How Would You Mentor Graduate Students? Another #Facepalm Fail

Today I was doing an interview bootcamp and came upon yet another #Facepalm Fail of the academic interview.

The #Facepalm Fail is: “How would you mentor graduate students?”

Actually, this might not rise to the level of a full-size #Facepalm Fail, because it will only be asked in certain contexts–interviews for jobs in departments with graduate programs.

Nevertheless, you should be prepared. One of the hardest mental shifts to make in the grad school –> job market transition is from being a graduate student to being a person in charge of training graduate students.

And yet make that transition you must.  This is a question that virtually all interview bootcamp clients bomb.  

Here, in brief, is how to respond to that question:  

“Graduate students at different levels will have different needs. First year graduate students will be struggling to simply adapt to the demands of graduate school, and for those students, I would focus on helping them navigate the expectations of the program, its requirements, and basic academic reading and writing skills.

Mid-program students who are involved in establishing their dissertation projects will need assistance in formulating an original research project, and then gaining a command of the theoretical schools of thought and the various methodologies necessary to conduct it. Teaching skills in grant-writing are also important at this stage.

With more advanced students I focus on academic writing skills, and also work with them to plan ahead for conferences and presenting work in public.

As graduate students finish the program I would focus on the job market and other professionalization skills such as fellowships, the job market, and networking. Overall I want to support students in both their scholarly growth as well as their professional development.”

Would that our own advisors had actually done–or even thought of doing–any of this!

The Ins and Outs of a Professional Academic Website (Guest Post)

Today’s post comes to us from Roger Whitson of the Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC) at Emory University.  Roger kindly stepped forward when I asked for a guest post on the often asked questions: Should I have a professional academic website? And if so, what should it do?  I’m so pleased to have this post to both answer those questions, and demonstrate with lots of live links how to go about creating such a website.  Thanks for this, Roger!
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I have to admit, I’m a little biased. I have been interested in personal and professional websites since around 1996, when I created my first website in college. I enjoy having a web presence. I like the idea that my friends can contact me and keep up with what I am doing. And I admit that I’ve said things I definitely wouldn’t want a job committee looking at online. When my colleagues tell me that they don’t want to have a professional website, I can understand the fear they have of saying or doing something that will come back to haunt them.

So, why am I an advocate of creating a professional website? As a member of the Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC) at Emory University, I believe academics should use digital technology to their benefit. Part of using digital technology positively is understanding and taking control of our online identity. It is almost impossible to not have an online identity these days. If you have ever responded to a blog post, you already have an online identity. If you have participated in a message board, or created a Facebook account, or wrote an amazon review, you already have an online identity. For me, it isn’t a matter of staying completely off the grid, it’s a matter of consciously crafting your online identity so that it most effectively presents who you are to potential employers.

Why should I have something other than my academia.edu site? Certainly, academia.edu might be enough for some academics simply wanting to have a single academic presence online. But, for those of us interested in business opportunities, non-academic and alternative academic jobs, other online services are important. Scholars are increasingly communicating on Twitter and writing blogs about their teaching and research. Different disciplines and fields might approach these technologies differently. Someone interested in the digital humanities and computer science, for example, may need to have a more robust digital presence than someone working in a more traditionally print-oriented field. Every year, DiSC conducts a very useful workshop on using online services like academia.edu, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to control what happens when someone searches for your name on Google. Here is a video of that workshop. I like to have a professional website, because I can control almost every aspect of that site. I, then, use sites like academia.edu and LinkedIn to point people to my professional site. Having more sites that you can control also gives you more control over what people see when they perform a Google search on your name. Take a look at me. Professional websites, LinkedIn, academia.edu, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites tend to score very high on Google search results.

What should my website do? I see my website as an online hub for my accomplishments and current projects. I include a copy of my CV, using a paper-sharing application called Scribd; a brief account of my research and digital scholarship; my teaching portfolio, with a teaching philosophy, student evaluations of my work, sample syllabi, and links to student projects; embedded Prezis of my most recent conference presentations; and videos presenting my teaching and research. I feel that my professional site allows my job applications to come alive. Not only do employers see that I presented on collaborative reading and annotation in the classroom at the 2012 Modern Language Association conference, they can read that presentation, and see a video of me giving an introduction to the presentation at the MLA. Finally, I like to keep a blog on my personal website. This allows me to quickly point people to changes in my CV, like receiving an award, being quoted in a magazine, or accepting a new job.

What should my website look like? The design of your website is important. It helps to characterize you as a professional and an academic. Since I am interested in technology, scholarship, and teaching, I wanted a site that looked contemporary and gave evidence for my digital skills. The rounded edges, the overall clean and non-cluttered design of the site, and the multiple links to other social networking sites show that I am heavily invested in social media and design. I also wanted my site to establish my name (“Roger T. Whitson”) and my visual identity. If you look, I have the same picture on my header, on my Twitter profile on the right, and on the favicon displayed in the URL bar. This photograph is also repeated in many of the social network sites I frequent. Further, I try to use the same username (“rogerwhitson”) on those same sites. The point is to create and maintain a consistent message about my identity. Fellow DiSC member Brian Croxall does the same thing. The design of a professional site gives you a good sense of an academic’s professional identity. Doris Bremm has a minimal online website (including only her CV, a brief page about her Spring 2011 class, and a discussion of a film series she curated), whose design visually reflects her dissertation’s focus on visual art. The pixelated background to Zach Whalen’s site references his scholarly interest in video games. Anne Pollack’s site features diagrams of hearts and pictures of researchers in order to foreground her work in biomedicine and pharmaceuticals.

Where do I go from here? There are several different platforms you could potentially use when designing a professional site. Some scholars use a simple WordPress.com site. In fact, DiSC also has a very useful workshop on creating a WordPress.com site. I like WordPress because it is an easy platform to use and is open-source. Further, WordPress.com sites usually take very little time to set up, you can choose from many different themes, and update them when you want. I downloaded my own WordPress package from WordPress.org and use a site called Hostmonster to be able to have my own domain name. While WordPress.com hosts websites, WordPress.org gives you the WordPress program to set up your own website whereever you want. Some people are fine with having  http://yourname.wordpress.com, but I like the idea that people can easily remember my URL (“http://www.rogerwhitson.net”). You can pay for WordPress to host your domain name, but there are further advantages to using WordPress.org. These include the ability to extend the functionality of your website using plugins. I use several plugins on my site including Blackbird Pie, which allows me to embed Tweets into my site; WordPress GoodReads Bookshelf, which displays images of the books I’m currently reading; and Vimeo Quicktags, which allows me to embed videos uploaded to the Vimeo site easily. Some scholars also use Drupal, code websites themselves, or hire a professional developer but these are solutions that are often too complex and/or expensive to really help individual scholars. I am also able, should I decide to do so, to change the design of my theme by using CSS in the Editor on the WordPress dashboard.

Ultimately, the choice to create a professional website depends on a number of factors: who is your potential audience? Are the schools you are applying to invested in digital technology? Does your professional identity include technology in any significant way? While many academics may not want to create a professional website for precisely these reasons, controlling your online presence is becoming increasingly important as employers gain skill in using digital technology. Creating a professional website is one of many tools you can use to make sure the message potential employers get from the web is the message you intend.

Two Societies–Separate and Unequal: Thoughts on the TT-NTT Divide

On Tuesday I posted the first of two posts on the New Faculty Majority Summit on Contingent Labor in Higher Education that took place in Washington,DC this past weekend.  That post was, as I said then, in a descriptive vein.  I promised a second one in a more meditative vein.  This is the post that reflects what I was actually preoccupied with most of the time I was sitting in the Summit.  And that is:  how far all of this is from the world I knew as a tenure-line and tenured professor.

One phrase kept coming into my mind throughout the day.  The phrase was:  “two societies.”  Two societies, that is, separate and unequal.  Or, in its original form, from the Kerner Report of 1968:  “This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

The Kerner Report, as it is known,  was a study commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots.

When it came out, the report was a damning indictment of white America and its abandonment of the black community.  It became an unexpected best-seller.  Its Introduction summarized its findings:

Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American.

This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution.

To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.

The alternative is…the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society.

This alternative will require a commitment to national action—compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.

The vital needs of the nation must be met; hard choices must be made, and, if necessary, new taxes enacted.

Setting aside any astonishment, in 2012, that a government-sanctioned committee would produce a document that included these words, I suppose it’s obvious why I found that phrase “two societies—separate but unequal” resounding in my mind the day of the Summit.  How much of a stretch is it to apply this to the tenure-line vs. NTT faculty context?  Let’s try it and see.

Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of university life; they now threaten the future of every university.

This deepening status division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for an administrative and pedagogical resolution.

To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the university community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic educational values.

The alternative is…the realization of common opportunities for all within a single higher educational context.

This alternative will require a commitment to action—compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every university administrator and faculty member it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.

The vital needs of the university must be met; hard choices must be made, and, if necessary, new funding models enacted.

This is a truth I know in my bones.

The fact is, as a tenure-track and tenured professor, I never gave adjuncts a second thought.  They and their circumstances, their needs and goals, were of no concern to me.  I knew on the one hand that the job market was brutal, and that it was by no means a foregone conclusion that I should have ended up employed on the tenure track, or that others of my acquaintance would not.  I did not believe that I was significantly more brilliant than others who ended up unemployed or adjuncting.

At the same time, by virtue of the fact that I DID succeed in gaining a permanent, full-time, tenure track position at Ph.D.-granting departments at a R1 institution, I was in the elite class.

I hasten to add that I didn’t feel “elite” particularly, and certainly not elitist, which is counter to my basic ethos in life.  And I was painfully aware of how, at the perennially cash-strapped University of Oregon, I enjoyed far, far fewer resources than peers at Ivy Leagues and upper crust institutions.

But on another more core level, I was elite indeed.  Because I was in the top tier—a tenure-line faculty at Ph.D.-granting departments at a R1 institution with a low teaching load and access to excellent funding for my research and writing.  I was being paid a (barely) liveable wage with benefits to do what was ultimately the work of the mind—to publish my research for the benefit of the discipline, and to teach it for the benefit of students.

At the time my identity hinged almost entirely on that elite status.  Not consciously, mind you.  It wasn’t that I felt others were inferior.  It was that they were irrelevant.  I was a player, and they were not.  I was in the game of academic status and competition and they were not.  I was credible, I was legitimate, I was competitive (for grants, awards, and honors) and they were not.   The people I “saw” (ie, who were visible to me) were the others who, like myself, were in the competitive status game.

Now, I hasten to add that even labeling that context a “competitive status game,” is to descriptively fail.  Because at the time, in that world, it wasn’t conceived of as a game but as sober and serious “work.”  It also didn’t feel competitive in an immediate sense since collegiality was common, and collaborations were also possible.

And above all, status was never, ever openly discussed.

So “competitive status game” is what I call it only now, with the benefit of hindsight.  At the time I was simply totally engaged in the impulse to produce and to get ever-increasing recognition and rewards for what I produced.

It was grueling, but it was also deeply, profoundly gratifying, and frankly, pretty fun.  After all, I did love what I did.  I loved my field, and my work, and my intellectual mission, and my pedagogical coolness (I was one of those young, hip assistant professors so beloved of the undergrads).  I loved campus life, and tooling about importantly heading off to conferences and meetings. I loved meeting colleagues for coffee and talking intently.  I loved, really inordinately loved, being able to write off for free desk copies. I felt powerful.  My world was, in short, completely absorbing. I had drunk the Kool-Aid.

And so it seemed to be for my colleagues, especially the junior ones.  We made wry jokes about looming deadlines, recalcitrant funders, and intractable reviewers.  But those jokes were the language that communicated our membership in a single tribe.  We were the people who “mattered.”

And to a large degree we were treated as such—the people who matter—by the members of administration who actually noticed us (which were not many).  We were, after all, the capital-generators, the content-producers of the university industry. Without us and our “research productivity” and grant money, the university had nothing to brag about or use to solicit endowment gifts.

So our idiosyncracies and self-absorption were more or less tolerated and enabled by the managers/administrators in charge of capitalizing on our talent.

I go into this detail to try and give a sense of the habitus of what was, ultimately, a position of enormous privilege.  And as with all positions of privilege, this one was invisible to us, its holders.  Because we only “saw” and engaged with others equally privileged, those outside that world were rendered invisible.  They were not people who mattered.

I’m not proud of this.  But I bring it up to articulate, with difficulty, my sense that because we occupied two societies, the tenure-line and the non-, the needs and concerns of the non- were utterly invisible to me.

More to the point, looking back now, I do not know how I could have found any place of common interest with NTT faculty at the time, or indeed through most of my career, extending well past tenure and even into my administrative career as department head. As a department head wrestling with criminally inadequate program funding (albeit in a department that almost never hired adjuncts because we had a pool of graduate students for our grunt-work), I mainly just wondered how fast I could find one when needed.  I don’t know when a space for common interest would have arisen, in what context, or what would have compelled it.

What did eventually happen was this:  as my absorption in this world declined for a constellation of reasons both personal and vocational, my ability to “see” those off the tenure-track increased.  When I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid (and this was a painfully slow, difficult, and shame-ridden process indeed), the rotten structure, the crumbling edifice of the whole system became visible, and in fact, inescapable.  A growing friendship with a NTT faculty member on campus, and hearing her story and daily experiences, brought it into relief. After a time I couldn’t see anything BUT those who are excluded and marginalized by the system of privilege I had once uncritically inhabited.  And that status began to stink, and I didn’t want it anymore.  By the time I had the opportunity to leave, I was ready.

What astounded me most then was the dawning realization of my previous total lack of critical perspective on the academic world and its structures of privilege.  After all, all of my scholarly “work” had been dedicated to the critical analysis of social privilege and power.  How was it that someone totally committed to a “critical” ethos was able to spend 15 years in a profession and never turn that critical eye onto it?  How was it that power and class status were something I analyzed, but not something I inhabited?

Let me hasten to add that I was well-versed in the issues of white privilege and class privilege as they applied to myself in “society.”  I was very conscious of my backpack.  It’s just that I did not make the connection to the equivalent privilege and status in *the university setting* itself.  Status differentials there –outside of the authorized ones of assistant-associate-full-dean-provost-chancellor—were invisible to me.

I think they are invisible to most tenure-line faculty, even the most avowedly Marxist.  As the Japanese proverb goes, darkness reigns at the foot of the lighthouse.  There is something profound at the heart of the university enterprise, particularly in the liberal arts, that mystifies its members to the structures of money and power that organize it.  I don’t know what it is.  But it apparently persists long after the economic justification for it has evaporated.

The Kerner Report went on:

Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.

What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain, and white society condones it.

Indulge me a moment longer in this exercise of translation:

Segregation and poverty have created in the adjunct ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most tenure-line faculty.

What tenure-line faculty have never fully understood—but what the adjunct can never forget—is that the educational institutions are deeply implicated in the ghetto. The educational institutions created it, educational institutions maintain it, and educational institutions condone it.

Tenure-line faculty enjoy a position of sanctioned ignorance about the conditions in which the NTT labor, and the degree to which tenure-line positions and salaries, not to mention funding for research, are paid for by the labor of others who may be going without health insurance, adequate medical care and food, and sufficient money to pay for rent and clothing in the same month.

“We have no adjuncts here” say faculty and administrators on campus after campus, apparently believing it, according to Adrianna Kezar, Associate Director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, who spoke at the Summit.  To acknowledge adjuncts’ existence next to you on campus, doing identical classroom work but getting paid 1/20th of the salary, is to acknowledge that what you do is a form of employment with an economic rationale. And to acknowledge the existence of a shadow economy on your campus, the underbelly of the university ideal.  Is this why so many tenure-line won’t meet the eyes of NTT they pass in the hallways?

As one tenure line assistant professor at the University of Oregon said to our campus union organizer, “please don’t come talk to me about a union.  If you make me think about how little I’m paid and how little I’m respected, you’ll take away the last, the very last illusion that I’m clinging to—that this is more than just a job.  Without that illusion I don’t think I can go on.”

While I think that tenure-line faculty are not actually privileged enough, in the present moment of the neoliberal university, to be able to afford not to have common cause with the NTT faculty, I believe that few of them are prepared to relinquish the sanctioned ignorance (or willful delusion) that derives from their invisible (to them) privilege.  Based on my former career and experiences, I believe that like Lyndon Johnson, most –with some notable exceptions—will continue to deny the existence of the two societies in their shared community, and hold fast to the status quo.

 

Seeing the Invisible Adjunct: Thoughts on the New Faculty Majority Summit

I am the last of the Social Media Team from the New Faculty Majority Summit on Contingent Labor in Higher Education to get up my blog post about the event in DC this past weekend.  This first post is in a descriptive vein.  My second, on Thursday, will be more meditative, as I think about the NTT issue against the backdrop of my former tenured status and career.

