Tremors in the Workforce!


I’ve been summoned to meet with the Dean next week to discuss the changes in my job.  Yipe!

I teach first generation college students in a special retention program.  I teach them our two basic composition courses as well as our equivalent of University 101.  I make good connections with these students and many of them say they credit this program for keeping in them in the university past their first semester.  (First gens have a horribly high drop out rate.)  The problem is, this was a pilot project started four years ago that has never been really pushed past the pilot stage.  I’m in the fourth year of a pilot project.  Sitcoms wish they could be so lucky!

Beyond my department, there has never been much administrative support for my job.  In its first year, the folks who run the retention program for the entire university didn’t bother to run the numbers on my success, telling the President’s specialist who called the year end meeting to discuss it, “We didn’t think it was going to be around past this year, so we didn’t bother.”  Um, what?!  Well, I managed to last four years in this position, gaining a second position for my coworker after the first year.  Woot.

Over time this coworker has become more and more disgruntled with his position.  Our contract is written so that whoever is in these two positions, which are identical, get identical pay.  This eats him up to no end, but it’s part of how the Provost was convinced to part with the money.  He has an MFA and he wants to be reclassified so he gets more money.  I don’t mind that, it’s the whiny self-justification he makes to me all the time that is annoying as hell.  When he complains about wanting more free time, more time to spend with his kid, more money to pay off debt and travel, more writing time, and he somehow thinks that getting reclassified over me is going to make that magically happen, it makes me want to strangle him.  I have a kid too.  I have debt too.  I have stuff I’d rather be doing too.  He’s not special.  I think it’s the air of special he puts over the whole thing that makes me want to scream.  He is giving excuses everyone else in the universe has to deal with as well, while the whole time subtly implying that he’s better than I am for doing the same job.  Whatever.

The Dean is being very cryptic about this meeting, but there are at least a few things that seem to be happening.  First, it seems the nature of my current job is either being modified or changing altogether.  At least that means I’m still employed.  She also implied that there was some new experimental class in the works, likely another version of University 101 in addition to working with the English department, where we remain housed.  I like educational development courses, so I’m pretty excited about this.  I’m also excited to still be employed.  Our department chair, my coworker and I and the Dean are to meet next week and discuss this.  Coworker is very excited, as he’s going to use this as an opportunity to push for everything from a schedule change, to a reclassification in his title, to more money and a chance to teach creative writing courses.

He is scaring the daylights out of me.

The fact that we have differing career paths has become more and more apparent with each year.  When we hired him (I was on his hiring committee) it was with the understanding that he was a team player, interested in mentoring freshmen, and was all about the ways to find connections to university success using composition 101, but pushing beyond that course into other realms of university life.  And so he seemed during the first year I worked with him.  I had worked to build relationships with financial aid, housing, student employment, student legal affairs, student retention, student support services, commuters clubs, the parent’s club, you name it.  I saw our work as more “global” — not departmental.  He wants to teach creative writing.  Period.  I wish I’d known to see through that when I was helping to hire him.

It’s not that I think his career path is stupid, or something.  But over time, he’s started to pull away from the team effort to make this program stick and he’s started looking out for number one, I suppose.  In a lengthy email to me outlining what he wanted out of this new job (though he has no idea whether or not we’re even going to be offered more permanency or whether the Dean is just finding a way to give us mortgage money for nine more months).  I responded to his many requests by suggesting that there were many things on that list that were really more departmental in nature rather than something the Dean could/would do anything about.  I explained why and I tried to keep my tone professional.  He responded by basically saying he expected the Dean to put pressure on the department to get him what he wanted.  Having worked with this Dean and the previous Dean, I just do not believe that is how it works, lol.

But I guess what scares me is that he’s walking into this meeting with an overinflated sense of personal value to the college.  Do NOT mistake me, I think that academia is horribly underpaid and poorly compensated in plenty of ways.  One of the reasons we are being offered this opportunity is because both of us get excellent teaching reviews.  I’ve worked really hard to establish a reputation, and even without a tenure track job, I’m proud to say that the uppers in my school know and appreciate the work I do.  On the other hand, I know the belly of the beast I work for.  He was working as an adjunct at half the pay and no benefits when we hired him.  We got permission to hire him because I was working my ass off and demonstrating incredible results after the first semester.  At my school it is rare to get money for a second position out of the Provost’s office, especially after just a few months.  But I got it.  I didn’t push for a three year contract and higher pay for myself — I got employment for a second person.  But here he is, getting ready to walk into the Dean’s office with me and make this situation all about his needs rather than the project at hand, which is what she is going to want to talk about.  And while I totally agree we can probably negotiate more money (probably not a huge amount) and more permanency in the job, it seems as though he is being willfully blind to the tightrope we walk every year to continue to get another year’s worth of paychecks.

Put another way, he is diverging from team mentality and going after what he feels is rightfully his at the first available opportunity.  This isn’t the first time he’s tried to do so (and been told no).  And that concept hurts my feelings, and I really should just get over it.  But I try to do work I think is important.  Work that makes a difference.  I think people first, then money, then things, to steal Suze Orman’s saying.  And so I suppose the self-importance he’s displayed in a few emails to me is just really rubbing me the wrong way.  I have nothing against him doing exactly what he wants in life.  I want to do what I want as well.  I’d like to see us rolling in the dough, getting the proper recognition and not having to fight so hard to stay employed.  I guess I just feel as though my focus is “better community” and his is “me, me, me” at this point.  I’m afraid we’re walking into the Dean’s office with two very different agendas.

