Monday, March 17, 2008

Ask the Administrator: For Love or Money

A new correspondent writes:

I read your blog, and now I have a question. I am currently teaching as
an adjunct at the local CC (English dept.) -- for the past two years, I
have worked at the Regional University in a series of "temporary full
time" positions, and when no temporary positions were open this year, I
went adjunct.

Two lecturer positions have recently opened at Regional University, and
they are positions I am relatively well qualified for. I am confident
that in a matter of days, their posting will become widely known and
that everyone I know will begin telling me to apply. The problem is
that I hated most minutes of working at the university, and I love,
love, love the CC. At the university, relationships with colleagues
were basically non-existent; at the CC, the faculty are helpful and
open even to the adjuncts. At the university, my students were
sometimes great, but more often were dull and hoping to coast through a
degree their parents wanted for them; at the CC, the students
self-select to either put up or stop showing up. I am not a fan of the
university's lock-step writing program (required texts to teach,
required format for the syllabus, required grade norming once a month);
I am a huge fan of the CC's "as long as you meet the course objectives,
it's ok with us" policy of academic freedom. Beyond that, I just love
the idea of the CC and the student population it seeks to serve. Beyond
that, the CC has many options for professional development that are
unavailable at the university, such as free enrollment in courses that
have been developed purely for the professional development of their
full- and part-time faculty.

So the question is thus: do I apply for a job that, should I get it,
I'm already pretty sure I won't like (since it's just a more permanent
version of a job I did for two years). As I see it, the pros would be
money, benefits, and a higher level of "job experience" than another
year or two of adjuncting might get me. The cons would be hating my
job, working for a university that I deep down feel has screwed me a
bit in terms of employment, and stepping out of the CC where I'd like
to eventually be employed full time.

Would it be better, later on, when hopefully applying for full time
jobs at the CC, if I had been an adjunct for a few years with them,
gotten to know people, taken a few classes, etc.? Or would it look
better to have had a lecturer (non TT) position at a university for a
year or so? Is applying for the job worth it? Are there benefits or
drawbacks I'm not seeing just because, at the end of the day, I really
don't WANT to apply?

“It depends” is a pretty weaselly answer, so instead of saying it directly, I'll get to it via a discussion of things to consider. Readers who have faced similar dilemmas are invited to chime in.

Since you're asking, rather than gritting your teeth and applying, I assume that material circumstances allow you some wiggle room. That isn't always the case, so you're in a good position.

From a cc hiring perspective, either experience would count. If anything, we tend to 'count' cc teaching slightly more, on the assumption that you're more comfortable with our students. However, either is fine, so I wouldn't base a decision on that. Besides, any given position could go any given way on any given day.

(It's also usually the case that beyond the first couple of years, the value of additional teaching experience starts to fall prey to diminishing marginal returns. Since you already have a few years under your belt, another year shouldn't matter much one way or the other.)

Since this is basically a binary decision – apply for the Regional University line or don't – I'll start with my basic, when-all-else-fails method for binary decisions. Flip a coin, and see if you're disappointed in the outcome. If you're disappointed, do the 'losing' choice. Your instincts – which would show up in a sense of disappointment – are smarter than you are, but they can be cagey. Sometimes a simple trick can smoke them out.

It sounds like you've already done that, at some level; you know you don't want to apply to the RU job, but still feel like you 'should.'

There's no 'should.' If you would hate it there – and it sounds like you have good reason to think you would – then don't do it. Life is too short, and self-resentment is toxic. Do the job you love, and leave the other for those who love that.

Among other things, you'll perform better at the job you love than the one you tolerate. Whether it will lead to a full-time cc gig or not, I don't know, but the time you spend actually working will be happier. And you won't find yourself getting gradually sucked into a setting you'd really rather escape.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

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