Josh Boldt, Lee Skallerup Bessette, John. A. Casey, Jr., Eliana Osborne, and Brian Croxall have all posted thoughtful discussions on their respective blogs of the Summit’s inspirations, provocations, and possible limitations.  I urge you to click on these links and read their work.  There is also the summary of the event posted in the Chronicle.

[Michael Berube, President of the MLA, added his column on 2/1/2012 in Inside Higher Ed.  A must-read.]

For myself, I was impressed and energized by the Summit. I don’t recall a conference in which every speaker was so passionate, eloquent, entertaining, and on-point. There was urgency here, and the outpouring of decades of rage, grief, impatience, and outrage.

The Summit itself was dedicated to Doug Wright, a long-time, beloved university teacher in Salt Lake City.  As NFM President Maria Maisto told us, Doug taught steadily and mostly full-time for some 20 years, not on the tenure track, at several institutions in Salt Lake City. Although beloved by his students and colleagues, he lost his job in a restructuring, and lost his health insurance.  Shortly afterward, Doug contracted cancer, and bankrupted himself trying to pay his medical bills before he died.  His story is told here.

Such human costs of the adjunct economy are mostly invisible.  For me, one of the primary achievements of the Summit was to demand their public visibility.  The small and large humiliations and desperations that accompany the adjunct experience, and the impact that this labor insecurity has on the learning conditions on campuses, are at the very heart of our contemporary university environment.

I want to share the insights into the “hidden costs” of a reliance on adjunct labor as they emerged throughout the day, as reflected in my Twitter stream, and amplified where appropriate.

Educational Costs

Leadership doesn’t see any connection between faculty status and student learning. The university is a black box.   Learning happens, nobody knows how….  There is an incredible lack of awareness, particularly among higher administrators.   On campus after campus I’ve been told, “we have no adjunct faculty  here.”  Adrianna Kezar, Associate Director, Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis  (KK: does anyone else hear eerie echoes of, ‘we have no gays in our country’?  More on that Thursday.)

Liberal education is at stake. Not a “just in time” educational experience of rushed, expedient classes that will fit into an over-crowded schedule between part time jobs, but education in fundamental thinking skills. Carol Schneider, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities

Interventions in student success and retention fall on the shoulders of contingent faculty. But those faculty are not heard from. There is no recognition of the problems for NTTs working with the most vulnerable students–last minute hiring, lack of resources/office space, no continuity, no email. The students who need the most resources are getting the least.  Heather Wathington, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, University of Virginia

We have to think about recovering the soul of higher education and correct the bloody-minded imbalance between ever-escalating research expectations and teaching. We will never return to the former conditions of higher ed employment. The Sputnik era of expansion is over…. It is naïve to think that NTT and TT faculty have common interests.  They don’t, and will diverge more over time.  They don’t care about you!  Heck, they don’t care about their own students! A few semesters ago at Princeton no tenured faculty member  in the Economics department was teaching an undergrad class.  Stanley Katz, Director, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies

The turn to contingent instructors is a core pillar of the privatization of education. Having our colleges staffed by contingent faculty undermines our ability to have a quality education.  They’re not available after hours,  we can’t get them on the phone, there is no continuity from one semester to the next.   It’s a culture of transactions instead of transformations! It’s ridiculous. Change must come.  Victor Sanchez, President,U.S.Student Association

Political Costs

Tenure is the guarantee of academic freedom.  The majority of faculty now work without academic freedom. Without the space of academic freedom, what is the purpose of the university? Claire Goldstene, Professorial Lecturer, American University

The real problem here is not money but power. Power means the courage to speak truth in class. Most faculty can’t speak truth today because they lack the protection and power of tenure.  Any NTT who says they teach in exactly the same way as a T-T colleague is delusional, or too clueless to be trusted with a class!  Joe Berry, Labor Historian and Author, Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education

What are the reasons people don’t respond to the contingent issue? For one, because they say, “welcome to real life; all American workers are contingent.”  Instead of commonality there is competition for a piece of the pie.  Breakout Session

Human Costs

The irony is that poverty-level wages are paid to faculty at colleges, which continue to be touted as path to middle-class status. Gary Rhoads, Professor of Higher Education,University of Arizona and Director, Center for the Future of Higher Education

What happens with the academic ponzi scheme when the margin call is made?  What happens when the students realize college education actually means lifelong debt, and its promise of upward mobility is fraud?    Rich Moser,  Senior Staff Representative, Rutgers AAUP-AFT

As an adjunct, my experience was closer to barista than to a professor.  And baristas don’t need to re-apply for jobs every 15 weeks….  We need to use art to get these stories out to people who wouldn’t read the Chronicle or a snarky blog by a disaffected adjunct. I know adjuncts on food stamps, homeless, living in van, dying without insurance. I know adjuncts who committed suicide.  The visual images of an adjunct facing his empty fridge, her car held together with tape, his shoe with holes in the sole…make a powerful intervention. Debra Leigh Scott, Adjunct and Independent Artist/Filmmaker.

My full-time colleagues often will not greet me or meet my eyes in the hallway. I am introduced by my department head not as colleague, but as ‘friend.’  I do not socialize with this man!   Commenter

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Some have complained that few concrete action points emerged from the Summit.  I think that’s thinking too narrowly about what constitutes action.

First, I think we gained insight.  It is utterly ineffective to make a moral argument to administrators about the inequities of adjunct labor qua labor, but what emerged in the discussion is the insight that if we can make a clear connection between the dependence on NTT labor and problems of student learning and retention, administrators are far more likely to both listen and take steps to change practices.

This means raising the dreaded spectre of “quality.”  As several speakers were at pains to say, adjunct teaching, due to its “just in time” and inconsistent nature, and its lack of protections, is not the equivalent in quality to tenure-track teaching. This is not because adjuncts are less talented, but because they are given far, far fewer resources and far more chaotic conditions in which to work.

It also emerged that accreditation can possibly be used to shame campuses into dealing with NTT faculty. This is not at all simple or consistent, but if NTT faculty are given access to accreditors, and the real costs of over-dependence on contingent labor is made visible, it is possible that the accreditation status of the institution will be affected.

And last, adjuncts have been invisible in the way that all marginal and subordinate groups are invisible to the powerful, privileged and mainstream. The tenure line faculty have no reason to “see” adjuncts (and indeed a constant refrain concerned the refusal of the tenure-track to actually make eye contact with the non-tenure-track, echoing one of the primary practices of everyday racism), and the undergraduate students don’t have the ability to grasp which of their professors are adjunct and which are not.  And as with all marginal and subordinate groups, visibility and identification is the first step to challenge, resistance, and change.

As Debra Leigh Scott suggested, the real-life stories of adjuncts, the true poverty-level wages that so many of them labor under, need to be shared.  Tuition-paying parents, and students themselves, need to be made aware of the compromised nature of the education for which they are paying six figures a year.

Scott is at work with partner Chris LaBree on a documentary about adjuncts called ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. In America, telling the stories of adjuncts who live in their cars, rely on foodstamps, and face the threat of homelessness.  Unfortunately, many adjuncts have been too afraid to come forward to be featured in the film.  They fear for their continued access to employment.

It strikes me that an ethnography of the contingent –immediate, on the ground, but preserving anonymity–could be a powerful tool for making the needs and conditions of this workforce visible.  I’d like to urge any anthropologists reading this to consider it.

And to conclude, a critique of my own.   During the day a query came in over Twitter from @Literarychica:  “How many adjuncts are women?  Lots of potential for analysis there.”  We agreed that impressionistically, women do seem to predominate among adjuncts.  @Literarychica remarked, “if that’s the case then gender (as well as race/ethnicity) should be part of the conversation.”

Indeed they should.  This was quite a remarkable absence in the program.  Certainly the adjunct experience is profoundly gendered since so many women end up adjuncting as the trailing spouses of tenure-track men (not that the opposite doesn’t occur—it does, but less often), or as arose in my Twitter feed, choosing to adjunct in order to have the flexibility to stay primarily at home with young children.

Now that the Contingent/Adjunct/NTT/New Faculty Majority movement has an edifice and some momentum, it’s important to remember the lessons from other rights movements—there is no one “adjunct” identity, and we need most of all to see and hear from the many different kinds of people that have become the unacknowledged, hidden-in-the-open majority of our university teachers.

Live Post from #NewFac12 National Summit in Washington, DC

Hi folks, I’m on the Social Media team for the New Faculty Majority which has put on the National Summit on Contingent Labor in Higher Ed today in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the AACU meetings.

8:19 AM:  I am going to be putting up thoughts on FB/Twitter, and some thoughts here as well.  This post will grow over the course of the day.  STay tuned.

