Posts Tagged ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’

When entering graduate school a lot of students probably dream of working at high-ranking R1s or liberal arts schools.  I’ve already discussed the overlooked middle option, but I think it is also important to consider careers at community colleges.  While community college life is not for everybody (neither is R1 life!), I taught a few classes as an adjunct at a small commuter college in a department with only one tenure-track sociologist and found it to be a rewarding experience.  It was helpful to teach sociology to a group of students who had seen some of the negative effects of social structures firsthand.  I also liked the mix of ages and backgrounds, which provided a lot of interesting anecdotes when I asked students to illustrate class concepts.

Although this has been debated recently, another potential benefit of working at a community college is that you don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to do so.  If teaching is what you love and want to do, you may be able to start your career much sooner than those who earn a Ph.D.  While I only have a few experiences with schools such as these, another recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education gives an interesting look at life at a community college, and the useful life experiences the author gained in lieu of a Ph.D.:

My job: Carry a 5/5/4 teaching load with three preps, sometimes four. Be ready to get three different courses into shape on four days’ notice. Be ready to teach composition, Homer, research skills, Mark Twain, a little public speaking, Dante, computer skills, T.S. Eliot, grammar, Hemingway, critical reading, Voltaire, business writing, Emily Dickinson, basic prosody, Flannery O’Connor, basic literary analysis, and whatever else needs teaching, off the top of my head if necessary (and yes, I’ve taught all of those in one academic year). Advise 50 students, 48 of whom are the first in their families to set foot on a college campus, 35 of whom are the first to finish high school. Serve on committees. Tutor students. Do whatever community-relations work the boss needs me to do. Endure enough professional-development activities to keep my superiors happy. Take care of all my own typing and most of my copying. Help students deal with the bureaucracy and our baffling computer systems.

Sometimes I counsel students in nonacademic matters. Sometimes I just listen to them. Some say things like “I’m just a dumb redneck” and “I know I’m too stupid to do this.” They apologize for asking for help. The mothers — and half of my students are mothers — never tire of talking about kids and their problems. Sometimes I wonder how the hell a 20-year-old single woman who has a baby and cancer manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less come to class. I’ve held babies so that students could rummage in diaper bags to find the essays they wanted me to critique.

Since our maintenance department might lose a race with a tranquilized slug, I also fix things. Thanks to me, the door of the faculty men’s room closes. I made the campus-safety department a better tool for opening vehicle doors when students lock their keys in their cars. When the wheels of our housekeeper’s cart begin to squeal so loudly that I can hear them over the Led Zeppelin playing in my office, I oil the bearings to get her through another few months. I fixed the office labelmaker. When the paper cutter stopped cutting, I brought the blade home and sharpened it with my Dremel tool.

I’ve changed flat tires for students, jump-started their cars, cleaned and tightened battery terminals, diagnosed c-v joint problems, spliced broken wires, and added most of the important fluids to their vehicles. Some students have no one — or at least no one competent — to help them with such things. So besides teaching them the right punctuation to use with conjunctive adverbs, I also teach them that Toyotas and Hondas don’t take the same power-steering fluid and that GM and Chrysler products need different kinds of transmission fluid.

Welcome to community-college teaching.

Incidentally, the Chronicle has an entire series of articles on “The Two-Year Track,” and candidates interested in applying for these sorts of jobs might also want to check out this advice for interviewing at a community college.

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One of the things that I am most looking forward to about starting a tenure track job is the opportunity to dig into the area and get to know it.  I’ve lived in the same town for the past seven years and the same apartment for the past five, but my life here has always felt temporary.  This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed living here – if given the chance, I could probably live here forever – but living here forever is not an option.  So I waited while friends bought houses and had children, knowing that upon the completion of my degree I would move on to another town where those things would likely take place.

Because I have been looking forward to having a more permanent existence I was surprised to see a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed post about a professor who has decided to put down roots after nine years, tenure, two additional children, and the relocation of his parents.  Despite these ties, he has remained insulated from his community:

I have, however, been less engaged with the life of my community than I might have been. I’ve held back reflexively.

Apart from my colleagues at the college, I have made hardly any local friends. My family and I belong to a church, but I’ve avoided getting involved in service activities. We have a stake in things like zoning laws and building permits, but I don’t go to the county meetings. Outside of the college, I am almost entirely disengaged: Work and home constitute 99 percent of my life. I can count the conversations I’ve had with my immediate neighbors on one hand.

Maybe because I have little desire to compete for prestige, I don’t see myself as the type of “potted plant – in anticipation of the next relocation” that Benton describes elsewhere in his post.  I am ready to get on with my life.  This includes learning the state bird, state flower, and state tree, which I never bothered to do in my current state but which will come in handy if I have children some day.  I’m also looking forward to learning about the history of my new community and its restaurants, parks, organizations, and people.

Like Benton, I am not returning home.  Unlike Benton, nearly all of my family members still live in the state in which I was born.  Because of this, I suppose that if an opportunity ever arose at a good school in that state I would have to consider it.  Rather than waiting for such an opportunity, however, I am going to live as if my next community and my first academic job will be my last.  I am going to dig in.

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A new post on the Chronicle of Higher Ed website provides an interesting look into the challenges faced by academics who are accused of being superfluous to their public institutions.  Mindy Stombler, of Georgia State University, is one of the three at the school to be labeled “expendable” by two members of the Georgia House of Representatives.  Those who have followed the story will remember that Stombler is listed as an “Oral sex expert” in GSU’s “expert guide,” which lawmakers confused with course titles.  Check out the excerpt below and then head to the Chronicle for the full article.

