Category Archives: Community College

1 Year of COVID Later

This time last year, I was standing with an umbrella in the pouring rain in an empty parking lot at our Governor-ordered shut down college. It felt apocalyptic. Like the world was ending. I also had virtually no sleep and had spent nearly every waking hour for two weeks working on an academic continuity plan to ensure our students would be successful despite a sudden shift to remote learning in a global pandemic. Just in case a shut down happened. I’m grateful for that work because we were prepared, much more prepared than others. And that’s why on this day last year, I was dealing web cams, doc cams, and headsets to faculty from the trunk of my car.

This morning I read an article in the P&C about the mental health impact of COVID-19. Faculty at Upstate colleges were interviewed during their reporting. One faculty member recounted losing a colleague to suicide in the midst of this crisis. Of her experience, she said, “While students were given resources to help them cope, the faculty weren’t and instead were worked to death.”

Worked to death. Well, that resonates.

Earlier today, I also shared the following with colleagues in leadership: “I also think we need to be cognizant of the fact that we have overworked (“worked to death,” as noted in this article I read this morning) our faculty in this time of chaos and crisis. They’ve done amazing work. I’ve had the opportunity to observe first-hand some of the ways they’ve really pulled through for our students in trying times. I’ve also witnessed them working at all hours of the night, on weekends, and without time off to be that amazing. And I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand the dangers of burning the candle at both ends relentlessly. “

As #highered leaders, we MUST model self-care. We MUST prioritize mental health. We MUST actively support the mental health needs of faculty and staff (while the article and my above conversation were specifically about faculty, all of our staff are in the same metaphorical drowning boat). Passively offering resources is NOT enough. Not. Enough.

As I said when I first ran for City Council and someone asked a question about how we would help heal the divide in our city, “it starts with us, the leaders. We have to show how it’s done.” Different group of people. Different situation. Still true: it starts with leaders who model the desired behavior.

I did a terrible job during that first year of COVID. I was in survival mode. I didn’t prioritize my own self care. I modeled working yourself to death. And so I almost died.

Now that I’m much better, I also know I need to DO better.

So I’m trying. Sometimes it’s just small things.

Some I’m trying: Wellness Wednesday. No emails from leaders after 7 PM or on weekends. Stress and relaxation activities like Pamela lead yesterday and for our department in December. Laughing a lot in our meetings.

It was chaos last year. Now, as we enter recovery, we really have to 1) recognize we “worked people to death;” 2) do better (this cannot be our new norm).

We = me. And I’m telling you this because I feel strongly about it. And also to help hold myself accountable. #Healing2021 isn’t just about me. It’s all of us.

P&C article referenced:

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Filed under Community College, Healing 2021, Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

Virtual Snap Cup

This is another weekly activity we’ve started within my department as explained in my original email below. It’s been really great so far–I love seeing everyone celebrate themselves and each other!

Good morning, all.

I hope this Tuesday finds you well.  I am writing today to tell you about something I want to try: an ACF Virtual Snap Cup.  This is a modification on an activity that I used to do with my Freshman Seminar students.  I’ve attached that assignment for your reference.

Since we went remote because of the pandemic, it’s been harder for us to connect, and it’s been harder to celebrate the small successes every day that add up to the big successes at the end of a semester.  And I think celebrating those small successes is important.  Since we remain in this hybrid F2F-remote environment for the foreseeable future, I thought this might be a great way to ensure that we all celebrate those little successes and connect with one another by doing so.

And that’s what the virtual snap cup is about.  So first of all, if you do not know the origin of the snap cup idea, check out this clip from the movie Legally Blonde, where Elle explains it. Don’t worry: I won’t sing that song.  And like I said, we’re modifying a bit for the online environment.  I set up a survey monkey to collect anonymous praise notes.  Feel free to praise yourself! Did you do something really cool this week that worked out? Did you go above and beyond for a student, a colleague? You could even have a non-work success to celebrate.  And, of course, it’s not all about you! Be on the lookout for your co-workers.  Is there something for which they deserve praise? Did you see something or hear something that maybe the rest of us should know about? What should we celebrate this week?  Tell us in the anonymous virtual snap cup.

