Monday, August 10, 2009


Ask the Administrator: In a Holding Pattern

A new correspondent writes:

I’m writing you for advice because recently I’ve run into a brick wall in my job as an adjunct English instructor at a community college. First off, I have been employed with this institution for over four years (and have a total of seven years of teaching experience). For the first couple years I taught only two night classes since I had a day job with health benefits. During this time a position was openly advertised and I interviewed for the position. I did not get the position, but was told by members of the committee that they wanted to offer the person that received the job and I both jobs (this was impossible of course because of budgetary considerations). According to members of the committee the other person got the nod because she had been around longer than I had. I was okay with this decision because I could understand it. Luckily for me, I came into a small sum of money a few months after this, which allowed me to step down from working full-time in retail and teach 5-7 classes a semester, which I did for two years. During these two years, I worked at the writing center tutoring students, served on a committee that revamped the exit exam in (comp 1) and piloted the program for two semesters, and served on a college-wide committee focused on rewarding invitational education. I also was tapped to give a talk to potential adjuncts about how great the institution is and why they should get involved in teaching at the local community college. I thought, and was often told, I was doing everything right in regards to getting a full-time position (which is my dream job and I live in what I would call my dream area).

Recently an internal position was offered in the English department. I applied as soon as possible. To make sure everything was in order I called a couple days after personally dropping off my application. Everything was fine until I called to find out where the process was and was informed that I did not even get an interview. From talking to someone on the committee, all they could tell me is their process and that I have no recourse. The process was ticking off minimum requirements for the position and then checking off a box on whether or not I should be interviewed. The ballots were tallied by the HR department and calls were made regarding the interviews. From what I know, of the people that applied I have been employed longer at the institution and I fulfilled all of the minimum requirements for the position (no preferred requirements were listed).

The one silver lining is that the retail establishment I used to work full-time with has offered me back my old job. I am taking back this job because I need health insurance, but this means I have to go back to teaching only a couple night classes each semester.

The big question I have for you is what should I do?

The short answer is take the retail gig. English is enough of an employer's market that trying to wait out a single employer is a fool's errand. Get the health insurance, cut back on the teaching, and take some time to reflect.

The 'internal' posting is interesting. Typically, we define 'internal' as meaning 'currently working here full-time.' If we're creating a new full-time opening, we advertise externally as well. If you applied as an adjunct for a truly internal posting, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that you didn't get it.

(I'll add, too, that it can be difficult for committee members to answer the 'why didn't you pick me?' question. Assume that twenty candidates met the minimum criteria. You aren't going to interview all twenty. Clearing the minima doesn't guarantee anything. The truthful answer might be that other candidates cleared the bar by a larger margin, or offered some new skill set that you didn't, or whatever. Rather than adding insult to injury, committee members will often go with vagueness, and honestly, I don't blame them.)

It seems clear that your current cc isn't going to hire you full-time -- for whatever reason -- anytime soon. Whether that's morally right or wrong is irrelevant. It just doesn't seem to be in the cards. So my quick advice to you would be to start looking at other options. Seniority there isn't doing you any demonstrable good, and I'd hate to see you become embittered. Start thinking about other options, and about how to position yourself to be able to take advantage of them.

First thoughts, anyway. Wise and worldly readers -- what would you add/change/correct?

Good luck!

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

It's a crappy response from a personal point, but if you're giving all this service as an adjunct why would they want to hire you FT?

I mean... you're doing all the work of a FT person at 1/2 the price, if they can then hire someone else and keep you doing all that work that's like a double-bonus from their perspective.

So, yes, get out of that gig, take the retail spot and try again while only teaching a couple courses.
mthgeek said:

"you're doing all the work of a FT person at 1/2 the price"

I'll second that. I find educational and non-profit organizations to be the worst offenders of this practice. More so than for-profit companies.

While I would love to work in an educational setting; I just cannot afford to "subsidize" their organization.

The advice from DeanDad to take the retail gig and take some time to reflect I think is good advice. You don't want to become "embittered" (to use DeanDad's choice of words) as that will, no matter how hard you try otherwise, show up in your teaching.

