Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's Different, All Right...

Higher education is probably the only industry in which a person is expected to get another degree and take a pay cut.

That's what happened to me, and others in my graduate school, when we finished our degrees.  We found that we were making less as adjuncts than we did as TAs or fellows.

Another odd thing about higher education, and education generally:  We the only professionals who are subservient to the office staff.  In any other profession I know of, the office staff serve the professional.

What are some of the other oddities about being in higher education that most people don't know about unless they're in it?


  1. I thought I worked in the only office where I was subservient to the office staff. My dean actually told our secretary (who honestly believes she has a voting seat on all committees and is quite verbal about her opinions on ALL topics) that there was a discrete line between office staff and faculty yesterday. The secretary looked as though she had just ingested worms. I am sure something will be sabotaged in the near future.

  2. At the place where I used to teach, getting another degree made one a magnet for all manner of abuse.

    After I finished my second master's degree, I made a copy of it for my personnel file. When I brought it to the HR office, I was bluntly told that I needn't have bothered as I wasn't going to be paid any more than what I was already getting.

    The odd thing was that there had been a major scandal some time earlier concerning a department head who suddenly resigned under mysterious circumstances. It turned out that her credentials were bogus and she was trying to keep ahead of the long arm of the law, but was eventually convicted of fraud. Instead of being grateful that I provided proof of adding to my formal education, I was insulted. Thanks a lot, guys.

    It was even more ridiculous when I finished my Ph. D. I was threatened with severe disciplinary action for having the students address me as "Doctor". Then there were those got mad at me because I had the audacity of having a bronze plaque made from a photocopy of my degree and then hanging it in my office.

    Later, due to contract negotiations, all monetary incentive for getting additional qualifications was removed from the pay grid. However, for each additional degree, certification, or professional registration, one could get an extra $1000 a year up to a maximum of $2000 annually above what someone with a B. Sc. had. I guess the place was afraid that I was in danger of becoming prosperous.

    Then again my former employer was near the low end of the pay scale compared with other similar educational institutions in my part of the country. It was there for several years and made sure that it maintained that status. If the survey one year showed it came up a level, it made sure that it dropped back to its rightful position.

  3. In the office staff I have dealt with, there is no subservience in either direction, only different realms. If you are dealing with getting onto the boss's calendar, scheduling facilities, getting keys/keycards, or, in a different career, getting a performance evaluation or any other form into condition to be signed by the boss, the office staff was God. In that previous career, I never saw a secretary fly a plane or drive a truck (Nor have I seen one scheduled to teach a class), but neither did I ever see a form signed by the boss that hadn't been proofed by a peon and the secretary (and normally kicked back for corrections).

    My office staff experience has taught me two things. Good staff make for a well run organization while bad staff are very hard to overcome. Good or bad, pissing off staff will make life very hard for you.

  4. At my former employer, there was a secretary who must have been an apprentice basilisk.

    She worked in a part of the campus which was shared by 2 different sections. In the reception area, there were normally 2 secretaries, one for Section X and one for Section Y. She worked for one of them, call it Section X.

    One day, I stopped by as I had some business with someone in what turned out to be Section Y. Ms. Basilisk was the only one there at the time. I had no idea that there was a division of labour so that she was only concerned about Section X's business and, apparently, the other one with that for Section Y. I asked her where I could reach my contact in Section Y and she lived up to her basilisk tendencies, hurling all manner of verbal abuse at me. After all, how *dare* I ask her to do something concerning Section Y when she worked only for Section X?

    I apologized and wrote it off to her having had a bad day.

    Some time later, I was there again on similar business and guess who was there and how she reacted to my asking about something in Section Y? (I think I asked her to put an envelope or book in my contact's mail slot or some such thing.) Yup. It was a repeat performance.

    When I explained that I didn't know who did what and for whom in that area, I received even more vitriol as, apparently, it was my duty to have known that ahead of time. Later, I asked our department secretary about Ms. Basilisk and was told that she was well-known for that sort of thing.

    As far as I knew, she was never disciplined for that behaviour as she didn't appear to have moderated it in any way.

    1. George Schultz, who as you may know served as Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, said that he'd worked in business, government, and academia. In business, he had to be careful before asking someone to do something, because there was a good chance that they would do it. In government, he found this was no longer a problem. In academia, he found it was often inappropriate even to ask.

