That New NTT Hire Needs Your Help Too

In the 8/12 Chronicle of Higher Education, Jane Halonen and Dana Dunn offer senior faculty advice to help new hires adjust to new positions, institutions, locations, and cultures. Much of the advice is great; I’m not broadly attacking their piece (certainly I’m not thrilled with all of it–if you’ve heard my rant about pieces that ignore teaching-focused jobs, you can guess the rest), but I saw the link posted and responded to by adjunct faculty, and I share their irritation that it ignores them.

So I decided to produce an analogous piece for tenured/tenure-track faculty to help new NTT hires adjust to their new positions too. You probably have more new contingent colleagues than new tenure-track colleagues anyway. Not all of this is new, but for some of you it will be newer than others.

I’m not going for perfect parallelism, but in some cases I’ll quote them so you can see why I’m saying something.

Respect the background, skills, and qualifications of your new hires.

Their version:

Today’s new … hires are likely to arrive much better prepared, since the tight tenure-track market means they aren’t necessarily new to the profession. They may have had supervised teaching opportunities in graduate school and worked … as contingent instructors. Many… have an ambitious scholarly agenda and multiple publications….

My version:

Many new contingent colleagues have more teaching experience than you, and you should respect them for that. Ideally, you should create opportunities for their strengths to benefit the department, especially them, but at least recognize their professionalism. Furthermore, many are just as ambitious scholars as you, and can be plenty productive if you don’t deny them resources because you assume they don’t want/need them.

Mentor actively.

Their version:

…the watchful eye of a department chair is different from that of a graduate adviser. There is no guarantee that their new supervisor will alert them to common pitfalls (e.g., that doing a course overload for extra income may mean they get little else done that semester) or closely track their research progress so that their tenure prospects remain favorable.

My version:

If you’re a supervisor, supervise. That means more than making renewal decisions based on flawed (at best) student evaluation instruments. Make sure they know how to access resources. Make sure they know what the rules and standards are, and if somebody is struggling, help them.

Also, protect them as much as you can from, for example, losing a few thousand dollars and maybe access to health insurance because that “course overload for extra income” probably was supposed to be the adjunct’s course.

Help them adjust to the complexities of a new setting by treating them like people who belong.

Their version:

Even with the preview of academic life [I’m going to ignore how patronizing that is. Oops, apparently I’m not.] that adjunct appointments provide, new full-time faculty members may be surprised by the complexity of their new department’s culture and traditions, the characteristics of the specific student population, and the challenge of finding a reasonable work/life balance.

My version:

If they’re invited to participate fully in the department, and credited for it, and recognized as human beings, the rest of this is less of a problem. Treat them the same as anyone else.

Recognize that NTT faculty often have research agendas, and you should help them pursue those.

My colleague Katie Feyh and I have done workshops at the last two Rhetoric Society of America conferences on sustaining research agendas in contingent positions. While some of you may believe resources are tight enough that you’re leery of distributing them even further (Right answer: fight for more resources. Wrong answer: treat colleagues like they don’t exist), some supports cost nothing. For example, if your IRB has a policy against adjunct faculty applying as PIs, offer to sponsor applications. Better, try to get that policy changed.

Provide opportunities (and compensation) for service for NTT faculty who want it.

Your NTT faculty might want to participate in curricular conversations, or assessment projects, or deciding departmental awards, or….  Why anyone would ban them from doing this is beyond me; on the flipside, it cannot become a de facto expectation, and you can’t expect or demand it without compensating them.

An increasing number of colleagues are opting out of tenure-track positions, sometimes because of what Halonen and Dunn rightly call vicious politics. Don’t judge.

A growing cadre of faculty are choosing not to enter (or to leave) the tenure-track for lots of reasons. Don’t assume that colleagues aren’t on tenure lines because they couldn’t be; more than you think just don’t want to be. And that’s a choice you should respect.

Halonen and Dunn close with a list of specific advice I won’t try to parallel, but one item is just as applicable to new NTT hires as it is to new TT hires:

Show them the town. Get brochures… to help introduce a new faculty member to life beyond the campus. Share tips on the best festivals, brunch spots, barbers, dry cleaners, day-care centers, and so forth, so that the new person isn’t starting from scratch in every practical decision that attends moving to a new place.

