Monday, May 23, 2005

Career Announcement:

After 6-years of teaching as an adjunct (and 4-years making a living adjuncting full time) I have secured a full-time tenure track position. Starting next fall I will be an Assistant Professor (well technically, currently I am an Assistant Professor/Senior Adjunct) at Mercer County Community College's Business and Technology Division.

I turn 32 next month and am grateful that I have this position at my relatively young age (relatively young for a full time position).

For the first two years of adjuncting, I was also pursing my LL.M. (advanced law degree) in Transnational Law at Temple University. But over the past 4-years I've been just teaching and practicing law, although my practice is deminimus: My law practice is pretty much me and my computer.

Securing any kind of full-time tenure track (or even non-tenure track) teaching position is very hard. Larry Solum and others have informed us at great length what needs to be done in order to get a Law School teaching position. And given that I 1) didn't graduate from an Ivy League Law School, 2) don't have a significant record of publications, and 3) don't have work experience at a prestigious Law Firm or Judicial Clerkship, it would be a waste of time for me at this point in my life to even consider that.

Most of us who would like to break into teaching as a career, alas, aren't qualified to teach in a Law School. But there are other options/possibilities for JDs who would like to teach.

First off, there are 4-year colleges and graduate schools. Just about every business school has one full time JD in their department who is responsible for teaching and coordinating "Business Law" or "Legal Environment" courses. Many schools also have paralegal programs, again, most often in business programs (sometimes in other departments, though). Often there will be one full-time JD who is responsible for both the paralegal program and the Business Law courses. Some larger programs have more than one full time JD. Some schools, for instance in my area -- Temple and Drexel -- have their own legal departments with a number of full time JD faculty -- again usually part of the Business School -- where degrees are offered in "pre-law," "legal studies in business" or something along those lines.

In addition (you can tell I have most experience with teaching opportunities for JDs in Business Schools), there are full-time JD positions in the Criminology and Political Science departments at various schools.

Now, many 4-year colleges and graduate schools -- perhaps most of them -- are "research" and "publishing" oriented. That is, they might not be so demanding in looking for an Ivy League JD or prestigious Clerkship, but they do expect you to publish ("publish or perish" as they say).

There are other 4-year colleges, and, (with rare exception) almost all Community Colleges, that are "teaching" colleges, where they don't expect you to publish at all (some of us do publish -- having a record of publication certainly won't hurt you and may be viewed as a "plus" factor; but it certainly isn't a prerequisite for getting or maintain a full time job).

A full time teaching load at a community college is 15 credits per semester. At Law Schools it's 6-credits. That should tell you all you need to know about where their respective priorities lie.

Now, if you are a JD and you want to secure a full time job in academia, say at a community college, there is still much more to the story. First of all, because a JD is a "terminal degree" (in other words, it's equivalent to a Ph'D, even though it's not as hard to secure; after all JD stands for "Juris Doctor"; some JDs insist that they be called "Dr." even though I don't), and because there are a lot of lawyers who don't really like their jobs, and because you don't need the fancy Ivy League degrees and clerkships to get a job as a community college professor, there is tremendous competition for these positions. Tremendous. Having significant experience teaching as an adjunct is a must.

But there is even more. As I said, often these positions involve running or helping to run a paralegal program (not an easy thing to do). So if you applied for such a position, not only would you need experience teaching as an adjunct, but also experience being involved in a paralegal program (for instance, many adjuncts teach paralegal courses and in other ways help the paralegal program at a particular college).

As I said, there are some colleges where one JD will be hired as the "Business Law" or "Legal Environment" guy only (in fact, I've interviewed for such positions), without needing to be involved in the paralegal program in any way (or often, one JD will coordinate the Paralegal Program, and the "Business Law" guy will be expected to assist). Those "Business Law" only positions are few and far between.

What's more likely -- and this is essentially how I got my job -- to teach in a Business Program, if you can "wear many hats" and wear your "JD/Lawyer" hat as one of a few different hats, this will distinguish you from all of those JDs wanting to break into teaching. I don't just have a "JD," but also an MBA and an LL.M. (advanced law degree) in International Law. I don't just teach Business Law and Legal Environment Courses....Well let me tell you the courses I taught last semester.

For the last Fall and Spring Semesters I taught 21 credits each semester (many of them were online...more on that in a bit).