      That said, even the secretary who works in Dilbert's division (in the private sector, of course) is a vindictive sociopath.

  5. Alan is dead on about staff, which I think applies to lots of fields beyond academia.

    A couple of good points about being a prof:
    At my pay rate, I'd have a cubicle if I worked in industry. I know people who make six figures without a private office, much less a window.

    We get tuition discounts amounting to almost free education for a spouse or child. Everybody gets employee discounts in other jobs, but free stuff is hard to come by.

    1. I think that's your school (and maybe others). Here in Wisconsin, there are NO free rides for spouse and children, or for yourself, for that matter.

      I always made it a point, wherever I was adjuncting, to be nice to the department secretaries. They know how to get things done, and they know where the bodies are buried.

  6. A college education is something that people are willing to pay for, and then be happy when they don't get it (and get mad at you when you give it to them).

  7. Ha! No tuition discounts over here in public-school-privatizing land. Nope, we are expected to pay the full freight, which is now beyond the reach of a humanities professor.

    But I was office staff during summers as a teenager, and the professors were rude as hell. I worked as a temp in downtown NYC, too, and the businessmen were infinitely more cordial.

    Now granted, all these were men, and I was a young woman. So maybe academics were just too dorky to handle routine interactions with a younger woman, whereas businessesmen were used to having a pretty little thing at their reception desk? No idea. But the contrast was stunning.

  8. Admin...where the flakiest of flakes end up (to keep making your life miserable).

  9. @DinaMC...2 former students of mine work in our admin now.
    Luckily, they are / were pretty good ones.

  10. I might not qualify for this forum, my load of misery failing to be equal to that of many here. One of the reasons for my lack of misery is that since I start working at my school six years ago, every single day, on arriving to work, I went to the secretary's office and spent a couple of minutes greeting her. Now and them, I bring her flowers or candy. Whenever I travel overseas, I send her postcards and bring gifts.
    I cannot count the number of times she's covered my backside, saved me from my errors, reminded me of deadlines, shielded me from student silliness, given me critical head-ups and occasionally faked my signature in order to file documents when I was away.
    Bottom line, in any department the secretary may be your best friend or your worst enemy. Don't mess with her.
    (My secretary is Canadian, thou, so this may not apply to every secretary).

    1. Good advice, though sometimes it's hard to hug a porcupine.

  11. Just wanted to add to French Professeur's account of not all secretaries/admins being bad people. In my last department, our administrator was probably the most competent one there. Yes, she gave opinions beyond her realm, and yes, she was a hotbed of gossip, but those are two reasons I liked her. After a while in that department, it was obvious that if she left, the whole darn place would fall apart.

    A typical interaction with her:

    ME: Uh, hi, I got this form in my mailbox, but I'm not quite sure what to do with it.
    HER: Oh, that's just something they're making everyone fill out this semester. Here, I'll fill it out for you.
    ME: Thanks!
    HER: (Fills out form.) Now just bring the form to--nah, I'll bring it there for you.
    ME: Thanks!

    I know everyone doesn't have as stellar an administrator as she was. But I did. And I really appreciated it.

  12. When I started on my Ph. D., we had a secretary who was a real sweetie. She was older and was well-liked by everyone I knew. She eventually retired after many years of service and was succeeded by a snotty young kid who was a snowflake before there were snowflakes. It didn't take long for me to dislike her because of she was high-handed and mouthy. She lasted about a year before moving to another department. I got the impression that her departure was not greatly lamented.

  13. I'll echo what ^Ruby and ^French Prof have pointed out: not all of them are awful, and some of them are downright goldmines of information and assistance.

    When I moved to Mid-Size Midwestern City from HUGE Midwestern City, I was looking to get back to teaching. I called the appropriate department at Large Prestigious Catholic University and spoke to the secretary. It was summer, and I knew there wasn't much home of getting a job for fall, but I asked anyway. The dear woman said "There's nothing open now, but send your CV in never know." The day my materials crossed the chair's desk, one of their adjuncts quit. I got an interview, and was hired on the spot to teach a half-time load.

    I brought that secretary flowers, and took the time to get to know her during the two years I was at the school. She's one of the people I missed the most when I left.

  14. Froederick--That should be on a bumper sticker or something.


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