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What happens when you combine administrators and faculty from research universities, master’s level universities, and community colleges to discuss how best to prepare grad students for jobs at teaching institutions?

Apparently, a whole lot of “I hadn’t thought of that”s.

On Monday I attended a meeting convened by Paula Krebs, at Bridgewater State, to discuss exactly that.  It featured attendees from Brown, Northeastern, and Boston Universities; UMass Amherst; UMass Boston; Bridgewater State, Framingham State, and Salem State; Wheaton College; Worcester Polytechnic Institute; and Cape Cod, Greenfield, Holyoke, and Massasoit Community Colleges. 

Much of the discussion was about practical steps, and it’s still fragile enough that I don’t want to put it out there yet without everyone’s OK.  But one sidebar quickly became a group discussion, and honestly, I would not have thought of it.

We were discussing ways to connect formally community colleges and nearby research universities, with the goal of giving prospective faculty a glimpse into the reality of another institutional type.  The devil is in the details, of course; who pays, how to avoid contractual issues, supervision, etc.  But then someone raised a point that brought me up short.

Apparently, many doctoral students already adjunct at community colleges, but they keep it on the down low; they don’t want anyone at their home university to know. 

I feel so cheap. So used.

From the grad students’ perspective, it seems, there are two major obstacles. One is that they don’t want their graduate funding cut; they’d rather have both the graduate stipend and the adjunct paycheck. The other is that they don’t want their advisors to think that they want anything other than an R1 gig, for fear of not being taken seriously.

I see no good at all coming from the secrecy.

Ideally, some sort of formal, aboveboard relationship could allow what is now a strictly transactional relationship -- I’m fighting the metaphor, people, work with me -- to become part of a larger plan for professional development. Grad students could bring back lessons from the front to their graduate programs and share them with their faculty and colleagues. Over time, the teacher training at the graduate programs could become more realistic, and therefore more useful. 

The second reason -- about judgmental dissertation advisors -- strikes me as both true and beyond anything I would know how to fix. I clearly remember respected professors in grad school telling me in all earnestness to spend as little effort as possible on teaching, the better to focus on publishing.  Grads who had gone on to teaching colleges were openly disparaged as not “serious,” even as the market for other positions went off the rails.  I’ll happily leave that issue to my colleagues at research universities.

But the first reason strikes me as potentially fixable.  If public teaching colleges were to enter into deliberate, intentional relationships with research institutions to prepare their grad students for jobs that actually exist, I could imagine real benefit on both sides. 

But first, we’d have to bring the relationship out into the open.

That wasn’t the meeting I was anticipating.  It was better. The next step is to see what, concretely, we can do.  But at least now I see an issue I didn’t see before, and have some sense of the reasons for it.  In my nerdy way, that gives me hope.

Wise and worldly academic readers, did you ever hide your side teaching gig from your advisor?

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