I have a conundrum. I have course evals to fill out as a student, and I absolutely love one of my professors. She's a gifted instructor. She's generous with her time. She lectures for an hour and a half twice a week without notes, writing and explaining equations from memory in a manner so charismatic she makes it look easy. When I talk about this class with the "good" students in the major who have taken it previously, they speak of her in uniformly flattering terms. People love this instructor, even the students who struggle. She's fair, tough, has a scary reputation in the lower division classes.
What's the difficulty, then? She's an adjunct, and because of statewide budget cuts, her job may be next on the chopping block. I am trying to figure out something I could say in a course eval that would send a message to the right folks that this instructor is so wonderful she deserves a promotion, not a pink slip. Is there special administrator code that would get this message across? Would a letter campaign work? I can think of at least fifteen people who'd sign off the top of my head...
This is so frustrating to me in part because I took another class outside my major this semester, supposedly an upper division course, taught by a tenured professor, where the entirety of the course grade is based upon multiple choice questions ripped directly from the text, and where a substantial (> 10%) number of classes were spent watching videos. This professor has job security, while the wonderful fabulous adjunct doesn't? How is this just?
Q: If I'm the "consumer," the "customer," how do I tell the admins how I'd like them to spend my money?!
- Alexandra from Asilomar
Don't look for justice. I would simply tell your good instructor that you want to help. Ask who the instructor's direct supervisor is, and write a crisp, clear, and supportive email to that person. Of course you could visit in person if you're that inspired, but something in print might be more useful.ReplyDelete
After grades are filed, go to the professor you like and tell her how much you enjoyed her class and that you are willing to do what you can to help. She will be flattered, pleased and possibly humbled by your praise. She also might know who you should contact in the university. You could do all sorts of things to help her out behind the scenes too. The thing is, you probably won't make a difference, no matter what you do except that you could make your professor very happy by letting her know that she did a good job.ReplyDelete
Oh, Alexandra, lovely Alexandra -- how many evals I got saying things like "give her a raise!" and "don't let her get away!" in my most exploitative jobs. Course evals can be used to punish an adjunct, but never seem to help them. Nevertheless, I second the advice to write a separate letter to her supervisor, with copies sent perhaps to the Chair and the Dean. It certainly can't hurt.ReplyDelete
I'll second the responses above--for all the reasons they give.ReplyDelete
Then I'll smack you HARD upside the head for referring to yourself as a "customer." For fuck's sake--you've been reading this blog for 7 years and you haven't figured out how very much that pisses most of us off (even if you do put it in "air quotes")???
Your tuition doesn't pay for salaries, in all likelihood. If you're at a state school, salaries are likely determined at the level of your state legislature (in the state budget, which allocates how much the state uni system can spend on salaries).
So no, you're probably not going to be able to persuade the Powers That Be to let her keep her job if they simply do not have the budget to keep her. But you can lessen her misery by letting her know how much she means to you (and if you encourage others to do so as well, that can only add to her joy). As someone who got that kind of support as an adjunct, I can tell you that it makes a difference in whether or not we keep fighting to stay in the classroom, or give up and go into corporate America with the rest.
I'm an adjunct (in case you couldn't guess from my handle), and if I were in a similar situation at my university, there is probably nothing you could do for me, even if I were the greatest teacher ever to walk the planet, and even if every student in my classes made a personal visit to the Dean on my behalf.ReplyDelete
It's a state school, with a decent faculty union, and one of the conditions of the collective bargaining agreement is that, barring illegal activity or some other incredibly unusual scenario, adjuncts are given classes based purely on seniority.
I love my department. They treat me like a colleague and not just some interchangeable part that teaches the lower-division courses. I also love my department chair; she's incredibly considerate, and she does her best every semester to give me classes, and to work out a schedule that fits with my preferences. But she has to offer classes to adjuncts in a strict order, based on seniority. I get my offer once the folks ahead of me in the pecking order have made their choices.
