Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ethics and Manners Questions

We aren't in an area where we have a bunch of highly qualified people willing to adjunct. But we'd like to have well-qualified adjuncts who do a good job (and the majority of our adjuncts fit here). And we're sure they're out there, but we're not sure they'd want to move here for an unstable adjuncting job or even that they have any way of knowing that we have adjunct positions available.

Let's imagine we have 1 TT job. We interview six folks, any one of whom would be wonderful, but we're only allowed to hire ONE person, so we do the best job we can to hire the person who seems best. And maybe we have two adjuncting positions, too. They don't pay as much, and there's minimal job security (though most adjuncts in my department do get benefits and full time jobs most semesters; we don't fire good adjuncts on a whim, either).

What are the ethics of sending the other five folks (or a couple of them) a letter (after the polite phone call to let them know the bad news) saying that we've got some adjunct positions, and we'd love to have them apply.

I know it would feel beyond crappy to get one of those letters, like, you don't want to hire me to TT, but you want me to work cheaply as an adjunct?

But would even that feeling be better than not knowing about a possible job opportunity?

If there were such a situation, what sorts of other factors would make moving here better for adjuncts? For example, all our adjuncts have offices, though they share offices. Most of our adjuncts have benefits (because they've got full-time or near full-time equivalent work). I'm not saying we do a great job treating our adjuncts well, but what factors are most important that we can manage? I can't manage my colleague's sometimes rude behavior, or the fact that the state pays adjuncts worse than it pays faculty, and that it doesn't pay faculty especially well. Mostly our adjuncts will teach writing and intro level department courses, too, and that's not something we can easily change.

Travel funds, but very limited (for all of us)
Professional development opportunities

What other factors are most important? Is it worth sending out such a letter?


  1. Anonymous10:51 AM

    I have received letters like that and it felt like someone gashing your arm open and then offering to help you out by pouring salt in it. I mother fucking hated those letters.

  2. Bleah. It would come across as really, really insulting.

    Remember that it cost me 3 grand to move my small pile of stuff across country, and that was the cheapest I could get it. And that's not counting the gas to drive my car across country and the hotel stays for the week's drive. My place offered me five hundred for relocation costs. If I was to move again for a non tenure track job, it would have to cover the *entire* cost of the move.

    And remember that adjuncts are at-will, per course. So there might be 4 courses at 2 grand each available *this* semester, but what about spring? Are you going to offer me 4 courses, or just 1? There's no ghost of a guarantee.

    Now, a full-time lectureship, that offered a year contract and guaranteed a certain basic wage and number of courses, would be different. Ideally it would cover some sort of benefits and health care too. That might seem ok to offer.

    But the further away physically, the less likely anyone would be to take it. If they could commute or move gradually or move semi-closer, they might be more likely to take it. But I think pretty much everyone would reject moving for an adjunct offer.

  3. Thanks, both of you. Those are helpful reactions for me to think about. If I remember correctly, this job didn't pay me moving costs, even, but it's something we should think about if we decide to try this. (It was put up as an idea at a meeting, and my initial reaction was: we need good people, but this sounds like a rotten way to get them.)

    Our adjuncts DO tend to get pretty much full time work year after year unless there's a serious problem. But saying that doesn't guarantee it for anyone. The school is notoriously bad at communicating with instructors.

  4. Can you guarantee full time work for a year, renewable upon satisfactory performance, and call it a lecturer or instructor position instead of an adjunct position? That sounds like it's pretty much what it is, in practical terms. (In fact, I believe "full time adjunct" is technically an oxymoron.)

  5. Wow. I admit I'm surprised at the vehemence of the negative reactions. Let me say clearly that I am not an academic and I don't know the nuances of the job titles and perks and all; I work as a professional illustrator (when I can get work).

    I can understand how it might feel insulting, but on the other hand, if I was desperate for a job, it might not sound so bad, especially if it's presented as a full time job with benefits, and a guarantee of even a year's worth of job. That's worth a lot out in the regular working world, especially in this economy.

    And honestly, the way things are now, getting offered a job, any job, is a really nice thing if you've been unemployed and desperately searching for a while. You may not end up taking it for whatever reasons, but it's still nice to know they'd like to have you in some capacity. I suspect how such a letter would be received would depend a lot on how it was worded.

