Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Early Thirsty on How Much We're Supposed to Reach Out.

This was the original
Early Thirsty graphic.
I told Cal nobody would
give a shit.
I'm in my third year of adjuncting at a community college in Colorado. I'm a decent writing teacher, but I'm overrun with idiotic complaints from students and insane demands by a squadron of Deans.

This morning I got an email from my main Dean, the one in charge of us part-timers.

He wrote: "It's come to my attention that you are not meeting your classes regularly. There have been a number of complaints. As your future employment here depends on this, please get in touch with me today."

Well, it's not true. I've not missed a single class in the past year. But I do meet classes in two locations: 24 times we meet in our regular classroom. 6 times we meet in a writing lab, 7 doors down the hallway. Lab days are sometimes poorly attended, but everyone knows about them.

I communicate this info to my students in the syllabus, out loud in class, on the whiteboard, and in a weekly fucking email I send them.

Once I reached the Dean and told him this, he told me that the "number" of complaints was 2, and I asked for the names, which he wouldn't give.

"Fine," I said, "but anybody who tells you that I didn't meet my classes is lying."

"Well," the Dean said, "I have a note here saying you did not meet your class last Wednesday morning. Students came right to my office."

Here's a relevant detail. To go from our classroom to the Admin building, one walks down a long hallway that includes - wait for it - our open lab door.

Anyway, I tried my explanation again and the Dean said, "Well, let's try to do a better job of letting your students know where you're going to be when you're not meeting class regularly."

"Okay," I said, "but for as long as I've been here I've made use of our tech labs in order to help the students get their essays done. I assure you that everyone who's ever been in my classroom knows about these meetings; they aren't unusual or given by surprise."

He sort of sighed. "Well, let's make more of an effort to tell everybody."

"Okay," I said. "But beyond the syllabus, the classroom, the whiteboard, and email, how else can I communicate something like this?"

"Well," he said, "some long time instructors call students on the telephone."

And then I waited, waited for a chuckle, or at least a wry groan of "Why has it come to this?"

But there was nothing.

I was one breath away from asking, "How about if I just drive to their fucking houses each morning and pick them up in my car? I could deliver them right to the right spot?" But of course I didn't, because I'm a small, small man, who is so desperate for my $3k a class that I'd eat shit as long as there wasn't two servings.

Q: Does anyone else have this expectation where you teach? When students simply complain about something that is legitimately not your fault, do you have to play some kind of game, or do something about meeting students' needs that just feels wrong? Is it wrong to think about quitting a job I like because this mindset seems so perverse? 


  1. For most colleges, letting an adjunct go is easier on a chair then having to explain to the admins student complaints.

    I hate having to type that. :(

  2. I teach online at a particularly terrible "university" that requested I call each student who did not attend class at a regular basis. I do not work at that circus anymore.

  3. Your Dean is out of his damn mind if he thinks calling students will change anything.

    Everyone knows they don't talk on their phones anymore, they only text.

  4. I don't think it's crazy at all to contemplate quitting. I get the strong sense that many students know that the onus is on instructors to "reach out," and also that the broader culture views student attitudes as functions of teacher "effectiveness." I, too, am a "small man," and I fired-up my calculator app yesterday to see if I could afford to quit my adjunct job next semester. It's dicey. Sigh. Best of luck.

  5. At the place where I used to teach, I was expected to do a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding. For instance, I was supposed to report anyone who was missing for more than a week. I might have done so once or twice but, on the whole, I didn't bother.

    I figured that they were adults and were required to take responsibility for their actions. Why not? When I was their age, I had to, though it might have taken a while to figure out how to do it properly--it was part of growing up.

    But, for some reason, that didn't go over very well. Apparently, I wasn't showing that I "cared", according to my departmental superiors. I guess someone forgot that the educational policy of in loco parentis had long been abolished.