So, evals are not that big of a deciding factor? (Unless, of course, you expose yourself to your students.)Delete
Same arrangement at my own heavily unionized university. (And no, evaluations make absolutely no difference; in fact, one is not able to submit one's teaching evals at all when applying -- only seniority matters.)Delete
EMH, I guess that if one's evaluations were uniformly bad, with a bunch of genuine and reasonable criticisms that indicated a true lack of professionalism, then it might make a difference, although it's not clear to me what the Department Chair would need to do in order to skip over someone in the seniority order.Delete
Also, in my case at least, most of my "negative" evaluations students consist mainly of comments that I actually see as compliments. They complain that I want them to read too much; they complain that I'm too picky when it comes to grammar and sentence construction; they complain that my exams involve written answers rather than multiple choice questions.
I'm lucky in that the two Department Chairs I've worked under have both been perfectly satisfied with the level of rigor that I require in my courses, and neither has ever asked me to change my syllabus or dumb down my teaching style in order to please the "consumers."
Darling student, you could also offer to write a recommendation letter for her and/or provide contact info for future employers. You are articulate and you have something valuable to say about your prof and her professionalism. Let her know you are willing to say it.ReplyDelete
Write a nice, PROFESSIONAL letter (Do NOT refer to yourself as a customer) and have your friends that also took this prof's classes sign it. Send a copy to the department chair and a copy to the professor. Make sure you emphasize that she kept you engaged and made you work.ReplyDelete
And then all of you go and leave good reviews on Rate Your Professor. You never know.
What everyone else said above; basically, you have limited influence, but to the extent you have any, it would best be exercised through a letter written to her chair, and perhaps cc'd to her (and, yes, omitting any mention of yourself as a "customer," though I know you realize that's not what you are. The secret you may not yet have discovered is that "customers," while universally given lip-service respect by retailers, and also a handy tool for employers to hold over their employees' heads, aren't really all that valued in the capitalist system. Convincing people that they have power as "customers" or "consumers" is part of the illusion that has a significant part of the populace working for inadequate wages at Walmart or some fast-food joint so that they can afford to shop at Walmart or some fast-food joint).ReplyDelete
It's also worth considering whether the best outcome for your teacher would be to keep her present job, or to find another one where her abilities are adequately compensated. Of course an adjunct job is better than no job, but there are plenty of non-academic jobs that are far, far better than adjunct ones in the academy.
Plus one to all of this, especially to the fact that the customer's power is symbolic at best.Delete
Ditto, ditto, and, yet again, ditto. Another extra-strong ditto to Morose. Just make sure you do something.ReplyDelete
"I absolutely love one of my professors. She's a gifted instructor. She's generous with her time. She lectures for an hour and a half twice a week without notes, writing and explaining equations from memory in a manner so charismatic she makes it look easy."ReplyDelete
I've been called "unprepared" for doing the same thing.
The true injustice is not that your professor's about to lose her job--it's that your university employs adjuncts at all. Despite the massive "budget cuts," I'm guessing that your university could probably afford to hire a boatload of tenure lines tomorrow. (Assistant professors are remarkably cheap.) I'd be interested if you could figure out exactly WHAT they're spending their money on.ReplyDelete
Along with writing letters of support and recommendation for your professor, you might look into writing something about your university's reliance on adjunct labor for the campus newspaper--or enlisting a journalsm major to write something. How many adjuncts does your university employ? In what subjects? Why? How much are they paying them? Do other students at your university know that their math professors are making less than the employees at Taco Bell? Do other students know that the university actively tries to keep instructors from unionizing? Do other students realize that your university consistently undermines any lip service it pays to social justice, labor issues, etc?
That's not to say that any of this would pay off in a tangible way (your professor will probably still lose her job; your university will continue to exploit its labor force), but you might just try to raise some awareness about the issue. It's been my experience that students DO read their campus newspaper and are actually interested in what goes on in their universities.
DO what Middle Aged Morose said - write a letter to her boss and make sure she has a copy. A student did this for me, and it gave me the guts to apply for a University teaching excellence award (which she got to present to me at Graduation). This was a life changing moment for me, and this student's letter led to it. So Alexandra, just letting this instructor know how you feel, could be life changing for her personally, even if it doesn't change her adjunct status for now. In fact, if your institution has such an award, why not nominate this instructor for it and drum up support from other students to support her campaign? You can change a life!!ReplyDelete