On a personal note, if it were me that gave a speech about how great the organization is and then was passed over I would certainly be very embittered. I don't like to be "used"; especially in a very obvious way. In fact, I would not have given the speech until I was made fulltime.

Sometimes a "dream job" just isn't that great.

P.S. DeanDad, I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now. This is my first time posting a comment. As one who is looking for a tech coach type position in an educational setting I find your blog posts to be very interesting. Thanks!
Don't let them schedule you like a full-timer, expect the service of a full-timer and then not hire you.

Take the retail job, think about teaching and get some distance. Look around for other opportunities (training for the retailer, perhaps?) to exercise your teaching impulse. Remember, that the ability to teach is a skill like any other and you should be compensated for it.
As usual, I agree with DD's advice, as far as it goes.

I would add: if you happen to be a member of a protected class, and you have reason to believe that you are more qualified than those selected for interviews, talk with an attorney. Do not get your hopes up, and think long and hard about filing suit even if an attorney tells you that you have a case -- but it is always good to know your options.
I don't have much to add except that the first casualty in lean economic times seems always to be the most vulnerable, no matter how much good they're doing for the university. For your own sanity and peace of mind, get out now. Perhaps you could be a corporate trainer for the retail company? Better money and maybe you'd get to travel. Good luck.
I hope you got separately compensated for the time spent on that committee. If not, you got robbed.

In any case, you should cut down to one section at night with the "excuse" that you need to adjust to your new full-time job. Which is what you need to focus on anyway, after investing your own money in their college for two years with no return on that investment.
Not to me-too, here, but I'm with DD and the other commenters. What you've been doing for two years is acting like a full-time faculty member without the benefits...a classic case of getting the milk for free. They've just told you that they're not even going to ask how much the cow costs. Either they're just not that into you, or they figure you'll keep working for them out of love. Either way, bad deal for you.

I also like several commentors' suggestion to try corporate training, but I'd try thinking even farther outside the box. I'd think about not teaching at all for a semester or two, and then see whether you miss it or not. Spend a year really thinking about the possibility of doing something else with your life, as opposed to being in a holding pattern waiting for one corner of academia to finally notice how great you are.

It's possible to get too twisted up by what other people seem to be expecting of you, so much so that you forget what it is that makes you happy. Plus, there is so much of the world you haven't explored yet...are you sure that what you actually want to do, out of the whole wide world, is teach English at this specific community college?
I would also take the retail job. To hell with being used and used and used. If the person hired was not more qualified than you and you belong to a protected class , then seek legal help.

Is it a case of "reverse" discrimination? There was a recent case that was being looked at.

Sometimes you just have to give up. It's not a dream job unless you are appreciated and paid a living wage.
I concur with what the other posters have said. I also have a slightly different take on things.

Throughout my 20s, I was dying to be a music prof. I did what I could to make that happen, but.....well, music profs are like English profs, more than plentiful. So, I gave up on music. Instead, I went to graduate school (again), this time picking up Ph.D. in a professional area that had chronic shortages of faculty (that was related to what I was already doing).

BINGO! Once I was done (and published), a job was mine at a great school and locale. It was and is a far better situation than I could have EVER had as a musician.

The adjunct route is the fastest way I know to have a stressful (and stressed out) life. You have multiple skills....use them, cultivate them, and HONOR them.

Sometimes, the field really does turn its back on you (just speaking from my humble experience as a formerly starving musician).
I'd take the retail job and tell your department you're not interested in teaching anymore. Who needs it after the way you've been treated? Why would you want to work there? Don't you have any self-respect?

Well, no, obviously not, given all you've done.

I work as little as possible as an adjunct, just show up, give assignments and give way-inflated grades. I let classes go early, have fun with the students, and don't let anything ruffle me. Because I know I can be let go at any time and it doesn't pay to do anything more than the absolute minimum. I have years of experience and I'm really smart, and I've discovered that my working at 65% beats a lot of the newer, less skilled, less smart adjuncts do when they're giving 100%. (A lot of English comp adjuncts are really among the stupidest people, in terms of skills, knowledge, common sense, and emotional intelligence I have ever met).

