of the college. Whether that reflects a healthy sense of perspective, gratitude for knowing just how good they actually have it, or a mercenary sense that there's little to be gained by it, depends on your angle to the universe.

Business faculty often get more opportunities for external consulting gigs and/or noncredit teaching. This, too, may explain their relatively lower profile on campus; they aren't around as much.

The joy in being a business professor is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have the security and benefits of an academic job, and the lucrative consulting opportunities of the private sector. This is especially true in the summer. Even better, opportunities for 'extra' classes tend to be countercyclical to the larger economy, so the moments when consulting gigs fall flat -- that is, recessions -- tend to be the moments when, say, summer classes are the most plentiful.

For those interested in these gigs, though, a couple of caveats:

1. We don't hire many. Part of that is because we don't hire many of anybody, and part of it is that current business departments often comprise people absorbed from earlier programs (secretarial sciences, say) that have gone by the boards.

2. When we do hire, we don't usually hire spanking-new MBA's. We like people who've been in the business world. They bring a certain credibility with students, and in some programs, they can bring valuable contacts.

Admittedly, this is all based on my personal observation, with all the limitations that implies. Folks in the field, or in different parts of the country where things look markedly different, are invited to fill out the picture in the comments.

Good luck!

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

"Since business faculty tend to have had significant experience in the private sector, they tend to get less caught up in the internal politics of the college."

I'm with you on the private sector experience affecting the perspective of business (or similar fields) faculty (sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, depending on the person and the experience they enter with), but I think that faculty no matter what the field get caught up in the internal politics of the institution. Implying that only liberal arts faculty are invested in the institution (to put it nicely) or that they are petty politicking jerks (to put it less nicely) is a pretty unsupportable position. More than that, it does a disservice to liberal arts and non-liberal-arts faculty alike.

For what it's worth, paralegal programs and other similar office credentialing programs are alive and well at CCs in the midwest.
Dr. C - there's a difference between "tend to" and "only." I never took what you describe as the unsupportable position.

Please don't put words in my mouth.
Hmmm . . .

Perhaps "business faculty" tend to *appear* to get less "caught up in the internal politics" simply because they tend to

- Be more goal oriented
- Be more action oriented
- Value execution and completion of projects

which results in some of them perceiving "internal political issues" as being less important than the outcomes sought.

Your Mileage Will Vary of course

"Generalizations are Always Inapt"
Posting from a different region, I'll add my un-informed two cents worth, and use it as a motivation to find out more about that part of our campus.

First up would be to remind the questioner of the need for teaching experience in this area. We try to avoid putting a person in a full-time line who is not going to be an effective teacher for a few decades.

As DD notes, we don't have very many full-time faculty with business degrees, and we are a large CC. Lets just say that we have the same number of physics PhD faculty as we have of MBA business faculty, plus an equal number of accounting CPA faculty.

The vast majority of our business majors are in the AA program, and the only "business" course they are required to take is accounting, which is a pre-req to transfer to a college of business. Some fraction of them will take a general business or management class (which is required in our AS program), usually as a freshman elective to test the waters while taking pre-college math classes.

I don't know anything about the numbers who pursue AS degrees in this area.

BTW, anecdotal "data" from this CC is that one of the business faculty is VERY active in campus politics, while one of the accounting faculty is utterly invisible.
What CC Physicist said: Any cc hiring committee is going to be looking, first and foremost, for a good, experienced TEACHER.

As to the question of business department faculty members' involvement in campus politics, I'd say that it probably varies from campus to campus, but overall, business folks are no more involved or less involved than people in department x, y, or z.

Teaching experience is key. And that means actually having taught full college/university-level courses, not facilitating three-hour training workshops in workplaces or similar settings. Teaching a full-semester course is very different. Experience in new course/curriculum development is good too - don't expect to always have course materials and structures handed to you.

Also, don't waste your time complaining about how things in the education system are so unlike the private sector (which seems to be a frequent issue for instructors with more "practical" than academic experience). Your time will be much more constructively spent learning as much as you can about how things work at your institution.
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