Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ask the Administrator: Where Did My Class Go?

A regular correspondent writes:

I taught a course as an adjunct at a CC three semesters in a row.  No complaints from students that I am aware of, a positive classroom observation from an admin, student evals on a typical bell curve, 1/4 glowing, 1/2 in the middle, 1/4 cranky.   Grades likewise pretty typical.  Lots of As, some Bs and Cs, a couple Fs.  
This Fall the course is listed as fully enrolled with instructor TBD, so I enquired if I'd be teaching it.  I had certainly assumed I was as I had filled out an availability form, been verbally told I was and reserved the time in my Fall schedule.  No answer for a long time.  Then a very terse email from the Dean saying "thanks for your interest in teaching at XXCC unfortunately we will be unable to offer you a class this Fall".  There's no full timer who would teach this class, so that's not the issue.  
Obviously they can hire who they like:  our Union contract wouldn't give me seniority for another year.  Having laid people off in my former life in the dreaded private sector, I understand that if they've decided to "go a different direction" there's no margin in explaining their reasons to me, as it only opens the door for me to argue. That being said, "thank you for your interest in teaching at XXCC", as if I was a new applicant, seems particularly cold since this is a Dean I had actually met and worked with.   What's your take as a Dean?   Are you a mean dean too?

Am I a mean dean, too?  I’ll leave that to the folks who know me.  Suffice it to say that there’s a difference between a person and a role.  

Since there’s no contractual entitlement to a course, my best guess is that you got bumped.  In many systems, full-timers whose courses don’t run can bump adjuncts with full sections.  The idea is that the full-timer’s salary has to be covered somehow, so displacing the adjunct -- whose salary doesn’t have to be covered -- offsets some of the loss from the section that didn’t run.  The bump may not have been direct, of course.  Full-timer takes slot from senior adjunct, so senior adjunct bumps junior adjunct.  In that scenario, even if they don’t have a full-timer who could have taught your course, the effect on you is the same as if they did.

If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that you weren’t told why.  The goal would be preventing needless drama in the ranks.  Better to be angry at the “mean dean” than to sow ill will among colleagues.

Of course, that’s just a guess.  Any number of other factors could also have come into play.  Someone’s schedule may have had to be adjusted for personal/confidential reasons -- medical or family, say -- and your course made sense, whether directly or indirectly. (There, too, you wouldn’t get the full story.)  You don’t mention if there was a new full-time hire; if there was, that would also lead to a domino effect.  There may have been another adjunct with a special expertise they desperately needed, and your course was the only way to give that person enough sections to seal the deal.  Or, of course, there could always be something nefarious at play.  But I’ve done enough of this over the years to report that actual nefariousness is far more rare than some people seem to think.

The more bothersome part of your message is that you were “verbally told” that the section was yours.  Depending on “by whom,” and how explicitly, that doesn’t look great.  “By whom” makes a tremendous difference.  If you were promised by someone who has no authority to make a promise, then the promise is worthless.  And there’s a meaningful difference between “we’re pencilling you in” and “the class is yours,” even though some folks conflate the two.  The latter is a promise; the former is a hope.  

One of the frustrations of administration is knowing facts that you aren’t allowed to share.  I’ll give you one from my past.  Professor X, who was full-time, had been diagnosed with lupus, and just couldn’t do early-morning sections anymore.  She struggled valiantly, and didn’t want her colleagues to know.  I adjusted her schedule, and an adjunct who expected an afternoon section was bumped without explanation.  He assumed, naturally, that I was a rat and a fink, and let it be known.

I have lived that one personally.  That’s the price of administration.

That said, there are better and worse ways of telling someone he won’t have a class.  While some specifics can’t be shared, when you’re dealing with someone who has been around for a while and has done good work, it’s probably best not to go with the standard “thanks for applying” form letter.  

I realize this may all sound like a series of technicalities.  At a basic level, you were expecting some income that you aren’t going to get, and that sucks.  I get that.  But it’s entirely possible that someone acting in good faith could have done what you describe.  If you want to figure out whether this was nefariousness or just a collision of imperatives, watch for patterns over time.  A single case could be just about anything.

Good luck.  I hope you’re able to find a way to replace the lost income.

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