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Moonlighting
September 20, 2010 - 10:10pm

Should professors with full-time positions at college A be allowed to teach as adjuncts at college B?

According to this story in IHE, the administration at Texas Tech thinks not. It’s calling on some for-profit colleges at which some of its full-timers might also teach to reveal who’s teaching there, to allow for cross-referencing. The idea is to ferret out anyone who’s working at both. (Revealingly, the Texas Tech folk seem to take for granted that adjuncts will do that; it’s only focusing on full-timers.)

According to university policy as cited in the article, full-time employees are supposed to declare in writing if they work anyplace else, in order to prevent any conflicts of interest. (That’s standard in public higher education.)

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m being obtuse, but I’m not sure why Texas Tech sees a conflict of interest here.

I’ve gone on record many times over the years saying that faculty jobs are jobs. They aren’t higher callings, they aren’t pronouncements of personal worth, and they aren’t declarations that some people are Special. They’re jobs. As such, they involve pay for the performance of certain tasks as outlined and evaluated by the employer.

Assuming that the employee performs those tasks satisfactorily, what else the employee chooses to do on her own time strikes me as her own business.

Admittedly, I can come up with a few exceptions. If a professor sleeps with a student for whom he has grading responsibility, then the fact that it happened outside of class time is no defense. But that’s a logical extension of the work relationship. Why teaching somewhere else would be a conflict of interest isn’t obvious to me. (And since they don’t seem to mind adjuncts doing it, it doesn’t seem to be obvious to them, either.)

Faculty have long moonlighted (moonlit?) as a matter of course. Sometimes it’s by writing, sometimes by teaching, sometimes by consulting, and sometimes by jobs you wouldn’t necessarily expect -- park ranger, bus driver, store owner. (I’ve seen all of those.) As long as they’re performing their full-time job satisfactorily, I’m at a loss to say why I’m entitled to object. And if they’re falling down on the full-time job, the issue isn’t moonlighting; it’s falling down on the job.

One oft-stated objection I hear to limits on overload courses for full-timers is that if they can’t teach here, they’ll just teach at the college down the street. Well, maybe they will; I can only control what I can control. From an institutional standpoint, relying too heavily on any one person is a bad idea, since it concentrates risk. Spreading the courses around a bit deepens the bench, and reduces the exposure if any one person gets sick or quits abruptly. If the professor compensates by teaching down the street, the extra risk falls on the college down the street; it’s the other college’s problem, not mine. I treat it accordingly.

I’ve heard objections from ‘quality,’ but that strikes me as a category mistake. You’ve heard the saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Some people can fire on all cylinders and are actually most comfortable when doing so; others can’t. Judging performance by inputs seems backwards to me -- it’s similar to a student complaining that she tried really hard and therefore deserved a better grade. Either you performed or you didn’t. If you can carry a herniating courseload and do it in style, more power to you. If you fall down on the job, I don’t much care that you were ‘faithful’ to one institution.

Lurking beneath the article, and spelled out in the comments, is an implied ‘non-compete’ clause with for-profits. The objection here seems to be that for-profits are uniquely suspect, and therefore the rule should apply especially strongly to them.

Why?

Work is work. If the issue is competition, let’s take that one to court and see how well it holds up. Can police officers work private security? If so, why can’t professors at state schools moonlight at for-profits? Another commenter objected that for-profits are parasitic on the production of knowledge; taken literally, that comment would seem to apply to any teaching-focused institution. Community colleges aren’t hotbeds of disciplinary research. And the whole ‘transparency’ argument seems premised on a falsehood, that non-profits routinely disclose their faculty rosters. We disclose our full-timers, but our part-timers change every semester, and in the schedule their sections are marked “staff,” which is industry standard.

Trying to think through Texas Tech’s position, the only arguments I can imagine in its favor are the anticompetitive one -- the one that should get thrown out of court -- and the category mistake one, which they might try to explain as a side effect of tenure. I have my own objections to tenure, as regular readers know, but this is not the way to address that. Faculty are entitled to private lives, just like everybody else; if they choose to spend some of their private time doing part-time work elsewhere, let them. I don’t see the conflict of interest here. Am I missing something?

 

 

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