Rate My JIL: Customer Service Edition

The Customer is always right, and the Customer “needs” an A.

This ad for an off-conference TT job at a regional campus of Texas A&M seems pretty normal along the lines of today’s job market.

  1. Grueling 4-4 teaching load? Check.
  2. Mind-blowingly rote courses? Check. (Freshman Comp! “Sophomore Literature,” whatever the fuck that is. Ooh, Shakespeare once every two years, edgy.)
  3. Stupidly specific requirements of applicants? Check. (“18 graduate credit hours” in everything you want to teach…so, your candidate’s expected to have repeated Freshman Comp and “Sophomore Literature” 6 times? Each? In grad school? You do realize that most grad students take one class in a breadth area, not fucking six, right? And that they get their breadth and depth by reading for, and passing, their comprehensives? And writing something called a “dissertation”? Oh, I give up.)

But honestly, that could be any ad these days, in any humanities department (complete with Freshman Comp–they expect everyone to teach that these days, which is both an insult to the entire discipline of composition and rhetoric, and a gross misuse of university resources–and you know if I’m defending comp/rhet, where every single one of my sworn enemies resides, it’s important). Teaching loads are high nowadays, and the few humanities classes administrations deem “worthwhile” enough could be taught by a precocious twelve-year-old. None of this is special.

But, speaking of “administration,” here’s what  is special about this ad, and by “special” I mean *FACEDESK HARUMPH LET IT END*. And that is the header, in all-caps (which I hope is search-committee code for “the fucking administration made us put this here”):

PROVIDE EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE

Oh good. Oh, good. Customer service. Because students are customers. We are the employees charged first and foremost with creating a “customer experience,” with keeping the “customer” happy. You know what keeps higher-ed customers happy? As. Sucking-up. Never, ever criticizing them about anything. Never, ever, ever “making” them read “boring” things or do “hard” problem sets, or do anything with their brains that causes temporary discomfort. Franz Kafka once wrote that he only liked to read books that made their readers feel liked they’d been punched in the head. To the idea that one should read what makes her happy, he scoffed: “Those books that make us happy we could write ourselves.” I think the same is true for the #1 “customer” experience in college. The class that would make the average student “happiest” is the one where you never have to go, you take quizzes with answers you can Google, you cut-and-paste your papers from Wikipedia, and you get an A anyway.

The corporatization of higher education is a foregone conclusion. The commodification of everyone in it is the natural result. But when this corporatization, and its resulting commodification, are RIGHT there in a job ad…well, should we be depressed about the state of higher education, or impressed with this ad’s directness?

 

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19 thoughts on “Rate My JIL: Customer Service Edition

  1. “Sophomore literature” is a tradition in Texas. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s related to the state-mandated Core course sequencing. Traditionally, most 4-year schools in the state required a composition class in the freshman year, and then a required literature survey in the sophomore year. It was usually specified that a freshmen-level literature course wouldn’t count for the requirement.

    In practice, most schools don’t treat this as a ‘sophomore level’ course anymore – but at the campus I advise for (UT-Austin) we only just recently started letting freshmen register for the required literature course – like in the last two years. Which is silly, and I’m not sure what the true difference between a freshmen and sophomore level course would be, anyway.

    Today, you’ll see more diversity in what Texas schools allow to count for this requirement. Some places still really hold on to the “sophomore level!!!” thing.

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  2. Perhaps my favorite part of this is that the ad underneath it (for me at least) is for Angel Soft toilet paper. Perhaps I’m giving too much away here, but toilet paper is one place where I look for a comforting, non-challenging experience.

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  3. This was my favorite sentence: “Will remain active in research, professional development, and service to the university and profession. ” Yes, that’s service to *the profession*. But watch, this ad will still get 600 applicants.

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  4. Because of the way that single capitalized line seems to intrude into the rest of the ad text, it kind of formally recalls the classic Ingeborg Bachmann poem “Reklame,” where the vapid voice of consumer society continuously interrupts the lyrical I’s existential angst:

    Wohin aber gehen wir
    *ohne sorge sei ohne sorge*
    wenn es dunkel und wenn es kalt wird
    *sei ohne sorge*
    […]

    Except in the job ad the interruption reads not as an injunction to forget your worries but rather SHUT UP AND DO AS YOU’RE TOLD!

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  5. Sheeeet, lately I’ve been seeing non-TT, one-year (w/ of course the “possibility of renewal”) gigs that ask for insane bullshit like a twenty-page writing sample and a dissertation prospectus *and* a transcript (the official sealed kind you pay for) ALONG with unspecified “university service” (from an adjunct!), all for the chance to teach 4/4 sections of freshman comp and probably share an office w/ two other PhDs. When people ask me about my job prospects, I often refer to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9CynvMlFyo. Leads!