8:15 Gary Rhoads the first speaker.  Causes of reliance on conting. labor?  Core part of new knowledge regime in US higher education, which constructs college/univ as corporate enterprise, and faculty as employees.

“Just in time” students matched by “just in time” faculty—less time on campus, piecing together an over-stressed schedule of work and study, distracted, under stress….

Irony:  poverty level wages to faculty who teach college—-the path/entry point to middle class status.  YES!

Contingency worst in the institutions that serve first gen and minority students….  reinforcing the class divide between the rich and the rest.

8:35 Claire Goldstene:  Henry Kissinger said that academic battles are so fierce because so little is at stake, but in fact, in this case, the stakes are high.

Academic freedom is at stake.  Academic freedom is tied to tenure.  The majority of faculty don’t have tenure.  Thus the majority of univ. faculty are not working under conditions of academic freedom.

Is the univ. about academic inquiry, or is it about lowering costs and increasing revenue/fundraising?

As Naomi Klein said in Shock Doctrine, the current economic “crisis” shields a range of adjustments in higher ed toward a corporatist logic above all else.  But the assault on tenure and the crisis of cont. labor is not the last few years!  It’s a decades long process.

Privatization of production of knowledge.

Universities under assault from the forces of neoliberalism that have a 40 year long history.  The loss of tenure and academic freedom diminish the chance that progressive ideas and resistance to neolib will come from the academy.

This is not a NEW crisis–it is a 40 year old history of an assault on progressive ideas as expressed through progressive thought in the university setting.

8:45:  Carol Schneider, President of Association of American Colleges and University.

Asks people in univ. leadership in audience to raise their hands…..  about 5 hands go up, in a room of 200.

“Not enough!”  The crisis on the ground that all of you as adjuncts understand intimately is not even seen as a crisis or seen at all by univ. leadership.  Absolutely true.  When I was dept head, the needs of adjuncts were not on my radar.

Q and A:  800 lb gorilla in living room is overproduction of Ph.D.s.  It is shameful that department after department tries to grow their Ph.D. programs without a thought to the existence of jobs for those Ph.D.s

Gary Rhoads response:  Right now colleges are in crisis trying to meet the skyrocketing demand for college ed.  The solution is not to dis-invest in faculty and staff, it’s greater investment.  Austerity budgets and cutting costs are not the solution; we need MORE full time faculty to meet the demand.  (applause)

Panel Two:  Promising Practices, Proposed Solutions

Adrianna Kezar:  I am on the tenure track but have been on my univ. committee at USC on contingent fac; I’m the only tenure-line faculty who has been, for the past decade.

Incredible lack of awareness!  On campus after campus, people tell me: “we have no contingent faculty.”  I have to call them out. (KK:  This is astounding to me, and yet not.  Anyone else hear the parallel with: “we have no homosexuals in our country.”)

Motivation to change is largely missing.  Recommendation made by one group in isolation; we don’t engage with multiple stakeholders.  This summit is exciting because engaging multiple stakeholders.

Leadership do not see connection between faculty and student learning.

Maria Maisto, President of NFM:  tells us the motivations of the conference to respond to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment for Colleges and Universities.  And tells the sad story of Doug Wright, a long-time adjunct who lost his job in a restucturing, lost his health insurance, got cancer, bankrupted himself paying his bills, and died.  Please read about him here: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/30/adjunct

Jack Longman:  British Columbia is a fine place to be an adjunct.  There is a single salary scale that covers both FT and PT/NTT faculty.  Seniority is the determining factor.  Americans have trouble grasping this.

Anne Wiegard, President, NFM Foundation:  My struggles with faculty unions constantly surprise me.  However, staff are our allies and need to be included.

Q and A:  Transparency is key here.  The constant refusal is :there’s no money.  In fact, there is plenty of money.  Taxpayers have a right to demand information about uses of their funds in the higher ed system.  And the information can be used to defend rights of NTT.  The role of salaries is NOT the main reason for the escalating college costs.

Panel 3:  Regulatory and Organizing Strategies.

Rich Moser: Senior Staff Rep, Rutgers AAUP-AFT

Coalition-building is key.  It builds a community of interest based on enlightened self-interest, while acknowledging the conflicts of interest that are real and alive in the room.

The inside/outside approach—insiders mobilize to get the outsider dissent legitimated and funded.

Joe Berry, labor historian and author Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts for Change.

I am giving some tough love:   Insiders may extend a hand of charity, but they don’t understand the needs of the disenfranchised.  The disempowered must agitate and mobilize, and there is work to be done to speak with the NTT about their fears.  Fear is the greatest obstacle.

The unexpressed fear is more powerful than the expressed fear, so get the fears out and on the table.  And ask them—how secure are you if we do nothing??!

>Lunch<  I get to chat with John Casy, Lee Bessette, and Brian Coxall!  Cool!

And I get to finally meet in person Scott Jaschik, Editor of Inside Higher Ed.!  He rocks.

 

Panel 4:  Changing the Culture

Heather Wathington, Western Interstate Commission of Higher Ed and UVA Asst Prof in Higher Ed.

The needs of reform to reach and improve college experience of first gen and most vulnerable students fall on shoulders of NTT faculty, who have the fewest resources to deal with them.

While the NTT faculty are very high quality, they lack resources such as consistent email and office space, continuity of access to their students to provide a connection after the class, they are hired last minute and may not be able to create the best courses, etc.

Changing the culture will require changing the micro-practices of the NTT hiring process.

 

Debra Leigh Scott:  Adjunct Professor and Independent Filmmaker and Artist

My job is more like a barista than a professor.  We are closer to server culture than academic culture.

I wrote a play about my daughter, who is a corporate lawyer and whose first year starting salary was 5 years of my best salary combined.

We discussed this, and she ultimately said to me, “you should have done something else.  You didn’t have to struggle like this.”

I said, “I trained for a decade to do this work.  It was meaningful to me.”

She said, “you dragged me along with you in your poverty.  I refuse to be so poor.  It’s why I chose the path I did.”

When the play was performed audience members came up afterward and asked if it was really true, how poor I was.  This kind of artistic intervention will change the culture.

At another dinner at my college, an adjunct and I were at a planning dinner event.  My colleague ordered water, not wine.  The tenured faculty said, “oh come now, you have to have wine!”  When he ordered the cheapest wine, then they said, “oh come now, you can’t drink that drek!  You have to order a good wine!”

Why didn’t he want to do this?  Because he’d looked at the prices on the menu and knew he could not afford both.

Ultimately, he made an excuse and left early, without ordering dinner.

I was mortified, horrified….and also, “damn I wish I was filming this!”

Having the visual evidence of this interchange would show the real condition of adjunct workers.

I know adjuncts who have lived in their van, lived on food stamps, died without insurance, killed themselves.  Their stories need to be told, and told through art, not just blog posts by disaffected adjuncts and in the CHE.

Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director, Center for Community Change.

There is a move underway to roll back the 20th century.  Workers rights, unions, being a welcoming country to immigrants—trying to undo all of these gains.

There is an attack on the poorest workers in the country, the marginal worker.  in response, there have been direct action campaigns

Stanley Katz, Director, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, and 2011 National Humanities Medal Recipient.

I am actually on a contingent contract–renewed year by year.  Nevertheless I have an excellent salary, reasonable assurance of permanence, and a beautiful office.

I went to grad school in 1955; while I was there, Sputnik happened.  Jobs exploded.  nobody in my generation had to apply for jobs—there were never enough applicants to fill all the jobs there were.

In my view, we will never return to the former conditions of employment in higher ed, as we had in 1955.

We are under extreme threat to roll back the gains of the 20th century as Deepak said.

Q and A:  Can we really not go back?  I’m not sure we know that.

Supply and Demand on the Academic Job Market: Thoughts on Obsolete Professions

On Tuesday I attended a card-signing event on campus that was the formal launch of the voting process for the University of Oregon faculty union.

The faculty union has been a long time coming, and this time it looks like it might actually happen. I had already signed my union card of course.  I attended the reception because I was curious to see the turnout. There is more resistance than I ever expect on college campuses to unionization efforts, even among ostensibly leftist or radical faculty. It pisses me off.  

The turnout was pretty good.

While I was at the reception (where I got an earful about the shameful erosion of our health benefits this year—likely costing a typical family of four an additional $1600 annually just to start, not counting any catastrophic medical events) I found myself in conversation with a rep from the AAUP.  I told him all about the upcoming New Faculty Majority Summit, “Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education.” and its connections to faculty unionization efforts.