Once a week, I’ll check the virtual snap cup, and we can celebrate whatever successes you’ve shared. My hope is that this will let us “see” one another in a way we cannot while so many are working remotely or are distanced for safety. Also, burn out during the pandemic is real (read more about that here—it’s not you; it’s all of us!)—and this may be one way we can help to address that and maybe make a small positive effect on all of our mental health.  Is it a little cheesy? Maybe. I see [name redacted] rolling his eyes now. But let’s give it a try!  If it ends up being a bust, ok, but thanks in advance for playing along for now. 😊

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Filed under Community College, Teaching & Learning

Wellness Wednesday

I recently read an article by Dr. Janet Zadina called “The Critical Next Two Years You Must Prepare for Now.”  At the end of the post, Dr. Zadina lists some strategies that other leaders are using to help their faculty.  One of those is “Wellness Wednesdays.” The idea of Wellness Wednesdays is that the school system or college offers advice or strategies once weekly for stress reduction.  I’ve decided to do that at the division level for our faculty.  This week was our first official Wellness Wednesday.  This was my message:

Good afternoon, all.

I don’t know about you, but this time last year, I could not have predicted that we’d here this time this year. As I mentioned in the virtual snap cup email the other day (thanks to all who’ve “snapped” someone!), many people are “hitting a wall” right now as the COVID pandemic continues to take its toll on us. As this article I shared explains, the pandemic has over-activated our stress systems.  The result: we’re more at-risk for burnout.

Did you know, though, that you can change your brain in just 20 seconds?  It’s legit—actual brain scientists have observed and recorded this phenomenon. It’s called neuroplasticity. And it can help us with this stress/burnout problem.  See, our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative. That’s called “negativity bias,” and it was super helpful to our ancestors who relied on it to keep them alive when lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!) were an everyday threat. We don’t really need that negativity bias so much now, though, and it can do more harm than good in situations like this where we’re over stressed.  But the good news is that we can change it (and improve our mental health and wellbeing) in just 20 seconds.  Make that 20 seconds a habit, and bam! Permanent brain change—plus better health. A strategy for this is called Notice-Shift-Rewire, and it’s explained in this article.  I can tell you I’ve personally had great experience with this technique, especially over the last year when in the midst of a global pandemic I became very ill for four months.  So like the article suggests, try it—once a day, every day for a week, and see what happens.  This may even be a strategy you could share with students!


Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, Just For The Health of It

Just Another Manic Monday

And so ends another manic, double-masked Monday. And, no, I don’t care if you’re making fun of me. I could’ve died last year. Could die this year if I catch another bacterial infection. Not really ready for that. So, I’m all about that double Fauci mask! Props to my mother-in-law Tricia Hulehan for the cute cloth mask that matches my sweater dress. Props to China for the KN95. 🤷🏼‍♀️

Unpopular opinion: I like the new 385/85 interchange. On my way in to work (Greenville to Atlanta), I can usually save myself $3 by avoiding the toll road because it’s no longer necessary. WTG, SCDOT! (I said what I said) But this morning, I needed to take I-185. And there’s this moment, which I forgot about, when you pull up over the hill just before the second toll heading south when the mountains appear on the horizon, and it’s beautiful. It always makes me stop a second, #grateful for that view.

And so tonight I go to bed grateful for that view of the mountains on my morning commute; for 102.5 The Lake, which was legit rocking my commute today; and face masks, the cute one my MIL made and gave to me as well as the ones all my co-workers wear to protect me, themselves, our loved ones, and our students and their loved ones too. Sleep well, friends. 💜

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Filed under C-Diff, Community College, Just For The Health of It, My Life, Practicing Gratitude

Heading Home to Winthrop

This January, I’ll be headed back to my alma mater, Winthrop University to present at their annual Teaching & Learning Conference. My presentation is entitled “Creating a More Successful Maiden Voyage: Increasing First-Year Success for Under-resourced Students.”