Forget about getting a full-time job teaching English. Enjoy your new/old position. They want you back! They think well of you! They're treating you wonderfully! They're giving you health insurance!

You must be one of the stupider adjuncts if you don't leave.
There is no path from being an adjunct to full time at some institutions. It does not happen.
I'm sorry that this has happened to you. I can understand that it is frustrating.

I don't think I would take as negative a stance as everyone else. I can understand why you put in the time and effort to do this, and know many others who have, too.

That said, I agree with the advice to reflect on whether or not you want to continue teaching. And, if you do, is it possible that you would consider applying for jobs elsewhere? When you apply narrowly for jobs and are limited by location, it is often very difficult to find jobs. Counting on the one school is very difficult, since you never know who else will be applying from the outside.

Either way, though, the job market is very difficult, especially in English. I told my husband that it was like trying to make the NBA - even if I'm really good, there just aren't enough positions out there for everyone who is good.

I highly recommend not continuing full-time adjuncting. Sorry!
Leave. Leave as soon as possible. As in... Now. I was just on a hiring committee for Comp. at my institution. We have an adjunct that we granted an interview to just because he's been with us for the past two years (and started a new campus newspaper). He was the bottom of the five we interviewed. We didn't even consider him for an offer. He didn't have the strongest qualifications, anywhere near the best teaching demonstration, and his personality didn't seem a great match to the department.

All that said, I have no idea what other committee members might have told him afterwards. Did they lead him on into thinking he was "the next best candidate"? Dunno. Maybe.

He will probably never get a full time job here because of a personality conflict. Will anyone tell him that? Probably not. He won't ask me because I was the token non-english faculty on the committee.

I don't know how much of this applies to you but you would be hard pressed to have someone tell you the truth. GET OUT NOW. You have a full time job offer from a company that clearly liked you so much they want you back. What is the question here???
There is definitely something in the masochistic tone of this adjunct that is bringing out the sadism in the responders. My first impulse yesterday was to pile on in unrestrained terms about cluelessness. But I killed my post. Today, however:

Here are a few stylistic problems in this email that set my teeth on edge and make me savage and that may have something to do with why this adjunct is going back to retail.

* "First off..." First off?

* "First couple years..." Use those prepositions!

"...openly advertised..." Is there some secret advertising place?

* "the person...and I..." "And me," f'heavensake!

* "small sum of money...." Coy! Give us some detail. Your small and mine may be quite different.

* "in regards to..." Best regards!

* "which is my dream job and I live in what I would call my dream area" Parallelism? Non seq?

* "personally dropping off my application" Why "personally"? You could hardly say 'dropping it off via USPS.'

* "Everything was fine until...." What? You were losing the job while 'everything was fine.' You were in ignorance-is-bliss territory, not the same place as "fine."

* "a couple days after..." See above.

* "From talking to someone on the committee, all they could tell me is their process and that I have no recourse." You can write a better sentence than that! One I don't have to read twice to understand.

* "From what I know, of the people that applied I have been employed longer at the institution and I fulfilled all of the minimum requirements for the position (no preferred requirements were listed)." Ditto.
I totally agree with person who said give 65% and then go home above. That's what I do. And I get great evals, which is the real name of the game to remain employed.
I think there is much to be said for doing what you think will make you happiest in the long term. Having worked for several years in a place where I too am unlikely to ever have a permanent tenure track position, I feel your pain. But I know why I'm here and one saving grace about my position is that no one has mislead me about my chances of getting a tenure track job (which are zero). I have no illusions about my position and that leaves me free to think about walking away without regret if another better opportunity comes along.

You no doubt feel that you are walking away from a lifelong dream by going back to retail. But I think we get conditioned in the academy to do crazy things to stay in the ivory tower. Because we are not allowed (because of the demands of our scholarship and the prejudice of our peers) to explore options outside of the academy, we often dismiss them as potential options out of ignorance more than anything else. That many professors devalue careers outside of the academy, time with family, time for personal projects, and seem content living on poverty level salaries doesn't help the situation.