We got to talking about my business, The Professor Is In, and about the crisis of Ph.D. hiring. I spoke about the shame of Ph.D. departments and faculty that continue admitting graduate students all the while knowing the majority of them have no chance of work in their field. My AAUP friend demurred. “It’s not an issue of oversupply,” he said sternly. “Departments don’t have control over the size of their Ph.D. programs. That is determined at the Dean’s office.”

I told him he was wrong, of course. In my departments we certainly had control over the size of our graduate admissions each year. The Dean’s office didn’t dictate a minimum size! On the contrary, it dictated a maximum, by virtue of chronically inadequate TA and fellowship funding. We could easily have admitted fewer students each year, and funded the ones we did admit better. Did we choose to do that? Absolutely not. We continued to wheel and deal and finagle to leverage the maximum number of new Ph.D. admittees out of the circumscribed funds we controlled.

Never, ever, at any time, not even once, was there a discussion of the question: do these Ph.D. students we’re admitting have a reasonable chance of using their Ph.D.s for employment after leaving our program?

That question was entirely irrelevant to our deliberations. The ultimate professional fate of the graduate students had absolutely no significance in their value to us as faculty.

Instead, their value to us as faculty hinged on:

  • Our egos. The “best” (ie, most successful and famous) faculty members had the most students. The quantity of a faculty member’s Ph.D. students boosted the faculty member’s status vis-a-vis colleagues and conferred bragging rights.
  • Our teaching needs. The department quite literally could not run without the teaching labor of the graduate students. In one of my departments the entire first, second, and third year language programs in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean (some 30,000 credit hours annually) were handled entirely by graduate students.
  • Our legitimacy. A department without a Ph.D. program is a second-class department nationally and on campus. A department with a smaller Ph.D. program is a “lesser” department than one with a larger Ph.D. program. No faculty member would willingly work to reduce the size of the department’s graduate program, because it would reduce the status of the program, and thus the status of the faculty members associated with it. Ultimately, it would reduce the standing of those faculty members for things like raises and research funding.

You can’t blame individual faculty members for the crisis,” said the AAUP representative. Au contraire, my friend. You can. You should. Until individual faculty members individually and collectively confront the ways that their own economic self-interest and social capital is fundamentally tied to the recruitment of Ph.D. students who have little or no chance for meaningful, permanent academic careers, this exploitative system will not change.

Some people argue, of course, that the problem in academic hiring is not an oversupply of Ph.D.s, but an “under-demand” of tenure-track lines, given the wholesale shift from tenure-track to short-term adjunct labor.

It is true that demand has plummeted. But so has demand for blacksmiths and switchboard operators. Would anyone have sympathy for a system stubbornly determined to turn out thousands of blacksmiths and switchboard operators a year? Why this defense, then, of a system that turns out thousands of unemployable Ph.D.s?

The difference in the case of the academy is that apparently the evaporation of demand is hidden, even to the workers themselves, who have somehow let themselves be hoodwinked into believing that the academic workplace needs them, and will  provide them with permanent, meaningful, reasonably compensated work.

Nobody is facing or telling the truth here. Certainly not the self-interested faculty. They have no incentives to do so.

Adjuncting and Stockholm Syndrome

A few weeks ago I found myself in an illuminating exchange with a client.  We were “off the clock,” and the dialogue (by skype chat of all things) veered into an interesting and unexpected direction— the psychological state of people in adjunct positions.  I’ve been mulling over our chat ever since.

I am devoting today’s and Thursday’s blog posts to adjunct-related issues as part of my work on the “Social Media Team” (or, affectionately, Twit-squad) of the New Faculty Majority Summit on Contingent Academic Labor in Washington, DC, this Saturday. I’ll be attending, and blogging and tweeting from the site.

In preparation, I want to write today about my chat with my client.

Here’s how it went (with some slight edits for effect):

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Adjunct Client (hereafter, AC):  Incidentally, do you offer advice on how to survive being in adjunct hell? You would not believe how close to serfdom my current job is. I told myself I would leap off the Sears Tower before I got into this position. Yet here I am.

Karen: You know….. I’ve been thinking about that. I have never been an adjunct, never experienced the kind of situations I read about from adjunct blogs. What is it exactly—and be specific—that you feel like someone in your position needs help with?

AC: Ah, well, you know. How to make the best of it. Is it appropriate, for example, to assume that since the institution is almost literally asking me to make bricks without straw (no photocopies, for example), and that they’re paying me close to minimum wage, that they don’t expect superstar professional performance from me? I can’t stand the thought of half-assing things. Every cell cries out against it. But we have almost no professional support here. It’s as if the admin doesn’t really care what we do.

I guess my question is, Should I consider my first task being an academic on the job market or being an adjunct?

Karen: Um, that’s easy: academic on the job market. Seriously, do I really need to say that?

AC: Well, I think most people in my position perceive that their first ethical responsibility is to their students. It seems almost fraudulent to me to be working here and still constantly sending out applications. Of course, I’m more neurotic about these matters than some people, but, yes, a lot of my colleagues from grad school say similar things.

Karen: See, this misguided loyalty is what the institutions depend on to exploit you. I mean, it’s not misguided in a sense of higher moral good. But just think—you can’t keep doing good in the world as a teacher if you remain exploited indefinitely. The best good you can do is to find steady work with a liveable income. And to do that, you must be selfish.

AC: Alas!

Karen: Stop with the “alas”! You don’t need to tell me this is an ends justify the means argument. But seriously, throwing yourself personally on the sacrificial altar of student care does not change a fundamentally exploitative system. Your job is to protect yourself.

AC: I can tell you, though, that this is overwhelmingly the mood among people I know. People are cathected onto their teaching.

Karen: Yes, I’ve noticed that, and it’s bizarre to me. Truly bizarre. I have a former Ph.D. student whose committee I was on years back, still run into him occasionally. He’s deeply, profoundly embittered that “all his years of brilliant teaching” have not landed him a job, gotten the respect and recognition of the institution, blah blah blah. Are you kidding me???? Of course it’s not respected! Who respects teaching? Institutions don’t hire you for your teaching! How is that message not getting through????

AC: Oh, because the counter-message is everywhere! It’s like an urban legend among job-seekers. Teaching is everything! Your “teaching portfolio” is the Grail!

Karen: Why? Why? Why? Do you guys not talk to faculty? Or do you not listen to their answers? By faculty, I mean at your Ph.D. institutions, not at the terrible adjunct locations you end up at.

AC: Candidly, we get many, many contradictory claims from faculty.

Karen: Well, fair enough. Most faculty are idiots, pure and simple.

AC: You would not believe how many outright contradictions I got when I was preparing my materials. In the end, I didn’t know what to think. But the worst was simply getting purely impressionistic feedback without specifics. You’ve been a lot more concrete than than most of what I’ve gotten on these materials. And I daresay the vagueness contributes to the the sense of contradiction.

Karen: I can believe that. Faculty members are either ignorant of the true conditions of the market, or else they misguidedly think they’re being “nice” by reassuring you that what you’re doing will turn out ok in the end…

This conversation is incredibly illuminating. I need to write a post on this. Right away.

AC: I can tell you that being “authorized” to be a job-seeker first is a huge relief to me.  Seriously, the sense of fraudulence whenever I start working on an application is overwhelming.

You can quote me. So, yes–preach that Gospel far and wide. Go tell it on the mountain!

Karen: I will. BTW, what do you mean by “sense of fraudulence”?

AC: The sense that I’m merely playing at being a job-seeker to avoid the real work of, say, answering student e-mails (which, after all, is what I’m getting paid for). The sense that a person who describes his “research” while teaching correct comma placement is risible and deluded.

Karen: Dude, that’s fucked up. That is totally Stockholm Syndrome! I mean, why would taking an adjunct job derail your sense of yourself as a legitimate tenure track job seeker with a research agenda?

AC: It’s not just me. Trust me.

Karen: I believe you. But it’s fucked up!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I know that adjuncts need to teach well for a lot of reasons—because they want to be hired again, because they are dependent on good student evaluations, because they’re trying to perfect their craft, because they genuinely care.

But when teaching well becomes an end in itself, and becomes the goal to which all else is sacrificed, including the adjunct’s economic self-protection and psychological self-care, then something is terribly, terribly wrong. That’s where the adjunct begins a willing participant in the mechanisms of his own exploitation. That is Stockholm Syndrome.

Adjuncts cannot necessarily just walk away from the exploitation of the system at large, when adjuncting may be the best option (at least in the immediate term) to utilize the Ph.D. for pay, keep the wolf from the door while seeking permanent work, and create a record that will help in that search. But adjuncts should never, ever identify with their exploiters. They should never cathect onto or identify with the teaching labor that is being extracted from them. Because that is to identify with, form an identity around, the exploitation itself.

