Monday, August 27, 2007

Ask the Administrator: Setting Up Base Camp

A new correspondent writes:

After ten years or so of adjuncting around, I've quite happily been awarded a "full-time one year" appointment as an Assistant Professor in an established state school. The union-strong faculty have successfully lobbied their provost to convert a dozen or so part-time adjunct instructorships into a few full-time positions. All good--there's hope. Seems like a really smart, savvy, and healthy department, teaching focused, and a very good fit for me. I, of course, hope to stay longer than a single year, but the department will need to want me, and the provost will want to re-appoint (or convert to regular ladder faculty) the position. Tips? Suggestions? How would you suggest I proceed to increase the likelihood of being able to stay a bit? Do tell.

First, congratulations on your new status! My free advice – use the medical insurance while you have it. Get the head-to-toes checkup. Seriously. Stuff can sneak up on you if you don't look. And kudos to the faculty union and the provost there for looking out for the profession. I hope they can keep that long view and eventually convert those positions from one-year gigs to tenure-track ones, or at least to multi-year ones.

All of that said, I'd suggest re-thinking what you're trying to do.

You can't control what the department, or the union, or the provost will do. (Or, for that matter, what the voters of your state will do.) You can do the usual things to make yourself appealing – teach well, be a good colleague, pick up some of the assignments (whether committee or teaching) that nobody else wants, play well with others, etc, and you should. But you could knock every single one of those out of the park and still find yourself without a job next year.

Selfless devotion to the profession is a lovely sentiment, but you'll have bills to pay. My suggestion is to use the travel and professional development funding now available to you to the hilt. You finally have a decent perch from which to make yourself visible in the profession. Use it. Start planning now which conferences you'll travel to over the coming year, and budget accordingly. (You may need to supplement departmental travel money with some of your own. Start budgeting now.) If you've been adjuncting for ten years, and you aren't independently wealthy, you may well have had to adopt a lean travel schedule. That's understandable, but it doesn't make sense now. Look around aggressively, put yourself out there, and use every relevant perk at your disposal to do it.

The obvious upside to this strategy is that it increases the chances of getting an offer from someplace else.

The less-obvious upside is that it also increases the chances of getting an offer from your current home.

The stereotype of long-term adjuncts is that they're often excellent teachers, but their professional development has been stunted. (That's not their fault, but it's not about 'fault.') I emphasize that that's a stereotype, as opposed to a universal truth, but it's out there. If you want to be seen less as an ex-adjunct and more as a rising star they'd want to hire permanently, you'll need to walk the walk, and to do it in relatively conspicuous ways. Don't be so grateful for the new position that you forget to claim your due. Work those resources, and do it without guilt or hesitation. That's what they're for.

In making a new permanent hire, departments frequently use different criteria than they would a temp. In a temp, you want someone who teaches well, doesn't cause drama, and is willing to take the timeslots available. In a permanent hire, you want all that, but you also want some confidence that the person will grow with the job. If you want to cross over, I'd advise showing the ability to do that by stepping up in the profession. Whether it will work at your current home, I don't know, but it will increase the chances of you finding a permanent home somewhere.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

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