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I'm happy to have a job, but....

This is an unusual time we're living in now... in 2009 and in the midst of a recession. Sometimes it seems that life is normal and times are good. We went out to eat last weekend and the restaurant was packed. There were plenty of people shopping at Target. But I know all around us, people are worried, even if they are not saying anything. And some people's lives have been affected deeply.

I teach Business Strategy in the College of Business Administration at our state university. This is a new career for me, after 27 years in the corporate world, most of it as a VP of Human Resources. I pursued this type of work after our long trip to Europe because I wanted flexibility. I would have summers off to travel and we could have our little business on the side, running our small group trips in Provence and now other places. Initially I started teaching as an adjunct, but I'm now in my second year with a 75% faculty appointment. 75% means that I teach six classes a year and get benefits. I also do some project work that I get paid extra for, sort of like an in-house consultant. I make about 50% of what I made in my former corporate life, a trade-off I was willing to make to get summers off and much more flexibility.

I also have a different kind of "risk" in my work. After years being part of the "inner circle" in my corporate world, I'm now part of a second-tier group in the university world: a "non-tenure-track" faculty member. Sinice I don't have a PhD, I don't have the same kind of job security. People like me get a new contract every year. In today's world that can be an uncomfortable feeling. If my contract isn't renewed, I don't get severance pay. I'm not even sure if I would qualify for unemployment.

Because of the work I do, I'm immersed with the stories of the recession. My students and I read the Wall Street Journal every day. We start each class with a discussion of current events-- what's happening in the external environment that companies need to respond to? How are companies adjusting their strategies? Which companies are finding opportunities? Which are going out of business? After several students report a continuing saga of business downturns, I'll usually ask "Does anyone have any good news to share?"

My students are seniors in their last semester of college. Last year's seniors were busy interviewing, trying to decide between job offers. This year's graduates are facing a different job market. Many fewer recruiters are coming to campus. I've heard of very few offers. Some students are now planning to go directly to graduate school, and others hope they can at least continue working their retaurant or retail jobs. At least they don't have house payments.

Our state is in a budget crisis, and higher education is impacted. They are looking at a 25% cut across the entire state university system. At my campus, this will potentially mean a 9% tuition increase as well as a few hundred layoffs. Our heat has been turned down to 68, and travel has been eliminated. I'm lucky I got a new computer in August, as equipment purchases have now been frozen. I'm happy to have a job, as it appears that I am "safe" and will be continued next year.

The biggest impact on me personally is that my classes are much larger-- 50% over last semester. This is one way to cut costs-- make classes bigger which means fewer classes and teachers. In six previous semesters of teaching strategy, my classes have averaged about 30 students. This semester I'm teaching four sections (the most I've had before is three), averaging 45 students in each class. It's a heavily discussion-oriented class, with 20% of the grade is based on class participation. I now have 180 students, and I should know each student's name. I use name cards and try to use students names often. I've made up picture charts too, but it's very hard. Right now I might know half.

I enjoy the interaction with the students very much and I like the classroom teaching. I think I'm becoming a good teacher. The worst part-- the terrible part-- is grading. I have a grad student to grade my quizzes and enter the grades in a spreadsheet. But the written assignments need to be graded by me. There are four short papers-- how I wish I had constructed the syllabus to have only two! So figure this-- 180 papers to grade for each assignment. Even if I spend just 5 minutes on each paper, this is 900 minutes (15 hours!) to grade each lot. I make up little grading rubrics (kind of check sheets) to help me move through the process fairly and quickly. This is one of the most tedious thing I've ever done. Just between us-- I absolutely hate it.

Still, as I said, I'm happy to have a job these days, and what appear to be good prospects to continue it next year. My husband's home renovation business is slow, but he does have some work, and he's drawing social security too. We're in good health. We don't owe much money. Our European trips are remarkably mostly full for this year, and we are spending 2-1/2 months in Europe this summer.

My stepdaughter works in retail and her job as assistant manager was recently eliminated. She was given a chance to stay as a sales clerk with a pay cut, which she took. She's not happy, but she has a job.

My former company, where I was head of Human Resources for 10 years, recently closed abruptly when they lost their bank financing. This was a 65 year old company, an industry leader, employing 450 people. There was no notice, no severance pay, no vacation pay. Many people have been hired by competitors, but I know many are still out of work.

