Saturday, November 1, 2014

October 2014: Watch Out What You Ask For

     There is an old adage: Watch out what you ask for, you may get it. Supposedly, you want something so badly and when and if you get it, it might be disappointing or not what you thought it would be. This saying is most used in references to relationships and new jobs and promotions. There is that promotion you wanted so bad, fought to get, and then got it. Then after a brief honeymoon period, you realize, "Oh my, what did I get myself into this is so much work and ridiculously political." Watch out what you ask for, you may get it.
     This letter is about that old adage but with a positive ending. I actually got what I wanted and more so than at any other time and I am both embracing and loving it.
      I have always wanted to teach at the college level. Over the years I have done just that but as an adjunct i.e. part time. I always wanted a full time job, to be part of full time faculty and all that means. What that means is being on campus quite a bit and integrating into the entire education, scholarly, and university experience. I have, as my sister Nancy reminded me recently, wanted this since I was in college. It was a job, career, and lifestyle that had a great deal of appeal to me.
     I have, as mentioned, taught a fair amount of adjunct courses over the years. I taught a lot as a graduate assistant and then part time in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then, I took a twenty-seven year break to have a full corporate career which I also loved and appreciated. In the height of the Great Recession, in 2010, I began teaching again albeit part time. If we put all of that teaching together, I have nine years of full time teaching experience. Six of those were in the last four years where often I was teaching five classes where the norm is three. I was teaching at the College of Lake County (CLC) which is a two year college, DeVry University and their Keller Graduate School of Management, and North Park University. The great majority of my full time teaching was in mathematics and since 2010 mostly statistics. 

      Leona Mirza is an Armenian friend and now a colleague, got me into North Park University as an adjunct. I first met her when my distant cousin Richard Hovanissian was visiting us and speaking at the AGBU Center in 2007 when we first moved to Chicago. Uncle Richard was scheduled to meet Leona and her husband for breakfast. As he was staying at our house and I was his means of transportation, I was invited too. We met Leona, at the Tre Kroner Restaurant on Foster Avenue. It was a glorious October Sunday morning and we sat outside. I noticed a lovely campus setting across the street from the restaurant. I commented on how lovely the campus looked and wondered what university it was. Leona said, "North Park University, it is where I teach." I remember thinking; it would be a cool place to teach. 
     In January of 2011, we were at an Isabel Bayrakdarian concert on the University of Chicago campus. Leona, her husband, and sister were also at the concert. We exchanged pleasantries and in the course of chatting, she asked me what I was doing. I responded that I was trying to get a consulting business going and doing some adjunct teaching at the College of Lake County and DeVry University. She asked me what I was teaching and I said mostly Statistics. She reminded me that she was on the Mathematics faculty of North Park University and was the course head for Statistics. She also mentioned that they were looking for adjuncts. Remembering the October Sunday morning and the impression the campus made on me, I said that I would be interested. She and another colleague came to observe a class of mine at CLC and after that encouraged me to apply for an adjunct position at North Park. By June, I was given an adjunct appointment at North Park and taught three sections of the Introduction to Statistics in the fall of that year.
      I loved the campus and the students from the get go. I taught Statistics there for three semesters. In the second semester, in March of 2012, I saw a notice in a campus email that the School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM) was looking for an adjunct to teach Operations Management in the winter semester of the following year. As this was a class that I always wanted to teach, I sent a note of inquiry right away. I got a response in a few days that the Dean and Operations Director of SBNM wanted to meet with me. After that meeting, and their review of my resume and transcripts, I was asked to teach this class as an adjunct. I was teaching in place of a very nice man, a full time faculty member, who was going to retire because his wife was ailing and he was her caregiver.
Leona Mirza
     When they posted the full time position, I decided to apply which I did in December of 2012. I filled out the application over the Christmas break. In addition to my business/corporate resume, I prepared a teaching resume and an essay on my philosophy and approach to teaching. Most of these materials were updates of three other full time teaching positions I had applied for. All three were in Mathematics at the College of Lake County and all of resulted in a "thanks but no thanks letter" without even an interview.
     My expectations were pretty low. I had done some pretty intense job searching during the first two years of the Great Recession. Except for a few the adjunct teaching jobs and some good consulting work, I had not succeeded in finding a full time corporate position of any kind let alone a full time position of the caliber that I most recently had. The Great Recession job market led me to become, in a word, jaded. I was all but convinced that the show was over for me. I believed the primary factor for this was due to my age. I had even blogged on age discrimination. It is there. It is real. Many people in my situation have grudgingly accepting this reality. While accepting this new normal on one level, I continued to apply for positions that were of interest to me. The Professor of Operations Management position at North Park University was certainly a position I was quite interested in.
     I was therefore delighted when I was notified, in early January, that I made it to the next cut. From an undisclosed pool of applicants, six were chosen for the next step which was a one hour group interview with a subset of the search committee. These interviews were done by video conference, unless the candidate was in the Chicago area in which case the interview would be face-to-face. As I was already teaching a classes on campus for the department, I had a face to face interview with three members of the selection committee. That took place in early February, a few weeks after the spring term began. I dutifully dressed up in a suit and tie and was asked a series of questions in team interview style. As in the written application, I did my best and thought that I had answered the questions to the best of my ability.
      In another few weeks, I learned that I had made the next cut to a field of three that would be brought in for all day interviews. The interviews were with the President of the University, the Provost, the Human Resource Director, a campus pastor, and another team interview this time with the entire searc
h committee. The day also included a mock teaching session with students who were given evaluation forms to fill out. Again, as I was teaching a class on campus, the mock teaching took place in my actual class. This was certainly an advantage. I shuffled my syllabus a bit and gave a lecture introducing quality management: a definite forte of mine. Amazingly, the faculty asked most of the questions that resulted in an animated discussion. I was sweating bullets but held my own. Later that evening I was taken to dinner, at Tre Kroner again, by the Dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management and the esteemed economics professor Lee Sundholm. It was a great end to a long day.