    But damn, it doesn't sound so bad from where I'm sitting. Different world.

  6. I think that Anastasia, Fretful, and Sis have pretty much voiced my view (I get what you're saying, Beckett, but I think that if it's couched as adjuncting in any way it's going to sound insulting--like, we're willing to pay you next to nothing if you move here, but not to commit to you as a hire. Eck). I actually want to pick up on a small point that you mention in passing, Bardiac--

    Rejection phone calls?? Oh, please don't. I've had a few of them. They are AWFUL. You see the area code on your phone...your heart starts to answer with a big smile...hear who it is...giddiness mounts...then...oh. No. Sorry. OK. Can't get off the phone fast enough.

    A polite, direct, personal email is--in my view--SO much less painful. At least you can nurse your wounds in private.

  7. Shane in Utah3:08 PM

    If you're going to do it, I'd do it in two separate emails. Send them the rejection for the TT job; then, after a discrete couple of weeks, maybe send them an ad for the adjunct position.

  8. Thanks for these responses, all.

    Beck, I hear you, but imagine an offer for 25-30K (well, probably) no moving expenses, and you'll be in the middle of flyover country. It wouldn't sound appealing, I'm guessing.

    Heu, I'm not making any calls, but I thought the current "standard" was to make personal calls to those you'd interviewed but not hired? (I have no idea what our chairs or deanlings do around here because I haven't asked.)

  9. FWIW (I adjuncted for a few years after I retired, so haven't really been in this place):

    Don't ask them to apply. Make them an offer. Letter or email for rejection. After a decent interval, phone with offer. Offer one-year contract, indefinitely renewable, non tenurable. Be specific on salary and benefits.

  10. In three years on the market, the only personal rejection call I got was from the chair of the department where I was a VAP (which is kind of a special situation, and does merit a phone call in my opinion). Otherwise, I think an e-mail or letter is normal (and no official rejection at all is, alas, far to common).

  11. Unless you can offer at least a one-year full-time contract, I'd say don't do it. When I was far younger and more naive, I accepted a one-semester full-time offer, with benefits, that the chair was "almost certain" would become at least a year of full-time work. Come November, I found myself hearing, from a different chair, that the Dean had decided they could make do with part-timers for the spring. I ended up teaching one less class for considerably less money and no benefits. I honestly didn't foresee that possibility, even though I'd had the experience my second semester of adjuncting (elsewhere) of finding that I had two fewer classes than I'd been promised due to unexpectedly low enrollment. It takes a while, I think, for newbie academics to realize that "no guarantees" *really* means "no guarantees." And the fact that they originally applied to you for a tenure-track job could create some hopeful confusion (after all, if there's that much overlap in the qualifications for the tenure-track job and the adjunct one, mightn't that mean that you'll be creating another, similar TT line sometime soon? Experienced academics know why that reasoning doesn't fly; newbies may well not, at least not at the gut level; after all, they went to grad school despite all the warnings).

    Also, it's not as if there's any lack of adjunct work available; anybody qualified who is willing to adjunct is going to find work. The trick is finding complementary loads at 2-3 schools, and that's made far, far more difficult if there are fewer schools in an area, and/or more distance in between them. Of course, online teaching may be an option, but still -- you're really not doing potential adjuncts who don't already have a reason to be in the area any favors by suggesting they move to an area where your school is the only nearby adjuncting option. If they do have a reason to be in the area, they'll find you; I don't think it's any secret at this point that, while one doesn't cold email/mail/call about TT jobs, sending a c.v. to a department at which one would like to adjunct is perfectly acceptable.

    So I'd say hire locally, or use your inability to hire locally as leverage to insist that whoever has the power to do so create at least one-year full-time jobs. If that means not being able to accommodate all the students who need to take a particular course in a particular semester for a few semesters, so be it; the end result will be a more stable, more connected faculty. That may sound a bit harsh, I know, but we keep being told it's all about market forces. If you're in a position to leverage market forces for the long-term good of your institution and its students (not to mention the professoriat at large), even at the cost of some short-term pain, do it.