Yes the students are being underserved and neglected by the mainstream faculty. Yes they “deserve” better. Guess what? Making the world better for the undergraduates is not your job. It is the job of the tenure-line faculty. If they fail to do it, that is their problem, and they can reap the outcome of that choice.

I can’t stand the thought of half-assing things. Every cell cries out against it.” That’s exactly what they count on. Your higher moral code keeps you working yourself sick for them, for peanuts, while neglecting to invest adequate time in your own self-advancement.

Your job is to take care of yourself, ensure your financial well-being, and pursue your career success through 1) the means that actually accrue useful capital on the tenure track academic job market: peer-reviewed publications and major grants; 2) re-tooling yourself for non-academic work.

Yes, sometimes the exploitation cannot be avoided. But do not ever mistake it for anything but what it is: exploitation. You can live with it for awhile, but never forget that they are not your allies or your friends, they do not have your back, they do not share your values, and they will dispose of you when you are no longer of use to them.  Some of them may be nice people.  That is immaterial.  Do not waste your time raging about how they should “appreciate” all you do for them and their students. They have no economic incentive to do so.  Don’t be your own captor.

 

 

Behind The Scenes of a Job Search: Just How Important is Your Teaching? (Guest Post)

This is a Guest Post by a reader who shall remain anonymous.  He teaches at a regional state institution.  It’s the kind of place of which people say, “teaching is what counts.”  He is here to tell us what just happened, this past fall, in a job search, when the rubber hit the road on the question of:  just how important is teaching in ranking the candidates?  Short answer:  not very.  Adjuncts:  read this and learn.  Your teaching will not get you a tenure-track job.

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I am a tenure-track assistant professor in the humanities. I work at the sort of school that most of us, when we entered graduate school, thought we would only consider working at if we couldn’t get a job anywhere else. The teaching load is heavy. The location is not ideal for most academics. The institutional culture can, at times, seem more like the DMV than an institution of higher learning.

This year I was on a search committee, which recently concluded its work with a successful hire. We got a lot of applications. We had meetings to figure out how to sort through these applications, how to rank them against each other in relatively objective ways that would also allow us to process the many candidates. This is when a very interesting thing happened.

There was a major conflict over how to rank candidates, and the conflict spilled out beyond the confines of the committee and the department itself.  It was only resolved when administration delivered a verdict.

I mentioned that we have a heavy teaching load.  Some junior faculty—not the most junior, but those hired before 2009— thought that this meant we should mainly prioritize teaching experience, statements of teaching philosophy, teaching portfolios, course evaluations, and so on in our rankings. They thought that because we have a heavy teaching load, our school has a mainly teaching mission, and candidates should be judged on their teaching.

This reflected their own vision of their job. They were relatively content to come here, settle in, teach a few courses, publish the minimum amount needed for tenure, and then lead the comfortable life of the tenured professor. This was an entirely reasonable set of expectations when they were hired, and it is what most tenured faculty at the school have indeed done. Some are good teachers, some are bad, very few are known in their field. By and large, it’s not a bad life and most of them are pretty content. It does, however, lend the place the aforementioned DMV-like atmosphere at times.

There was another school of thought.  The really junior faculty—the ones hired after 2009—wanted colleagues more like them.  They have significant research profiles, publish, win money for research, and do extra service, while being fine teachers.  Their line of argument went, “none of us were great teachers when hired, but we learned to teach perfectly well, so let’s prioritize hiring someone who is an active scholar, publishes a lot, and who won’t just phone it in in terms of service.”

Although some of these post-2009 hires are actively seeking new positions, others have sunk roots in the locale. All realize that, given the state of the job market, they could be here a long time and want to make the best of the situation.   They are dedicated to raising the research ranking and developing the research culture of the institution, and see themselves as contributing to its transformation.

A stalemate ensued. No agreement could be reached. 

Would it be “teaching-first?” In that case, the many multi-year adjuncts would have a distinct rankings advantage, despite no real signs of research or non-teaching accomplishments.

Or would serious research potential win out?  In that case, we’d focus on someone with exciting ideas and a dynamic research agenda.  We had a great pool of freshly-minted PhDs to choose from who had a little bit of teaching experience but already had several publications.

At one point the “teaching first” crowd invoked a moral argument. How could we look at all these multi-year adjuncts and not give one of them a job? They had dedicated themselves to their students and been super-exploited by various schools in order to barely scrape by as adjunct professors. Certainly, it made us all sad to see people teaching eight or nine classes a semester for half our salary and no benefits. Frankly, I think I cried looking at a couple of their c.v.s (and only in part because of how poorly written they were). But, you don’t hire people out of pity, and even the “teaching first” crowd realized the absurdity of this line of argument after a little while.

In the end we hit a stalemate between these two diametrically opposed visions of the institution, a stalemate that was only resolved when Administration weighed in.

And, eyes always on the bottom line, the administration spoke:  Research Wins.

The administration did not waste time wringing its hands and piously invoking our teaching mission. “Teaching mission?”  Please.  That’s for the public.  As they told the department in no uncertain terms, active scholars make the best teachers.  Indeed, they promptly took the opportunity to chastise the “teaching first” crowd, publicly, that their tenure cases would be at risk if they didn’t step it up and publish more themselves.

The message was very clear: anyone can teach, and the administration is tired of professors who come here, settle into teaching and then do a minimal level of research and service both.  The research-centric post-2009 hire, by contrast, are competitive with junior faculty at higher ranked schools with lower teaching burdens. Apparently, this boosts the campus’s standing with the state, which brings more money in, which makes administrators happy.

The lesson to be derived from all this? Once you can show that you have taught a couple classes successfully, teaching does not count very much toward getting hired even at teaching-heavy regional institutions like mine. Administrators correlate an emphasis on teaching with long-term lack of productivity and unwillingness to do time-consuming, necessary service post-tenure.

Meanwhile, junior faculty who have been hired in the past three years correlate a teaching emphasis with boring people they can’t talk to about cutting edge research, and who probably won’t even get the jokes we make.

We won’t even speak of the colleagues who can’t be bothered to do anything at all.

A caveat on teaching: Do not draw the conclusion from what I have written here that you should apply for a teaching-heavy position if you are totally averse to teaching. While teaching may not count too much in getting hired, you will do a lot of it once you are hired, and if you can’t learn to sometimes enjoy it (and other times not hate it too much), you will be miserable at a school with a heavy teaching-load. That kind of misery makes most people totally unproductive, and you will most likely not be able to publish your way out of the job. Your first semester with a heavy teaching load will be rough, and so you will want to be able to enjoy the challenge and manage the steep learning curve and get some satisfaction from watching yourself progress as a teacher and from teaching students in general.

 

Why You Need Recommenders From Outside Your Department

I’ve had a raft of new clients this past couple of weeks seeking my help in strategizing for the Fall 2012 job market. I applaud this foresight and planning, and recommend it to all who know they will be on the market next year.

One piece of advice that I shared with each of these clients is: start cultivating a third or fourth recommendation letter writer who is not from your Ph.D. granting institution.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but having all of your letters come from faculty from your Ph.D. institution/committee is a sure-fire sign of a job candidate “Not Ready For Prime Time.”

It isn’t a complete deal-breaker, particularly if you are blessed with faculty members from your campus/department who are exceedingly famous and influential in their own right. Similarly, if you are an early ABD, the absence of an external letter writer will not be completely damning.

But the fact is, the best, strongest, most successful competitors for the jobs you’re applying for–even the ABDs– will have cultivated well-known, influential senior scholars in their field/niche, from outside of their campus, to write for them.

And if you are more than one year beyond your Ph.D.? Then the reliance on your Ph.D. department faculty for your recommendations quickly begins to stand out, and eventually, within a few short years, will damage your candidacy and destroy your chances for tenure track jobs.

Why is this the case? Once again, because it speaks directly to the hiring priorities of tenure-track (as opposed to adjunct or temporary) search committees.

Tenure track search committees are seeking to hire colleagues, not graduate students. The faculty from your Ph.D. program, however, know you as a graduate student. They may think highly of you, but ultimately they will speak about you in terms of your performance in their classes, your work as a TA, and your writing in the dissertation.

No tenure-track committee is hiring somebody to be a good graduate student, work as a TA, or write a good dissertation. They are hiring somebody to bring to the department their national and international reputation and achievements as a professional scholar.

Ultimately, the letter writers who can best speak to your reputation and achievements at this level are scholars outside of your graduate program with whom you have collaborated, as a (junior) peer, on conference panels, professional symposia, and various publications.  This is why at least one of these letter-writers should be cultivated by every tenure-track job seeker.

