Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Not really a "break."

Coming to terms with my job.

Another semester has come to an end and I sit here in my office knowing that there is much to do, but still too tired to do it. The Spring 2012 semester has probably been one of the most successful semesters I've had. Research has moved forward. Teaching has gone well. My various committees have been more successful than I would have thought possible. All of this has been great, but I am tired and struggling to get on with the next stages of what I have to do. What makes it worse is all the voices I hear from students, friends and family saying "enjoy your break." The truth is that we don't really get a break the way that they're thinking. That is just one of many things that people don't really understand about what I do and that's okay. Still, I thought that I'd sit down for a minute and tell people what a Communication professor at a small state university does.

It is easy enough to explain what I do, because I have to do explain it three times every semester in my MBO (Management By Objectives) meeting with my boss. Then she has to explain what I do to her boss. I am not sure if her boss really has to talk to anyone about me or not. The end result is that it's all written down, documented, explained and defended.I can tell you EXACTLY what I do.

55% of what I did this year was teaching.

That number is not some made up number. I know it's 55% because that is what is registered witht the State of New Mexico. If everything goes right, I teach 12 three credit-hour classes per year. That's five classes in the fall, five in the spring and two in the summer. I am only contractually obligated to teach eight classes per year, but that doesn't really pay a livable wage. So, I teach an "overload" of one class each semester and two extra classes in the summer.

Classroom instruction isn't the whole of the "teaching" part. This 55% also includes training on various pedagogical tools available, creating new courses, designing syllabi, evaluating textbooks, writing exams, and answering phone calls. Teaching is my favorite part of the job and I am very blessed that such a large percentage of my job involves teaching. If I were at a larger school, it would be far less. For the rest of May, I will not be teaching, but that doesn't really mean, however, that I have a break. I still need to do all of the parts of teaching that are not classroom instruction, and there is also, still, the other 45% of the job which continues throughout the summer.

5% is advising. 

This is a small amount primarily because I do not have any majors. I do help a lot of students who are planning to transfer fill out the paperwork that they are supposed to be dealing with all along if they are planning on transferring. I do this because I get all the students passing through my class, and I find that most are not told that there is paperwork to fill out if they are taking their general studies here and plan to transfer later. If they'd fill out the paperwork, they'd probably have better luck getting stuff to move.

I do more advising during the summer. Admissions calls in anyone who will to help incoming freshmen with setting up their first semester. I like meeting the new folks, so I generally do this. Besides, it is 5% of my job.

20% of my job is research. 

Last academic year I presented a paper I wrote in New Orleans and another in Albuquerque. I submitted three competitive papers to academic journals. One was rejected. One needs to be revised and resubmitted. The third one is still in the process of peer review. I also got one chapter of an edited volume out and it is in its second stage of revision, but has been fully accepted.

Research is one of those things I find people who are not professors don't really understand. We travel to these conferences with very little reembursement and often none at all. My department allows $600 per year per person. You can see, flying to New Orleans, staying in a hotel for a week and having to eat out does not really get covered by $600. The other one, in Albuquerque, I was on my own. We also don't get paid for our journal articles, papers and chapters. Those are printed in academic journals that are generally only sold to university libraries at a cost that doesn't always cover printing and shipping costs.

Books, if single authored and not edited volumes, do make a little money. I've been working on a book and have done a great deal of research recently on how Academic publishing works. Academic books are not like books that are published by the popular press in their business model. Books published by Random House or Hachette generally publish large runs of a few books and pay fairly substantial royalties to their authors. Academic books generally publish one or two small runs of a few books which are only sold to research libraries in universities, government and sometimes graduate classes. A typical academic contract for a book is like this: The publisher agrees to run 500 copies of a book. The list price is $80 and the author makes 10% of actual reciepts after invoices. That would be $8 per book, so around $4,000. That wouldn't be a bad check, but for academic books, it won't happen. A third of the books will be given away to professors teaching seminars on related topics in hopes that they will adopt the book for the class. The reciepts on those will be zero. That takes it down to $2672, still, not a bad check. But in academic publishing the book has to be peer reviewed. Peer reviews I've done have paid about $200 and that money comes out of the author's royalties. So, if there are five reviewers, we're down to $1672. Unfortunately, if there is any artwork in the book, that also is paid for out of the author's royalties. What this means is that the first run of a book generally nets the author a royalty check somewhere in the three digits.

