• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Ask the Administrator: Returning Under a Cloud?

Caught up in a state-created mess.


March 8, 2016

A new correspondent writes:

My question is, do I want my job back?

I’m a retired academic, and have spent the last 15 years doing adjunct teaching at my local community college, where I have my colleagues and am well adapted, having circulated surveys for the adjunct faculty union and served on the bargaining team. The past year and a half has been difficult for all of us, full-time faculty and administration included, as a new law in Illinois requires public employers to pay into the state university retirement system the equivalent of the entire pension for the year if retirees are paid more than 40 percent of their base salary before retirement. At adjunct wages, it is unlikely that more than a handful would become “affected annuitants” under the law. However, the administration announced that 80 part-time annuitants would be let go as of last July because they might be “affected” in the future.

To make a long story short, I am unusual in the light of the law because my pension is below the minimum for the law to apply, thus I am excluded from being any threat to the finances of the College. Even so, I was included among the 80 released, and I appealed. My case is currently being considered by an arbitrator.  There is a reasonable chance that I will win, and I would be happy to return to teaching. However, I am concerned that I would return under a cloud, forced upon my administrators rather than freely accepted. A negative atmosphere would affect me, my teaching, and my students. I bear no ill will towards the administrators involved, but I can’t say the same for their attitude towards me. At my life stage (79 years old), going elsewhere anew is not in the cards, and it looks like an all or none case. Let’s say that the additional income would not be a factor.  Is this wishful thinking that I can return, or is it possible somehow? What factors should I be considering in making my choice?

A few thoughts.

First, I didn’t know “annuitants” was a word. Learned something new.

Second, I don’t know the personalities involved. Context matters; the local microclimate may be relatively warm, or it may be toxic. I’ll assume that it isn’t forbidding, or you wouldn’t be asking to return.

Third, I won’t pretend to understand Illinois state pension funding. I know that the colleges haven’t received any operating aid for this fiscal year yet, and they may not. They’re doing layoffs, furloughs, and all sorts of cost-reduction exercises that do real harm to people on the receiving end. I can absolutely see why, in that scenario, administrators would harbor resentment towards retirees deciding to return and imposing significant new costs. When you’re trying to decide who to lay off, having someone waltz in off the street demanding meaningful amounts of money feels like insult being added to injury. I get that.

Having said that, though, “it’s not about you” cuts two ways. I often implore my wise and worldly readers on the faculty side not to personalize it when administrators have to manage austerity. It’s part of the job. Fair is fair; I have to implore my fellow administrators not to personalize it when retirees assert their legal rights. In both cases, it’s really nothing personal.  

Assuming that the personalities involved are reasonably mature adults, I think the key will be managing expectations. If you come in expecting to restore the status quo ante, you are likely to be disappointed. But if you come in just wanting to work with students, teach well, and be a good colleague, that should be manageable.  

In the standoff between the governor and the legislature, colleges are basically caught between the dog and the fire hydrant. (I’ll let readers decide which is which.) I’d guess that most people aren’t at their best right now. This is not the time to Make A Point. But if you’re willing and able to get past the drama of the last year or so and just contribute by helping students, I’d guess that any administrator worth her salt would be able to reciprocate.

Of course, all politics is local.

Good luck! I hope you’re able to return to the classroom and make a contribution there. And I hope the governor and the legislature decide, at some point, to act like grownups.

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? If he returned, would he be forever marked? Is there so much drama going on that it really wouldn’t matter? Or is there a third angle I’ve missed?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


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