Aug 092010

(The First in a Three Part Series)

I read and enjoyed the recent post by Tenured Radical entitled: “The Seductions Of Sedan Delivery; Or, Writing Your Own Academic Job Description,” so when The Chronicle of Higher Education drew my attention back to it, I read that article. However, it is really the comment by a commenter named “mraymond” that inspired this post. This is the comment:

Keep track of everything. Make a folder every year for “Teaching,” “Scholarship,” and “Service,” and put a note about everything you do into one of those folders. It helps you to remember everything you did when it’s time to report on your activities in those three areas.

This is the relatively basic advice given (or which clearly ought to be given) to every faculty member in their first tenure-track job. I only cite mraymond because it’s the most recent iteration of this advice that I’ve seen and because it is remarkably succinct.

However, as someone who recently changed my twitter tagline to “Adjuncting my way to the Promised Land,” I’ve been musing on this advice in the context of my future, which for this academic year at least involves adjuncting, not a tenure-track job. What suddenly occurred to me is to think of adjuncting as if it were no different from a tenure-track job. I must still accomplish teaching, scholarship, and service–the only trick is that I’m only getting paid for teaching. Many other people have written about the injustice of this, and the many troubles it causes for the profession. I’m interested in how these categories give me guidance about balance in my life.

Adjuncting my way to the Promised Land

I will be teaching the equivalent of two courses next semester. For tenured and tenure track faculty in the department from which I just graduated, two courses a semester is considered a full-time teaching load. This of course is because teaching is not their only responsibility. They are expected also to be producing scholarship and giving service to the university.

My adjunct job does not come with the expectation of service to the university, and as such (as Tenured Radical points out) I would be crazy if I volunteered for it. I’m sure some bits of it will come up, but it’s important to the profession that adjuncts not simply perform as volunteers the forms of service that full-time professors perform as part of their salaries. However, I think (or I would really like to think) that the requirement of service put on professors is not just about wresting the labor of running a university out of academics. I would like to think that service is a crucial part of the profession itself.

A larger meaning for service

Throughout my graduate school career, I have tried to volunteer whenever possible. Because of the nature of graduate school, that “whenever” always felt a lot like “almost never,” but I kept trying. I did several forms of service to the university that were the graduate student equivalent of what is expected of professors. I served as a mentor to new students, I served on the University Committee for Student Life, I served on the Graduate Committee in my department. But I also volunteered at non-university organizations: I served as an ESL Tutor at Concilio Hispano in Cambridge, MA, and still serve as a Commissioner on the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth. These forms of service are important to me and I will continue to do similar ones.

What I have realized since graduating, is that I’d really like to do a form of service that actively uses this degree over which I’ve had so much travail. JOB, job, or no job, I’m now qualified to teach college, which has made me think of all the people who wish to be in college and either can’t get there, don’t know how to get there, or haven’t been adequately prepared to get there. I’ve been blessed with a lot of access to education, and blessed with so much of it that I’m now qualified to be an educator. So I’m looking for a program to work with. If the academic world sees fit right now not to pay me for service to a University, then I want to take that energy and give it in service to those who haven’t (yet!) got access to a university. I have a long list of organizations that I’m looking at, and plan to choose one where I will be a good enough fit to develop a long-term volunteer relationship there. I won’t list them here because it seems rude to list several when I’m probably only going to spending time at one. Watch this space for the “reveal,” though.

Perhaps we’re in a “service profession” (or should be)

There is one more person to thank (or perhaps blame) for this idealistic streak that seems to have taken hold of me this summer. Lawrence Senelick, Fletcher Professor of Oratory at Tufts University gave the talk at the hooding ceremony for new PhDs this spring. He spoke about the concepts of a profession, a professional education, and particularly, what this had to do with the profession of being a professor, which, he clarified, was what we all now were. A drama professor, he compared our status to that of an actor–all over the major cities of this world, there are actors who identify as actors though they be waiting tables and acting not at all. Acting is a profession, like being a professor, even if the professional is waiting tables. Any career may bring home the bacon, a profession is something else. What I understood him to be saying is that a profession is an identity.

Tenured Radical and others wouldn’t have to give the advice: “Do not volunteer, stupid.” if so many people didn’t volunteer in their universities for work for which they are neither paid nor ultimately rewarded. Volunteering outside of the university won’t get me paid, and it won’t get me tenure, but I’m trying hard to believe that “teaching, scholarship, and service” isn’t just a grading rubric writ large for the professional world, but maybe it could be something more–more meaningful, more real, more substantive. An actual motto for what it is that we do in academia.