The recent debates on CM have made me reflect on the possible differences between “work” and “job.”
First, let me be clear: Tenured, promoted, assigned to major-courses exclusively for the past fifteen years, salary, benefits, office, settled in what is for my partner and me a desirable location, a pleasant home in a quaint “walkable” town four miles from my office, I tell Siri often to remind me to shut up and count my blessings.
Here’s my big point for those of you who don’t want to read a long message from an old man: I love my work, and I know I’m lucky, but my job--at least currently-- sometimes merits the wordmiserable.
I love my work: what I do each and every day is what some people take time off from their jobs to do. I have many excellent students who work hard, develop skills, “get” college, succeed, and move on. I am lucky. My only regret is that most live anxiously, concerned about grades, next semester, debt, careers. I try to understand and help them. I have some students who clearly do not want to be in college, and I try to understand and help them. I wish this college would be for them what it was for students twenty years ago.
For I once had a job like the one I imagined Yaro enjoyed. Students—former, current, and future--dropped by, colleagues socialized and discussed classes, teaching, the “stuff” we teach, what we love to think about, and deans were clearly “on our side,” caring about the classroom, the students, what they were learning. Teachers and teaching were important. Committee work while not enjoyable to all was considered worthwhile and important. A few offices helped students, and for the most part, one might only be aware of the two vice presidents when they arrived at commencement. We used the word community—before it became a buzzword for admissions brochures.
Now, my campus has more “vice presidents” of something vague than members of my department—a department with 500 majors. All departments rely on adjuncts as most colleges do I will admit. People here keep saying that most colleges rely on adjuncts, but that doesn’t make things fair to adjuncts and to students, does it? My small department needs to hire seven or eight more colleagues to address the staffing requirements for over 500 majors, but when we are able to replace a retiree, we feel fortunate that the provost thinks so highly of us that we can hire one “new” colleague. Adjuncts teach over 70 percent of the courses in my department—both general education and major courses. A student can and increasingly does graduate from this college without having class with an instructor now called “permanent” faculty (that is, tenured or tenure track). So, as I once said here at CM before, we have work for hundreds of adjuncts but no jobs. We burn them up, and most move on. Most students spend more years on campus than the majority of their instructors do. The chairs on this campus devote the great majority of their time recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, and replacing adjuncts. Recently, one department gave a tenured associate professor release time to help the chair with the adjuncts, and her first duty was to hire an adjunct to “cover” her classes.
Yet our national rankings continue to climb. Little wonder then that our administrators make such high salaries as the board of trustees recognizes the managerial skill necessary to cut costs yet raise the impression of standards.
Students don’t know what “office hours” are as they have too many “professors” with no offices. Students who need letters of recommendation have very few options when no faculty member currently on campus knows them—at all.
The dean who hired me was frustratingly involved we thought. But she knew all of us, listened to us, tried to work for and with us, compromised, negotiated, remembered favors and paid them back. Those of us who remember her miss her now. The last two deans never knew who I was; they were too busy for “day-to-day campus duties.”
My assistant dean, my associate dean, my dean, my provost, and my president were hired—note the passive voice—without searches. Yet they are all quick to point to the longstanding tradition of shared governance on this campus.
We did away with Convocation because the provost decided to concentrate on “Move-In Day” activities despite the fact that the majority of our students
aren’t the best customers who contribute to operating funds by renting living space—I mean to say, they don’t live on campus.
The bigger the administration grows, the more its officers use the offensive, problematic, questionable, and inaccurate metaphor of “family,” instead of community.
Yes, I sound like the old man that I am, and nowadays I feel that I work for those people “hired” by the board of trustees, and not for students and education and that old-fashioned stuff, when this campus fostered and valued community.
Increasingly, I feel that I have little to no control over my professional life. I recognize few people do, but I once enjoyed that here. Assessment, core standards, grade inflation management (even though we trumpet that our SAT scores are up, up, up), enrollment management, five-year plans, one-year plans, FTE-based hiring, weekly email messages from offices that I haven’t heard about before demanding that I watch forty-minute online “videos of slides” on how to hire, on how to treat each other, etc that are mandatory—with the word mandatory CAPITALIZED,underlined, and boldfaced, classroom utilization, the scheduling grid, common goals or outcomes or learning outcomes, or course objectives (the phrase keep changing every few weeks it seems) corporate book store requirements, uniform syllabi for all classes, no matter level, focus, or topic are minor in the big picture, but for me they add up in that they seem to remind me that I’m an employee, not the professor I once was. I had more “freedom” when I was working towards tenure than I do now.
But my misery also comes from a job in which I benefit greatly while temporary employees work as hard as I do. When did temporary employees become the permanent method of "covering" classes--filled with students duped into thinking that we're all one big family? I'm tired telling my students during academic advising (which begins next week) "I don't know that instructor; s/he is new to the program."
In closing, if I may, I want to suggest a new term for the College Misery vocabulary, for not all old men are “silverbacks.” A turtle: an older (typically male) colleague hired, tenured, and promoted at a different type of school than where he finds himself, often with credentials that wouldn’t get him hired. Plodding along, occasionally mentioning how things used to be yet trying not to make too much noise to avoid being thought a silverback, ready to pull back into the shell, the turtle is slowly on its way, humbled, annoyed somewhat, confused often, and mostly resigned to plodding along.
- Tuba Playing Prof