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Running a small program more than teaching classes

August 21, 2019

What mindset is required in running a small educational program like a community college journalism program?

I once served on what I commonly refer to as the Committee from Hell, but I learned something profound from doing so.

The committee was a tenure review of a teaching colleague in another discipline. The colleague’s original tenure review committee had denied tenure in the final year of a multi-year evaluation process and the colleague was taking advantage of an appeals right. The right allowed a second review committee made up of an administrator not connected with the original committee, a faculty member of the colleague’s choice (me), and one member from the original committee.

We were tasked with coming up with a unanimous decision. That was going to be a challenge if the decision was anything but denial because the original team member was not going to change his mind.

We spent probably close to 100 hours conferring and interviewing discipline teachers, students, staff members. (It did not help that I was suffering a bad cold in the middle of the process.) After sitting in on several of the colleague’s classes I thought she was a competent teacher who was also liked by students.

In the end we DID unanimously deny the tenure, but each of us got to the decision following separate paths. What swayed me was that the job description under which the colleague was hired called for “running a small program, including teaching.” While there was no reassigned time for such actions as class scheduling, adjunct reviews, club advisership, etc., they were implied in the job description. As the sole full-time instructor in my journalism program, I was familiar with the extra work involved. I often observed campus colleagues who taught classes two or three days a week and were off campus by noon to run their side businesses. This colleague also was an artist with a side musical career and did none of the extra work, not even evaluating the adjuncts in her program.

I understood that, too. I had a lot of teaching colleagues whose identity was strengthened by their continued outside involvement in the discipline that they taught.

Remember that I felt, even at the end of the Committee from Hell, that my colleague was a competent instructor. But running a small educational program is much more than simply teaching. Yes, it is REALLY important, but there are dozens of people the hiring committee could have chosen to teach. Odds are, if someone survived paper screening and got to the interview stage of hiring process he or she was qualified to teach. And those who advanced to the final selection process were assumed to be competent teachers. The hiring committee chose the best one to “run a small program.”

The first few years of growing as a teacher requires you to put most focus on development as a teacher. But you are also hired to “run a program,” as virtually every full-time community college journalism instructor is, even if journalism is only part of the load. The job requires that you stick around more than class hours. Some of the work is defined by contract: scheduling courses, maintaining office hours, reviewing student learning outcomes, submitting grades, etc. And the institution eventually will want its full-time faculty to participate in institutional activities, such as attending graduations and serving on committees. The first few years also involve tenure review, which ideally is set up to help teachers grow into the job.

But for the program to thrive it involves so much more, much of it often undefined, and one needs to find energy to put in long hours supervising newspaper production, working with printers, writing or updating curriculum, staying up on new trends in the discipline, advising and counseling students, advising student clubs, periodically reviewing your program, and more. A lesson I learned in life, and in grad school, is that you should also give back to your discipline. I hammered this into my adjuncts over the years: if they want to just teach part-time, okay, that is what we are paying you for. But if you want to one day be working full time in a community college journalism program, learn to do more.

I am proud to say that nearly half the adjuncts I had over the years went on to full-time journalism education jobs. That is more than many of my campus colleagues in other disciplines could claim.

If you are already a full-time instructor at a California community college, you know the college requires more of you than teaching. If you are new, prepare yourself. Don’t be the next one to need to ask someone to sit on a committee from hell.

The Journalism Association of Community Colleges a number of years ago started an award for volunteer of the year in its organization and named the award after me. I am proud of those who have given back to the discipline and even more proud that several of the winners worked under my tutelage at some point in their career.

Campus demands on new hires are greater today than ever before and the idea of giving back to your discipline may seem to be too much to ask, but it is not. And giving back to your discipline includes reaching out beyond your campus boundaries.

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