Thursday, December 13, 2007

Someone Who's Done 25 Years In the 'Real World' Shines a Light on the Privilege He Feels as a Prof.

I’ve been reading RYS regularly for about a year now, and I would like an opportunity to inject a different perspective to the discussion.

I am tenure track at a large, private university east of the Mississippi. I’m in my fifth year here, and that is also the sum total of my teaching experience, and, for that matter, my academic experience, subsequent to earning my B.A. in 1978. I teach in a small arts college that is kind of a stepchild at this university, which is known mostly for engineering and the hard sciences. My college hires primarily from industry rather than academia. In my program, we all have had substantial professional careers, as have most of the faculty in the other programs.

I was 47 when I took this teaching job, and still carry on with my outside career as much as teaching full time will allow. In my “other” profession, the 70-hour workweek is fairly common. ALL jobs are freelance, so everyone in the business either operates at a high level or doesn’t work. Having a bad day at work can mean losing a client permanently. All compensation is negotiated on a “per job” basis, and your rate varies with the client, the circumstances, your expertise, how badly you need the work, etc. Even after you reach a point where you are regularly getting work, you often have to jump through hoops to actually get paid (usually after 90 days), and every year there is always a small percentage of clients who stiff you, leaving you with nothing. You need an iron will and very high level of self esteem, as there is very little in the way of respect for or acknowledgement of your talents, save that next phone call with a gig from a satisfied client. No collegiality. No tenure. No departmental awards. No raises except for whatever you are able to negotiate for yourself each job. No peer review. No grants. No administrative help. No holiday parties. No spring, summer, winter, or Thanksgiving breaks. And, or course, being freelance means long periods without any pay at all.

At school, I come in, teach two or three classes per term, and take summers off. I only teach Tuesdays and Thursdays, and once I’ve put in my 5 hours of teaching, I see students for an hour or two each day. I come in one other day (usually Wednesday) per week for a full day of meetings and extra office hours, and once in a while, I need to do something on a Monday or Friday in order to accommodate someone else’s schedule. I advise a dozen seniors on their year long Senior Projects. I run a club for students who want more experience in the field, and we meet once a week.

I’m on two search committees, the Admissions committee, the Faculty Development committee, and I’m involved in some other small projects aimed at improving our young program. I work a bunch of extra weekends each year helping out with recruitment functions.

Guess what? I love it here, and compared to what I did the first 25 years of my career, it’s a BREEZE. I probably put in about 40 - 50 hours total each week, but a lot of that work is done at home, at my convenience, and in my pajamas. I get to teach what I know to students who (mostly) want to learn it. My work is respected by my peers and by the administration, none of who feel the need to micromanage what I do in the classroom. You should all try working with some know-nothing client who feels entitled to backseat drive every detail of the work because “I may not have your skill or experience, but I’m paying the bills, and I’ll know it when I see it.”

We have tuition remission here for faculty and staff (my son is attending the University at virtually no expense right now), and a generous retirement benefit. Before I started teaching, I paid for my family’s health insurance out of my pocket, and had to do the same for any retirement saving.

I get the feeling that many of you who contribute to RYS are substantially younger than I am, probably in your 20’s and 30’s, and have gone directly from B.A. to M.A. to PhD to the ivory tower. I have two children, a “tweener” and a freshman in college. As a parent for the last 20 years, I’ve had more than ample experience dealing with bullshit excuses, outright lies, sullen mumblings, rude interruptions, poor personal hygiene, disrespect, and underachievement FROM MY OWN CHILDREN. With that kind of “on the job” training under my belt, my students’ lapses don’t bother me at all. They’ll either learn or fail, and I have no problem being “Professor Hardass” (holding their work under the microscope, taking attendance, not accepting late work, requiring professional behavior), because I know how the world will treat them. If all goes to plan, I’ll have tenure in a year and a half, and a guaranteed income for the rest of my working life.

Try finding that one outside the ivy-covered walls. I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to bitch about here in the Academy. People can get very intense and political, and there is a high level of drama among the faculty, with much jockeying for position and attention from the higher-ups. Administration is obsessed with the bottom line, and most of our college’s programs have funding issues and are understaffed. There is a lot of petty bullshit, and a ridiculous amount of paperwork needed to get even small things accomplished.

All I’m saying is that for so many of you, this is all you know, and I think it’s pretty easy to become jaded and dissatisfied without much in the way of comparison. I read entry after entry in RYS, and usually chuckle and empathize with most. Sometimes I get mad at students and colleagues and feel the urge to add my voice to the choir, but it rarely lasts. After I got my B.A. thirty years ago, I had lots of jobs while struggling to build a career in my chosen field, including working at a fruit stand, stringing tennis rackets, managing a small shoe store, and serving as a prep cook to a crazy screaming Romanian chef. Call me a Pollyanna, but I think we could all take a step back and realize how privileged we all are to do this for a living.