BUT remember those free books that were sent out to professors? If a few of them actually DO adopt your book for their classes and students have to buy it, there can be a second run and there are much better chances that the author will actually make a little money. I have a good friend who has published a book that is quite popular by academic standards. The book has gone through several editions and is used in a number of classes. I asked him outright how much he makes in royalties. He told me that he can pretty much count on making enough every month to pay his cell phone bill.

Edited volumes are much like this, but the royalties go to the editors, not the authors.Editors are contracted by royalties like authors are. The book chapter which will hopefully be coming out soon will not earn me a dime. Hopefully, Zack, my editor, does make some money though. He's earned it with all the work he's done collecting authors and packaging our work.

We don't get paid much if anything for our academic writing by publishers, but we are getting paid. Research is 20% of my job. So, taxes in the State of New Mexico and students' tuition dollars pay me to do research. If I ever get anything from a publisher, that's bonus.  Research is actually an enjoyable part of my job, and it continues all throught the summer.

10% of my job is Professional Contributions

Universities are not the same as high-schools. We do have management and administration, but a massive portion of our governance is managed by the people who teach the classes. I hate this part of my job, but think it should be larger. I served this semester on the service learning committee which created a definition of service learning which made it a requirement for all incoming freshmen beginning in Fall 2012. I served on the Academic Symposium committee which put on a pretty amazing show a couple weeks ago, if you want the truth. I took part in our assessment convocation, where I did some pedagogical training of my own. This summer I have to be on the judicial committee and listen to student appeals. I was also active in our General Assembly and department meetings.

Like I said, I hate this part of my job and think that there should be more to it. I hate it because meetings are a boring way to do thing. I hate it because it involves hours and hours of roberts rules of order and dull data crunching. I hate it because I'm not a very social person and I have to deal with people.

On the other hand, I think we should do more of it. Over the past 20 years, tuition costs for students have skyrocketed. All this time, however, professors' wages have been stagnant, even plummeted if inflation is figured in. Part of the reason for this is that states have steadily decreased the tax funding which goes to colleges. The other reason
is that professors actually don't do as much committee work as we used to. Teaching and reseach requirements have increased and we've turned over the management of our schools, increasingly, to professional administrators. These administrators could be administrating Fortune 500 companies, and can demand paychecks as though they were. They administrate the universities around the country like for profit businesses and demand much of that profit be returned to them. I think this is a bad direction. I really think that faculty such as myself should be spending LESS time teaching and more time administrating so that we could cut out a few of these high-priced positions, especially because education, not the bottom line, needs to be formost in the decision making.

10% of my job is "Personal Relationships."

I need to be actively engaged in creating a positive relationship between the community and the university. This academic year I taught a Financial Peace University class at my church and later created a "Communicating God's way" weekend seminar for the community through my church. I volunteered at the Blue's Festival, taught a "leadership" course for highschool students through one of the local non-profits, gave a speech for Kiwanas, and other stuff that I'll not go too much into here. When summer comes, I have to keep doing this stuff. I enjoy it. I love it. I have to do it.

So, that's it 100%.

I do feel better now. Hopefully, next time you see me, you can  say "how's your paper coming" or "I saw in the newspaper that you're doing such and such" or "Did you get outside yesterday, or were you in meetings?" You can say this stuff instead of  saying, "How's your break?"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reaching up, Reaching out

Coming to terms with better than average high-school students.


I have the honor of being the keynote speaker this evening for the Kiwanis Club's banquet for graduating seniors who have been a part of the Key Club service organization (Kiwanis for high-school folks). I was probably asked for two reasons. The first is that it is no secret locally that I like to give speeches and will do so if asked. The second reason is that I am the faculty adviser for CKI (Kiwanis for college folks, formerly Circle K), and they would like me to use this as a recruiting tool to maintain members in the club. I think I accomplish that in the speech below while simultaneously honoring these extraordinary young people.

Reaching up and Reaching Out

I. Exordium:

You students who we rightly honor today have done a marvelous thing. I’m not talking about finishing high school. While that is a rite of passage and a moment worthy of celebration, it is not in and of itself amazing. More than 75% of all people your age in the United States will accomplish that this year. While cynics will decry that the other 25% should have graduated as well, I will point out to them that only 20 countries in the world have a higher rate and that they do so only by excluding from high-school the sick, the delinquent, the physically and mentally challenged and those who struggled in lower grades. Certainly nearly everyone in South Korea, for instance, who begins high-school finishes high-school, but very few are allowed entrance. No, in the United States we do not exclude people from opportunity. We give everyone the chance to try, knowing that some will fail.

