Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Even the Economist can get it wrong

This morning over breakfast, I pulled out an old Economist magazine (this one from 22 September 2007). There's an article on WuXi PharmaTech, a Chinese pharmaceutical research outsourcer. Here's the statistic that caught my eye: "...and, as in so many other industries in China, labour is cheap. Starting salaries for a PhD are $23,000 a year, compared with $200,000 a year in America, according to UBS, an investment bank."

Wow... if UBS really provided that, you'd think an investment bank could do better research. Starting salaries of $200,000 a year for a PhD! Feh! Not in this world. I just don't see it. Perhaps Lilian will disillusion me of my skepticism that even pharmatech doesn't pay that much to starting PhDs, but...

And, with articles that offhandedly provide such statistics, I can imagine why the general public might think all PhDs are overpaid, spoiled complainers, rolling in wealth and benefits. I just don't see it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Adjunct math

So... I was thinking about it, you know, now that I've decided to walk away from Lemon University. I just wanted to be sure that I was being fair about it. See, you know, I mean, colleges and universities have a lot of expenses, right? (I mean, aside from building unnecessary courtyards and such). So, I took a look at it and did some calculations:

Tuition on my campus runs somewhere north of $15,000 per semester per student (for 12-18 credits). Their website says that 79% of students receive financial aid, and that the average aid package is about $20,000 year. Now, how much of that is loans, I can't say, but let's assume that half of it is loans or subsidies from outside sources (Pell grants and external scholarships and such), and that half is outright scholarship money or waivers from the university itself.

Okay, that's $15,000 - 10,000 /.79 (got it?). Bear in mind, I'm applying all of that aid to the cost of tuition, none of it to other costs, like housing or food or books. That comes out to an average of $6329 per student per term. Let's assume the average undergrad takes 16 credits per term. That comes to about $396 per credit hour per student per term.

So, I've got 72 students, each carrying 3 units. Meaning, the university is pulling in somewhere in the range of $85,000 for my labor. That's just for my labor. There are other fees, but those are separate. I'm being generous here, no? I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt on most of this, arguing in their favor. Hey, let's even round it down... let's say they pull in only $75,000 for my teaching. And... let's see, they share out about 10% of that with me through salary.

Am I missing something here? Is there any reason I shouldn't feel taken advantage of? Is there any reason I should have even the slightest regret for walking away from the abuse? I mean, to be explicit, would it really be too much to ask that they would split these classes into two sections, pay me twice as much, plus benefits. Let's say benefits add about 50% to the cost of an employee. So... that'd be $15,000 per term plus 50%: $22,500 (we're not talking high wages here--bear this in mind, our rent is $2000/month for a modest home). That'd still leave them somewhere north of $50,000 PROFIT each term! Not a bad return on investment, eh? As I plan to say to the Chancellor: there are many excuses for this circumstance, but no defense.

Where the hell does the rest of the money go? What are they doing with that extra $65,000, $75,000, $150,000 per term per adjunct? Whatever it comes out to, it's sure to be more than the low end? Is there really anything that could be said in defense of a policy that nets so much for the university, yet takes so much out its adjuncts, and short-changes its students?

ADJUNCTS: Walk Run away! Do not take this anymore! It's not worth it. The sooner we revolt, the sooner it will change--for the good of us all, for the good of our students, for the good of society.

Blogger meet up?

I have a handful of regular readers in my neck of the woods (Greater L.A./Orange County), lurkers who have assiduously avoided revealing themselves in comments. But, of course, your IP addresses leave a trace of your activities. And, some of you know who I am; I'm sure of it. I'd like to issue an invitation to any of you who are willing to come out of the woodwork: I'd be pleased to meet you over a cup of coffee sometime. Just let me know. My email's on the sidebar.

A slow return

As some of you may have noticed from my emergence in comments on other blogs, and by the ever so incremental increases to my blog roll, I'm slowly returning. Returning that is to a real presence as a blogger. In the two years I've been involved with the blogosphere, I've realized that part of the commitment to the community is not only to add your content to the ether, but also to read others, comment, reflect, react, link. I've been a somewhat negligent party in that regard, since I started OFI/OFO, partly because I needed the space just to be. I needed some time and energy to get past the post-PhD Blues to where I am today, and where I'm heading. But didn't want to disappear. I'm back to reading more, and am beginning to delurk a bit.

I miss many of the interactions I used to have with you. Just thought I'd let you know.

Friday, October 26, 2007

End Game?

Today, I wrote up a draft for my application letter to the interdisciplinary post I've been writing about. It's long, but exceedingly specific. It needs quite a bit of editing. It currently runs a full three pages. But they're three pages of "here's what you said you're looking for, here's what I would do" scenarios.

I realized in writing up this draft that this is the first time in three years that I'm applying for a position for which I feel ideally suited, and which I firmly believe I would love serving in. One thing that really appeals to me is that both of the guys I spoke with (the chair of the committee, and another member of the committee) have what seems to be only a vague idea of exactly how this new line will play out. They have a sense that this interdisciplinary area is valuable and interesting, that it would enrich the campus, and appeal to the students. But neither of them considers themselves an expert in the area.

And I find myself not only an expert of sorts, but also well-prepared and well-suited to taking up such a role, criss-crossing campus, making connections and links, designing courses both whole-cloth from my own ideas, and in collaboration with them, listening and responding to their needs and desires. At my doctoral institution, I essentially minored in this interdiscipline, taking quite an active role in the all-volunteer interdisciplinary program. It was, in many ways, far more my home on campus than my ostensible home department. I proposed, designed, and taught one term of the interdisciplinary seminar that served as backbone of the program, something which no graduate student had ever done before (and so far as I know has never done since).

I found myself looking over old statements of purpose that I had drafted for my applications to graduate school, and even quoted part of one from 1998, which indicates without a shred of doubt that I have been fully committed to this interdiscipline since before I began my doctorate. I've spent a decade working in that area. This is the first time I am able to write up a letter in application for a faculty post where I'm not trying to fit a mold, but simply displaying my own plume. This is me, unadorned. After citing that 1998 statement of purpose, I was proudly able to write "I have remained true to that mission."

It seems this may be my endgame. This quite possibly will be the last position I apply for, willy-nilly so to speak. It'd be hard for me to climb down from this horse, should I not be offered the job. This is the sort of post I've been waiting for.

That said, nothing's perfect. I know that. There'd still be aspects of this that would be "work". But, if I land this post, I'll be getting all that I've really expected from academia: a chance to teach and research in an area that truly excites me, all the while still being able to maintain a connection to the discipline of my Master's and my Doctorate. I'd be taking off the masks and costumes, and enjoying the squeaks and gaps of the home that I have built, sanding here, planing there, as needed.

In part, this attitude is fueled by the realization that my true subdiscipline is essentially dead in North America. The last position in my true subdiscipline that I applied for (nearly a year ago now!) wound up being rewritten as another type of job entirely. There simply are no jobs in the area. Yet this position would enable me not only to teach within that true subdiscipline, but also to teach more general courses in the interdiscipline that help define the where and wherefores of this true subdiscipline, place it in a broader context, and explore that context. It's not the next best thing to landing a post in true subdiscpline, it's better!

Monday, I polish the draft and submit it. And all that, yet I remain open-eyed to the reality that I don't need this job. I am fully content to forge out on my own, develop my research firm, develop and file the patents, work to build a client base, and a path toward developing commercial applications of the technology. I am me again. I am on the bridge to the next stage. I just don't know what's yet across the water.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Document the life

Regular readers will have been following my tribulations as an adjunct, and my decision to leave. As I mentioned, I've been toying with an open letter to the Chancellor of Lemon University. I thought about attending tomorrow's "town hall" styled meeting on the future of Lemon, to raise some of the concerns I have about their overuse and abuse of adjuncts. Partly, that thought is spoiled by my standing obligation to volunteer in the Painter's kindergarten class on Fridays.

