Community College Instructors, Hollywood Style

There’s a new movie coming out (with the very uninspiring title, Larry Crowne) that features a community college speech instructor who clearly doesn’t want to teach, who pours vodka into her yogurt shake, and who falls for a student.

Oy vey. Alcoholism. Anti-intellectualism. Sexual Harrassment. Covers it all.

See for yourself:

A Real [Community] College Professor

There is a fascinating discussion going on over at Flavia’s place about a former-M.A. grad student who was just hired at the last moment by a community college to teach a few developmental writing classes and who now supposedly sees herself as “a real college professor”.  Flavia is a bit annoyed, not that the student has given herself a title that takes most of us many more years and much more than teaching a few courses for the very first time to claim, but because, alas, the state of the profession is such that yes, MOST college “professors” (and that is the bugaboo word here)  teach  a few classes at a college (or at several colleges)  for less money than can be earned at, say, Starbucks: the majority of college professors today are part time or contingent and very poorly compensated.

I know that at many community colleges, there is no rank, so the term “professor” itself means nothing–everyone is the same rank, and even if their title is officially “instructor” everyone is effectively a college “professor”.  At community colleges with rank, however, there is much more awareness that the title “professor” takes years to earn.

What intrigues me, however, is the direction of the comments to her posting.  While some explicitly include community college assistant professors as “real” some of the comments tippy toe around (and then literally squash) the idea that the only “real” college professors are those with a PhD who do research in addition to teaching and service.  Even the sweet ex-community college student who praises hir former English professor seems to be defending an exception.

But I’m being sensitive, I know, and I may have even misread the comments in my heightened sensitivity, which is why I’m writing here rather than there (tho I really am in sympathy with Flavia’s original point as you shall see).

Last week, when I was getting a massage from a fabulous masseuse (I literally feel the pain in my hip pushed out through my toes), I told him I was a teacher and that August tends to be a stressful month for me with all the prep work I still haven’t done, the research I still need to review or draft for fall/winter conference presentations, and the usual un-done house projects that are weighing on me (damned that unfinished painted hallway).  He, naturally, assumed I taught public school and went on about the horror of dealing with “kids’ parents”.

It’s not that I don’t claim the title “college professor”—I certainly use that title in other situations. But yes, often when I’m meeting or talking to people I don’t know well, or in situations when “professor” just feels pretentious to me, I’ll say I’m a “teacher” rather than “college professor”.

Now why is that? I certainly fit the standard criteria discussed at Flavia’s: PhD; 22 years teaching college classes (upper and lower division), 15 of those years as a tenure track/tenured full timer. I do a bucket load of service (college and community). And I do research and writing that I share with my peers, as well as my students and the community,  in the form of conference presentations and articles.  I am considered one of the handful of experts in my dissertation subject (called by a journalist last year who wanted to know more for an article); I attend conferences, at least two a year. I apply for and attend professional workshops (like the NEH Seminar I attended this summer).

What I don’t do is write books (I have no interest in such torture); nor do I teach graduate students (though I’ve taught upper division courses for state universities offering programs in our neck of the woods).  [I actually don’t teach developmental writing, but that subject requires another posting… .]

So if one’s vision of a “real” college professor is any of the professors I had in graduate school, or any professor who rarely/never teaches a first year course, or a general education course, or a professor who is an acclaimed researcher and writer who teaches once or twice a year, or almost EVERY film and novel depiction of a college professor**, then yes, I suppose I am slightly “unreal”.

But of course I AM real, and no matter where you are in the academic hierarchy, there is almost always someone who is less “real” than you are.

For example, last year, our first department meeting was held in the newly renovated building where my brand new office was relocated. After the meeting, I gave a little tour of the new offices and work space for anyone interested and one new part timer, assigned to teach a single course for her first term, stuck her head in my office and whined under her breath, though loud enough for me to hear, “Why do some professors get their own offices when I have to share!?”

My immediate reaction was to feel defensive, and I almost responded to her by explaining the very, very real distinctions between our two positions, but I held my tongue, and thought nastily to myself, “Get real, girlfriend.”

Instead, what I DID do was to lead the effort to finally create a faculty achievement award specifically for part time/adjunct/contingent instructors, and I agreed to start a long overdue mentoring program this fall for our department’s new part time faculty.

Of course neither action solves the ultimate problem:  that we are fighting each other over for those last few crumbs of respect. 

**As noted at Ink’s House a few week’s ago, there are very few depictions of community college Professors in film or novels–with the notable exception of that horrid sit com, Community.