The first-year of college is much like the maiden voyage of the Titanic. It’s exciting—new and different—a one-of-a-kind opportunity, full of promise. It’s also a little scary. And, sadly, for many students it can end in disaster. The odds of survival for first-time college students in many ways mirrors the experience of passengers on the Titanic:  62% of the first class passengers survived; 43% of 2nd class passengers made it; and only 25% of 3rd class passengers ever saw dry land again.[1] Much like the Titanic’s passengers, students from less advantaged backgrounds are at a greater risk of “sinking” in the sometimes rough waters they experience on their maiden voyage into post-secondary education. Today we see more and more underprepared and under-resourced students in our classrooms.  They lack not just the academic background to thrive but also the financial, personal, and support system resources that make all the difference in student success.  This session focuses on what we can do to help improve our under-resourced students’ odds of survival.


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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed, My Life, Teaching & Learning

Plight of the Adjuncts, Part 4: It’s Wal-Mart Over Here

See…I have this disclaimer that you should probably read if you haven’t.

I’ve written already about the problem of office space for adjunct instructors. And I’ve discussed the problem of communication with students. I have also pointed out when adjuncts have been maligned in the media.

What I haven’t really talked about is the problem with adequate compensation. I think that’s really a given. But just for the record: according to the Adjunct Project, one of our local 2-year public institutions pays between $1,344 – $2,000 per course. Adjuncts are underpaid and overworked.  I have talked on multiple occasions about the corporatization of community college. And perhaps that corporatization is never more clear than when we look at the labor force.

Adjuncts (part-time, temporary employees) teach a majority of the classes at most institutions of higher education.

The parallels to Wal-Mart are obvious: not only are our instructors overworked and underpaid like Wal-Mart employees–but they are so underpaid as to be unable to make a living from teaching. Further, like Wal-Mart’s employees, adjuncts are not offered any insurance benefits. And like Wal-Mart, colleges have opted to cut adjunct teaching loads (hours) rather than face the possibility of having to pay for such benefits. Adjuncts at most institutions are now capped at 3-4 courses per semester. So if an institution is paying $1,344-$2,000/class, and an adjunct teaches 3-4 classes/semester for 2 semesters, he is making $10,725-$16,000/year. Notably, the federal poverty level for a household of 1 in 2014 is $11,670. For a family of 2 (some of our adjuncts have one or more children, in case you were wondering): $15,730.

The only real difference between our public colleges and Wal-Mart is that Wal-Mart is a big, multi-billion-dollar-making corporation. And public colleges are non-profit.

People who work outside Higher Education have no idea, usually, what it’s like for our adjuncts.  Heck, some people who work within institutions of Higher Education have no idea what it’s like.

This conversation I had this week is a good case in point:

Adjunct: How many office hours do I have to schedule?

Colleague: Well, full-time faculty are required to hold 8 regularly scheduled office hours per week, so it’s probably pro-rated…

Me: You are paid to do 3 hours for each class.

Colleague: Oh, so 3 hours a week.

Me: No. He’s paid to do 3 hours PER class.

Adjunct: 3 hours a semester?!?

Colleague: No way. That doesn’t make sense.

Me: I know, but yes–for each class, an adjunct is paid to do 3 office hours per SEMESTER. It’s on the contract.

Anyone who has seen our adjuncts squirreled away in closet corners, conferring with students between classes know that they do more than 3 “office hours” a semester. But that’s not the point: we already know they go above and beyond the call of duty. We already know they work harder and longer and more often than they’re compensated for. But just for the record: that’s how much we pay them to do: 3 hours a semester for office hours.

What message does that send about the value of our instructors to student success? Hmmm…

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Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, My Opinion, Teaching & Learning

Busy, busy, busy

It’s been a busy summer–which should be evident since I haven’t posted anything since April! Work, as always, is ridiculously busy–especially this time of year–contrary to popular belief.  I always just laugh when people ask, “Are you working this summer?”

Of course, I’m working. The College is open all summer long. I teach classes, and I work on a million and two projects that don’t get done during the busy fall and spring semesters, and I continue all the administrative duties required by my position–scheduling, hiring, training, curriculum revisions & development, program development., etc. And fires–I put out metaphorical fires nearly every day. I do triage every day. And that really makes it hard to keep up with anything that isn’t and immediate, urger, and important task.

Someone recently asked a group of us educators to volunteer for a project in which we record what exactly it is we do each week for 52 weeks, so as to get a sense of what our jobs really are.  That made me laugh, too. Trust me: you don’t want to know. It stresses me out just thinking about it.  I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t do it one step at a time…and even then, it’s incredibly high-stress. I live in the moment–dealing with those fires, doing the triage, and trying to keep from drowning in the other tasks that are supposed to make up my day-to-day job. I wouldn’t even be able to record everything I do; I wouldn’t have time.