  6. That is some first-class spineless Deanship right there, yes...

  7. You're probably screwed but here's a possible way out. Tell your students that you must call them if they are absent. You also respect their privacy so you will only call those students who provide a telephone number. (If you don't have an office phone, tell them that you can only call local phone numbers.) No student in their right mind will give you a phone number just so you can annoy them about class. At that point, you've done your best to "connect" with students.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Good suggestion! I have an addition to it. Email the students with your request for their phone numbers, so that you can phone them when they miss class, as the Dean has suggested. COPY THIS EMAIL TO THE DEAN. Then, the following week, follow up with an email to those who have not sent you their phone number, making a second request for the phone number. (The ones who can't find the classroom will be on this list, i promise.) COPY THIS EMAIL TO THE DEAN TOO. Then, the following week, you can email the Dean and report that you have tried to get the student phone numbers, that several of them have not complied and that of course for privacy reasons you cannot make them do so, but that you will of course phone students who miss class, whose numbers you actually have.

      The point is not to do the thing but to be seen making every possible effort to do the thing. This approach will take care of that.

      I trust you're looking for other work. Dear God. How horrible.

  8. First, to state the obvious (well, obvious to most people inclined to read this site): the Dean is committing educational malpractice, since he's robbing students of the chance to develop some of the key soft skills employers expect of college grads (even those w/ associate degrees): the abilities to keep and follow a personal calendar, read schedules and act on the information therein, respond appropriately to written and oral announcements, etc., etc. It's also pretty dumb to take students' complaints at face value without investigating whether there is another side to the story, beginning with a neutrally-worded email to the professor in question (and, getting back to the educational malpractice issue, rewarding student behavior that won't go over well in an employment situation isn't so smart, either; I'm sure employers just love employees who go straight to their boss's supervisor when they're unhappy with the boss him/herself).

    So, yes, your sense that there's something seriously wrong with this situation is right on. And quitting seems like an entirely reasonable response (though perhaps one that might take a bit of time to prepare to implement). In fact, when you describe this as "a job I like," I find myself channeling advice columnists who respond to letter-writers who say "I'm going out with a wonderful guy/gal," followed by a litany of bad behavior on the part of said partner: are you *sure* you like this job? both the Dean and at least some of the students sound pretty bad. Or do you just like the idea of this job as it would be if it conditions were better? If the latter, is there any chance of your finding another teaching gig with more reasonable conditions, or even a non-teaching gig that uses some of the same talents? While TubaProf is basically right -- adjuncts are disposable, and their treatment reflects that fact -- the tide may gradually turn as the economy improves, and, at least in some places, unionization efforts bring better conditions to some schools. Even if it doesn't, you can undoubtedly, after some exploration (the hard part), turn your skills to some sort of profitable and satisfying purpose outside the academy.

    My fantasy would be that you quit and write an op-ed for your local paper denouncing the spoon-feeding of college students and the perverse incentives (mostly centering around retention and graduation rates) encouraging it, and using this interaction with the Dean (complete with institutional/personal names) as your key example, but that might not be so wise. It's satisfying to think about, though.

  9. I try not to clog up the comments with my own reactions to things, but this one just hit me hard. I have a few part-timers that I mentor, and I would do everything in my power to work with this teacher if he or she were one of mine.i'd ask the original poster if there's a full-time faculty member that might lend some assistance.

  10. Dear, dear Lord. Please tell me you are unionized. Please.

    1. If that institution has something like a union or staff association, let's hope it's better than what I had at the place where I used to teach.

      Most of the SA's presidents went along with whatever the senior administration wanted. If an individual had problems with management, it conveniently looked the other way, hoping that the situation disappeared on its own.

  11. We not only have this expectation, but have an office set up SPECIFICALLY for this. Student workers are hired to text and call students to remind them of such changes or to remind them to get up in the morning to go to class, or to go to their rooms (we're a residential campus) to get them out of bed. Professors are supposed to notify this office of our "at risk" students to let them know to go FIND the students and bring them to class (I've seen these students being WALKED to class). It makes me want to point and laugh sometimes, except it's not funny. I'm so sorry your dean is an asshole. I would send HIM a list of students with their phone numbers to have him call the students.

  12. Cynic, I have to clarify . . .are you saying that your university spends funds to pay students to remind other students to go to classes that they (or their parents) are paying for or that they should start such a program? If this is in fact true I hope the students who are being walked to class walk next to a student staff member wearing a big pink "THIS KID HAD TO BE REMINDED TO GO TO CLASS" shirt.

