Friday, January 9, 2015

Hiram is Baffled By His Own Committee.

I sit on a tiny committee of department chair, vice chair, and one Dean's office person. (I truly don't know what his job is, and he rarely says a word. He likes to take notes on a tablet, but I don't know what they get used for.)

We review adjunct hiring in our department once a year or so, making sure the part-timers are doing a good job. Oh, God, I don't mean we visit the instructors and offer help. No, that'd be too much work, and when I asked about it I was told it was "overkill."

So in a meeting yesterday, we filled in 5 new empty first year sections from a pool of about 8 part-timers who taught with us last term or at least in the past year. Two veterans got 2 sections each, and we had one section left over.

I know Part-Time Patricia, a funny and bright woman who is likable and quirky and just a delight. She has been here a couple of years, and she comes to the occasional department meeting. She's regaled me with stories from her world, freeway flying, and they stun me. But her attitude is fantastic, and I admit she seems smarter and more diligent about teaching undergrads than anyone else in the department, including me.

So, I said, "Let's give it to Patricia. She's dynamite."

The chair nodded, the Dean's office person tapped away, and then the vice chair pulled out some papers.

"I've got her evaluations here," she said. "They aren't very good. You can tell she's not a favorite with the students."

I was handed the papers first and THEY WERE PRINTED COPIES OF RATE MY PROFESSOR. They were mostly positive, but some angry kids had raked Patricia over the coals in the following examples: "She grades to [sic] hard," "I came late once and she made fun of me," "There's too much writing," "She won't let me email my essays," "I think she gives more help to the A students."

"What about the real evaluations," I said.

"Oh, they're about the same," the vice chair said.

"Do you have them?"

"Not with me, but I looked them over."

"Is there time to get them?"

The chair said, "No, let's just wrap this up."

I'd go on, but I just can't. The chair gave the class to someone else instead, someone I don't know.

I just slumped - I'm given to slumping.

The vice chair smiled, and we started to dismiss.

At the end it was just me and the Dean's office person.

"That's bad luck, huh?" the Dean's office person said.

"For everyone," I said.


  1. I have been in similar meetings where RMP "data" has been offered up by someone. I always say, "You know ANYONE can type that stuff in, right?" I had to convince a colleague of it and that sweet chile pepper review is still up on my own page!

  2. Hriam, I think it's time you demonstrated the value of RMP evaluations on the page for your department chair.

  3. I continue to be surprised yet glad that (despite having taught at my current institution both as a grad student and an adjunct) my name isn't up on RMP. At all.

  4. I like Ben's suggestion. In fact, it's crowdsource it.

    We can all contribute the names of our favorite adminibuzzards or chairs who believe a little too much in the power of evaluations, and then we can all go and rank them on RMP. We won't know whose contribution is whose.

    RMPbomb the f----ers

    1. This would be great! I just wish it wouldn't increase the chances of outing whoever dropped the names.

  5. Almost all of those comments are what I would expect from a better-than-average instructor, which is to say, one who actually makes the classroom about work.

    Customer service models are killing us.

  6. I, too, like Ben's idea, and Three Sigma's variation.

    But I think this calls for a stronger, more direct response. You're tenured, right, Hiram? I don't blame you for not having a stronger comeback in the moment (I'm no good at such responses, either), but, now that you've had time to think about it, you know this is not only baffling, but just plain wrong, so you need to speak up. At the very least, you need to write a letter (email) to the members of the committee, and perhaps a few other key people --- the Dean under whom the Dean's office person serves? President of faculty union/faculty senate/local AAUP chapter? maybe even all your tenured/tenure-track colleagues? -- expressing concern that your present adjunct evaluation process is not only unjust (and possibly illegal?), but also likely to undermine the quality of instruction (and is also in violation of the ADE policy on adjunct faculty -- -- which says that "adjunct faculty members should be hired, reviewed, and given teaching assignments according to processes comparable to those established for the tenured or tenure-track faculty members" -- but heaven knows whether anyone cares about that), and pressing for what you already know would be a better system: a full evaluation with review of course materials and class visits and careful reading of actual, official course evaluations, and probably a rubric to standardize what you're looking for, and how much each factor counts. Yes, that's a lot of work, but evaluating adjunct faculty fairly is one of the hidden costs of using so many adjuncts (one which, I'd argue, needs to be considerably less hidden).

    The danger, of course, is twofold: either you'll be ignored and/or dismissed (in which case, what's the next step -- letter to editor of student paper? local paper? legislator?), or -- perhaps worse, from your point of view, but somebody needs to do it -- you'll be put in charge of creating and implementing a fairer system of evaluation. If the latter, insist on refusing enough other service tasks to at least somewhat account for your time. And if there isn't enough tenure-track faculty service time available to create and implement the system -- well, that means you need a higher ratio of TT to non-TT faculty, right?

    No, I'm not naive about the possibility of all of the above coming to pass quickly, or smoothly, or at all, but I think you need to at least say something, because what you've described is really bad behavior, and people's careers are at stake (which sounds ridiculous, but, sadly, being an adjunct is actually one form an academic career can take these days, and, as we know from Maybelle's recent missive, good teachers do end up out of the classroom, and despairing in jobs for which they're much less suited, when they don't get enough work. You need to make sure your department is doing its part to keep the best people in the profession).

    1. You are right. Thank you for voicing it so completely and persuasively. I will be put in charge of it, I know, if anyone chooses to appease me, but I have felt like shit since it happened that I didn't do more at the time.

      But I'm grateful for your advice. I'm going to stand up.

      Thank you.

    2. Thank you. If you get the chance to do it, you'll likely end up at some point with everyone unhappy with you, from your TT colleagues (who don't need more work, I'm sure), to your adjunct colleagues (who are likely to be anxious about any change, because their lives are anxiety-provoking enough already, and also understandably unhappy about anything that reminds them of the power TT faculty have over them, even if it's an improvement on the current non-transparent system). But improving fairness and transparency in adjunct hiring/retention/scheduling does come under the category of things that TT faculty at the department level can do, with little to no likelihood of serious pushback from the administrative level, so it should, if at all possible, be done.

  7. Go Hiram! And (of course) keep us posted!

  8. These people aren't serious. If you have the time and inclination to pursue it along the lines CC suggested (and reason to believe your colleagues would support you), go for it. If it had been me, I would have resigned from from this committee on the spot. (The dean's office guy is the note-taker, maybe you can get the notes from him.)

    If you do stay in the committee, remember to bring a recording pen with you to the next meeting.

  9. Got a great idea for a new website! RMA. Rate My Administrator.

    My proffie wife would also like a RMBoR, Rate My Board of Regents.

    1. That would be handy. At least in my state, the gubernatorial election can somewhat play that role, but I'm not sure anybody is quite that much of a one-issue voter.

      Serious campaign-funding reform might also help, but I'm not sure how possible that is in the wake of the Citizens United ruling.

  10. The vice chair should be removed due to being unfit for service. The mere idea of using such unreliable data as RMP to make these decisions calls into question anything else she might be thinking.

    I am also dumbfounded that the chair let this stand and didn't demand the vice chair produce the "real" data before the decision could be made.

    It's possible that these two just don't like Patricia, and this was their only way to justify not hiring her. But there's a saying about not ascribing to malice what can be explained by incompetence.

  11. Egads, let me just add to this. I don't believe Hiram has to do all of this himself. There are certainly some other avenues. For one, he could rally some support.

    But the notion that he should be responsible for solving the entire adjunct crisis at his college is a little reckless.