A Work Proposal

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So, the meeting with the Dean went partly as expected and partly full of surprises.

My coworker got the answers I expected he would get, which can be simply summed up as “No.”  It isn’t that his argument is invalid.  He just chooses to misunderstand his working conditions.  We’re all underpaid.  I knew that when he asked to be reassigned as a Teaching Assistant Professor (TAP), he’d be told that was a different money line and there weren’t any open spots.  I knew he’d be told many of the things I told him about already.  Our chair told him most of his concerns were departmental and would be handled in house.  I did NOT appreciate how he tried to drag me into his battles, knowing how I felt about them beforehand, by saying things like, “And I’m sure BG would agree…”.  No.  I do not agree.  Gah.

There was some recognition from the Dean coming my way, as she praised the work I did in the program that is getting ready to be shut down (lol).  She praised my innovation, my teamwork, and my ability to connect outside of my own department.  The writing has been on the wall for my little program basically since its inception, so while I’m sad for the students, the situation wasn’t unexpected.

What she *did* offer, was the opportunity to create a new course from the ground up.  They want to address the issue students have in the perception of their education (solely as a gateway to a vocation).  They want to create some sort of method to help humanities students conceptualize the value of their education to the rest of their lives beyond a career.  The best way I can describe it is to say they want to create a liberal arts perception — a brand, even — that students can be proud of, defend, and would help guide their choices beyond academia.

There isn’t even a shell of a course or a course number at this point.  Creativity reigns supreme; that is frightening and liberating at the same time.  She thinks she wants a pilot project in place by Spring.  She’s willing to do course remission to provide time for course design and research.  She’s offering a two year contract at basically the same pay I’m getting now, with possible handouts along the way for summer research time, development, etc.  She’s making it clear (albeit with a gentlewoman’s handshake) that she wants to make sure I stick around the college.  She’s asking for a two year commitment and is, with another gentlewoman’s handshake, providing assurance that I’ll have a home regardless of the outcome of this project.  It also helps that the project fits into the strategic plan of the university, meaning people actually give a chit about what becomes of it, unlike my current program.  Both the Dean and the Chair made it clear that they are looking for passion for the project (kinky) and nothing less.

The meeting lasted for two and a half hours (pant pant!) and I think I came away with more questions than answers.  The known positive factors are:  I can work for two more years and pay my mortgage, whee!  A job is a job, after all.  The other major choice right now would be to adjunct, since the program is going away.  Without the specialty course designation, there is no way the Dean could pitch my salary (such as it is) just for teaching composition sections.  There would be a riot, as well there should be, from everyone else who teaches for about half that pay.  It is a lovely thing to put on one’s vita.  This particular course development will have contacts in a variety of departments.  The last time I did this, I worked with several well placed and important people to the university, folks I would’ve never normally interacted with otherwise.  Knowing them helped me get things done in other areas of my job.  The connections would be great, to say the least.  Especially for a girly with a Master’s degree.  It’s an intellectual challenge, and my work is getting a bit repetitive.  I keep wanting to try new things.  I have seniors graduating this year, and while that feels fantastic, I’ve been feeling like it is time to move on for a few months now.  It is an opportunity that will likely lead to more opportunity.  Let me add, “I hope.”  But frankly, she gave this to me over many other people with better degrees.  She believes in my work, and that makes me want to do more of it.  She basically intimated that whatever I wanted to come up with, she would back.  I can play with a focus group initially, have teaching assistants if I want them, request students from certain backgrounds, etc.  If I want it and can justify it, she trusts me and will provide it.

Items of …”concern”?…is that the right word?  Or maybe it’s items of “not really sure how I feel about this” are:  I’m probably not getting a raise.  Sigh.  😦  I can make it on my salary, but it’s hard to do more than make it.  I have debt to clear, retirement to save for and occasionally enjoy the random sushi.  A few more sushi dollars would be appreciated.  I feel sometimes as though I am the known workhorse, and they’re just getting ready to saddle me up again.

This project would take a fair bit of work.  Maybe more than a fair bit. They have lots of lovely concepts, but not one solid plan.  That’s what they’re turning to me for.  I’ve tried to make sense out of committee nonsense before…it’s like a mud wrestling event, only there is no prize, no audience, and no hot water afterward.  This will definitely include its share of headaches.

She wants a bigger class size.  She’s explained that the 20 person class model is too expensive.  And while the utopian-educator in me is screaming bloody murder, the pragmatist in me recognizes that she’s absolutely right.  The first model is probably around the 90 person mark — although I can certainly ramp up from focus group, to 22 person course, to 90 person experiment.  My coworker is stuck on the bigger class size, and dug his heels in instantly (not good).  Best way to have handled it, as I tried to during the meeting, was to say, hey, let’s try it, if it doesn’t work, we can certainly try something else.  The university is restricted by classroom size, so there really aren’t too many ways we can hop from 20 people to the “next size up” without that next size being quite large.  Hey, at least it’s not 300 people.  And for the love of all things academe, when someone says 90 people are the ideal, do NOT, as my coworker did, imply that effective education cannot happen at that class size.  She will only look at you and quote the top ten professors who do “amazing work” at that class size and wonder if you’re a one trick pony.

