Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If it looks too good to be true .... important life lessons

I took a new adjunct job far away to finally stop having a long-distance academic relationship with my Other Half. I would like to share with you all the lessons I learned.

1) The number of classes I was promised went from two every quarter after a probationary quarter to "Well, we never had the budget to have you teach anything more than Swamps 1 and Swamps 2. We haven't offered Bogs 1 in over a decade."  
Lesson learned: Get everything in writing.

2) The person who hired me left the institution. I found this out two weeks before I was slated to move across the country. So, all the assurances and things I were told mean absolutely nothing. 
Lesson learned: People leave institutions all the time and the promises they made to you have absolutely no meaning when they are no longer at the institution.

3) New Chair knows very little about technology. When I asked how to use Shiny, Expensive Room Technology, New Chair giggled and said, "Oh, even I don't know how to use it! We have training on that after the Fall term." That's right, I can learn how to use Shiny after my entire first quarter. Thanks New Chair.  
Lesson learned: Find someone else to teach you.

4) New Chair also stole credit from me. I learned how to code some new and fancy stuff in the LMS by spending a few hours online reading tutorials and watching YouTube videos from other universities. Trying to be Good New Hire, I showed New Chair these resources during a paperwork/meet and greet meeting. One day later, in a mass email I received from the Dean, I see an email exchange at the bottom between Dean and New Chair, where New Chair takes credit for "finding such a great resource" and the Dean thanks New Chair for "being such an innovator with the LMS."  
Lesson learned: Email everything to create a paper trail. Showing it in the office only lets someone else take credit for your research and hard work.

5) This place is so unprofessional it makes my teeth hurt. I find out that my next term class may be canceled due to low enrollment in the form of a mass email send to all the adjuncts in the department. Hey, at least I know Johnson's class can't be canceled because of access issues and that Caruth's class has a waitlist. Thank you for humiliating me by name in this mass email saying that "You have to make sure all your Swamps 1 students sign up for Swamps 2 or we'll be canceling your class."
Lesson learned: You can be treated inhumanely and humiliated even after only a few weeks on the job.

6) I don't have a key to the building, so when the Early Bird who usually comes to unlock the building does not happen to come on time or to be out of town, I have to wait for up to an hour in my car for the office staff to arrive.  
Lesson learned: Don't be more professional than your institution.

7) I was informed that I have to attend a five hour training meeting. Dean has not answered whether or not I have to attend it, or if I'll be paid to attend it. I checked my contract. It doesn't say shit about training meetings, and I'm not sitting through five hours of bullshit for a job that does not seem like it wants to keep me, despite three different staff/faculty saying "I hope we can keep you as permanent, full-time faculty!" (Is that this coast's way of saying "Let's do lunch"?)  
Lesson learned: People will ignore your emails.

It's looking like I will be let go after this term. No job. Nothing else is nearby enough that is hiring in my field. I was sold a bill of goods, and everything Old Chair promised ("I can guarantee you'll have at least X students for your Swamps 1 class, and we haven't canceled a class due to low enrollment the entire time I've been here!") seems more and more like a blatant lie to get me in the door.

My other job treated adjuncts humanely. If there was any possibility that you wouldn't be kept for budgetary reasons, the Chair would personally meet with you. He got teary when I said I wasn't going to wait for the budget situation to resolve. I guess I thought that other departments would treat me humanely as well.

I pour the little remnants of my soul into the few students that I do have in Swamps 1. I'm putting way more hours into this job and the prep for this job than the salary is worth. I'd quit, but these students have a genuine interest in Swamps, and it's refreshing.

To top it off, Other Half and I are having serious relationship issues, to the point where it was suggested that maybe it would be better if I moved out. I take a job far away from any professional and personal network, and I am met with a dying relationship. I'm not even making enough money at this gig to get a studio apartment. I just have to survive until the end of the term and try to either a) find another job in town, b) move back to my old job/city and scrounge, c) ask my parents for help. I don't want to do a, b, or c. I just want the reason I completely shook up my life to not be falling apart. I'm hoping it's the stress of finally living together after a decade of weekend trips and between term breaks, but perhaps it was irrevocably broken before this move and I refused to see it. Academia destroys everything that is beautiful in this world.