    1. Yes, I can see why you wanted that clarified because it sounds too fucking insane to be true. And yes, yes, yes. The student workers are called "Super mentors" and their sole job is to make sure that at-risk students are awake and in class, that they bring the right books to class, and that they do their homework. They also walk them to various academic tutoring sessions, and to our offices if these students need this. The at-risk students are not necessarily diagnosed with any disability (although some are); they simply need to be reported to the office and a SUPER mentor is matched with them and off they go. This is apparently supposed to help with retention and improve our image as "student friendly."

    2. TCC:

      (facepalm) Ouch! That sounds like something the place I used to teach at would introduce and do so for the same reasons.

    3. We too have such an office, except we pay adults a salary to do this. we are also expected to "flag" at risk students in yet another database, where this flag triggers emails, texts, phone calls. What I want to know is how this is any different from helicopter parenting? Also, where is the data that says this is good for the student? If any of this shit worked we wiould have the BEST and BRIGHTEST students. It obviously does not work, but hey, who needs data or evidence for outcomes assessment?

    4. Aargh! I, too, find this hard to believe. Though, on second thought, I had heard of this happening with athletes in marquee sports. And we all know how well that turns out. I suppose that, as the demographic trends shift, it's not all that surprising that other students get the same treatment. Still, double aargh.

  13. Or just lie to the dean and say that you contacted the students but they didn't answer. The dean may be an asshole because the provost told him to be an asshole. As long as you (apparently) did what he said, then his ass is covered. I doubt he really gives a shit about the students, one way or another.

  14. Proverbs 17:1 comes to mind: Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting--and conflict.

    Some things just aren't worth the money.

    I've been out of work for the last few years (well, actually that's not true, I do a good deal of private tutoring for $20/hour and work at one of four name-branded isomorphic learning centers who happen to hate each other). Just haven't had it in me to apply for another community college job. For $2400/semester, it's just not worth the bullshit. Interestingly, today I was actually feeling guilty about not seeking employment in our lovely system... that is until I read your post.

    If I wasn't on my meds, perhaps I would be keen to rearrange your Dean's face. Has anyone seen Strelnikov around?

  15. My sophomore year of university, I enrolled in 16 units that Fall. One of the courses was third-semester calculus. There was a lounge area with a comfy couch right around the corner from my calculus professor's office. When making his way to class, the professor always passed by that tiny lounge area as it was the only way out of the building. Being tired from studying, I sometimes would fall asleep on that couch. There were a couple of times I slept through a calc 3 class. On his way to the classroom, he never once stopped by to wake me up. I'll admit that I thought it a little odd, but not to the point of entitlement. He was not my nanny. I was the one responsible for my sleeping schedule, and that was just understood.

    But today, it sounds like I could have filed a complaint on him, especially if he was an adjunct.


  16. There are a lot of good comments above, I'm sure, but I'm too goggle-eyed from poring through transcripts to read them at this moment. So I'll just say this and hope it's novel:

    This is a sparring match with someone who must win. If logic and facts are in your favor, then there must be something wrong with the logic and facts. As imperfect humans, we can always improve, so clearly, you must improve. There is no way out but to acknowledge your need to improve, which means the asshole wins.

  17. Back when I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor at an institution where faculty-admin relations were reminiscent of feudalism, and also when I was an Assistant Professor elsewhere but worked for a grossly incompetent department Chair, I had to put up with this kind of shit. Anytime a higher-up held me responsible for anything patently ridiculous solely on the word of a lazy, dishonest student, I wanted to scream, "DIDN'T YOU EVER HAVE KIDS?!?!?"

    Now that I have tenure and seniority, having served as department Chair myself, and having one of the more productive research groups in a department with a seemingly ever-increasing number of research-inactive faculty, I don't have to put up with nearly as much of this as I used to. It helps to be "intimidating," as I've been told nonstop since my arrival. I like to point out that some of the "deepest student learning" I ever did was when I was being screamed at simultaneously from multiple directions while serving in the U.S. Navy---not that I'd try that approach now, too many modern students have been so sheltered and coddled by their helicopter parents, they simply do not know enough to be afraid when screamed at. It is not wrong for you to think about quitting that hellish environment. Between your irresponsible students and the enabling "leadership," which apparently must win an argument with you no matter how ridiculous a position this requires, you simply cannot provide an education that has much value. My conscience used to bother me about this when I was subjected to it: so no, I don't blame you for wanting out.