Congratulations on your new job at Enema U. You were one of my favorite students, and I have no doubt you will be a great teacher. I am positive that your enthusiasm for the subject will be readily apparent in the classroom.
Before I give you a few words of advice, I want to make it clear that I loved teaching at Enema U. Teaching was rewarding, the pay was good, and the retirement system the state gives us is, perhaps, too generous. I worked with many remarkable people and have made close friendships with colleagues that will last the rest of my life. Working at Enema U was a great privilege for which I will be eternally grateful and benefits far outweighed the negatives that I am going to warn you about.
Decades ago, when I came to work at the university, one of my favorite professors told me that the biggest mistake a new professor could make was expecting loyalty from his colleagues. At the time, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about: I couldn’t see how heated departmental politics would become or how desperately people would fight over trivial matters. In the beginning, I naively thought that working at the university was similar to any job: hard work would eventually be rewarded (but it's not).
Remember that the majority of the faculty have never had a real job in the private sector, and a large number of your colleagues now have tenure for life. Not surprisingly, the work environment at most universities is a fantasy world, bearing little resemblance to work environments off the campus. Since you are coming from the private sector, it will take time for you to adjust.
For me, it took years realize the obvious—almost no one on the university faculty (and absolutely no one in administration) actually cares about hard work or good teaching. They chatter incessantly about it, but if you listen carefully, what comes from their mouths is just platitudes, mantras, and slogans, each of which has been said so often that you can no longer hear the spaces between the words.
No one that I know can remember a single case of a faculty member's being tenured on the basis of teaching, nor can we remember anyone's being denied tenure for bad teaching. Frankly, the administration just believes that having an instructor in a classroom is a fixed cost of doing business—a necessary box on a routine check list that is no more important than the requirement of having fire extinguishers in the hall. You have to have them, but no one really gives a damn if they are any good—No one, that is, but you.
This means that you will have to be self-motivated and be proud of meeting the commitments you make with your students. Their tuition checks have cleared the bank, so they are depending on you to give them their money’s worth. I used to wonder how dramatically the quality of teaching would improve if dissatisfied students could demand their money back at the end of a bad semester. What would happen if every time a professor canceled a class, the university was forced to refund a portion of their tuition?
Remember that each student is paying roughly $30 an hour to hear you speak. (Well, that’s the cost at this state-run ag school, and that is before the football team gets its sizable cut.) If you have thirty students in your class, that’s about a thousand dollars per class period.
No one in administration will notice how hard you work. They expect adjunct professors to work as hard as an ugly stripper while being paid like a Dickensian orphan—and they are not interested in improving the system for anyone but themselves.
Ignore the university system of teaching evaluations: the sole purpose of the charade is to convert what should be a qualitative discussion into a meaningless number so that administrative bean counters can use on useless reports.
“Look, since we started the Quality Matters Participatory Learning Program, student interaction is up 11.3%!”
Both you and the students know if you are doing a good job. Frankly, the students don’t believe the university evaluation system is truly private and they fear retaliation. (And the students are correct.) If you really want to know how you are doing, look at one of the online services like .
Avoid committees and faculty meetings. These are nothing but soul-sucking wastes of time. Invariably, the least qualified person in the room will chair the committee, turning every meeting into a total waste of time. The same people say the same things at every meeting, so after you have attended one, there is no need to attend again. If you must attend such a meeting, it helps to pass the time by imagining which of your colleagues to vote off the island first. (And, by vote off the island, I mean feed to hungry hogs!).
You should also avoid all the various departments scattered around the university that claim they will help you teach or design classes. These are easy to spot, they usually have words like ‘quality’ or ‘excellence’ in their names. Whichever noun they use, just assume the opposite is true. In the unlikely event that any of the people staffing these offices has actually taught in years, it was probably some fluff course about ‘Social Justice’ or something equally inane in the College of Education—the elephants' graveyard of incompetence.
It won’t take long before the university will start asking you for donations, pleading a severe lack of funds. Yes, most of the good programs at Enema U are perennially short of funds. But, there is a difference between not receiving enough funds and spending them wisely. You might remember that the same week that Enema U shut down the employee health center—for lack of funds—they bought the golf team a new bus made by Mercedes Benz. If the current rate of growth in administration continues, it is only a matter of time before every man, woman, and child in the state will have to be hired as an Associate Dean. There won’t be any room left for students, but the administration has never been very fond of students, anyway—only of their money.
Remember, it is never wise to give a wino a hundred-dollar bill—that much alcohol all at once could kill him. If you feel compelled to donate, contribute to an academic scholarship fund.
One last word of advice: The words above are fairly critical about your colleagues, and deservedly so. But, among them, you will eventually find lifelong friends, usually in the most unlikely places. There are some incredible people working at Enema U, and now that you are there, their ranks have increased.