While I am not embarrassed to be known as an “oral sex expert” (when you teach sexuality to college students, eventually little embarrasses you), and the label provided lots of fun and fodder for my friends and colleagues, I was surprised by how quickly the fact that I was a sociologist (hired as a generalist) who taught and did research in a variety of areas was so quickly reduced to this one titillating label. I was also surprised that it took repeated testimony and contact with reporters to impress upon them that I was neither teaching “how to” courses in oral sex nor hired due to my expertise in oral sex. (And I have a CNN headline T-shirt to prove it: “Oral sex, prostitution classes disputed.”)

Kirk Elifson and I (along with our department chair, Donald Reitzes) were called to testify in front of the higher-education committees of both the Georgia House and the Senate. We clarified that we were not teaching courses on oral sex or male prostitution. We then discussed the importance of our research on those topics, and how it benefited the public. For me that involved talking about current patterns and interpretations of oral sex, increased rates of oral sex, and the public-health risks of unprotected oral sex.

Both our testimony and news interviews went well (the headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution read: “GSU Sex Experts Wow Georgia Legislators”). Editorials around the state supported us, and the local Atlanta press began reporting the story accurately (particularly the Journal-Constitution and Southern Voice). It seemed we were out of the hot seat and could begin recovery (and get back to work!).

Enter CNN.

CNN decided to pick up the story after we thought the controversy was over, and it produced a report that implied, once again, that we were teaching oral-sex courses at Georgia State. The report did not include the university’s official statement but did include a close-up of my name, my photo, and the introductory sentence from video of my testimony. CNN’s coverage ignored the existing facts already in print and was insulting to Georgia State, its professors, and its students.

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In teaching, you typically get what you put in.  The pseudonymous Russell Smith (no relation to the pseudonymous John Smith) at the Chronicle of Higher Education has either forgotten this or just doesn’t care.  Based on his recent post, it appears that the latter is more likely.  He writes:

I remain open-minded. What if my students are right? What if the readings are too long or too boring or don’t make sense? What if they know something I don’t, such as the fact that this English class truly isn’t going to help them all that much in life, and that such requirements nowadays are ridiculous and retrograde?

When all the world is abuzz with digital twitterings, it may be that the humanities requirement is a dead and rotting carcass that we tiptoe around, neglecting to bury at our peril.

I am perfectly prepared to accept the proposition that the most effective teachers have studied these questions and arrived at appropriate responses. I suspect that they have attended conferences, refined their techniques, and deployed their forces. They are able to see each student with fresh eyes, and they welcome the challenges of life in the classroom. I admire — no, I envy — them. But it is a rare and distant land in which they live, difficult to reach.

I can’t tell if the author expects readers to find his frankness refreshing or his ennui romantic (he is an English professor, after all, and while he discusses Beckett, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther seems closer to the target).  Maybe he would see me as naively optimistic about my own career in the classroom, but the same qualities that have drawn me to a liberal arts institution appear to be boring him to death.

Incidentally, the ASA’s section on teaching and learning is once again holding a pre-conference the day before the annual meeting.  Entitled “Teachers are Made, Not Born,” it is exactly the sort of thing that Smith gets excited about each August if he tries hard enough.  Hopefully those who attend (an application is available at www2.asanet.org/sectionteach/2009-application.pdf) will maintain their interest in quality teaching past “the first two weeks of the semester.”

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Typically, I prefer my visions of the future to be of the dystopic variety.  I suppose, though, that dire economic times deserve brigher visions of the future.  Angela Sorby at the Chronicle of Higher Education takes this general approach in reflecting on the crash of 2009 from 2020.  Among the highlights:

  • Universities stopped paying for conference travel. After a wave of armed protests, professors began talking with their colleagues at nearby universities. Study groups formed. Now, instead of performing their work at a national meeting for an audience of 10, professors find themselves in heated discussions with people from the college across town — people they never would have met under the old system. Regional schools of thought have formed. New ideas are being generated. The only Thai restaurant in Grinnell, Iowa, now thrives, packed with academics who can no longer afford to fly halfway around the globe to eat with similar colleagues in similar Thai restaurants in Boston and London.
  • Forced to make hard decisions, colleges and universities experimented with eliminating faculty members, only to discover that without teachers, students complained that they were learning less. Online robot instructors were tried, but they had no paychecks from which to deduct their maintenance costs. Finally, faculty members were reinstated, complete with salaries and pay-as-you-go medical plans. To compensate for revenues lost to faculty expenses, institutions were compelled to stop hiring consultants. Assessment teams disappeared, leading to widespread panic. Professors no longer knew how to list student-centered outcomes on their syllabi or how to tabulate six course objectives on an Excel spreadsheet. Professors and students heroically overcame those barriers and, as of today, continue to learn. It is unclear how long this can continue, however.

Finally, it is comforting to know that even if Big Brother isn’t watching and birth rates do not fall to zero there is a dystopia in my future after all:

  • The old campus apartments gradually filled up with professors and their families, since no one could afford a mortgage or a commute anymore. The campus got progressively more crowded, more intergenerational, and less private. The swimming pool dried up. The campus coffee shop began selling Folger’s. The ivory tower crumbled, along with the campus infrastructure. In this new environment, students and professors are economic equals who see one another on the weekends. They also walk home from night classes together, giving them added protection against the gangs of half-starved former assessment consultants now roaming the streets.

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