Moving on is painful but I think for you it might be time to consider it. Perhaps you would be happy as an adjunct "forever". But if you would not be, I would explore other options. As a hard working and smart person, you do have other things you can do with your time and you might find that you enjoy them as much or more than what you are doing now. Walking away might be the best thing you ever do.
If you are serving on committees and then not getting hired, you are getting information about reciprocity. It's up to you whether or not you use it.

If I were the department, and I saw you putting up with this, there's no way I would ever hire you. I'm getting everything I possibly want at adjunct wages, and you might change if you got any kind of security.
Wayupnorth, I believe that post officially qualifies you for magnificent bastard status.
Anonymous : 11:51 AM

I felt like a shitheel as soon as I posted and quick wrote dd asking that he dump it, but too late, alas, and no such luck. I apologize for being such an asshole and the next time I feel crusadery will try harder and more successfully to restrain myself.
Okay, I held off for a day but I just have to get my two cents in. I work at a place where the majority of our FT hires come from out PT ranks. We love brining PTers into the FT ranks when we can--we know them and can feel much more confident that we won't get unpleasant surprises. The PTers who serve on committees and get involved in other ways are able to talk about our institution and its challenges and good points far more cogently than outside candidates or PTers who give "65%" and then leave campus. Their involvement is often key to their success as candidates. That said, all the committee work in the world isn't going to help someone who just doesn't have the teaching chops. As several posters have commented, it's not enough to be just a good teacher; the competition is so tough that you really have to be great. The PTers we hire don't get the job because they've "done their time" or because of reciprocity--that's not how it works. They have to use their involvement during the interview to show us they are the best candidates.

I don't know the situation of the original questioner, of course, but I would say that you've been given a pretty clear message that a FT job at that institution is not going to happen soon, probably ever. You can stick with it and hope things change, or you can move on (to the retail job, to another school, whatever)--but you've served your "unpaid internship" in committee work and all my experience tells me that staying longer won't change the pecking order. The fact that committee members are leaking confidential information about rankings, etc. also suggests to me that there are problems in that department that go way beyond your situation--you might be dodging a bullet.
The last interview for FT in English that I was able to land occurred back in 2001. Since then, nothing. I have taught, subbed, gotten good evals, done additional work on campus, gotten published, etc., but it doesn't help me get interviewed. Then I watch the FT jobs get snapped up by people far younger than I who have not been at this campus as long as I have.
So I'm going into another occupation. I'm just kicking myself for not doing it years ago. Why stick around for the same old same old year after year?
Just an FYI to all the "get out now and get another job!" criers:

I tried that. I've been unemployed for about 2 years. This strategy is not always effective. At least not quickly in the New Great Depression.

Thank goodness the original poster has a job offer already. Run, baby! RUN!

Imagine not being re-hired as an adjunct after a series of "oh, you can have this class... oops, sorry, we gave it to someone else... hey, can you teach this with 1 week's notice?" semesters and you can see how someone can, after being strung along, find oneself with no job.

It's amazing how many times I was the saving grace who swooped in to save a department with a full section and no instructor. Yet they could never seem to find 2 sections of anything to give me the following semester.

And that's all I needed to survive until I finished my degree. Just 2. Not 5 or 7 or 10. Just 2. They never materialized, I ran out of money, and I had to move out of town.
For the last Anonymous: I think that's what several people are trying to say to the original poster. You should not get yourself into a situation where there have been a "series of 'oh, you can have this class... oops, sorry, we gave it to someone else... hey, can you teach this with 1 week's notice?' semesters".

If it were me, that would happen once, and there would have to be assurances that it was an emergency situation that wouldn't happen again. For it to happen more than once means that the people you're teaching for are badly organized, or that you're the bottom of the barrel in their eyes. (Did that class they gave to someone else go to an adjunct they cared more about keeping?)

As a wise person once said, you have to teach people how to treat you. You have to teach professions how to treat you, too.
Are there really campuses out there that allow PTs to serve on committees at all? Or let them serve and don't treat them with hostility?
The reason that many PTs are not involved more on their campuses is that they are unwelcome or excluded when it comes to committees.
That, and they are so busy flying from one campus to another to make ends meet that they don't have time for committee work anyway.
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