I think I hear wails of despair, in the vein of “How can I possibly DO this?”

It is not difficult, but it takes time. First of all, you need to put yourself out there. You need to actually attend national conferences, as well as brown bag talks, workshops, and symposia on your campus. You have to pursue publication opportunities as they arise, and above all, in your debut year on the market, organize a high profile panel for your national conference. These are the occasions in which you begin to meet and mingle with scholars from other parts.

If there are scholars whose work has been particularly influential on your own, make the effort to meet them at a conference, as I describe in this post. Ask for even just 15 minutes of their time, if they are very busy. It is possible they might have time for coffee. Whatever it takes, get a conversation started.

After an acquaintanceship has been made, stay in touch. Send an email thanking them for their time. Ask your department if they can be invited to campus. Invite them to serve as a discussant on another panel that you are organizing.

If they agree to serve as a discussant, send them your paper well in advance, and ask, politely and relatively diffidently, for early comments to help your writing of the final draft. They might not have time. But they might do it. If they do, incorporate their comments. Then engage with them at the panel itself, and continue the conversation afterward, over drinks.

As the acquaintanceship grows, ask for their advice on smallish matters such as a publication venue for a mss., or a grant opportunity.

Now, there is one rule of cultivating supporters/letter writers, and that is: Do. Not. Impose. Also, do not send long, dreary emails about your struggles in your department and suffering at the hands of your wretched advisor. Nobody wants to hear it. They will, however, often lend a hand, as long as they are not imposed on, to assist a junior scholar.

When time has passed, ask your acquaintance if he or she would have time to read a chapter of your dissertation and send feedback. Do not impose a deadline, and give them plenty of time. If they agree, that’s a good sign that they support your work and development. Incorporate some of their suggestions, engage in dialogue about their comments, and be sure and thank them warmly for the time investment.

And now, when you have established a warm working relationship, you may broach the question of their serving as one of your letter-writers. Be aware that they may have their own Ph.D.s on the market, who are competing against you for the same jobs. It is possible that even if they like and support you, they will not be willing to write a letter. Don’t take it personally; it is a legitimate choice on their part. But chances are, they could well agree to write for you.

And once they do, you now have the perspective not of someone who was basically “paid to take care of you” in their capacity as one of the graduate faculty in your department, but rather an impartial, independent agent, who can evaluate you vis-a-vis your field as a whole. Their letter provides evidence of your participation on a national level, and signals your early preparedness for your ultimate tenure case down the line.

By contrast, the Ph.D. In her fourth year on the market who is still relying on a letter from a graduate faculty member that says things like “Jennifer produced an A paper for my seminar!” or “She was the best TA in the program,” or “She wrote a very comprehensive and impressive dissertation,” is trailing the ghostly aura of her graduate student self behind her, signalling that she is, still, not really tenure-track material.

 

 

How To Give a Teaching Demonstration (A Guest Post)

Today’s post is a Guest Post by Dr. Melissa A Barlett, who is an Instructor in Biology at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, NY.  Melissa kindly came to my rescue when I asked for a post on the Teaching Demonstration.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had only one of these in my career, and bombed it so badly I have wiped it mostly from my memory.  I made the classic mistake of assuming the students had read the assigned text, based my entire lesson plan on discussion of the reading, and then had to stand there in the excruciatingly painful silence of a roomful of non-participants for most of 50 minutes.  It was dreadful.  Thanks, Melissa, for sharing the insights that will prevent this from happening to others.  (For a bit more on the subject, be sure to also read the Addendum in the middle of this post, provided by another reader).

Take it away, Melissa!  (and see below for a later addendum added by Karen in April 2015)

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One of the things that makes Academic Interviews so much different from many other interviews is the presentation. Depending on your discipline and the school you are applying to, this can come in a variety of forms. For example, after a year’s worth of interviews for biology positions, I could give my research seminar in my sleep. However, in some schools, and especially SLACs, they are starting to get away from the research seminar and are moving more towards the teaching demonstration where you actually teach either a lesson or an entire class.

For many people, this is a terrifying prospect. You probably haven’t spent much time in front of students. Even a typical TA, in my field at least, is not usually creating their own lecture materials on a regular basis. Of course, since a huge part of what you’ll be doing in the near future, especially if you get this job, will be teaching, this is probably something that the committee will weigh heavily. Therefore, you want to do everything you can to make a great teaching impression.

Fortunately, I have some tips to help you out.

Tip 1: Know your audience

Ask lots of questions.

Are you actually teaching a class or are you giving a demonstration mainly to faculty? If it is a class, be sure you know the student population. Are they majors? Non-majors? Freshmen? Seniors? If you are only doing a demonstration, ask specifically what level/type of student that your teaching should be geared for.

Teach to the correct level. You are not showing off how much you know in a teaching demonstration. You are trying to show how well you can explain a complex concept to someone who has never studied it. Even if you are teaching to a “class” of faculty, treat them like the students you would be teaching. This isn’t talking down, nor should it be to students, but be sure you define terms as appropriate and go over difficult concepts a few times. Repeating things 2-3 different ways is a common teaching technique.

One of the best things you can do is try to physically engage your audience. This can really depend on the type of class. For very large classes of younger students, engagement is often more difficult. I like to throw out simple yes/no questions near the beginning of my lectures. Then I can ask “How many people say yes?” and when no one raises their hands, I add on, “nodding is a completely acceptable way of responding.” Usually, if you work them in slowly, head nods will turn into hands raising. Even then, my favorite line was, “How many for A? How many for B? How many abstain from answering?” Students always raise hands for that last one, which shows that they are listening. I also once did a sorting exercise during a teaching demonstration where I had two columns and put up a word on the powerpoint. I then had the students point right or left as to where it went. They didn’t have to talk, but they mostly played along. This lets you and the evaluating faculty know the students are listening.

Tip 2: Make the material fit the course and the time

Find out not only the topic, but where this topic fits into the course outline. Better yet, find out what textbook they use and find/borrow a copy so you know what the students will be seeing.

Choose the topics that you will cover to fit into the time period. Going over time in a seminar is usually forgiven. If you are teaching a class and you go over, they might just walk out on you, which is probably not the impression you want to make. I’d even say aim for shorter rather than longer. Although, being able to show that you can time a lecture within 5-10 minutes of class time goes a long way to showing that you could do that when you are teaching as well. What this might mean is that you have to teach a smaller chunk of material than the probably broad topic you were given. Choose something that makes a good complete story. It is impossible to cover an entire actual textbook in a semester of lecturing. Showing that you can pick and choose the important topics or choose an appropriate level of detail shows you could do that in your own class.

As a biologist, I teach Human Biology to non-majors. I don’t need to cover the material that would be covered in an Anatomy and Physiology class, so I choose to focus on how structure relates to function and not on the details of each system. I want my students to see how signals travel in the nervous system, but I don’t need to stand up in front of them and describe what each neurotransmitter does in detail.

Tip 3: Use visuals effectively

The number one way to lose students is to hit them with a block of text or a non-stop lecture. There are probably two main possibilities of visuals for this demonstration: powerpoint or writing on a board. I’ll discuss both. First of all, find out as much as you can about the room and the available technology. Is there a computer set-up? A place to plug in a laptop? Chalk? Smart board or white board? The more you know, the better you can prepare.

Writing on the board

The bonus to this method is that you are showing that you are comfortable enough with the topic to not need extra visuals. However, this is not a method you should use if you have bad handwriting (or in my case, can’t draw a picture to save her life).  The other problem is that you have to turn away from the class to write. Be sure not to talk to the board! You say something, turn and write the word/phrase, and then turn back around and say it again. It will feel strange to you if you’ve never done that before because for the moment that you are writing, there is silence. Most people hate silence, but when teaching, it gives the students a chance to write and process the material. You can’t rush through a lecture. In all cases, watch the students. If most of them are writing, pause. Thirty seconds of silence will seem like ten minutes, but it will show that you are aware of the students’ needs. Many times, students are told they will be tested on this material. Keep that in mind.

Powerpoint

To avoid rushing through a powerpoint based lecture, you need to be aware of how much text you put on the slides. As a general rule, less is more. I typically use sparse bullet-pointed lists containing only the most complicated terminology. Remember: your presentation supplements your lecture, it shouldn’t be your lecture. I’m a huge fan of pictures, videos, and animations. The whole point of the computer is to explain things that are difficult to talk about or draw on the board. Make use of that. I typically browse Google Images and YouTube for materials that are different than the textbooks. I’ve been known to have ten slides in a row with just a title and 1-2 pictures. If you are any good at all with powerpoint animation functions, use them. People are always impressed with a well-done animation. Do not use a canned presentation, make your own. I was asked on multiple occasions if my presentation was premade, and I was glad to be able to answer “no.”

