Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ask the Administrator: Moonlighting

A new correspondent writes:

I'm in my first tenure track job in my mid-40s. I just got my Ph.D. this last December. College faculty is definitely a "second career" for me. As I was having some trouble landing a job, I was arranging some "fall back" positions with some well-known-distance-learning companies.

I pursued one and not the other. Here I was, in my first gig, trying to do another job and arranging some free-lance journalism jobs from myself.

The job with well-known-distance-educator ended up falling through. I have since made contact with another well-known-distance educator to pursue some part-time employment with them as well as pursuing freelance writing and doing voice work.

Now, the voice work and journalism fall into my area as a communication professor and could make me better at those jobs.

I'm a little coy about letting anyone know about my "job" with the distance educator.

I have known several academics who have "moonlighting" gigs. How do administrative types and chairs and what not feel about that? Is it encouraged? Discouraged? Is it "don't ask, don't tell?" Is it, "as long as you do your job, it's okay?"

I'm not a greedy person, but I do feel I need a little more than my base salary to be comfortable.

I'll open with an admonition to check the faculty handbook and/or union contract at your college. Some colleges have explicit guidelines about this sort of thing, so the kind of general thoughts I'll offer here may or may not apply in any given case. For example, at my college, you couldn't hold another 'full-time' position, but writing, consulting, and short-term gigs are fine as long as you perform well at your main job. (Adjuncting elsewhere is usually okay, but only if you disclose it, and there is a theoretical veto power that I've never actually seen used.) And depending on what you do, some outside gigs could actually make you more effective at your faculty role. Applied work in your field can help you advise students realistically and keep your contacts current, both of which are actually pluses. (For example, we have music faculty who perform professionally, and art faculty who exhibit and sell their own paintings. I don't see anything sinister about either.) From my perspective, a communications professor doing some voice work on the side – how the hell do you get that gig? -- makes all kinds of sense.

In my faculty days, I even adjuncted an advanced class at a nearby university while doing my regular load, with my dean's blessing. He knew that I was chafing under an “all intro classes, all the time” regimen, and needed to stretch a little. He saw it as a sort of faculty development on someone else's dime. I saw it as a breath of fresh air, a chance to scope out another college, and a way to pick up a few bucks. It was tiring, but worthwhile.

The 'tiring' part is the part I'm concerned about. If you had already been doing the full-time faculty thing for a few years and had it down, I wouldn't worry about it. But if you're new to the full-time teaching thing, you haven't yet discovered how much time it takes, and you haven't found any shortcuts yet. In the first year on the new job, if you have the option financially, I'd advise focusing narrowly on the new job. Give it your best, and get established as someone who takes the job seriously. As you start to get the hang of it and discover the shortcuts that work for you, the extra gigs become less risky.

(I've also seen another administrator – not me – take exception to a brand-new full-timer adjuncting elsewhere, precisely on the grounds of 'lost focus.' It struck me as petty, but there it was.)

If you have a trustworthy faculty colleague, you might want to ask her about local history and personalities. Even if the official policy is permissive, you might just have a particular dean or vp who looks askance at these things. I'm embarrassed on behalf of my profession to admit that, but I'd hate to see you unknowingly run afoul of someone's unwritten rule.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think? What have you seen?

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