Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Service about Which I'm Excited

The colleague who's responsible for administering adjuncts asked to meet with me today, and the short version of the situation is that there is a relatively new adjunct who needs some mentoring. He wondered if I'd be willing.

The service in question has to do with mentoring an adjunct. Now, does Crazy need more service? Indeed, no. But I said yes. Without thinking twice. Why?

(I should note that saying yes to any service without a waiting period or at least a second thought is NOT my M.O., and I think that this has served me very well.)

Well, I'm a fan of the fact that we really try to mentor our adjuncts in my department. The goal of this colleague and others is that people won't stay lifetime adjuncts at our institution if they don't want to do so. And so we agree to observe classes, to write letters of recommendation, to give advice on CVs - in short, to do a lot of the work that graduate advisers (should) do for their students. We've offered open meetings to talk about stuff like going on the market, and we do, as much as it is possible, take care of our adjuncts, not to keep them underemployed but rather to get them out of underemployment. And we celebrate it when they get full time employment outside our institution. It goes out as "faculty accomplishment" on our listserv, which the administration sees. So not only do we value this stuff and do it, but also we advertise it. Not because others necessarily value it, but because they should.

I don't want to say much about this particular adjunct's situation, but let's just say that there have been some transition issues related to our particular student population, among other things, and that those Issues were brought to the attention of our chair. I love that I work at a place where the chair doesn't just tell the person who handles the adjuncts to fire the person when the semester is done. I love that the first step isn't, "hey, it's easy to find cheap labor! cut our losses!" (which we could do in this location) but rather, "what can we do to salvage the semester and to help this instructor, this person?"

And so, I met with my colleague. And we chatted, and I enthusiastically agreed to mentor this adjunct. Not because I need the service, but because I like that I've got the opportunity to serve in a capacity that is meaningful to me. This is one of the things that kills me about service in tenure-track gigs. There's so much service to go around, and it should be easy to apportion it in such a way that people do what moves them. And yet, in my early years on the tenure-track I didn't feel like I had any options. I felt like I just had to do mandatory service, which isn't really "serving" at all. Thank god I've found my way out of that. Jesus. But I digress.

Why did I say yes with such immediacy? Well, the first reason is just I love the fact that I can perpetuate an institutional culture that does value adjunct labor (even if logistically it's impossible to compensate it adequately). Second? Well, I suppose I wish I'd had a similar type of mentor in my first semesters on the tenure-track (for I never adjuncted). I know I could have asked people, but I felt insecure precisely because those people could be on my tenure committee and I didn't want to betray weakness. And so because of that, I figured my shit out on my own, which wasn't the easiest way to go about it but it was the way I chose, because I was uncomfortable choosing otherwise. The thing that's great about this situation is that this person will be able to feel comfortable with me because I've got absolutely nothing to do with her employment - present or future - other than that I'd be able to write her a very specific letter of rec. later if it goes well and if it comes to that - I have absolutely no power over her, but I also am an experienced person who can offer her advice and who can mentor without... well, without the static of it mattering to me either. Not that how she does won't matter to me, but my professional status won't be on the line because of it, I suppose is what I mean. And I feel like that's what true mentorship is. It's something that's not about "doing one's job" but rather about offering advice freely and without some weird power dynamic. I'm not saying good mentorship can't happen within a power relationship, but I think it's more uncomfortable - or can be more uncomfortable - for both parties. In this, well, I just get to be an ear for somebody. Without an agenda of my own. And that's awesome.

Finally, well, I'm excited that I'll (I hope) be able to use my experiences at this institution to help somebody else. I do what I can with people hired after me on the tenure track within my department, but I'm at a biggish institution with a heavy teaching load and this isn't something that I've done as much of as I'd like to do. I suppose the content of this blog is evidence of my love of advising people, actually, and perhaps I've turned to the blog in some ways because I want to help people to navigate the fucked-up-ness that can be this profession. So I don't know this person, nor do I know how it will go, but sure I jumped at the opportunity to pass on any help that I might be able to give.

I post about this in part because it matters to me, but also because I really do believe that my department is stellar in the fact that it handles adjunct labor in this way. This is how it should be everywhere - and I'll tell you what: it's not that hard to do this. All it takes is believing that adjunct labor is labor and that adjuncts are workers, as opposed to slaves in a fucked up system. I'm not saying we're perfect in how we handle things, but I do think that we've got the right idea. And I wish that every single institution that employed adjuncts took this attitude to the adjuncts that they employ. Does that make up for the fucked up compensation structure? No. But I think it does make at least a little difference in the quality of adjunct employment.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I think this is the best way (short of actually paying adjuncts and giving benefits -- which your department can't do) to respect adjuncts.

I really wish a program like this had been in place where I did my adjunct gigs... it would have helped to keep me from feeling like I was both being used and getting in their way....

YEA for your department!!

Unknown said...

I think you and your school/department have a first rate attitude about adjunct labor and adjunct laborers.

Thank you!

My I suggest that you remember to openly inform the adjuncts that they have every right to unemployment benefits at the end of the semester.

If your adjuncts do not know about adjunct unemployment benefits, please point them to this blog:

Again, many thinks for your help!

Dapper Fellow: The Traveling Online Teacher

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the link, dapper fellow. That's great information and I'll find a way to pass it along.

El said...

I suppose the content of this blog is evidence of my love of advising people, actually, and perhaps I've turned to the blog in some ways because I want to help people to navigate the fucked-up-ness that can be this profession.

You're doing an excellent job.

I've been reading your blog for about a week now (I forget what link I followed to get here, actually), because I'm an undergrad student thinking about pursuing a career as a professor, and I'm learning so much more about the actual day-to-day activities, requirements, frustrations, and rewards from blogs like yours (among others) than I ever have from any academic advisor.