Here are the Courses I taught last Spring 2005 semester (at three different colleges -- each course I taught was a different "preparation"):

Business Law I
Business Law II
International Business
Basic Economics
Legal Environment of Business
Principles of Management
Legal Issues Impacting the Educator

So if you want to break into teaching at a "teaching" college, it would be extremely helpful if you had at least one other graduate degree. More than one graduate degree would be even better. If you had not just a JD, but also say, an MA in Accounting and an MA in Economics (or an MBA with lots of Economics or Accounting Courses), that would greatly increase your chances of securing such a position.

Also, teach online courses. Community Colleges/Teaching Colleges have embraced online education. Last semester 12 of my 21 credits were online. There are two programs you need to learn: WebCt and Blackboard. Learn them both.

Also embrace technology in the classroom. Know how to use Powerpoint in your course lectures. Many classes are wired. And I often access sites on the Internet (played through a projector) to assist in learning.

Most importantly: Get started adjuncting. Believe it or not, as hard as it is to secure a full-time position, it's not so hard to get adjunct work. Part of that might be because adjunct teaching tends to pay so little. If you show up for work on time every time, do a "good job," comply with their administrative procedures (for instance, turn your grades in on time and all that) you will likely be called back.

If you want to break into adjunct teaching, make a "C.V." (Curriculum Vita -- a fancy academic term for "resume") get a list of all of the colleges in the geographic radius in which you would like to teach, figure out who the contact person is (the department head or course coordinator of whatever course(s) you'd like to teach) and send your C.V. with a letter of interest to them. The worst thing that can happen is that they ignore you.

Once you get the position, however, you will see how much these colleges (over)rely on adjuncts to do the work and also how hard it is to make the "move" from adjunct to full time (unless of course, you luck out by being at the right place at the right time). Often times, literally, you have to wait until one of the full timers retire before they can open up a new position. At one college where I taught, there were 2-full JDs, both getting on in years and both in those positions for a long, long time (decades!!), and about 8 JD adjuncts, half of us desiring a full-time teaching position; we would certainly love one at that college, a truly great Community College. But at that college, they will not open a new "Law" position until one of the 2-full time tenured guys retire.

So have I inspired you or scared you off from college teaching as a career?


David Swindle said...

Congratulations. Your future students will be lucky.

Jim said...

Might I add my congratulations as well.

Joe said...

I was an adjunct for 8 years before getting the full-time job. (And then a non-tenure-track Instructor before finishing the doctorate and starting the tenure clock--which is now, thank God, finished!). I can predict that you'll find a whole new set of challenges and chores, but a stronger commitment to one institution, and a sense that you really get to part of the future of that institution. That can make your teaching more confident, experimental, and fun for you and your students.

Give you joy on your accomplishment!

Jonathan said...

Thanks Guys!

David Weigel said...

Your experience and secured position is at a community college, and it sounds like that's what you were after. What is it about the two-year school that attracts you rather than a four-year school? (Just curious. A dream job would be to teach where I went to [four-year] college, but my boyfriend really likes the paralegal program at Delaware Co. CC, so I wonder what the considerations are, teaching-wise.)

Jonathan said...

Re: The Community College; it chose me as much as I chose it.

The college [Mercer] where I am going to teach full time is the one where I first started teaching, and I've grown very attached to it and I get along well with the people with whom I work.

I've also been teaching at Bucks and have growing very attached to that school and will miss it.

The other college where I teach is in a Master's Program at Philadelphia University. But that program, Instructional Technology, is very hands on and practical; I'm the only attorney and I teach Law & Technology issues to mainly public school teachers and administrators. So even there, my position is a pure "teaching" as opposed to "research" and "publishing" one.

As I said most 4-year colleges are "research" oriented. And I've never been in a position where I was expected to research and publish. Perhaps I'd like to do it, but that's not where I am at this point in my life.

I get along well with the community college students. For some reason, I have the right *balance* of highbrow and lowbrow tastes where I can translate the ideas to the community college atmosphere. The students seem to like my examples from pop culture -- television, music and the movies.

I would imagine that at a 4-year "teaching" college, the students probably aren't that much different than at a community college. The more prestigious 4-year colleges are more publishing oriented. That's something I might like to do on the side, but right now, I have no desire to enter the "publish or perish" world.

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