Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ask the Administrator: Should I Remain Pure?

A new correspondent writes:

I've just started my first quarter as a part-time English instructor at a community college near Big City, and I was lucky enough to get a full load. Next quarter, however, that probably won't be the case, as enrollment at our school goes down in the winter and spring. I've applied to a few other community colleges in the area, but I haven't heard back from anyone. At any rate, I was wondering if I should apply to Big City University as well, since I've taught at Private College (where I got my MA, and where I taught for a bit after grad school). But would teaching at a university work against me if I want to continue part-time at CCs and eventually apply for full-time jobs at CCs?

First, congratulations on your first teaching gig! I hope it treats you well.

And I'm heartened to hear that you consider a full-time cc gig a worthwhile goal. I happen to think it is -- okay, I'm biased, but still -- and the students deserve professors who actually want to be there, rather than professors who are 'settling' for it. You've picked a tough year to hit the market, but you know that.

All of that said, your question really goes to purity. If you teach at different kinds of places, does that somehow compromise your candidacy at a cc?

In my observation, the short answer is no. The longer answer is no, as long as you have some cc experience.

Since cc faculty jobs are really about teaching -- and teaching the students we actually have -- candidates who have experience with students akin to those at the cc have an advantage. But that experience doesn't have to be exclusive. If you've taught at both Tony Private U and Local CC, you've gained experience with different sorts of students. I'd be concerned if your only experience were at Tony Private U, but that doesn't look to be the case here.

In fact, there's a pretty good argument to be made for gaining exposure to different campuses, and even to different sectors of higher ed. You'll be better prepared to tell students what to expect when they transfer, for example. You'll also have a better sense of which quirks are local and which are just endemic to the academy. (Hint: there's more commonality across institutions than many academics suspect.) You'll pick up more contacts, which can't hurt, and you'll be less at the mercy of a single hiring manager. If you're mixing public and private institutions, you're better able to smooth out the fluctuations in enrollment at each. (For example, in my area the non-exclusive private colleges are hurting for enrollment right now, and the publics are bursting at the seams. That's pretty common during recessions.) Yes, there are limits to all of these, and you need to factor in extra transportation time and money. But I certainly wouldn't turn down a good private U gig out of fear of some sort of impurity on your c.v.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- what do you think? Have you seen private college experience held against someone at a cc?

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