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  6. I’ll give you dollars to doughnuts that the “customer service” bit was something that either HR or administration made the search committee put in the listing.

    I can also tell you with near certainty where the eighteen credit hours thing comes from: SACS. Lots and lots of southern schools have an office that makes sure that schools are their idea of SACS compliant. And sometimes the person in charge of SACS compliance acts like a poorly-programmed AI and so will say that to teach a class you have to have a certain number of graduate hours in that class.

    A few years ago when I was a lecturer at a fine southern state university, I asked to teach an Intro to Religious Studies course. I figured that getting it approved would be easy-peasy: after all, I’d TAed Religious Studies while in grad school, my major field had been on a religious history topic, I’d published an article and a book review in Religious Studies journals, and, oh, yeah, I’d written a dissertation on a religious-historical topic.

    But the request was denied because nowhere on my graduate transcript did the magical phrase Religious Studies appear.

    And so because some southern universities have their SACS-compliance folks make the rigid rule of Only Teach if You Have Enough Hours of Graduate Coursework, the search committee had to put in that frankly absurd requirement.

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  7. Wow this ad happened IRL?!

    I have a colleague — an instructor with a MA on a permanent contract — who received the university’s distinguished teaching award. And hey, that’s cool, I support giving those awards to ANY outstanding teacher on campus, regardless of status or pedigree. And I observed my colleague for a few weeks to see what they were doing, because obviously where there’s smoke … But then I learned how and why they received the award: They provided excellent customer service.

    This colleague is almost entirely responsible for the beginning and intermediate language sequence, and when their students arrived in my advanced courses, they couldn’t do anything. We’re talking Novice-Mid after four semesters in this person’s class. This can’t be! How does such a person receive a distinguished teaching award without teaching anything?! But, my observations were that my colleague took a daily supply of chocolates and home-baked cakes to class and distributed these items among the students for so much as uttering a single word. “Hello, my little darlings!” was the daily greeting. Students are permitted to show up 20 minutes into an exam and are given extra time to complete it. Students are permitted to ditch class completely for three weeks and schedule one-on-one test review sessions the night before tests — and there is, of course, always chocolate and cake on-hand. The lessons themselves have no substance or structure; lots of worksheets and fun Youtube videos, lots of “Very good, my little darlings!” and “Who wants a piece of chocolate?”

    After having to provide countless hours of remedial instruction to so many students who shouldn’t have needed it, I considered going to the department head about the situation to see if anything could be done. Of course, I was told not to bother because this person does what the university wants: They keep the students happy and coming back. In short, the instructor provides excellent customer service.

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  8. As far as the customer service bit goes, I agree with you but I have had classes were the prof acted as though he was doing us a favor by letting us bask in his glory. At a university that goes by the 10-week trimester system, he canceled the last 3 weeks of class so he could go to job interviews elsewhere. In return he crammed the last 3 weeks of content into 3 classes and assigned us 1000 pages of reading a week for 3 weeks. Not suggested readings, but come ready to discuss all 1000 pages in our 3 hour seminar. He treated office hours as though we were interrupting him. He would sigh when we knocked on the door and make us wait in the doorway until he was done with what he was doing. He also liked to insult us and send us away with “read my paper on xyz and then come back when you have a better idea for a paper”. In addition to that he also didn’t give us written guides for our assignments so he told us one on one what the requirements were. That meant that some people were told they only needed 10-15 page term papers and other were told 25-30.

    By the end we were all pissed about how terrible that class had been. It was the first time were I wanted my money back for a class. If I could have returned it and gotten my ridiculously high tuition money back I would have.
    So in that sense, as a student who was buying the class I felt that the product and service were pretty terrible and that I deserved my money back.

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  9. Special negative bonus points for a grammar screw-up in an English department job ad: “Candidates must have 18 graduate credit hours for every field in which the teaching.”

    More fun: The job application site asks for applicants’ Social Security number. The application form is incorrectly designed so that you have to supply dates of previous employment at UTK, even if you say you’ve never worked there. Then there are “yes/no/no response” buttons for every listed qualification, including this one: “Are you able to provide excellent customer service?”

    But give them credit for only asking for a cover letter, CV, 3 recommendations, and unofficial transcripts.

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  10. Minimum qualifications, no. 4: “Candidates must have 18 graduate credit hours for every field in which the teaching.”

    “For every field in which the teaching”? That’s not even English. For an Assistant Professorship in English. You couldn’t make it up.

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    1. Yes, but since that’s Texas-wide administrator-ese, it is unsurprising, since probably someone from admin put it in. Still, though, the search committee probably should have proofread it.

      Like

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