Speaking of which, I need to go review my adjunct pool for the 50th time this week because I’m still short on instructors. And maybe this time, a qualified, available candidate will magically appear. 

Oh–yes. It is Saturday.

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Filed under Community College, My Life

The Plight of the Adjuncts (Part 2): Maligned by the Media?

Hey, there! Before you go further, have you read my disclaimer? Just checking.

This is not what I had planned as Part 2 of my adjunct series, but this morning Anne Kress, President of Monroe Community College, tweeted about a recent NY Times Op-Ed piece:

anne kress tweet

Color me interested. So I looked up the piece she referenced. And she’s right: Ugh.

We do have a problem with adjunct faculty in colleges.  I think I already made that clear. But this is not the problem:

“The colleges expect little of these teachers. Not surprisingly, they often act accordingly. They spend significantly less time than full-time teachers preparing for class, advising students or giving written or oral feedback. And they are far less likely to participate in instructional activities — like tutoring, academic goal setting or developing community-based projects — that can benefit students.”

First of all, I don’t know which colleges the authors of this piece are referring to in that first line, but it’s not any college with which I am personally familiar. But in my ten years of experience in the community college system, I have found that adjuncts are expected to do a great deal.  I would go so far as to say that they are basically expected to everything their full-time counterparts do–and then some–with fewer resources, less time, and virtually no compensation.  With so many of our courses being taught by adjunct faculty, the responsibility for student success, persistence, retention, graduation rates (or whatever the popular metric du jour is), rests squarely on their overburdened, under- compensated shoulders.

Second, most of the adjuncts I know accept that responsibility willingly–not because they are compensated for anything beyond the time they spend in the classroom but because they actually care about our students and their learning.  To be perfectly blunt, the assertion that adjunct faculty spend less time “preparing for class, advising students or giving written or oral feedback” is a crock. I have to wonder, again, what adjuncts these writers have worked with, spoken to, or observed (oh, right, I don’t think they have; I think they just skimmed the new CCSSE report.).  I have only my own experience to draw on, but in that experience, I have found that adjunct faculty spend just as much time as–if not more time than–full-time faculty on these activities. We have adjunct faculty actively engaged in advising students every day.  We have adjunct faculty who collaborate to create service-learning projects for students.  We have adjunct faculty who are on campus from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM–and that time isn’t all spent in class.  We have adjunct faculty who are tutoring students in the hallway because they have no office space.  We have adjunct faculty meeting students in the library in their free time to give them a little extra help. We have adjunct faculty developing and designing entire curriculums.  And we have adjunct faculty who attend every possible professional development opportunity offered them.

The NY Times Editorial Board ought to be ashamed of themselves. Yes, there’s a problem, and yes it needs to be fixed.  But instead of maligning adjunct faculty in a call for “more money for higher salaries and professional development,” let’s try pointing to to good, selfless work they do every day–let’s recognize their efforts, and let’s make a call to reward those efforts appropriately. Because this call to action is where they have it right: we have to do better by our adjunct faculty.  The way we treat them does not encourage excellence–but they give it to us in spite of that–which the NY Times piece ignores. So for our part we need to stop marginalizing them and start embracing, encouraging, respecting, and rewarding them for their efforts–efforts that do make all the difference to our students.


Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

The Plight of the Adjuncts: Office Space (Part 1)

Stop! Have you read my Disclaimer?

Nationwide, contingent faculty (aka adjuncts)  teach 58 percent of community college courses, according to a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement. Part-time faculty teach more than half (53 percent) of students at two-year institutions. 75% of developmental education students (those most likely to struggle academically) are taught by adjunct faculty. In one division of our college nearly 70% of classes are taught by adjunct faculty.  In some areas, adjunct faculty are actually serving as program coordinators–bearing nearly all the responsibility for running their respective programs–something for which they are not compensated any more than other adjunct faculty.

Although they teach the majority of our classes and the majority of our students depend on their instruction, adjunct faculty are often treated as second-class (if not third-class) citizens in the institutions of higher education in which they toil away every day.

