Friday, December 30, 2011

Neil from NY.

Despite a lengthy and antagonistic battle between myself and the Deans at my private university, I'm being forced to go back to a 2/2 teaching load, reversing a change the same people negotiated three years ago.
I've been teaching 1/1 for the past 3 years, and taking the lead on several university-wide initiatives. All faculty here teach 2/2, and I did it happily for years - in addition to a great amount of research, committee work, and the like.

But my warning to all f you is to be careful how your own schedule of duties gets negotiated. My own 1/1 move was a bit of a "handshake" deal, but I will tell you that I made that deal with people I had nothing but the highest level of respect for. These folks were among my closest friends, absolutely a part of my extended family, Holiday visits, births of children, that sort of level.

So when they came to me in September and said they need me to take 2 more classes a year, for no increased salary, and no reduction of other duties, I felt a real betrayal.

"Have I not done what we agreed to? Have I not done what we discussed? Have I not accomplished even more than the stated goals?"

Well, I had.

The level of animosity around this place now shimmers. They view me as an ungrateful leech. I view them as treacherous and traitorous assholes.

One of them, not so recently removed from a similar position, said, "You know, Neil, you've had a nice break from things. You should be grateful."

"Grateful," I said. "Grateful that you didn't fuck me sooner?"

Misery? In spades.

When you discuss what you'll teach, what you'll do, how the work is to be done, how and when you get paid, what extras you might be asked to take on and how you'll be compensated, get it all in writing.

I know I am partly to blame, but I saw these people as family - truly. I wouldn't ask my brother for something in writing, and I didn't ask them.

And now I've been fucked.


  1. Dude you just KNOW you're going to get the smackdown for having an awesome, awesome job, and then the nads to complain about it, right?

    That said, they did you a dirty. They changed the terms with a wave of their hands. And that sucks.

  2. If the reduced course load wasn't put in writing, I'm guessing that the extra responsibilities weren't either. You should tell them that you're going to drop the extra work.

  3. Addled's right. Whatever hours you spend teaching, just subtract that from service. "Ooooh, yeah, you know I'd love to do that curriculum review, but sorry, no can do."

  4. Neil should be careful as there may be some other reasons behind this.

    If a manager wants to get rid of a certain employee, the use of a bait-and-switch tactic often provides a suitable excuse. The employee might be assigned extra duties without corresponding compensation. In reaction, he or she might object or refuse to carry them out which, conveniently, could be interpreted by the manager as insubordination. That, then, can be considered just grounds for disciplinary action or termination.

    If the employee doesn't act in an insubordinate manner, the manager might then change the requirements of those extra duties, forcing that employee to meet higher expectations such as tighter deadlines. Failure to meet those expectations, regardless of whether it was possible to do so in the first place, could be interpreted as poor job performance. The employee could be, once again, out of luck.

    Unfortunately, such tactics are often perfectly legal as they might not be forbidden by whatever contract or labour legislation might be in effect.

    If Neil's institution has a staff association or union, he should consult a representative about this. But a word of caution: that organization might not have his best interests in mind, preferring to have peaceful co-operation with the institution's administration rather than defending his rights.

    I've been there. I've suffered for it.

  5. I'll second @i_escaped: make sure your duties are spelled out in writing before you cut back on the administrative stuff you were doing.

    Oh, and I will happily trade you my 4/4 load (and my administrative duties as associate chair) for your 2/2 load (and your salary, which is no doubt at least double mine).

  6. Neil says:

    I guess I just wanted to warn folks about similar handshake deals. You're right, of course, a 2/2 load is good, when compared to loads at different colleges with different expectations. I'm not unaware of that.

    To BurntChrome. Be careful what you'd happily trade for, because nobody ever knows the whole story or the stressors of anyone else's position.

    It's all misery, right?

  7. I don't understand. You teach one class? And now you're going to teach two classes? And there is a problem somewhere in there?

    I don't understand.

    I have 191 students across 3 universities. And I am in the middle of publishing one book and writing another, while finishing two articles for publication. I am redesigning the freshman curriculum as it is taught by 12 other instructors.

    I don't understand what you do with all your time, and why you are complaining. What is this, 1960? I bet you have a retirement plan too.

  8. I'm with Neil on this one, even though I teach more than he does.

    Still, Monkey, be reasonable. If everyone else at your college taught 2/2, and then you were asked to teach 2/2 in addition to leading "several university-wide initatives" (when no one else was), wouldn't that be miserable for you?

    I get a single course release per year to publish a monthly newsletter for my college. If they made me start teaching another class, I'd effectively be doing more than any of the rest of my colleagues. It's okay to be pissed about that.

    There are surely people who teach more students than you, Monkey, and maybe even at more institutions. How dare you brag about your cushy load!!!

  9. I think everyone can have their own misery. Neil's is different than mine.

    Academic Monkey is right, of course, but that doesn't mean the only misery worth having or "celebrating" on this page is the absolute worst misery - that is, the one that happens to be ours.

    2/2 sounds good to me, too. But I never got a job at a place like that. So, I can't possibly know what else there is to be afraid of thankful for - whatever applies.

  10. First line: "his/her misery." Whoops. -1 for Darla.

  11. Neal, is there perhaps some economies of scale in the university-wide initiatives or a steep learning curve? If so, the administrators might have assumed that you had three years of release time to get it together, and now assume it should be running smoothly. I do not condone what they did, but I do realize that all institutions are tightening their expenditures these days.

  12. You reveal the true source of your misery in the last lines of your post.

    "I wouldn't ask my brother for something in writing, and I didn't ask them.

    And now I've been fucked."

    If your family situation was more reasonably normal, your brother would have screwed you over years ago, teaching a valuable life lesson that would have saved you from your present situation.

    Solution: Blame your brother.

  13. LOL...oh, Beaker Ben, your writing is always brilliant. Is there more of it somewhere else?

    On topic, nobody's word is really worth anything these days it seems. Very sad. I second the notion of withdrawing these additional services for which they are not paying you.

  14. Neil,

    Well obviously you feel fucked over, and the real source of your misery is that it's friends that did it to you.

    Firstly, I guess, I'd think a bit about whether or not they were right. They're not just generic colleagues. They're friends. Like family. So sit yourself down and do a serious self-evaluation. They deserve that. If, after thinking long and hard from their perspective, you still believe you've been screwed, well...I have some advice for you.

    Do not make a stink. You really don't want to make a stink. Because even if you feel screwed, these people are colleagues and friends. And it's you against...all of them. Not good odds. Do you want to hang around these folks anymore? Is this a friendship ending sort of scenario? Considering what's at stake, my guess is, "no." You feel like they did you wrong and maybe they did, but they didn't set fire to your house while they were fucking your wife. Let it be. You will only look petty trying to make a big deal of it.

    What you do is this, Neil: You sit down and figure out exactly how much time you were spending on your job when you had a 1-1. Include everything except your time spend on scholarship. Figure out where your time went to the committees and teaching and advising, etc. Figure it out to the hour.

    Then, work your new schedule so that you don't work an hour longer than you did. Teaching is at least in part professor-directed. So are committees. If you are spearheading initiatives, and are chairing committees, you decide when they meet. If you are not the chair, you decide whether or not you are "sick" for that meeting. And you delegate. You delegate the fuck out of everything.

    My guess is some of those "vital" initiatives aren't so vital. Much of committee work is a bunch of timewaster nonsense, put in place by administrators that want to look busy.

    Don't freak out, Neil. And don't burn bridges. (I'm assuming as well that you have tenure where you are.) You really do have the control here. You really do.

  15. Only in our education system can you begin an "initiative" three years ago and still be working on it today. If the initiative part lasts more than three years, then how long will the entire goddamn project take? The Empire State Building was built in less than three years. Administrators unload crap in the toilet and call it a great initiative.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. I can commiserate with Neil.

    Our department had a great Chair with whom we'd developed a tangled web of handshake deals, involving the trading off of duties e.g. more teaching in return for less admin, or more admin in return for less teaching, etc etc. It was a great system, because when a prof inexplicably stuck their neck out in a moment of inspiration and threw themselves into some (much-needed) sweeping curriculum initiative or reform, they were helped out by one of these handshake deals so they could devote more time on the matter. It also played to people's strengths, because some people were administrative ninjas at the School or University Senate level, and others could kick ass in writing up new and improved Learning Objectives documents etc. Now, the Chair's term has ended, we have a new Chair, and we've all simultaneously come to the realization that all of these handshake deals exist merely in our [collective] minds, and when the Chair opens up the departmental workload spreadsheet he's going to stare at it and go, ".... WTF? ....Right, time to sort this all out and get it back to normal..."

  18. Neil writes:

    These initiatives that I started three years ago developed into two programs, a gen-ed-styled first year program which I staff, train, and am responsible for. The other is a faculty mentorship and recruitment program of which I am one of two directors.

    And the Deans want me to continue running both programs in addition to the addition of another course. I have tenure; we have no post-tenure review. But this is my home and my friends and I have a good number of years to retirement.

    I wanted to vent about being undone, and I mostly wanted to sound an alarum about handshake deals, of which there are many in departments.

  19. Your sounding the alarm is appreciated. So is there a solution? When you make a friendly, collegial agreement with someone, how do you make it stick without getting unfriendly by wanting it on your contract, in writing?

    It's hard to imagine when the 1/1 deal was agreed to, that Neil would have ever said, "Hey bro, can I get that in writing?" because that would have driven a wedge between friends/colleagues at the start, rather than now.

  20. Even though Neil's problems don't sound so bad to some people, I think it is representative of a larger problem. That is, that higher-ups realize that the job market is complete crap right now and can get away with more and more shitty things because many of us have nowhere else to go. Do this, do this, do this, this, and this, expect nothing more and by the way, I can replace you in a second. People tell me, "Well, you're lucky you have a job at all." I refuse to agree with them. I think the behavior of the higher-ups and the complacency by the masses is currently widespread in many fields. I hope it changes.

  21. I wonder why a 1/1 handshake deal is assumed to be forever. The deal I got when I started was classes no larger than 30. Right now my college is in the midst of financial problems (state college) and we've been told we need to have larger classes to reduce personnel expenses. So, we'll do it. The 30 student deal was a time and place. The times have changed and so does the deal.

  22. I always get things in writing with my family. It saves hurt feelings and ruptured relationships when it turns out that one side of that $10,000 loan thought it was a 5-year loan with annual interest accruing at 2%, and the other side thought it was more of a grant to be paid back when they felt like it.

    Handshake deals suck. But since these people are your friends, Neil from NY, think carefully and ask yourself if these people would deliberately set out to screw you. My guess is no, and what we have here is misunderstanding on both sides, possibly helped out with a huge side of the times, they are a'changing.

    I think you thought this was a permanent deal as long as you were running the programs, but your friends thought it lasted only until you got the programs up and running smoothly. The fact that the economy is in the toilet and everyone is looking for places to save money probably hastened the re-evaluation. It would really help if things were in writing, so both sides would know clearly what the terms were supposed to be.

    But if your friends were the sort of people who would deliberately set out to screw you, they wouldn't be mad at you for objecting. They might be all smug and nyah nyah we can do what we like to you so there, but they wouldn't be mad.

    As far as the workload goes, if you don't think that was the deal, then tell them you're not going to run the programs anymore. Or do as Stella suggests and make sure you don't put in even 15 minutes more per week than you were before.

    But it is clear that the worst part is your feeling of personal betrayal, and that is the worst part, always. I really do encourage you to think over what you thought the terms were, and then go to whoever the worst offender (in your opinion) is - whoever you feel angriest at - and say, look, it's not the workload, it's just that I thought we had an agreement. Was your understanding of that agreement different from mine? Because what you want to do is save your friendships. That's what makes working somewhere livable and worth doing. So I hope you can work it out with them, and keep on going for beers on Fridays.

    If they are the people you thought they were, and probably they are, it is a misunderstanding. But I understand that awful feeling, that punch in the gut, when you think, maybe these people were never my friends and I just thought they were. I don't think that's what you're dealing with here, from the sound of it. For what it's worth.

  23. Neil from NY, if you are from Noo Yawk, you know that everything HAS to be on paper because - like it or not - buracracies like to worm out, wuss out on deals, especially verbal agreements. It would be best to get a blood oath from these lizards in suits, one where if they cut you off at the knees, you are allowed to slam one of those ceremonial SS daggers `twixt their ribs - but nobody has the testicular fortitude to live by Saxon Law so I would just play the Anvil Chorus on their cars with a 5-pound sledgehammer.

  24. Neil--

    Often handshake deals are the only deals that can be had, because administrators do not want to leave a paper trail.

    Once, a well-meaning colleague actually nearly ruined my chances for a sabbatical by pressing the issue of faculty sabbaticals openly in faculty senate. My colleague wanted the provost on the record that sabbaticals would be granted. I had told my friend absolutely NOT to mention the issue. To LEAVE IT ALONE. But he ignored me, thinking it was important to "take a stand."

    As a result, what the provost said, angrily, was that NO SABBATICALS WOULD BE GRANTED. That was what went on the record. My friend was all offended on my behalf, etc., but did I appreciate the grandstanding? Er, no. I wanted my fucking sabbatical.

    In the end, I got it, but only after my dean went into the provost's office and wrangled it for me in private.

    With a handshake deal.

  25. Stella - the difference there is that you wanted something from the administration, but had nothing to give them in exchange. In this case, however, it was a mutual deal. Neil got a 1-1 load in return for taking on a huge whack more administration. That sort of thing could get onto paper and should, because the administration DOES want something. It is possible in those circumstances to say, okay, I'll take on the extra work but only if you put my 1-1- load ON PAPER.

    If it's just a favour you want, or what the administration will construe as a favour, then by all means, get it any way you can.

  26. The Germans have an expression, "Leiden auf hohem Niveau" - to "suffer at a high level," meaning not "a high level of suffering," but to be at such a high level of comfort that, when suffering, you're still better off than most.

    I can't imagine a universe where I would complain about teaching four classes per year instead of two. Obviously, I can't gauge how much that other work is, but I tend to agree with those here who pointed out that times change and sometimes a handshake deal changes with it.

  27. At my university, the kind of administrative work you carried would probably earn you a 2-course release, leaving you with a 1-1. Only when that work ended would you go back to full-time teaching. So I think there must be a way for you to say sweetly, "I'm stepping out of these positions, as I think I have them working smoothly enough for someone else to take over. And I'm looking forward to more contact with students!"

  28. At my unionized SoCal community college, reduced teaching loads in return for other duties is called "reassigned time." There can't be any handshake deals because reassigned time is approved by the Board of Trustees and is a matter of public record.

    To prevent reassigned time from becoming a political football (imagine a national award-winning advisor to a national award-winning student newspaper being denied reassigned time just after the student paper printed national award-winning articles critical of the Board of Trustes and the college president), our union insists that reassigned time positions be included in our collective bargaining agreement.

    These positions are not just written down, they're NAILED down.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.