Monday, December 19, 2005

Ask the Administrator: Should I Save Myself Until Tenure-Track?

A faithful correspondent writes:


I am an adjunct who has applied for one of three FT postions this fall at my school. I have a year of adjunct teaching under my belt. I applied for and, today, was offered a FT position at a not-for-profit. As an adjunct, I have to waitress 2 nights/week to make ends meet, and even then, I am remarkably poor.

What I really want to do is teach full-time. I really like teaching. I love my students, and for the first time, I feel engaged and challenged at a job. I have an MA in (my field) and have held several corporate jobs, which were always a drag. I was constantly late, not motivated, etc.

In contrast, I love the details about academia, even at the cc level. I love that the bottom line of teaching is getting students to learn (usually). My students seem to really like me and my evaluations are generally very positive. It may sound cliche, but I honestly think I may have found my calling. I know there are politics that muck things up, but the end result makes the downside tolerable for me. In the corporate world, the little things (meetings, the dress code, etc) irritated me. For the most part, these things don't bother me in academia. They either make sense to me or don't apply.

After I was offered the (non-profit) position, I talked to my dept. head. She said I am in the running for one of the FT positions, but--obviously--she could make no guarantees. She said my name was one they would be passing on to the hiring committee, but, ulimately, it was their decision. Fortunately, one of our well-respected profs just wrote me a letter of recommendation.

My questions are: if I take the (non-profit) job, in your estimation, will that hurt my chances for getting one of the full-time positions next fall? Would it be better for me to be around this spring and summer? Or would people understand that I had to take the job for money and still be willing to hire me?

I know the answers may vary based on the people involved, etc. But, in your opinion, what do you think? If I'm serious (and want to appear that way) about teaching and have my best possible shot at one of the positions, should I continue as an adjunct and eat ramen noodles? Or can I make a bit of money selling my soul in hopes the hiring committee will call me for an interview?


I can understand the hesitation to take the non-profit position, since it runs counter to the sacrifice-everything-for-academia ethos in which we’re inculcated. But I strongly recommend that you take the non-profit job.

I don’t see why taking the non-profit job would disqualify you for the faculty position. If anything, it forces the college to make a choice. The economic logic of ‘why buy the cow if you can get the milk for almost free?’ works against loyal adjuncts; if your loyalty can’t be assumed, then they know they have to step up or risk losing you.

The dept. head sounds commendably honest; she’s telling you that the job is not a sure thing. Believe her. Don’t give up hope – it sounds like you have a pretty good shot, although anything can happen – but don’t give up the opportunity to support yourself, either.

From a hiring perspective, I can’t really see how taking the non-profit job would work against you. At most, if you gave absolute last-minute notice about backing out of Spring classes, that might hurt, but I’ve never heard of a college blaming an adjunct for finding a full-time job. (It has probably happened somewhere, but I’ve never seen it.)

Flipped around – if they did hold it against you, that would tell you something useful about the attitude of your prospective employer. When you’re doing the ramen noodle thing, any job looks better than no job, but once you’re ensconced for a while, dysfunctional office politics can really wear you down. If they’re dysfunctional enough to punish you for trying to feed yourself, better to find that out now. Take care of yourself, and let the chips fall where they may.

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.