Perhaps a mod or long time reader could help me out with this. There was a post on RYS where a writer was going through the tenure year and getting divorced and wrote about how much s/he missed his/her best friend. It was something that stuck with me, how academia can be so all consuming that when you look up you realized you let everything else that was truly important fall apart.


  1. That sucks. I'm sorry this is happening to you. :(

  2. Hey Maybelle, really sorry to hear. Having very recently also chosen a relationship over steady employment, I really empathize. On the personal front, I don't think I have any good answers for you, other than if things are salvageable (and you want to salvage them) then give it a hard try. But If not, then don't throw good effort after bad effort.

    On the professional front, there is a lot of variance in how adjuncts are treated. I'd say my current institution is middle of the road; there is no possibility for a long term contract anymore, however the pay is ok, and they had me at decent health care for half-time teaching.

    However, one thing does seem consistent. Across my adjunct experiences now and in graduate school, I got smoke blown up my ass on a daily basis. Verbal promises for a soon to appear TT line, classes to teach the next semester, maybe a 1 year contract. None of it in writing and all of it bullshit. Even the contracts are contingent on funding and enrollment, so they can be bullshit too.

    It's not healthy, but I just expect to be out on my ass when my contract is up and pleasantly surprised when it gets renewed. You also might consider turning your CV into a resume and start flinging it to any job you might be remotely qualified for (academic or not). I don't think I can handle this adjunct thing for more than a year.

  3. Ohhhh, Maybelle, this hurts to read. I wish I had something to offer besides sympathy. This sentence was telling: "it was suggested that maybe it would be better if I moved out." The passive voice is perhaps to protect your Other Half from seeming like a complete asshole for making a "suggestion" when you don't have the income to survive on your own where you've moved? I say dump and run.

  4. Shit, Maybelle, that's awful. I hope that class keeps going well for you and can be a bright spot if things continue being horrible (of course, I hope they don't).

  5. That's awful. So sorry, Maybelle.

  6. I am sorry Maybelle for this sucky situation.

  7. OMG the next person in my department to giggle about how proud they are to get away with avoiding technology is going to get SMACKED in the back of the head.

    Our department recently had to fire half the supportive staff for budget cuts. The two secretaries that remain PROUDLY refer to how much they hate computers and how little they know about "an" internet in the department office and whether I can get "an" internet in my office... They have no idea what a Wi-fi is and do not understand that the copier can scan PDFs.

    How is this possible??

    Maybelle, sorry things are so piss-poor. Give it a term, reach out to university support, drink some whiskey, etc.

    1. Yeah, I'm with you on this. My problem is that my faculty colleagues are the ones bragging about this.

  8. @Maybelle: I am sorry this happened to you. I know the feeling all too well, having been feasted upon plenty myself by bloodsucking university administrators as an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor. It bites. And sucks.

  9. One quick note: you owe this institution nothing. If you can't afford to finish out the semester teaching that single section, then dump them. The worst that can happen is that you don't get a good letter of recommendation from them... but it sounds like that wasn't something that was going to happen anyway. There is no goodwill to lose in this case.

    Yes, your students will be hurt... but it's not you hurting them, you're just failing to put up with a bad job. It's the institution's problem, specifically the problem of the faculty and the chair. (And I say that as the faculty member who would get called in to teach the class on short notice.)

  10. Oh, Maybelle. I'm so sorry. Unfortunately, I have to join others in saying that much of the treatment you've experienced as an adjunct is pretty much par for the course (I'd second Bison's list of negative experiences as well). I can also say that I've observed (but not experienced -- at least not yet, though I'm keenly aware of the possibility) long-time full-time contingents let go, for the simple reason that things changed in one way or another in the department (a course or program was eliminated; they had to move to part-timers for budgetary reasons; or -- less common but still a real possibility -- they got a tenure line instead, and the full-timer wasn't eligible in one way or another, or was simply beat out for the position by a minty-fresh new Ph.D.). So, yes, never believe any promise or prediction, even if the person making it clearly believes it. They may well be deluded, in denial, or simply overestimating their prognosticatory powers. We're getting close to the point where tenure promise -- career-long employment barring major misconduct -- isn't really a promise, since there's always the "out" of eliminating and/or restructuring programs, and it's beginning to look like presidents and/or legislatures in some places are eyeing that "out" (and in some cases have taken it already -- see the experience of some foreign language faculty in the NY system).

    As for the Other Half -- the suggestion that you move out is simply unreasonable, and possibly unfeasible at this point. On the other hand, this person doesn't really sound like a keeper (suggesting you mutually rearrange the living space to allow for separate sleeping until you can figure out what comes next I'd understand; suggesting you move out, with no recognition that you're not in a position to do so precisely because you invested in the relationship suggests an inability to see your perspective which does not bode well for long-term happiness). So leaving as soon as possible sounds like a good idea.

    It sounds like you need a short-term plan for an alternate living space (maybe a rented room? maybe even in exchange for tutoring or checking to see an elderly person is alive and functioning each morning or something along those lines?), and some long-term cogitation on where you'd like to live, and what you'd like to do career-wise. Or, if you could more easily find short-term shelter in your old town and/or with family, maybe you need to leave town now. I, too, would say that if you need to leave mid-semester, you'd be justified in doing so (if your current institution has the technology for online classes -- and it sounds like it does -- you could give them the option of your finishing up the current class that way, or finding another instructor. The students will survive, and the institution is simply experiencing the logical consequences of paying professionals so little that they can't live on their own in the local economy).

    In the longer term, I like Barbara Sher's Wishcraft as an aid-to-thinking-about-possible-futures book. It's much more analytical and less woo-woo than the title suggests. There's also "So What Are You Going to Do with That?": Finding Careers Outside Academia (full disclosure: I know one of the authors).

    1. P.S. If you can teach yourself to code something on the LMS in a few hours using resources found on the internet, that sounds like a lead on possible alternate/future careers. In the meantime, if you decide you want to stick it out in your current town a bit longer, is there any way to parlay the emails you exchanged with your chair into a recommendation for a job in the IT or learning-support department or something like that?

  11. Thanks all for the kind words and support. I really appreciate it.

    I found the RYS article I was thinking of:

    It still sticks a nerve and sticks in my memory, even though I read it years ago.

    I'm not quite rudderless. I'm working on a new job angle, and that's where it became a sticking point with Other Half, who questioned how one of my job leads would affect our relationship. (For new job lead, think lots of travel and little time at home, but really, really nice pay.) We've been apart for so long, that we're just not used to having to deal with each other for more than a few days at a time. We've never really fought like this before, and I am just hoping it is the stress of a mutual move, moving in together, and some mutual job misery. *sigh* Growing up sucks.

    1. Okay, the "maybe you should move out" comment sounds a little less awful in that context -- it could have been sort of an emotional preemptive strike against being "abandoned" for the new job. It's still not good behavior, but I can see it being part of negotiating the whole business of how committed you are to each other, and to the relationship, and dealing with a lot of changes in a short time. I know you have no money, but maybe a counselor would be of help (church organizations sometimes sponsor relationship counselors who work on a sliding scale; of course, assuming you're not married, you would want to find one sponsored by one of the more liberal denominations, in order to find a counselor who could focus on the relationship without getting hung up on the married/not married issue).

    2. And the "Peaches" post is, indeed, memorable (though I find myself wondering a bit about the husband and his coping strategies. We don't hear what options he had, or tried, but it does sound like there might have been a bit of a blame-the-relationship dynamic going on there).


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