Don’t assume NTT faculty couldn’t get better jobs somewhere else, or retired from “real jobs” and are now teaching because it’s something to do, or the other stereotypes we all too often have about NTT faculty. They’re people, and if humaneness matters, it matters for everybody.

[UPDATED: One other point: don’t invite your NTT colleague to collaborate on something with you, and then take the credit for it “because they don’t need it.” Yes, this happens, and you’re a monster if you do it.]

Their last two sentences are exactly right. Since Halonen and Dunn didn’t explicitly apply them to NTT hires, I will.

[T]he level of care extended to its members reflects the character of a department. Ensuring that newcomers have a humane workplace means you do, too.

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4 Responses to That New NTT Hire Needs Your Help Too

  1. fair0aks says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful and insightful article. It takes courage and professionalism to voice out one’s keen observation and true understanding on such a sensitive topic…
    Brenda Louie
    Adjunct Professor since 1996
    by choice and not by choice

    • sethkahn says:

      I appreciate your saying so. Most of my posts are about contingent academic labor, so it’s become (unfortunately) routine to feel the urge to say some of these things….

  2. Z says:

    About opting out of the tenure track, though, because of not liking politics — I tend to see it sort of like opting out of voting, because “politicians are crooked.” It isn’t solidary. If nobody deigns to have tenure, but want a continuing job and promotion and benefits and perks, then I’ve got to fight for them alone and they aren’t there to fight for anyone else. All those budget meetings, all those fights with the dean over hiring, all the time spent accompanying the aggrieved to administrative meetings so they’re not alone, all the trips to Regents’ meetings, all the d—-d but needed institutional grants, everything that needs to be done for the sake of all but that you need the protection of tenure to do, it falls to me, because I, “privileged,” stepped up to the plate, while they, claiming delicate feelings, didn’t participate but sure did call when they needed help. I really feel we’d all be better off if we had more people to share the work.

  3. Z says:

    … and more thoughts. “Level of care” — what about collegiality? comaraderie? solidarity? there is something too condescending in the vocabulary used to talk about people. If they need care, you shouldn’t have hit them in the first place, is my immediate reaction. This having been said, my dept. starts the persecution right away and it isn’t of the NTT, it’s of the TT … and I do guess the NTT if they are women, but my dept. prefers men so that is normally not an issue. Which leads me to my thought of the day:

    What if jobs got redesigned based on what some NTT say they want … but without falling into the trap some groups want to set for us all, everyone to the NTT (on the theory that that will mean equity and FT and high wages for all)?

    They say they want: research time, interesting teaching, a voice but not the kind of major service that comes with tenure / that you need the protection of tenure to do. A continuing FT contract, but to sit out university politics, have others fight those battles for them. That is: the benefits of a TT/T job but without all the pressures, or the risk of having to go on the market if you don’t make tenure (they assume that they wouldn’t make tenure, but will be continued as NTT).

    So it sounds as though, having no power themselves as individuals, they would like a good union to act like a parent (cf. the term “care”), so they wouldn’t have to act themselves (don’t want to deal with politics) but could trust someone to take care of them. (In conservative areas, where I live, they just want a friend in the big house, but it is the same mentality — let someone else do it.) AND many of the tenured are similarly lazy – egotistical – dependent, refuse to get up or stand up, for their own rights or anyone’s, so this stance is hardly confined to the NTT and may be the majority faculty stance overall. (I don’t remember professors being so weak-minded when I was younger, but now we are in the 21st century.)

    What, then, about those ideal jobs the NTT have designed for themselves? They want teaching, research, voting, and decent working conditions, and they say there are no decent working conditions now either on the TT (which is why they don’t want it) or off it. BUT would they be willing to go on TT if conditions for tenure were just a little less brutal, and if more positions were TT so the job market were less brutal? If a TT job looked more like the job they want (because when they describe what they want, it sounds like a TT job, just without an up-or-out tenure process and without the responsibilities that come with tenure … but could they be coaxed to the TT if the system got more rational than it is now)?

    I just don’t see giving up faculty power, and I don’t see why, just because the powers who are have made the tenure track / job market / etc. so creepy, one should then go FURTHER in the direction they want and give up MORE rights. So my point: what if the NTT who say they can’t handle what they see the TT as being, have a point and the TT needs to get revised back to something more reasonable (and expanded, of course)?

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