But I came up with an idea this evening that may prove more fruitful than merely confronting the Chancellor. First off, let me say that (after four years full-time as a political activist years ago), I long ago came to the conclusion that it's better to be heard (to have an impact on changing unfair or unjust policies) than it is to be right. Protests are meaningless if they have no effect on the object of their ire. That said, offending the Chancellor, or merely venting my own frustrations would likely have no or an opposite effect from that I wish to have.

But... wouldn't it be wonderful to produce a documentary on the life of the post-doc and adjunct in America? It's a major election period in America. There are some wonderful candidates out there talking about real issues. (I think of Al Franken, for instance). And there are those arguing stupid points (I think of Diane Feinstein complaining that Allstate has decided to cease offering new homeowner's insurance policies in California, and intimating that government should step in to prevent insurers from "cherry picking" their markets).

Why not make this a real issue, front and center? There's chatter about the rising costs of higher education, but no real viable solutions. Why not talk up how abusing PhDs with low-paid, no-benefits, no-job-security adjuncting hurts our society's best and brightest, while short-changing the students whose costs keep rising? Why not force politicians to take a stand on our nations priorities, and be counted among those truly supporting public funding for higher education in this country? Why not help to shift our priorities from $700 billion per year in "defense" spending, to setting goals for improving this nation's colleges and universities?

If Michael Moore won't make such a documentary, perhaps someone should! And, it just so happens that Lemon has a fine school of film studies, and that some of my students happen to be majors. I'll have to see what's possible. Anyone interested?

Growing enthusiasm

I spent another 20 or 30 minutes on the phone this morning with another member of the search committee for the interdisciplinary post in the Midwest. He's from an entirely different department, and had been referred to me by the chair as another person I might like to talk to. My enthusiasm only grows. I felt a great rapport with him, and he mostly confirmed what I was told by the search committee chair. He must have felt a level of rapport with me as well, as he recounted tales of meeting his wife and such, along with descriptions of his research, and what they are seeking in this post. He ended by saying that he looked for my materials and noticed I hadn't submitted any yet, but that he would certainly encourage me to apply.

I'm ready to court, though I hope I won't end up "on top of old smoky".

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Oheň předchází jej a zapaluje vůkol nepřátele jeho.

I think of Dvořák's Biblical Songs: "Fire sends he forth, conflagrating around his enemies".

The sky is a dull gray-blue, mottled throughout with patches and streaks of brown. The air smells of dead wood and flame. Ash dusts my vehicle as I leave the house. Sunrise and sunset these past two days have evinced an orange glow. The moon sits at night as if behind a veil of faded beige.

So far, all of my students are safe, and their families. Only one absence yesterday. I'll ask again in class tonight.

I can only hope that this will soon pass. The heat that surrounds us is unrelenting, not the 109F of the summer, but unwelcome in the 90s at the end of October. The air is unbreathable. My lungs, and eyes, and ears are stuffed and itchy. On campus yesterday, the winds brought only the scent of death and destruction, rather than any breeze of relief.

Southern California and Mexico burn. Send us rain!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Torn between in and out

The tour of duty as an adjunct has certainly calcified my anger towards the low esteem with which education is treated in this country. I heard this morning's NPR report on the cost of the war in Iraq. Bush (who thinks $35 billion over five years for S-CHIP is too costly) is asking for an additional $46 billion for the current fiscal year alone, to continue the failed fiasco in Iraq. And he has the audacity to call for an "all or nothing" vote. FUCK HIM! Excuse my French.

Just think what good this nation could do around the world if we spent $700 billion a year (the current level for defense spending) on education. Pity the poor fiscal conservatives profligasts who bemoan the possibility of increased taxes under a Democratic administration. What I care about is not the level of taxes, but the level of spending. If we're taxed like Europeans, but the spending reflects real and decent priorities, then tax away my friends! But if we're spending so much on failure and destruction around the globe, and padding the pockets of our friends with their no-bid over-priced contracts, then what the hell is there to be proud of?

Okay, enough of the rant.

What I began to write about is my personal conflict with continuing to pursue a career in academia. Just as I'm ready to walk away and close the door, I see lights at the end of the hallway, and I wonder... what's on the other end?

A couple weeks ago, my old advisor/chair of my dissertation committee (Tasse Plein) sent me an email lauding a particular post. This is for you, he implored, apply for it. I checked out their website, and found another posting for an interdisciplinary position, to spearhead a new effort which is right up my alley. Yesterday, I spent 38 minutes on the phone with the chair of that search committee. Everything he said sounded perfect.

It's a 2+3 teaching load, with class size no larger than 20 students! The position would be a one-person show for now, preparing all new courses, developing a curriculum in this particular cross-disciplinary area of study, coordinating and collaborating with professors and students from across the campus, teaching probably 2 courses per year within the home discipline. It's a highly selective small liberal arts school, located about an hour from my inlaws.

I then spent about 20 minutes on the phone with someone at that school within the discipline of my PhD, to discuss the position that Tasse Plein had alerted me to. She was friendly, enthusiastic, supportive, interested. She described an influx of new blood in the department, and their moving in new directions. I wrote to thank her for her time, and to ask if she might not send a note or make a phone call to the other search committee chair, to offer the department's support for cross-disciplinary efforts in the area of the other position (since that particular department had not be considered one of the core ones). She wrote back that she'd be delighted to, and that she would also look forward to spending some time with my materials for the position open within the department.

And so, I've regained a desire to forge ahead with this one last season of applying. I'm particularly drawn to courting this one school, with its two attractive positions. Courting them, I like that idea.

I want to believe that it'd still allow me time for my research, for developing the ideas and applications that I am pursuing currently outside academia. With courses capped at 20, assuming a negligible commute, I might have close to twice the time currently. Sure, some more of that time will be spent prepping and designing new courses (if I were to get the interdisciplinary post) but this is an area I'm excited by. That work would be a pleasure (even if it would necessarily include some drudgery).

The cost of living there is significantly below the national average, and the cost of housing is about a 1/3 the national average!

After so many ups and downs, it's hard to remember or fathom just what it is I really want. Mostly, what I am sure of, I want to engage in interesting work. I want to pursue the questions that fire my passions. I want to share those passions. I want to pursue them to logical conclusions, then move on to other questions. If that describes the life of an academic then fine. If not, I'm a committed entrepreneur. Ideally, I am both, with students and clients, with a title and a dream.

Only time shall tell.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Halloween pudding

It is a constant struggle to get the Painter to eat his fruits and vegetables. It's not that he's actually a picky eater, at least not as I've come to understand that concept. See, it's not that he actually dislikes the taste of most foods. He's got a rather accepting palate. But refusing to eat things seems to have more to do with his desire to control his environment, including having control over mommy and daddy. He learned a while ago that we consistently react to issues of his diet with great concern. Unfortunately, we must have reinforced his refusals enough that he randomly changes his tastes: [scream] you know I don't like [fill in the blank with something he happily devoured three days earlier].

Sometimes we still take the bait, but the arguments are endless, and fruitless, and normally unpleasant. So, I've resorted to all sorts of subterfuge to trick him into eating things. Last night we had "cheesy scallops" otherwise known as scalloped potatoes, because he refuses to eat potatoes. He really liked the "cheesy scallops" (mark that up as success, but we'll see what happens next time I try it).

Tonight was leftover veal scallopini (with mushrooms & wilted romaine lettuce) from two nights ago, along with the "cheesy scallops" and some turmeric rice from last night (which accompanied poached salmon with julienne carrot and celery--he ate the fish, but refused the "julienne strips" Ah well, worth a try). But how to get him to eat veggies tonight? We had some leftover broccoli from last night, and acorn squash from two nights ago. Aha!

So, I scraped the acorn squash from their shells, added with milk and cream to the blender. Blended until smooth (you need a good blender, trust me). Warm in the microwave with some brown sugar. Stir, then chill. After dinner, we had this "Halloween pudding" served with whipped cream and holiday sprinkles. It was devoured.

I'm pleased. A new tradition!

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's hard to remain silent

Those of you who have been following the saga of my adjuncting, have heard me say that I will walk away from it, leave the fight behind, protest in silence. Well, silence is hard. I've been toying with the idea of drafting a letter (most likely an "open letter") to be sent to the chancellor at Lemon.

This is wrong. Sure, I can walk away from it. But it doesn't gladden me. It's not pleasant to walk away from the students who thank me for coming to teach at their school. It's not easy to leave behind those faces of curiosity. God, what it means to inspire these kids! To see the aha on their faces! I am angry. I am angry that I am pushed away from that world.

But I know it is these same students (as well as me) who are being short-changed by the policies. 40 students in a class, with one teacher, no TA. Times 2, and only part-time. Are the students worth so little, that an instructor should gloss over their work? Is the time for consultations with students so disregarded that (though it is required) it doesn't count towards time spent by the instructor.

In industry, when a highly skilled consultant works part-time, they are accommodated with significantly higher pay (say 2-3 times higher) than their full-time colleagues' hourly wage. This is meant to make up for their lack of benefits and job security, and for the increased percentage of time they spend getting to and from work. (If I commute 2 hours a day for 8 hours of work, that comes out to a far lower percentage of time than spending 2 hours commuting for 1 hour of work).

But not in academia! Why not? Only because we tolerate it. But... the buck must stop!

It is time to tell the administrators (and the politicians who spend our tax dollars--yes, even underpaid and overworked adjuncts pay taxes!) that this is wrong! It is time to tell them that we will no longer tolerate it. It is time to say no. But to say no with a loud voice.

To extend Dylan Thomas' words: do not go gentle into that good night!

I will not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Where stops the buck?

Image and details from the Truman Library website (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/)

Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the United States, serving from the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death while in office, April 12, 1945, is known for having had a sign on his desk that read "The Buck Stops Here!" I wonder at that. It seems the buck ought stop more often, in more places. How often have we heard (or otherwise experienced) "I'm sorry, but that's not my job".

Last night, while making copies of handouts for my Wednesday evening class, the executive administrative staffer for my program at Lemon stepped in to say he'd just gotten an email from Sara, saying that I wouldn't be joining them in the Spring. Yes, I said, mostly it's a personal choice. "I wish the commute were not so damn long. But... I also wish that Lemon would treat it's adjuncts with more... dignity. The classes are too large. There's easily enough students to open up more sections, and hire faculty full-time with benefits."

He raised an eyebrow at my use of the term "dignity". Ah... he explained well, you know, it comes from the ... from the Chancellor. They keep bothering us over our numbers. We've got courses with 18 or 19 students, which they want to have 21. And, well, those courses you teach. They want us to open up more sections. But they want 40 in each one. And, well, you know, we can't hire adjuncts full-time. It- it- it comes down from the Chancellor, you know?

Always passing the buck. At a certain point, someone simply needs to stand up and say enough! To some extent, the fault doesn't lie with the likes of my friend Sara nor with [administrative staffer]. To a large extent, the fault lies with people like me. Because, as odd as it may sound (feeling most powerless at times) it is adjuncts who enable the administration of colleges and universities to continue their abhorrent practices.

The power really lies with us, at least with us collectively. So long as someone else will step into my shoes to be abused by the system, to fill the role of working part-time, underpaid, without benefits, teaching far more students than can possibly be (reasonably) accommodated in the time allotted, the buck can always be passed.

I wonder at my choices and my actions. They haven't come to me easily. But I need my dignity (and my time) more than I need the contract. I wonder if perhaps I haven't let down some of my new friends here, who may have seen me to be a potential leader of an adjuncts' revolt, organizing, unionizing, campaigning, protesting. (Perhaps I'm too grandiose). What I know of myself (and of my experience--both my 4 years full-time as a political activist/campaigner years ago, and my active leadership role with graduate students at my doctoral institution--not to mention my student politics activity more than 20 years ago at CCNY) is that I could do those things.

But I've stepped off the battle field. I've chosen to walk away from it. But I have not forgotten. It's more a silent protest, but in ways I believe far more powerful. I've simply said "No!" No more. I won't suffer the treatment that is beneath me. Institutions of higher learning (ah... what a misnomer at times) have become addicted to their drug of choice: cheap, quality labor. I care too much about my friend (this somewhat fallen Academia) to enable that addiction, to support it, to permit it. Like with an alcoholic, the healing must come from within. I, as a friend, can merely hold up a mirror. I can take the drink away, but I can't remove the desire. The addict may simply need to bottom out first. If that drug, that cheap labor, is no longer readily available perhaps it will give the addict the space to reassess.

That, is my hope.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Game called on account of climate change stagnation

Hi Articulate,

No problem on the delay in responding--you were ruminating on many things! I totally understand your position, and your business does sound exciting. I could not have kept up my part-time teaching at Lemon either, past that one year. It was our only source of income at the time, so I had to keep it up until the end of the year. But I would have had to give up too, had I not gotten the full-time gig. I hope very very much that you get a full-time position--maybe one of the ones you're applying to will pan out. Let me know if you want me to send that letter (with appropriate changes) anywhere else--I'm happy to do it of course. And I hope we can still all get together sometimes for dinners! That was really fun. I'm looking forward to meeting the new baby.

I know this was a difficult decision for you, but as I said, I totally understand. I will therefore start looking for someone else to teach [your courses]--yes? I can certainly have [administrative staffer] send you your evals. They typically don't come out until late February--Lemon takes so long for everything. And you have an entire semester of teaching now, to add to your CV.

Thank you for doing this teaching this semester--it helped us out a lot. I'm really sorry that Lemon won't/can't budge on enrollment numbers, or salary, or part-time status, etc. I do hope you know that I am just the messenger and have no input into those decisions! I would certainly decide otherwise.

Let's keep in touch frequently!

Shepherd's pie

The Painter: Yeah, pie. That's a dessert. I want pie for dinner.
Me: Well... it's not exactly pie... I mean it's not a dessert. But I think you'll like it.

Two thinly sliced uncooked potatoes to line the pan. Spray pan lightly with oil or butter, layer potato slices, spray or top with butter. 5-6 medium potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed for topping.

I used five kinds of mushrooms (halved or quartered), yum! Thinly sliced red onions, yellow onions, shallots, and pearl onions (halved). Lots of freshly sliced garlic. Sauté in pan with butter and olive oil, paprika, black pepper, and salt, to taste.

Thinly sliced or chopped lamb. Add lamb to onion/garlic mix, stir until gently cooked. Add mushrooms. Thinly sliced carrots & celery. Add and toss. Mix in frozen corn & peas. I added edamame (soybeans) and 2-3 tablespoons of miso paste. A few dashes of Worcestorshire sauce, and some thick (sweet) soysauce. Add some red wine, if you have it handy. Mix and stir (gently so as not to destroy the mushrooms).

Cook for about 15-20 minutes. Add water (or other liquid) as needed. Mix in some cornstarch rue (if desired) for thickening. Pour stew onto layer of potatoes. Spoon and spread the mashed potatoes (best if they're fairly thinned with milk) on top. Gently fork the potatoes, to create ridges. Top with some paprika and butter, and/or grated cheese (okay, it's not kosher, but it's delish). Heat in over (375F) for about 20 minutes. Broil for a couple minutes if needed to brown top.

Serve. Eat. Have seconds, thirds.

Even the Painter ate a good portion, and he didn't even notice the pieces of celery and carrots (after I mixed them back into a few forkfuls) that he had painstakingly picked out.

Game Point

Hi Sara,

Sorry for the delay in responding. You're right our schedules are just out of whack for meeting up right now. A lot of reflection, on top of life. I guess the conclusion is, if Lemon is unwilling to budge, it doesn't really make much sense for me to hold on. I feel that it compromises my teaching, thereby short-changing the students, or it compromises my life, thereby shortchanging myself and my family. Do let me know if anything changes (i.e. if Lemon would consider splitting [my courses] into two sections each, or hire me full-time with an office and benefits).

Shy of that, which I don't really expect, it makes most sense for me to pour my time and energy into building my research firm. I've got a couple programmers on board to get started coding the programs I need to develop my proofs-of-concept. If all goes well, I'll have some demos worked up by the new year, just before the baby is born. It's quite exciting really. I'm looking forward to the next phase in our lives, with two new babies (the one in Rocket's tummy, and the business I'm building).

My greatest fear in all this is that it will compromise our friendship, and your willingness to support my success. I may still apply for some more full-time tenure-track faculty posts, but I'm no longer holding my breath or vesting my hopes entirely in that prospect. Three years of seeking has beaten that out of me. Ideally, I'll be able to land a faculty post where I'll actually be supported both in my teaching and my research. If that's not possible, I think what I need to sacrifice, for my sake, and my family, is the teaching. I really hope I don't need to make that choice, since both are an important part of who I am.

I hope you will understand this decision (a difficult one, I confess). I can send a note to [coordinator for other course] & to [administrative staffer] if you think that would be appropriate. Also, is there some way I can ensure that I will get student evaluations for my teaching this term? I'd very much like to have them as part of my portfolio.

With warm regards,


Monday, October 15, 2007

Grading and beyond

For everything...
there is a season...

And just now in my life is the season for grading. I had a nice hiatus for the past few days. Today, I returned to the task. Graded all the reports that were handed in October 4 (and a few late ones), and I'm halfway through grading the quizzes they all took last Tuesday. I'll have both sets to hand back to them tomorrow afternoon.

I still have the Interview/Essays and tests from my Wednesday night class to grade. I'll do my best to get those done by Wednesday night. This is the drudgery of teaching. Sure, every job has more or less pleasant aspects. That can't be denied. An element of unpleasantness does not in itself constitute cause for leaving.

Rocket and I are both dealing with sorting out our expectations and desires, and meshing those with our obligations and responsibilities. She has decided (I think it's final this time) that she will take an indefinite leave from her current career, from the time the baby is born.

And so, it is on us to decide where we will go. The time frame is next summer, after the Painter is done with kindergarten (mid-June). Rocket will likely take leave around the end of January. (Due date is about February 4). As we expect it, this will provide her some sort of income (disability/family leave) until about May.

We've decided not to limit ourselves to a locale where she could feasibly slide back into her career. (If she decides to down the road, we'll deal with it then). I'm clearly not interested in metaphorically holding my breath by limiting our choices to where I might have an offer of a full-time faculty gig. (If one comes up, we'll consider it. I must say, it is incredibly freeing to not consider an offer to be manna from heaven. It's just something to consider.)

The only real limitations are being within an hour of a major airport, so I can conveniently travel as needed for building my business, and it has to be in a location that would be attractive to the sorts of people I might like to hire for my firm. We'd also like to be near family and close to some large body of water for sailing. It should be some place reasonably affordable, so we can work our way back into home ownership when the time is ripe. That leaves a lot of possibilities.

Left to me are still the decisions regarding whether and where I might continue to apply for faculty positions. I've realized that I wish to impose some fairly strict criteria on what would make an acceptable post. I think no more than 5 courses per year, ideally 4. Also, course size should be limited to under 60 students per term (ideally 50 or under). I'd want to live close to campus, so the commute is negligible. I'd want encouragement and support for my research (my real research).

When dating, my attitude was always to wear my heart upon my sleeve, to display myself as I really am. I never understood friends who would go to great lengths to appear as something other than themselves, in order to impress someone. I wanted to find someone who loved me for who I am, blemishes and all. I want the same from a job. Why go to great lengths to wear the costume of someone else, someone I think would most appeal to a hiring committee? Not for me. This is who I am. This is what I do.

But I'm ready. I'm ready to move on as well. I have only three applications out so far this year. I've got some more in my inbox awaiting my decision. Rocket and I will look those over. I'll see what I can about whether they fulfill my wishes, and then we'll decide if they're possibly in a location that works for us. And if not, I won't apply. I don't need to.

I believe in my work. That is what I'm off to do.

Back in my court

The continuing saga of an adjunct wishing to regain his dignity...
Hi Articulate,

I'm glad things are going well and Rocket and baby are fine. Yes, you'll have 3 boys--it'll be pandemonium. I'd love to have lunch with you, but [details of scheduling]...

About the 16-18 hours a week, well, we all know what that means. You technically have 5.5 classroom contact hours each week, and office hours are generally not counted, although they should be. Next semester your prep time will be greatly reduced, since you'll have taught the courses before recently. Let's say you give three tests in each class, each semester, so 6 times a semester you'll be in for a lot of grading. You can reduce that a bit by having fill in the blank, etc., short term definitions, etc., instead of essay tests (like major classes generally have). You'll still need at least a short essay on each test though, I'd say.

You'll always spend more time on grading than a contract will say. They grossly underestimate course prep and grading time. Unless you go over to the dark side and use scantron (which you shouldn't do here).

I am very sorry to tell you that there is no chance of capping enrollment for your classes, lower than the room capacity, which is 40 in each of the rooms you teach in. You can, of course, refuse to accept students over the maximum number allowed (40). Your classes are designed as big money makers for the program and so need as many bodies as possible. This is from the dean--so we can't change that.

The good news is that in the spring you'll probably have an office for the days you're on campus. We're hopeful that renovations will be complete by then and 5 new offices will be done! [Administrative Staffer] told me that you'd have space. It would be shared with another part time teacher, but not on the same days you'd be using it. You can contact him for details on the office.

I know it's very hard and difficult, but you're living the life of a PhD without a full-time position, you're an itinerant teacher (that's what I always called myself when I was doing that). And just so you can compare and know that your situation isn't as bad as it could be, here's my part-time war story:

After I finished my post-doc I taught part-time at several local colleges for a couple of years. When I started at Lemon, they hired me to replace their [subfield 1] person who was on sabbatical, but they hired me PART TIME to teach full time. This was before the rule that part-time faculty could only teach 6 credits per semester. I taught 4 courses (12) credits EACH semester, with 40-50 students in 3 of the courses each semester. I was paid part time, per credit, and it was less than what you're making per credit since it was about 8 years ago, and NO BENEFITS. And there was no guarantee that I'd be hired the following year even part time let alone full time. So I kept my other teaching gigs, in case I needed them the following year. So, each semester, I was teaching 4 classes at Lemon, one class at [Other Local College], and one class at [Postdoc University] extension, AND I tutored 25-30 private students. That was the year of hell. I rarely slept. I worked 16-18 hours a day, 7 days a week. But, at the end of that year, the guy I was filling in for at Lemon decided to retire and they did a national search over the summer and since they knew me and liked what I was doing, they hired me full time for the following year. So, you see, it could be worse. And I really hope your story has a happy ending!

OK, take care, sorry to ramble on so. I'm procrastinating.

The question that strikes me to ask (myself, if no one else), at the end of that story is, and that's the happy ending? I mean, really, is that what I'm holding out for, the opportunity to wear myself out, for the possibility (POSSIBILITY) of getting hired full-time (where I'll still be overworked, but at least paid better), and forced to make unpleasant compromises in my teaching, because I simply haven't the time, and I'll have the delight of sending such emails to my friends who are slaving away as adjuncts?

Forgive me for bitching a little. But is that what it's all about? I have no desire to short-change my students. They deserve better. A money maker for the program! And of course, there's no need to share out some of that profit with the instructor. No! Ridiculous. See, I've spent three years applying for faculty gigs, beginning while I was finishing up the dissertation. I spent two years as a post-doc in a different field, related by the topic of my dissertation.

And now, I spend 25-30 hours a week, teaching introductory courses to the broad discipline of my PhD, at a university 2-5 hours commute roundtrip from my home and family, with no job security beyond one term at a time, no benefits, and for a measly $6000 take home per term. Let's see, when I was a waiter, in Annapolis, Maryland nearly 20 years ago, I'd make say $50-100 a night, about 4 nights a week (shifts ranging from 6-8 hours). Meaning, on an inflation adjusted average, I'd have equivalent (EQUIVALENT!) income.

Now, in any universe, does that make any sense? Waiting tables/teaching university. Low skill/PhD. Hmmm. Somehow, the scales seem tipped (OVER!)

I read Sara's story and I wonder why anyone would subject themselves to that? Well, perhaps if I were in my twenties again. But I'm nearly 40. I have two sons, and a third on the way. I have a PhD, and a wealth of ideas, and energy to pour into interesting questions.

Recently, I've been reading some blogs related to the conditions of adjunct faculty, and their horror stories. And I remember one thing my old coach, Paul, had said to me during one of our first sessions. He remarked that many of us are inclined to fight, to seek out battles, to struggle against the tide, to overcome adversity. He said, don't. Don't fight. You don't need to. Why choose the things that are hard? Do what comes easy to you.

And that rings so loudly to me right now. I could dedicate myself to fighting for adjuncts' rights to dignity, to equal pay for equal work, to benefits, to improved working conditions. Or... I could simply walk away from it. I could set an example as someone who left. If we all left and sought out alternate means that would send the message more loudly than a thousand demonstrations. And for what are we staying? We can live as well or better waiting tables or working in bookstores. Or... building our dreams by putting our research directly to use!

The question for me is which is more in keeping with my own goals? What do I wish to accomplish now with my life? I think I know the answer.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A day for my work

Yesterday, I did no grading. I simply prepped my class, taught it, consulted with students after class, then drove the hour and a half straight home to be with my boys.

Today, Friday, is a day for my work. There is no grading or course prep to be done today.

This morning, I talked with "my" attorney, for about an hour I'd say. Let's call him Darren. Darren was referred to me by a friend of the husband of a colleague of my ex-stepfather's (ah the wonders of social networking and LinkedIn.com). I had spoken to him a few months ago, then more recently in preparation for my meeting with the programmers last week. He had pointed me toward a non-disclosure agreement template. I wanted to talk with him about moving forward, about ideas for a "work for hire" contract with the programmers, and possibilities for formalizing my arrangement with him.

So far, it's a misnomer to call him my attorney. We have no formal retainer agreement, and officially all of our discussions have fallen outside the domain of "advice." So far, it's all been gratis conversations between two fellows. But I anticipate (as I believe does he) that our relationship will eventually formalize into an attorney-client one. For now, it's nice to have a knowledgeable source willing to take and return my phone calls, and help me understand where I'm on or off track.

After that conversation, I've spent my day working up a "scenario document" for my programmers. I had worked up a "specifications" document prior to our meeting, which outlined an overview of the proofs-of-concept toolset, including algorithms for each of the individual tasks (save the last and most complicated one, which I'm still working on). They had asked me to develop a scenario document which would essentially go step by step through the proposed program: open the program; main menu includes the following tasks: ... ; choosing task_1 takes user to the following menu; selection A is accomplished by the program in the following way... etc.)

I've been working on that today. I promised them that I'd have something to them by the end of the week. This is what I'd like to prioritize. This is my work. This is interesting, and exciting to me in ways that I'm realizing teaching at Lemon simply isn't.

Is it just Lemon? ...

Rocket said to me last night that she had decided. She won't be returning to Rocket Central after the baby is born. She decided (upon hearing a local news report about the death of a five-year-old, the result of road rage) that it is time for us to depart these environs.

I'm still awaiting a reply from Sara Chaisano, but barring any major unforeseen, I think I'm ready to resign my position there. That'd free me up to commit 100% of my work time to building my business, to developing the research into viable demos for gaining clients and contracts.

But what do I do about faculty applications? There are more possibilities piling up in my inbox. Where do we want to live? What are we willing (and able) to forego in order to follow the path we lay before us? Health insurance... that's a biggie. Without a job, we've got to cover that ourselves. How much would it be? Can we manage? Would the boys be eligible for S-CHIP? How much would our living expenses be? (Depends on where we live). Could we buy a house (or should we rent)?

Getting a faculty gig (which surely is anything but certain) would afford us some income, some stability, and health benefits for the family. But what would it cost me? (Depends on the gig, right?) How much time would I spend on my institutional duties? How much time would I be allowed and expected to spend on my research? Might I really find the balance? Does anyone out there find it in academia? I ask honestly. I simply don't know.

And, if not. Am I ready, and able, and willing to make the leap? Would it strengthen our bonds as a family to risk it all? Or would it weaken us? To me, this seems paramount! One aspect of commuting so far to Lemon, and spending so much time on it, beyond the little time left for my research and firm-building, is the lack of time and energy I have to give my boys. That's one major issue I wish to resolve in the future that Rocket and I compose together.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Instead of grading

Hi Sara,

I hope you and family are well. Rocket & the baby seem to be progressing nicely. I can't quite get my mind around having three boys, but I'm sure I'll get used to it come February. Maybe we can grab lunch together sometime next week, say Tuesday or Thursday?

Still grappling with the commute and student load. I'm trying to figure a way that this could still work for the Spring. I'm taking your earlier remarks to mean there's no chance of me getting hired on full-time with benefits in the Spring. I keep thinking of my contract that reads "it is anticipated that Faculty Member shall work no more than sixteen to eighteen hours per week." And so, I did some calculations (discounting the commute, since that's not really Lemon's concern, even if it is mine). Bear in mind, the commute itself is at least 6-9 hours per week!

I teach about 5:15 per week. Plus 2:00 of office hours. If I allow say 2:15 of prep time per week (which is much less than I'm spending this term). That's 9:30. Leaving 6:30-8:30 hours for grading. Let's say I spend about 10 minutes per week on average per student (which is less than I'd like to spend, but manageable). That means every six students is another hour. That comes to 39-51 students total. Say 20-25 per class.

Under the conditions of my contract with Lemon then I shouldn't have more than 20-25 students per course. What's the chance of my capping the courses at that level for the Spring? And what's the chance of me having access to an office at least an hour before and an hour after class on Tu/Th, and say two hours before on Wednesdays?

If I ought to ask these questions of somebody else, please let me know.

Be well,

The real irony or tragedy in all this, is that I feel guilty and aggressive for writing and sending this letter. I think of my friend, Sara, and her advice to me at the beginning of the term (don't seem nervous) not in front of the students so much. She meant "don't seem nervous" in front of the staff ... it was said in an air to mean don't make waves, don't ask for too much, try to take care of things yourself, don't rely on others. That, and the attitudes (I'm busy, what can I do for you... quickly) that I got from some of the administrative staff, created a rather stifling entry for me to Lemon. Don't ask for much, don't expect it.

I feel dirty, and pushy, to make these arguments, to say that I think a bare minimum of time spent per student ought to be in the order of 10 minutes/week, or that it's not unreasonable for me to be expected to spend a half hour to prep for every hour of classroom time. And yet, I feel myself shrinking from those arguments, as if I have no right to make them. Don't you know there are hundreds of hungry dogs nipping at the gates to get a chance at those nibbles you're discarding?

It's not being hungry that makes us behave as animals. It's behaving as animals that makes us hungry! The more we line up submissively to take this treatment, the worse the treatment will get. Forget the arguments about the economy shutting down if illegal immigrants walked off the job. How would our schools survive, if all the adjuncts simply required a fair wage, reasonable conditions, and benefits, in line with their qualifications, commitment, and effort?

Cat's in the cradle

Slow morning. Getting home around 11:00 on Wednesday nights (yeah, it's earlier if I drive, not midnight like when I take the train), it takes me a while to wind down from the day and the commute. Thursday mornings, I'm quite exhausted. I luxuriated in sleeping in until nearly 8:00 (THANK YOU, ROCKETMOM!). The Painter called goodbye from the door, before being dropped off at school. That was 7:48. A few minutes later, I crawled out of bed.

The Inventor was on the couch: his morning ritual 30-60 minutes of Public Television and a cup of milk. I snuggled next to him, checked my email, then closed up my laptop, which was on the coffee table by the couch. I turned off the TV. D had made The Inventor some eggs, and a bagel. I said I'd join him for breakfast. But I took a shower first.

Then I kneeled down at the breakfast table to talk with him. The latest is he makes up words in different languages, like Painterish, and Inventorish, and Dadish, and Momish.
I like to go to the fun place. Jumpin' Jammin' is another name for the fun place. In Painterish, we call the fun place, blichercom. And in Inventorish we call the fun place, karigibub...
I get dressed, then sit to have my breakfast. It's 8:50 at this point. What an indulgent morning! The Inventor is getting ready to go with D to "the little park." Do you want to come with us, Daddy, to the park? Uh... no honey, I don't think daddy has time this morning. I've got to go to work.

[I've got more grading to do this morning. A quiz from Tuesday, and an assignment from last Thursday. I haven't touched them yet, since I was enthralled in grading the essay/interviews and another assignment from my Wednesday night class, so I could hand them back last night. No way I'll get all the Thursday assignments back. Maybe I'll just grade the quizzes, so I have something to return. Then there's the first test from last Wednesday's class, that I haven't touched yet. Does it end? With 73 students, it seems not to.]
The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon...
and as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
he'd grown up just like me, my boy was just like me...
I finished eating, packed up my things, and got in the car. I saw them on the way, walking (I pass "the little park" everyday on my way to the office). [HONK HONK] You want a lift? I played with my beautiful boy for a few minutes at the park, before heading into the office. I just wanted to.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Should I stay or should I go now?

Ah, The Clash, not the most brilliant of music, but the words light on the reality of my life.
If I stay there will be trouble...
but if I go there will be double.
Reality check: actually I'm quite free at the moment. We don't need the money. I mean need need. My wife is making sufficient income for now to support us comfortably. Even though she expects to take off (indefinitely?) after #3 is born around the beginning of February, we've got decent savings (thanks in large part to the real estate bubble that allowed us to realize a handsome profit from our tiny condo in Paradise, which we bought only because the cost of owning at that time was comparable to the cost of renting; and also which allowed us to realize a not-so-handsome, but still respectable profit on our house in Denver, which might have been more handsome if we had gotten out several months or a year earlier). It was luck mostly... that and a good deal of careful budgeting and money management. But I fully realize that having money in the bank does not in any way make us better people (nor reflect our inherent higher quality) than say my comrades-in-arms adjuncts who don't. But this is my reality; the one in which I operate.

Back to The Clash, if I stay at Lemon, the trouble is mostly of the psychic variety. It's wearing to willingly subject myself to the conditions that are imposed on adjuncts at Lemon. It's a constant struggle between my conscience reflecting a desire to be a really good teacher, and my conscience which wants to be treated with the dignity and respect I feel I deserve. There is little dignity in being overworked and underpaid, in being forced to eat my lunch in the hallways, because I haven't access to an office but one day per week, in having to choose between giving grades to students based on a perfunctory glance, or spending all my time grading.

And what of my business? What time do I really have left for that? What would be the function of remaining?
  1. There may have been an implied agreement that I'd teach for the whole year. But then, the institution chose to give me a one-term contract. So... who implied what? (Bait and switch, anyone?)
  2. Remaining may facilitate my continuing ability to get glowing letters of recommendation from Sara Chaisano ("It will be our loss if he moves on to another teaching position." Hard for her to say, if I've already left).
  3. Assuming I do get a tenure-track gig to begin next fall, the added recent experience teaching these two courses would facilitate the transition.
But, it sucks up so much of my time and energy. I have spent three years begging and groveling for a faculty post that I retain little faith that this season will miraculously prove otherwise (though there is that voice in me that still believes, that thinks ah, but now I've got letterhead, I've got a job at a university, that's got to count for something). This leaves me in an uncomfortable position. If I am still committed (at least one last time) to pursuing a tenure-track post, perhaps there is benefit in my remaining at Lemon for another term.

But part of me wants to just let it go. Part of me wants to leap, with my family, into that great unknown. I want to build my research firm. I want to hire these programmers (part-time for now), and spend some of our savings to build this firm. I want to simply trust that the 18 months or three years (depending on where we live, and how we manage the money) that our savings can sustain us, will be more than enough for my research to start turning a profit.

It's scary. It's uncertain. But are the certainties I'm given much better? Nothing in the world is worth wasting our lives. No amount of certainty is worth getting stuck, on a track defined by no one but circumstance. The wind blows of its own accord. It is on us to trim the sails.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

An hour and a half later

Just about... that was the time it took me to drive back from campus to my office. This is the light commute. See, I left campus at 2:30 pm, not exactly rush hour. Ah... but here, I guess it is. Well, that's not true. See, it takes an hour and a half to drive 42 miles at 2:30. At 4:30, it'd take two and a half hours. Why don't they call it SLOW hour instead. I mean, who rushes with that kind of traffic?

Today was the first experiment in reducing my office hours, and avoiding the 7:00 am dash to the metro, so I could shave an hour off my train/bus commute. I hate to drive in this traffic. But I can't say I enjoy leaving the house before 7:00 am, for two office hours and an hour and fifteen lecture, then taking the 4:38 train back, arriving at home around 6:30. It just doesn't seem right, it doesn't seem worth it. So, I thought I'd take Sara Chaisano up on her suggestion that I cut my office hours down to one a week, with the proviso "or by appointment".

I hate to short-change the students. But I'm swamped with grading, and commuting, and with an attempt to make a life for myself beyond the pathetic part-time, no benefits, pay that I make at the university. Am I short-changing the students by cursorily rushing through their papers to come up with a reasonable grade, so I can keep the time I spend on each student each week under 5-10 minutes? Or is the university short-changing us both? Today, as I walked across campus, past the massive multi-million dollar project to build a fandandy courtyard outside the library (described thus by Sara: "Well, I think it looked just great the way it was, but I guess they want to make it fancier"), I recalled the time I was interviewed years ago on Slovak television.

I was performing in a beautiful old, renovated theater there, where the local talent gets paid such a miserable salary that they thought I was extravagant for having chicken soup for lunch at about 94 cents a pop. When you make about $150/month, a dollar a day for lunch can seem a fortune. So... I stood before the camera, in my not-so-polished Slovak, and explained that while I found the freshly-multimillion-dollar-renovated theater to be gorgeous, one should always remember that our priorities should be first with the people who give the house life. There's always time, and energy, and money for renovations if the building is alive. But if the people are listless, no amount of paint, and velvet, and gilding can liven it up!

And I thought how ironic that I'd be in their shoes here in America. If I choose to stay on at Lemon, I can assure you it has nothing to do with any regard I hold for the institution and its administration. I think of poor Marion True, and her trial in Italy. Perhaps she was less bad than others in her treatment of looted artifacts, but being less bad is hardly a purchase to heaven! Just because all the universities across America treat their adjuncts with disdain is no defense for the practice.

Every administrator, or faculty member, who knowingly permits their institution to hire part-time faculty when full-time are required, who willingly allows overcrowding of classes, to avoid paying benefits, is culpable. Every politician who mealy-mouths their support for education, and the cause of today's children (I think of Nancy Pelosi--put your nation's money where you mouth is!) is responsible for turning this nation around, and putting our priorities where they belong.

There is no gray area!

Monday, October 8, 2007

A productive meeting

No, not in any way affiliated with the university. I had a wonderfully productive meeting on Saturday with a couple programmers in the Bay Area of California. I flew up for the afternoon, arriving around 1:00, and getting dropped off by them at the airport for my return around 5:00.

For four hours (after getting their signatures on a confidentiality agreement), I expounded on my ideas and theories, and why and how and what. I gave them an overview and background on what I am trying to accomplish, what has been tried, and most importantly, what hasn't been tried until now. I laid out what I had written up of what I needed them to assist me in creating, as a toolset for developing my proofs-of-concept, which should lead to contracts and clients, and much more work.

They both seemed engaged and excited in moving forward with it. And now, I'm buried with grading, trying to dig my way through this four inch pile of papers and tests and assignments, so I can get back to completing the algorithm, clarifying the desired interface and tasks for the program.


My wife says she has a love-hate relationship with her work, reflecting that her Sunday afternoons present to her dread of having to return to her desk. I laughed and said I can't complain about returning to my office, my real office, where I build the dream of this applied research firm. But I do feel dread over the grading for miserable pay and no benefits.

I like the classroom; I like the students; I like being involved with engaging and inspiring young minds to follow their own paths (to pursue and achieve their greatest potential). But I abhor the treatment that I have been subject to. Some of it is mere circumstance: the fact that I have no permanent faculty job is not really anybody's fault (though surely I could have expected more support from my doctoral institution and program). Some of it however is the willful abuse of administrators, like those at Lemon, who choose to take advantage of adjunct faculty, and of the political leaders who provide so little public-funds support for education that those administrators are almost justified in their actions.

And this is my internal war. I want to build my research into a successful business, that has a positive impact on society (as well as my finances). I also wish to be a part of academia, contributing to a next generation of scholars and doers. Will I be given the chance to be true to both sides of myself?


Grading, grading, grading... grating.
What's the solution? See, if the school says "it is anticipated that Faculty Member shall work no more than sixteen to eighteen hours per week"... does that mean that I should work no more than 16-18 hours per week on my school duties? Just cut off my time, whether I've completed the requisite tasks or not?

That would seem fair, wouldn't it? Bringing my hourly wage up to about $30. But the problem of course, is by hard limiting my time expenditure, the students are the ones who get short-changed. The university doesn't care. They don't seem to have any problem in short-changing the faculty, by hiring an ungodly number of part-time adjuncts at a low wage without benefits, and overloading the classes, so as to avoid hiring more, or giving adjuncts benefits and a more reasonable workload.

So, which is it, do I short-change myself, or short-change my students? Frankly, I can't see a way to involve and reasonably assess the students without requiring them to write! Of course, I could make the tests entirely out of multiple-choice, and short (word or phrase) answers. I could avoid actually reading their handed in assignments, and simply check them off as having been done or not. But then, perfunctory behavior like this on my part is short-changing them.

And, despite all this, I may just stick it out for another semester, continuing in the Spring. Could I really cut down my time commitment to 16-18 hours a week, without short-changing anyone? The preps will be easier, since I would be teaching exactly the same classes in the Spring. But the grading. Ah the grading! What's the point of teaching a class, if you don't expect the students to demonstrate their ability to reflect on and explain the concepts that they are ostensibly learning? What would be the point? I have no interest to go through the motions.

There's the dilemma.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


I just wanted to say, that I've lighted on a rather ingenious way to get my boys (most especially the Painter) to eat sufficient vegetables and protein. In a word, risotto. Like tonight, I took a jar of chicken soup (with lentils, zucchini, celery, carrots, tomato), which I canned up a couple months ago, off the shelf. I cooked 1-1/3 cups of short-grained rice with 1-1/3 cups of water in the rice cooker. Then mixed the half-cooked rice with the quart of soup (supplemented with more chicken from the fridge), and some fresh celery. Add a little bit of milk. Voila. Now, I expect the Painter to pick things out of his rice. But he'll eat most of it. And... when I get really desperate, I can always blend up everything before mixing with the rice.

The Onus

The onus is on me, of course. It's very powerful to claim the right, and the ability, to say no. Yet, with power comes responsibility. It's far easier when circumstance decides for us. Now the onus is on me to decide whether to remain at Lemon for another semester, or walk away from the long commutes, and excessive time commitment (excessive in comparison to the rewards).

My friend, Sara Chaisano, who was the impetus for getting me hired there has made several attempts this past week to keep me on board. Her latest is to authorize me to hold only one office hour (rather than two), "given that we just aren't providing you with the space you need to have them at times when you can be there." Part of the issue of my commute is the necessity to travel during peak traffic, or rather, the desire to avoid traffic, and the train/bus schedules available to me. I'd prefer to take the train than drive, but the schedules require 4-5 hours of traveling per day, and at times permit me little leeway, if one leg of the journey is delayed (meaning I might miss a connection entirely).

If I skip a morning office hour, that allows me to leave at 11:30, rather than 7:00 on Tuesdays. I could make myself available to meet with students after class on Tu & Th for say 45 minutes each, allowing me to hit the road around 3:00. If I drive rather than take the train, I might get home by 4:00-4:30 on those days. Currently, I leave the house before 7:00 on Tuesdays, and get home after 6:30 at night. Wednesdays will still be hectic, with me heading down around 3:00, and getting home around 11:00.

So, that would mean a time commitment of about 16 hours just getting there and back, and teaching. Think of this, with somewhere north of 70 students, if I spend 5-10 minutes a week on average grading for each student, that's about 6-12 hours more, plus what 2-3 hours of prep/week minimum (say 24-30 hours/week). My contract reads: "it is anticipated that Faculty Member shall work no more than sixteen to eighteen hours per week." HA! For those following along at home, that comes to under $20/hour, with no benefits, and no job security.

But, I enjoy teaching. I really do! And having a letterhead, and some colleagues who think the world of me (especially ones willing to write those glowing letters of recommendation), and sure the extra cash won't hurt, even if it's much less than I think I'm worth... maybe it's worth it. Mind you, I haven't decided yet. Will this year prove the one I get offered multiple faculty gigs? Do I even still want that?

I'm not walking away from my entrepreneurial efforts. I'm not going to put aside the research that fires me, that excites me, that I believe will prove not only commercially successful, but more important meaningful and beneficial for society at large. Can I continue to do that with a faculty gig? Not really a relevant question at this point, because I've spent three years for the opportunity to work adjunct, part-time, temporarily, hours from home and my family, without an office, or benefits, for a measly $20/hour! Is there any hope left that one of these schools I'm applying to will take me for what I've got to offer?