Elsewhere in our community, two other major companies have closed. Our boat companies have closed several plants. Our city newspaper had a layoff and did an across-the-board pay cut. And our community is in better shape than others.

These are challenging times we live in. I'm struggling with my realities right now (all those @%#! papers to grade), but at least I have a job... a family I love... and the flexibility to travel.

Comments (6)

Kathy, very interesting post. I have a one-year contract too and it is a little scary these days, I keep wondering about next year even though it is only February.

It must be hard to graduate right now but hopefully they will find something to do, like you say, even if it means continuing to wait tables.

Thanks for sharing about your teaching experience, it sounds really neat!

*****

From Kathy

This is a very different experience for me. In my previous life, I was always in a decision-maker role... deciding who might be laid off. Those of us on one-year contracts have been worrying about this since almost the beginning of our year (August).

I think it is easier for young people who don't have financial or family commitments and more flexibility to continue to live a student life in a student-type job for a while.

Kathy,
I would hate reading and grading all these papers too. But you are lucky to have a job that gives so much flexibility, and summers off.

*****

From Kathy:

Candi, this is what I keep reminding myself!!!

Barb Cabot:

Kathy, You point out so many of the realities that surround our lives. I hope you have read or will read Mary T's blog wherein she speaks of her daughter's position at the University level and her thoughts on a new kind of vision for living through and after the recession. It's here:
http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/maryt/
I think/worry more often about the youth of today, like your students who are ready to join the work force. I think about what life will be like for our children. These are not times that any of us have ever experienced. I appreciate your thoughtful post and keep all our dear friends in my prayers. As you say we must count our blessings, our health, our loved ones and all that we are blessed with.

*******

From Kathy:

Barb, thanks for sharing the link to MaryT's post. Much as I don't like the recession, I also think some good will come of it as individuals and businesses find ways to cut waste and determine what's most important.

I do worry about the impact of all this on our daughter. On the one hand, I think it's important for her to be more sensitive about money and how it is spent. But I worry about the impact on her as she prepares to go to college in 2-1/2 years. We've saved for her college, but our savings were invested and much less than we once had. We've hoped this would be supplemented by scholarships-- but will the money be there for her to go to a really great school?

Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

sheri:

These really are scary times, Kathy. I have some friends who are non tenured faculty at local universities, and they are pretty concerned about their contracts. I, too, am waiting with bated breadth to see how the Mayor's Budget will impact our subsidy at work. We could not survive a significant decrease. But, we have also done some creative thinking to enable us to cope with a modest cut.

Sorry that I can't offer words of support about college costs. I will have 2 kids in college next year. Even with merit money it is a struggle to keep up with the cost of higher education.

Like you, I am happy to have a job, a family and health!

*****

From Kathy:

Sheri, it sounds like you do understand. We have to count our blessings, that's for sure. And be smart and creative about saving money, at home and at work.

There is no doubt that it is a scary time right now . . . sort of makes me happy I work for a union with benefits and a collective agreement. Mind you, no one is immune to what is happening in the world.

Universities used to be seen as 'recession proof' because when students can't find work they stay in school. Similarly, when people lose their jobs they often go back to school. It will be interesting to see what happens here.

I only recently learned that States in the US can't run a deficit. There are going to be some severe cuts if they are to balance their budgets. here in Canada we have no such provisions.

*****

From Kathy:

Jerry, you are right that more people are now focused on education. So universities have more demand and potentially more students, but not the funding they used to have. And their endowments have lost lots of value in the stock market decline. All these things are really interconnected. What a mess.

I'm glad your job is safe. I don't know one teacher who enjoys this part of the job. It is so time consuming. I would never be able to remember 180 student names. That is quite a load you have.

It seems almost every day another business is closing down. So scary! Even though I work for the State and have a union protecting my job, the State has threatened taking away our medical benefits if we retire after 30 years at age 55 - we will have to wait until age 65 or even longer to receive the medical benefits promised to us. The Governor has also talked about one day a month without pay. The unknown is the most difficult. I am so thankful that I at least have a job and a roof over my head.

*****

From Kathy:

Girasoli, I agree with you about the unknown! One thing that is coming out of this is that I think most of us won't take so much for granted any more.

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