A Departmental Culture of Responsibility

I teach at a school that pays its instructional faculty (TT and NTT) on nine-month contracts, though the pay is equivalent to 12-month salaries elsewhere. I thus regularly hear versions of “I’m not on contract during the summer,” and while I appreciate the need for separation, research time, and even just rest, the business of the department and university doesn’t stop between June and August. Currently, for example, I have two student grade appeals on my desk that by department policy I have to consult with the affected faculty about before making my decision, and these individuals are essentially incommunicado. I get a one-month summer bump, but that doesn’t cover the whole summer, and I’m still working. Why can’t my faculty?—Taking Care of Business (and Working Overtime)

Dear Professor Business,

Let’s first acknowledge that your faculty are right. They signed a nine-month contract (even if they’re being paid over 12 months), and are not required to do teaching, departmental, or institutional work over the summer. Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s try and solve your problem.

I’m assuming from your letter that your institution doesn’t have a practice of paying for summer admin work in general, since it seems like even chairs aren’t getting adequately compensated for the summer months, let alone anyone else. So you’ve got two equally important principles — faculty should not do work for which they’re not being paid, and there can be actual work that needs to get done over the summer — that are in conflict with each other.

Personally, I think the grade appeal example doesn’t qualify as unpaid work; rather, it’s part of faculty duties from the semester. At the same time, you might institute a grade appeal protocol that doesn’t require faculty input during summer or winter breaks. Some institutions don’t require faculty to deal with grade appeals until the next semester has begun (mine, for example, gives students a couple of weeks into the following semester to file and the department about four additional weeks to resolve the appeal).

Ultimately, this is an issue that your department needs to discuss together and come up with guidelines for. At first blush, your colleagues seem to lack a sense of obligation towards their students or each other once classes are over. It’s possible, though, that this is selective: do they decline to write letters of recommendation for students between May 15 and September 1, for example? Refuse to read dissertation chapters or drafts of MA theses? Or is it just departmental and college admin work that falls by the wayside? The answer to these questions will give you a clearer sense of what you’re dealing with. At any rate, as a department you should work out what kinds of tasks you all agree to do over the summer as a matter of course, or at least discuss the disproportionate burden your colleagues’ refusals put on the chair and those poor souls who are generous enough to pick up the slack. That requires you as chair to sort out what actually has to get done rather than things you’d just like to get out of the way. In my own experience, there’s very little I need to call upon colleagues for over the summer months, but there’s an implicit agreement that if I do ask for something, I’ve already decided that it’s a) important and b) time-sensitive.

Ideally, you’ve already built a culture of mutual obligation, cooperation, respect for your position as chair, and responsibility towards students and colleagues (and if you’ve been reading this column for a while, I’m hoping you have). With those elements in place, all you need is an honest conversation as a department to sort this out. But what you’re describing strikes me as a symptom of larger problems that you’re going to need to fix. That’s a harder task than simply getting resistant faculty to answer emails in July.

The Chair

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.