There's no telling. I made a commitment that this was the year I'd stop waiting. I have stopped waiting. I've stopped holding my breath. I've ended my depression. I've moved ahead on independent research, motivated by my passions, not by my reading of what may or may not benefit my eventual bid for tenure. Yet that glimmer of hope remains. There is that side of me that still loves the academy, that wishes to be a welcomed participant.

And so, I remain, one foot in/one foot out.

Monday, October 1, 2007


The ball's back in my court.
Hi Articulate! Glad you're having fun teaching.

[Discussion of course specifics]

... Students who miss a lot of classes and miss the exam: assume he's gone. If he missed the exam, with no word to you, that's that. He may have withdrawn. If he hasn't withdrawn, then at the end of the semester you have the option of giving him an F or (I think it's) an FW, which means he failed b/c he stopped going to class. If he shows up at some point wanting to make up test etc., I would tell him sorry, missed the exam with no word, you're going to fail so you should withdraw from the class. Of course, say it nicely.

No problem on the office, I know it must be hard not to have your own space. We're going to be getting several more offices for part-time faculty--they are building them in a space that's now just empty hallway in [Campus Building]. I don't know if they will be ready for Spring, but hopefully!

Spring contract: same as Fall, it takes them forever, you will eventually get a contract and it will be for the same as the fall, same classes, times, pay. Eventually--probably in January if I know Lemon. As far as we're concerned, you're hired for the Spring too, so you don't have to worry about that.

I totally understand where you're coming from re needing full-time employment with benefits, especially with RocketMom taking time off and your THIRD!! baby on the way. And I understand the time/payment ratio not being good for you, given your commute and the time you need to spend with the courses and what they pay part-time instructors.

Unfortunately, we are very restricted about number and type of full-time positions we have for hiring right now. Here's our schedule for hiring (and yes, I'm the right person to talk to about this at this point): for next year (2008-2009) we'll be hiring 2 full-time positions, one for [job description 1] and one for [job description 2]. Those searches are ongoing now. Next year we will be searching for another [job description 2] faculty (for 2009-2010), and in 2009-2010 we'll be searching for another [subfield 1er] (for 2010-2011).

So unfortunately, we can't hire a [subfield 1er], or someone with your background, until 2010. And we are allowed only part-time hires for classes like [course #] and [course #] right now. This is from the Chancellor's office--we'd love to hire someone full-time right now, of course. You are right that there is certainly enough enrollment for 2 sections each, but part-time faculty can only teach 6 credits per semester of lecture courses (because the university is too cheap to pay for benefits, which they would have to do if a faculty member taught more than 6 credits). So if we offer 2 sections of both classes, we'd have to hire 2 part-time faculty to teach them.

I'm sorry I don't have better news for you! Universities move at a glacial pace, as I'm sure you know.

Please let me know ASAP if you decide not to teach for us next Spring--I'll have to find someone else. Of course I'll understand completely--although I think you are doing a really good job (from what I hear so far) and I'd be really happy if you taught again in the Spring.

Thanks, Articulate! Say hi to RocketMom and the boys.

Some movement

Hi Sara,

I'm having fun teaching. It's great to have my own classroom again. Thank you for getting me the gig. I give the first [course #] tests back on Tuesday. It's a good spread, so I think it was fair: without a curve, it's 6 As; 12 Bs; 7 Cs; 5 Ds, and 3 Fs (plus two who didn't show up for the exam, and one I haven't seen yet, who took it proctored in the [Center]). I don't know how that compares to what's typical for the course. Let me know. And let me know what I can do for a student I'm worried about. There's one who's enrolled in both my classes, who has missed quite a few sessions, who didn't show up for the first exam. I sent him an email asking if all was okay, but I haven't heard back from him.

Also sorry if I've disturbed things in your office. Anything I did was inadvertent I assure you. It's tough not having a space of my own, as I'm sure it's hard on you to share what's otherwise your office alone.

I wanted to touch base with you about the Spring. The contract I received in August was only for the Fall, and I haven't heard anything official otherwise. Last I checked the Spring schedule still hadn't been posted. So I don't really know what's planned for the Spring, but assume that it would be the same as now.

The problem I run into is this. I hadn't anticipated the commute (or the class sizes) would be quite so much. I'm spending about 12-15 hours a week just getting to Lemon & back. Looking over our budget, we've come to the conclusion that I need to be bringing in more, and unfortunately sooner than we had anticipated. With the time commitment at Lemon, there's little chance for me to earn other part-time income in the Rocket City area. With #3 on the way, and RocketMom planning to take time off from work, starting the top of the year, I really need full-time employment with benefits.

I don't know what is available to me in that regard at Lemon. Surely there are enough students in [course #] & [course #] to warrant two sections each. I'm certainly open and willing to discuss other options as well. If you're not the right point of contact, please let me know who is, and I'll move the conversation to them. Let me know what you can.

Regards to [husband], and a hug for [baby].


Time moves along. Our expectations change. I think there's a snowball's chance in hell that they'll hire me full-time with benefits. The reality is, working another term for a mere $6000 take home would likely delay my development of these proofs-of-concept, which will likely net me quite a bit more in income. What's more, it's my work, work I really enjoy, and which I find meaningful. I want my time back. And my dignity. Besides, I'm spending more time than I'd like far away from my boys & my wife. And somehow, it just doesn't seem worth it.

RocketMom & I spent some time this weekend shoring up our decisions, and fortitude. Last week, she got word of her raise for the year, about 4.6%. The average, they were told, was 2.9%. Her supervisor had asked her if she planned on coming back to work full-time soon after the baby was born. She demurred that she was thinking about part-time. For how long? I don't know.

But... she's not really planning to go back. We thought about that this weekend. It was tough for her to go back full-time when the Inventor was 6 months old. It'd likely be even more tough this time around. D goes back to Germany around the beginning of June. So, we'd need to get another au pair, find alternate daycare, or I'd have to stay at home full-time. If we stay past the summer, the Painter would be back in school, for first-grade, meaning we'd either stay another year, or move in the middle of the school year. And, the cost of living here is significantly higher than it might be in other parts of the country. Any of these issues could be dealt with, if that's what she wanted to do.

The hard part is... they treat her well at Rocket Central. She's well compensated and respected. But... what she really wants is to take some time off, to spend more time with the family. The work itself doesn't drive her, doesn't motivate her. It's just something she can do.

Are we crazy to walk away from the stability and comfort of her income? I don't think so. It's just a decision, a decision that sets our priorities aright. The money is nice. But it's not that important.

The timing we're back to is making a jump likely in June or July. RocketMom will have income (disability & family leave) through around May. We've got non-retirement savings to support us for easily a year, more likely two. If I return my time to working on these proofs-of-concept (I've had only about 5-10 hours a week for that lately), I can reasonably hope to have a handful worked up and ready for demo before she takes off from work.

I'm not holding my breath for a faculty gig, though there would be some great benefits to having one. I would be willing to sell my time and energy for a full-time position with benefits, that allowed me to regain my dignity as a scholar, and that supported me and my family. I am committed to my research, and expect it to lead somewhere. If it takes me longer to accomplish that, because I'm engaged in something equally as meaningful, so be it. But I'm little inclined to put off those efforts for something, like what I have, that doesn't afford me that.

It's either a faculty offer will help us decide where to move, or we'll be ready (having done our homework) to decide on our own. We've been doing that. The tour is scary and uncertain, but exhilarating nonetheless.