      Then, I waited. I do believe I was the first of three to be brought in for the all day interview process but was never sure. My interview day was in mid-March. I heard nothing for day which turned into weeks. Was no news, no news? Or was it a bad omen? With each passing day, it went from hopeful and hoping to hear, to a bit agonizing, and then quite frustrating. There was nothing to do but worry which I knew to be a negative strategy. The right thing to do was to stay upbeat, hopeful, and positive. This was all easier to say than to actually do.
     In the interim, amid what seemed like endless waiting, another job popped up. There was a director/coordinator of Math and Science at The Illinois Institute of Art in Schaumberg. This for profit college is part of The Education Management Corporation which has subsidiaries of The Art Institutes and Argosy University. The Illinois Institute of Art specializes in graphic arts, web design, fashion design, and more. They offer a few math classes and one science course. The job I applied for was to coordinate course scheduling, hiring adjuncts and ensuring their availability, and teaching the occasional class.
      The Illinois Institute of Art was interested in my application and they were interested in moving very fast. I interviewed three times in two weeks and was a finalist with one other person. I had still not heard from North Park. Suddenly, I had two active prospects. This certainly had not happened since the onset of the Great Recession. In fact, I cannot recall ever having two active job prospects at one time. I was one of three finalists at one and one of two at the other. Assuming a one-third chance of getting one and a fifty percent chance of getting the other, I had a fifty percent chance of getting at least one job offer.
     The Illinois Institute of Arts certainly moved faster than North Park. I received a phone call saying I was the finalist. All that remained was one final interview with the President. I scheduled the interview ten days out to buy a little time. I felt a little guilty doing it, but did it anyway. A few days later, I heard from North Park... obviously the news was the good news I was waiting for. I was totally elated. It was the job I have wanted most of my life and I was psyched.
     I had to inform The Illinois Institute of Art that I was taking another job. I was now feeling a lot guilty for having to tell them no. This is in spite of firing off countless numbers of applications and resumes into the HR black holes of corporations during the Great Recession. Companies, awash with hundreds of applications for an opening, held all the power and rarely let applicants know the job was pulled or filled. They acted in their own interests without any concern for any common courtesies. I vowed I would act the same way given a chance. Yet, when at that crossroads, I felt bad. I felt guilt, for turning them down. They totally understood and I appreciated that.
I accepted the North Park position and was looking forward to the start of classes in late August. Given that I my teaching experience translated into six full time equivalent years, I was brought in as an Associate Professor and not an Assistant. Cool.

     My teaching load this first semester is four courses. A normal load is three. I am teaching three of these courses for the first time, so I have three preparations which is a heavy load. It has been a lot of work. There are other activities I never had to do as an adjunct. These include advising students on which courses to take next. I have ten students currently assigned to me and that will increase next year. I have to attend department meetings and soon I will be assigned, as all full time faculty must, to be on a University committees working on any number of academic and administrative changes. There are activities that every faculty is expected to do. These include holding fixed office hours, participating in convocation and graduation ceremonies, participating in a new faculty series of meetings, and attending all faculty meetings three or four times a year.
     Listening to some of the other faculty members, these meetings can get tedious. They can be rife with politics in a way that is special to academia (this means catty in a way you never see in the corporate environment.)
     Oddly, surprisingly, and wonderfully, I am embracing it all. I am doing it more enthusiastically than I did for any other company or job that I have ever had. I am actually enjoying every minute of it. I have also joined two groups that read and discuss books on improving college level teaching. I have attended soccer games, volley ball games, and concerts in which my students are participating.
     It has been a lot of work and been a lot of fun and the single best career move I have ever made. Recently, George Halas’s grandson, a graduate of North Park, was speaking on campus. He quoted his grandfather as saying. “It is only work if you would rather be doing something else.” That quote is now hanging up in my office.
     So, as they say, watch out what you ask for… you might just get it.

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