It is no marvelous thing, then, that you succeeded where most do. What is marvelous is that in so doing, you also reached out to aid the struggling.  The marvelous thing is that others will also follow in your footsteps because you did not just press on toward your goal, but lifted others. Many people achieve marginal success in life, but it is the truly great who do so while helping to ease the path of others. That is what you have done, and THAT is why we celebrate you here tonight.

II. Narratio:

The average student works hard. The average student has to balance the demands of school, the activities of their families, the extracurricular activities of sports and clubs, the excruciating demands of a high-school social life and for most of you, a part time job. We know from careful demographic research that the average student today has more of his or her day scheduled than has been the case in the history of the United States. We cannot hold liable those thousands of 18 year olds graduating this year who have done nothing to aid their community, nothing to help the helpless, nothing to repair what has been destroyed. They have, undoubtedly been too busy.

The thing is, that the students we honor tonight have been just as busy. Into that busy-ness they have also  placed into their lives another commitment, a commitment to service. They have not only reached out to pull themselves from where they were but they have reached out. These are a special group we honor today. They are truly among the best in our nation.

III. Partito:

If I can, I would like to exhort these students on to further good works. I would like to talk to them about the opportunities that are available. Finally, I would like to warn them that, as there has been in the past, so there shall be in the future, barriers to service.

IV. Confirmatio:

A. As you go forth from your high-school, you immediately have more choice in your life than you’ve ever had before. For some of you, further education at a University or college awaits. For others, you may go directly into careers. For others, a time of military service, or even a military career may be your plan. These are all honorable endeavors if they are approached honorably. And the first piece of advice I give you is that you truly do make this decision honorably and with careful thought.  As a college professor I’ve seen too many brilliant and talented young people destroying their lives because college is not what they want to do, but they feel forced by certain social norms of their parents’ peer groups. No, while most students graduate, fewer than 25% go onto college and those that don’t often have satisfactory lives anyway.

B. But once you have made that decision, seek out places where you can continue your life of service. If your choice is to go directly into the work force, don’t let the new job stop you from becoming something more. Maintain your activity in the community. Joining groups such as Kiwanis right away will help you from sliding off into the “too busy” world and becoming, merely, average. Religious organizations and other community groups can help as well. For many who join the military, their life of daily service seems enough, and in truth, it is. Our military men and women are the most self-sacrificing people in the world, and anyone who does not honor them for this service alone is an ungrateful fool. But still, even your spare moments, make sure that you continue to stay connected to the community you serve and come to know the women and men you are protecting. Finally, for those of you heading into college, you too must continue to serve.  There are many community and religious organizations on every campus which do amazing things for their community. I am one of the faculty advisors for CKI, and I would love to see you join our organization if you come to WNMU. And even beyond that, continue to serve. WNMU has just begun offering Service Learning courses, courses which incorporate what you’ve been learning in the classroom into community service projects. Many other universities have been doing so for more than a decade. The average college student avoids these like the plague. They require more time, more dedication, and most dreaded, working with other people. I challenge you NOT to avoid service learning classes. I challenge you to be the college students who seek them out, who think stuff learned in the classroom is great, but making it work in real life is better.

C. (Refutatio) Finally, I want to warn you about the dangers of your new stage. In truth, these are not new dangers, you’ve heard about them your entire life. There is a monster which stalks our service at every turn. That is the monster of BUSY-NESS. As busy as you are in high-school, you will be more busy afterwards. When I talk to students who tell me that they are not busy, I usually find it is because they are not doing their homework, especially their daily reading. Studies, families, careers, television, Facebook and everything else in our lives calls our unceasing attention away from service. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, if a person let their kids starve so they could feed the homeless, there’d be something wrong. Still, for many being busy becomes an excuse, then a way of life, then a form of slavery.

V. Peroratio:

But I hope for more than that from you. You have already distinguished yourselves from the average rif-raf graduating all over the country this year. You have already shown through your activities in Key Club that you are truly cut from better cloth than most people. You have shown that you step up to the plate to make the world a better place. That is why we honor you today. We honor you because you have shown yourself honorable. We don’t mere celebrate you getting through high-school, but we thank you for all your service.

Edited 5/4/12 because of a particularly embarrassing spelling mistake. I apologize for that one!