Speaking of my coworker, he’s not taking this very well at all and that could — will — cause drama in the future.  If he decides not to do the project, I’m on my own.  Hell, at this stage, that might not be a bad thing.  He made it fairly clear that his interests were about himself during the meeting.  They’re looking for passionate leadership.  He showed passionate self-interest.  And I’m a tad bit torn, because he makes reasonable points — they just come off as very emo-prof when he presents them.  If we are that good, we do deserve better pay.  We are expected to lead a group of people who outrank us and make more money.  If he does take the project, he’ll probably be sullen about the pay and bitch to me constantly, as he does now.  He’s always telling me “We’re not paid enough to do that.”   And he’s right.  But it still has to get done somehow!

Things aren’t always fair.  I think we have to decide sometimes if things are fair enough.

I’m going to take this offer, ultimately.  In spite of no raise in pay.  I think it’s good work — hell, it’s work! — and I think I can do a great job.  I think the payoff will be in the future.  I know this Dean, and god help me, I trust her too.  I believe she’ll come across for me at the end of this contract and during the contract, if she can.  I believe that because she already came across for me by  handing me this opportunity.  While I’ve tried to include my coworker along the way (hell, my first act was to manage to *get* a coworker instead of taking more dough for myself), he’s clearly opting out.  I’m not sure what his vision of success here at this university really amounts to, but I don’t think he will find it any time soon — at least not as he’s chosen to define it over the last week.

What has materialized in the few days since that meeting is my coworker’s statement that he would prefer to negotiate his salary alone instead of as a team.  Which is fine with me, though I feel a bit of twinge, as I thought of us more as “team.”  Oh well.  I may get screwed over, but the Dean was clear that she did not want to pay one of us more than the other for the same work.  So, looks like I’m writing my pitch for compensation of my new job duties all by my little self.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

Or to be more selfish, maybe, given how my efforts at building a team with this guy have failed so completely over the past 3 years:  Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost!

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3 responses »

  1. LOL! Don’t worry…your colleague will never give up. These guys don’t.

    Meanwhile, it sounds to me like if you take the offer, you’ll have a better chance of building a future opportunity for better-paying and more permanent work, either at the present Fine Institution of Higher Learning or, one day, at a school that can hire you into a tenurable line. This will look good, especially if you write about it.

    We found, BTW, that Teaching in the Two-Year College is amenable to best-practices sorts of articles that can be applied to two-year schools, even if the author is working in a four-year college. This and similar publications could be good outlets to watch as you work through this new project. Also of course NCTE has at least a couple of other publications that might be interested in how the proposed course works out.

    Possibly of use: at GDU West, we did a short course titled “Jobs for Writers and Liberal Arts Majors.” Of course, your mandate runs in exactly the opposite direction: you want to persuade people that voc-ed is not the highest and best goal of a college education. However, it might be worth doing a little research on the subject of what kinds of undergraduate degrees are taken by captains of industry.

    This was some years ago, and things may have changed…but at the time, we learned that most really heavy-hitting executives have undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts. Some may have gone on for the MBA or a law degree, some have double majors with one being more “practical,” but they came out of the hustings with a real education.

    We also learned that many large corporations actually prefer to hire people with liberal arts degrees into the management track. This is because liberal arts training develops strong logical thinking and communication skills; the rest of the stuff can be learned on the job.

    And finally, we found that twenty years out, people who started with technical degrees ended up earning less than those with bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts, even though starting salaries for technical graduates (including accountancy & business management) were significantly higher. Why this should be, I could not prove, but read speculation that the logical thinking, creativity, and communication skills lead people into more interesting and ultimately better paying positions.

    If this is still the case, it might make an interesting aside for your new students.

    BTW, the University of Phoenix will pay sushi money for teaching its online courses. These are laughably easy to teach, assuming you can get past the basic ethical issue. If you don’t mind participating in the UoP agenda (i.e., education is a money-making endeavor and nothing else), no one need know you’re picking up a course or two on the side…

  2. What fantastic advice, all the way around! I am looking for a little sushi money, especially during my non-paid summer. I was actually thinking about taking up a part time proofreading job for the paper during the summer, but I’ll have to check into the UoP thing (and I do understand the ethical issues with the whole thing). Good advice too about writing and where to send it; while publishing isn’t part of my job hire letter, we all know if you want to really get into something better, you have to do that anyway. And it’s probably time to revisit my lack of a “terminal” degree. Sigh.

    Thank you for your advice; it is always welcome.

  3. Pingback: First (Link)Loves « Adjunctorium

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