Some other quick notes about making a great looking powerpoint for teaching. Assume you will be in a lit room (dark rooms put students to sleep, keep the lights on), and therefore, you should use a light background and dark text. However, don’t use white, it’s too bright to look at for long periods. Use a light color and a dark color of matching text. Preferably, use a gradient on your background, but still in light colors, for example: light blue transitioning to light green. On that I would use a nearly black navy text in bold. Make sure it’s bold, and at least 24 point font (watch the font sizes on pictures). Most of the pre-made choices for backgrounds are terrible, don’t use them. Don’t use a dark background and light text, it’s hard to read in a lit room. Don’t mix red and green, just don’t.

Here’s an example of a slide from one of my presentations on how to give a presentation.

Tip 4: Practice

Unless you are an experienced improviser who feels like they can estimate times without practicing, you should always practice. Gather up your closest friends and colleagues and teach them. The best thing you can do is use a mixed audience as well. Use your spouse/friend in another field and see if they can follow and understand you. Ask them about your flow, how topics run into each other, and how the story connects together.

Then, have them ask you questions. Tell them to channel their inner annoying freshmen and ask questions like, “Will this be on the test?” When you are answering questions, don’t forget not to make up answers for students. Even during a teaching demonstration, it is fair to respond with, “You know, I’m not sure about that, but I’d be glad to discuss it with you after class.” Or, if you have an excited questioner in your class, you can try, “That’s really interesting, and I’d love to talk more with you later about it, but it’s more detail than the class needs to know, so hold that thought until after class.” You might have the faculty ask you “student” questions. I know I did at one of my interviews. Answer them the same way as you would a student, this is a teaching demonstration, demonstrate being a teacher.

So, these basic tips: know your audience, make the material fit the course and time, use visuals effectively, and practice should be able to help you on your way. The only other major tip I have for you is to have fun! You are in this field because you love it, and as a teacher, one of your jobs is to make your students love it as well. Let that come through, and everyone will notice.

I talked more than you should in your lectures, so I think that’s enough!

Good luck!

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Refer to this excellent column by Rob Jenkins in the Chronicle of HIgher Ed on Teaching Demos:

 

January 26, 2009

Demonstration or Demolition?

 

By ROB JENKINS

The teaching demo is arguably the most important part of the community-college interview — and the most terrifying

If you’re fortunate enough to have scored a job interview at a two-year college, congratulations. Now it’s time to start preparing for what is arguably the most important, probably the most arduous, and certainly the most daunting (judging from the e-mail messages I receive) part of the interview: the teaching demonstration.

Over the course of my 30 years’ teaching at community colleges, I’ve observed dozens of teaching demos. Only a few were actually good. Most were just OK, and many were downright awful. I’ve seen a number of otherwise-solid candidates derailed by their demonstrations, and many other people whom we hired despite a lackluster performance, hoping against hope that it was an aberration.

Those candidates were not bad teachers. OK, some of them were, but in most cases, the problem was not that they didn’t know how to teach but rather that they didn’t know how to conduct a teaching demonstration during a job interview. The two things, while obviously related, aren’t exactly the same.

Here, then, are some tips to remember as you prepare your teaching demo.

It’s a demonstration, not a presentation. One of the biggest mistakes job candidates make is treating the teaching demo like a conference talk, sometimes even complete with PowerPoint slides and handouts of those same slides.

It’s not that using technology is a bad idea (more on that later); it’s just that candidates who are using it in that particular way are demonstrating the wrong thing. They’re showing the committee how well they can present information to peers in a conference setting, not how well they can teach students in a college classroom.

The problem with the presentation approach is that candidates spend all their time talking about what they would do in such-and-such a class rather than actually doing it. That deprives committee members of the opportunity to observe the way candidates present real material in a real-time, quasi-classroom setting. And that’s what we need to see in order to hire the best teachers.

Choose a manageable topic. While some search committees allow candidates to choose a subject for their demonstration, most panels provide the topic. In fact, committees often give all of the candidates the same topic in an attempt to place everyone on an equal footing.

If you don’t get to pick your topic, you still have some important choices to make: Exactly what information, and how much, do you hope to convey in the time allotted (usually 15 to 20 minutes)? How will you present it? Will you mostly lecture? Invite some discussion? Involve everyone in a group activity? Dazzle committee members with your technological brilliance?

The first step is to narrow your topic to something you can manage in your few minutes on stage. Here again, one of the biggest mistakes that candidates make is covering too much information — basically, trying to squeeze a 50-minute lecture into a 15-minute presentation. Once again, they end up talking about what they do instead of doing it.

My advice is to identify a 15to 20-minute segment of a familiar lesson, an excerpt that can stand on its own without a lot of background or lead-in material. Preferably, it should be something you’ve taught often enough that you already know how you’re going to present it.

Treat committee members like students. Sometimes a search committee will give you this directive explicitly, either in written preinterview instructions or verbally as you’re about to begin. But whether they mention it or not, remember that you can’t teach without students — and committee members are the only other people in the room. (It’s true that a few colleges have job candidates teach actual students in a classroom setting, while committee members observe. But in most hiring situations at two-year colleges, it’s the committee members themselves you’ll be “teaching.”)

Treating committee members as if they were students means forgetting, for a few minutes, that they hold your professional future in their hands and relating to them as you would to students in a classroom. Address them just as you would address students. Ask them questions, try to engage them in discussion, and call on them to answer. Involve them in activities, whether they, much like real students, appear willing or not.

Although that approach may seem to involve a great deal of role-playing on your part — and perhaps on the part of committee members as well — it actually provides them with invaluable insight into your teaching style, your classroom manner, and your ability to establish a rapport with an audience.

Just be careful not to appear condescending. If you do, committee members will wonder if you will treat a bunch of 18to 20-year-olds the same way, or worse. And don’t take the “student/teacher” relationship too far, like the candidate who confiscated a committee member’s cellphone during “class.”

Do more than lecture. Tempting as it might be to stand up and talk for 15 minutes, don’t. And for heaven’s sake, don’t simply read from lecture notes; that’s a surefire way to eliminate yourself from contention.

At the very least, mix in a little discussion and some question and answer. (One nice thing about having faculty members as your “students”: They’re going to know the answers.) And be sure to distribute at least one handout that clearly enhances the lesson.

You might also use a group activity, although I would add three caveats: First, make sure the activity is, shall we say, age-appropriate. Don’t be like the candidate who gave each of us on the search committee a cracker, asked us to stare at it for three minutes, and then instructed us to write a paragraph about what we saw. I confess: I just saw a cracker.

Second, don’t use an activity that will take up too much of your time. We want you to do more than just lecture, but we do want to hear you lecture. So choose an activity that can be completed in no more than five to seven minutes.

Finally, don’t expect committee members to be any more enthusiastic about participating in your activity than your actual students would be.

Use bells and whistles — in moderation. After you are invited to an interview that includes a teaching demonstration, one of the first things you should find out is what kind of technology will be available to you. If it’s something you’re comfortable using — that is, something you already use regularly — plan to use it in your teaching demo. So, for example, if you normally use PowerPoint in your classroom, or like to pull up YouTube videos on the Internet, the committee would probably love to see you do it.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t go to great lengths to concoct some “totally wired” lesson plan that doesn’t reflect the way you actually teach, just to show how savvy you are. Your lack of comfort (and perhaps familiarity) with the technology will almost certainly be evident.

Also, even if you’re a bona fide geek, avoid giving a teaching demo that is so technologically based that it’s almost a lesson on technology rather than on the topic at hand. Remember, search committees at community colleges are looking for the best teachers, not necessarily the best techies. By all means, dazzle them with technology, but do more than just dazzle. Teach.

And bear in mind that if you do intend to use technology, it’s vital to have a backup plan. In my experience, nothing is more common during teaching demonstrations than for the classroom technology to malfunction. So if you’re using a CD, have the data on a flash drive as well. Prepare handouts that you can substitute for the images that won’t appear on the screen if the projector refuses to boot up. (Here’s where those copies of your PowerPoint slides might come in handy.) If all else fails, be prepared to teach in the old-fashioned way.

By following those few simple steps, you can set yourself apart from other candidates. And if you’re interviewing at my institution, where I’m once again serving on a search committee, I’m not just suggesting you follow my advice — I’m begging.

After all, how many awful teaching demos can one person sit through?

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College.