The thing that pissed me off the most?  When he made the comment “I don’t want to just lap up whatever they hand out and have to pretend to be grateful for it.”  He was implying in that paragraph, for starters, that I was lapping up whatever they dished out.  But you know what?  It’s a tough economy.  It’s always been a tough economy for humanities workers.  And yeah, I AM grateful for the opportunity.  I’m proud that out of all the hundreds of teachers she could’ve tapped to do this project (and the continued employment that comes with it), she picked me first.  I don’t want to blow it by going in there demanding to be compensated more than I know she can come up with.  Am I looking at this wrong?  Am I having Imposter Syndrome here?  Or maybe Poverty Syndrome?


2 responses »

  1. Uh huh. This sounds mighty familiar.

    Be careful with this character. One of two things will happen: either he’ll hoist himself on his own petard or he’ll push his way into the position he wants and gain a fair amount of local power. In the first instance, you don’t want to join him on his petard; in the second, you don’t want to be on his bad side.

    I was hired into an identical position with a coworker who was a petootie. He had a master’s in journalism from Stanford, which he regarded as on a par with my Ph.D. in 17th-century English literature and history from GDU. At one point he tried to persuade the dean that the master’s in journalism was a terminal degree, comparable to an MFA (like she couldn’t figure out for herself that our own beloved institution offers an utterly pointless doctorate in journalism?). Ultimately I ended up earning more than he did by quietly asking, every year at annual review time, for a raise.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease. It sounds like that’s the principle on which our hero is working. If you ask for more money, eventually you’ll get it. You may not get the amount you suggest is fair, but you will get something. Deans tend to poormouth; in fact there’s usually more funding there than they claim.

    My erstwhile colleague and I regularly petitioned to have our positions converted to the tenure track. He was hotter for that than I was, because I had no desire to teach four sections and also have to publish hot air tricked out as scholarship, nor were my position and interests even faintly related to the subject of my by then rather stale doctorate. We never got those promotions; after I moved into administration on the main campus, he left to take the editorship of Arizona Highways magazine, where he lasted about three years after enraging the photographers and pissing off most of the writers. When I left, I was earning $60 a year more than he was.

    🙄 A$k and ye shall re¢eive.

  2. Petard…lol

    I think he has no idea what a position of power actually looks like. He seems more about the fringe benefits than getting a truly better position.

    We’ve gone up against each other for different jobs within the department before, and I get the interview (and yet not the job, argh!) and he does not. I think he has a weird sense of professional jealousy. Maybe it’s just jealousy and not weird at all, I’m just not sure why he would be jealous. He wasn’t like this when we hired him, all sweetness and light and whatnot. And believe me, I’m well aware of the vulnerability of only holding an M.A. in a discipline that doesn’t consider it a terminal degree (and yet confers it anyway…). I have no plans to go forward with a PhD in English, and I know the risks of that. I think that makes me more keenly appreciative of the work that comes our way. There are PhDs who have to adjunct. I’m lucky to be considered full time faculty, even at my salary.

    I guess what really bothers me is the superficiality he’s been putting on for the past couple of years. Be an out and out cut throat, if you must, but own it. Don’t pretend to be “Go, team!” when you’re really just in it for what you perceive as personal benefits. Apart from summers off, the personal benefits part confuses me anyway, as there really aren’t very many that I can tell apart from maybe some job flexibility and not that much managerial oversight?

    Maybe I’m looking at it wrong. I have a strong work ethic and I take my mission seriously, but I don’t take the field as seriously as it takes itself. I share your view that much of the research component is “hot air tricked out as scholarship.” Not all of it, of course, but the atmosphere lends itself to figuring out ways to create scholarship out of hot air. It infuriates me that “service” means the number of bland and pointless committees you sit on (one that I am on has not met in two years and it still counts), but actually volunteering in the community does not count as such. I have no desire to participate in that sort of environment beyond what fulfills me as a teacher and a person, and so I know what choices are open to me as a result. *He* has no desire to participate in that either, but he doesn’t seem to realize what choices that leaves open to him. He still thinks he deserves the full benefits of the folks who are willing to take up that gauntlet — and while we need better treatment, I’m sure he wouldn’t want to give up his summers and publishing requirements in exchange for their pay, either.

    What’s more hilarious, he thinks the Dean is actually going to put the hammer down on the department about letting him teach Tuesday-Thursdays so he can write 3 days a week (read, not have to show up at the office). I know this lady, and she’s way more committed to the people she’s worked with for over 10 years than she is to him. And she’s not going to care about the scheduling of his courses. She’s going to refer him to the scheduling folks and move on.

    What’s most hilarious? The upper admin in the department are pissed at folks continuing to ask for T/Th slots because they need MWF for student schedules. Something he would know if he sat in on a faculty meeting once in a while. I’m not going to tell him….

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