On Being ‘Substantial’

Well, what has Post-Academic In NYC been up to these many days? Lotsa stuff, what with three part-time jobs plus top-secret political activities to attend to (ha, they are not top secret at all). Good news is that I did not get arrested yesterday. Bad news is that some of my friends did. I am going to the jailhouse soon to see if they are ever going to get out or what.

Meantime, I am teaching again! What is it like being back in the college classroom you ask? The first few sessions made me feel horrified and, at the same time, like I was in the right place. (Horrified In The Right Place is the name of the book I will never write on adjunct teaching.)

I’m supposed to be in the classroom, I thought to myself. Teaching is who I am.

I only felt this way for a second. Only for a brief moment did I allow myself to entertain the idea that the universe intends me to be a low-wage adjunct. I quickly stamped out the thought like Lady Macbeth out-outing the damn spot. First of all, the universe intends nothing. Secondly, I refuse to see part-time teaching as a calling. I do not accept that view of adjunct work anymore.

I will endeavor to be a decent teacher; it’s not the students’ fault and all that. But every time I feel a creeping sense of general commitment or purpose, I will stamp it out. It will take discipline, but I am a committed stamper.

What else can I tell you about?

I had a job interview! Yes! It was for a real-live, full-time job as a college administrator-type person! I applied for the job months ago, out of desperation and in a state of panic. But they called, so I went. The job didn’t seem that bad. I might even have liked it.

The thing is, I am ridiculously overqualified. They only asked for a B.A. degree on the job ad. So why did I apply?  And why did they call me?  I would say that only the universe knows, but the universe knows nothing.

I went into the process with an open mind, until I was asked the first question: “What qualifies you for this job?” I listed my qualifications. That was my mistake.

Rest assured I did not list my qualifications in an asshole-ish way. I know that I am not smarter than my potential colleagues; I do not know more than they, and I would not go into an interview (or any job) with the idea that my particular background makes me better, or even more qualified, than others. I simply listed my past experience and how it relates to the job I was interviewing for.

After I finished talking, the members of the committee relaxed back into their chairs. The guy who had asked the question paused and said, “well, that sounds substantial.”

Ha! Yes, it does, doesn’t it, sir. I am quite substantial. That is a word that means, in this context, not employable. It is as if the committee had said to me: “Indeed, you have a lot of skills and experience that no one will ever pay you for!”

The rest of the interview was polite enough, but I could tell it had ended the moment they relaxed back into their chairs and told me that my experience was “substantial.”

College administrations do not want candidates with ‘substantial’ experience doing the very things they are hiring someone to do. ‘Substantial’ is weighty in the bad sense. Committees, such as this one, know that, by hiring a ‘substantial’ candidate, they will get someone who already has a particular point of view developed over time while doing work directly relevant to the job. This is not necessarily a good thing.

In my case, my perspective has been informed by a decade of work, research, and writing. Employers do not want that. Instead, they want someone who can do the job, but who doesn’t have any opinions about the job yet. Such opinions they would rather provide along the way themselves. People with already-formed opinions born out of experience and through immersion in the relevant literature don’t always make the best cogs in a giant university bureaucracy.  At least, it seems that way.

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One Response to On Being ‘Substantial’

  1. recent Ph.D. says:

    Heh, are you just psyching yourself out in case they don’t call you back? I did that for every interview so as not to feel too disappointed when they did not call. What will you do if they do call back? Is it a job you’d take?

    Oh yeah, and I know that feeling of being a stamper well. Did that all through the last spring and summer and fall before I finally walked away for good. It’s not a feeling that’s very sustainable. At least for me it wasn’t. Good luck with the teaching, though. It really isn’t their fault, and you have lots to offer. Being “substantial” IS valued by our students. Some of them, anyway. The system be damned. It’s going to have to fail mightily before there is ever any hope of it being rebuilt.

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