In the way they now employ (rely on) adjunct instructors at low wages with no benefits in part-time, temporary positions with no job security, higher education institutions are much like Wal-Mart.  Noam Chomsky makes this comparison, explaining, “It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.” In short, it’s just one more part of the “corporatization” of the community college (and, no doubt, even our 4-year sister institutions).

I’m not really “business-minded,” so you’ll have to forgive me here: I think that if the majority of our students are being taught by adjunct faculty–faculty who are, in some cases, teaching more classes and even teaching better than full-time faculty–we ought to be providing them with the respect, the compensation, and the support to help them help our students succeed. (As it turns out, deep down somewhere, I still have a little idealism that bubbles up from some unknown place.)

If only.

In reality, although we (collective–not a specific we) know that supporting our adjunct faculty would only increase student success, we continually ignore them in favor of other endeavors to increase student success, retention, persistence (or whatever the word of the day is).

This post is, I hope, one in a series that will become a part of the ongoing dialogue about the role (and the plight) of adjunct faculty in institutions of higher education.  As a Department Head, I rely heavily on adjunct faculty. I also have some of the best adjunct faculty ever. I have dedicated instructors who give their all even when we give them next-to-nothing. I do the best I can by them, but there is only so much I can do.

One thing I can do is lend my voice to their cause–help shed light on the world in which they live–the obstacles they face–the good, hard work they do every day and the impact it has on our students.

So this is part 1: Office Space.

One of the ways in which adjuncts are relegated to second or third-class citizenship is through office space–or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

In preparation for this post, I asked adjuncts via Twitter to send me photos of their “offices” to help illustrate my point.  One adjunct responded, “ I have a pic, but it’s not of an office, because I don’t have an office.” Instead he sent me this picture, which really captures the experience of a large number of adjunct faculty, who work “on the go:”

One adjunct’s “office” picture

This is an example of an adjunct “office” on my own campus. It’s a cart with wheels, filled with student work, files, and even supplies like a stapler, index cards, scissors, and writing utensils. The adjunct rolls it (up a giant hill, over steps) up to the building from his/her car and into the building…and across campus…and from classroom to classroom; then, back to the car and home:




Even when adjuncts are afforded physical office space on campus, it’s seriously inadequate. They don’t have doors that lock, which means they cannot leave anything of consequence when they leave for the day. All books, tests, essays, gradebooks must travel with them. They squeeze into spaces the size of closets; they share that space with 5, 10, 20 of their colleagues. Meeting privately with students to discuss grades, provide one-on-one tutoring, or advising is a joke. They may get one computer to share. Yet, we stress to them how important using technology today is. They better just have their own personal devices to use to do it. They may get some filing cabinets to store things–as long as those things are not confidential–because nothing confidential can be left unlocked–and adjuncts don’t usually get keys–to doors or cabinets.

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And because these physical space limitations exists, many adjuncts work from their homes, their cars, or on the go:

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Recently, I read this article in which an adjunct faculty member explains how she is both employed by a university and simultaneously homeless.

My Twitter request for pictures yielded this picture:

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 9.58.55 PM

Tweeting back to this adjunct yielded this response: “I was sleeping on kind friends’ air mattresses/sofas/spare mattresses/beanbags the night before – good times.”

Glamorous, no? What you think when you think “professor?” Right. But this is the reality for the professors who teach well over half of our classes–well over half of our students.

So think about this: we know that engaging one-on-one with faculty is one of the keys to success. But for over half of our students, engaging one-on-one with faculty (adjuncts) can be next to impossible; after all, they’ve got nowhere to engage with them.


Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed

Florida’s new law & student success

Florida’s new legislation lets students self-select in or out of developmental-level classes.  At Miami-Dade, 60% of students who placed into developmental-level courses elected to enroll in college-level classes.

This creates a predicament for instructors.  As one notes, “A lot of discussion among English faculty is how to keep standards high…Students ask me what a paragraph is now. What’s next? Maybe, what’s a sentence?” Writing paragraphs is not college-level work, but what happens if students aren’t required to take needed developmental coursework while we are simultaneously being pushed to increase completion rates?

It’s a little hard to see how standards could remain the same…

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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed