Adventures (?) in Academia — Sean

For class on Tuesday, I selected several forms from LaGuardia: yearly evaluation, class observation, and curriculum. I have experience with all of these things, so allow me to share a few personal stories. 

Tenure Track evaluation

I was hired after Muddle States came through and said that the college needed to upgrade the Speech Center and improve the students’ oral communication skills. So, they got a grant to build a computer-based language lab, and I was hired to run it.

I am a College Lab Tech, which is a tenure-bearing position, though I was not told this until about five months after I was hired. 

With our tenure track (different schools do things differently, though the basic guidelines are spelled out in the contract), we are given goals for the next year. In my case, two or three would be things the department of the administration wanted me to do, but the others were on me. 

This was ideal. I could make goals that I either knew I was going to do (present at a conference) or something I was planning on doing anyway (produce training materials for our software, for example). 

So, I had some power there.

One caveat: if you are given goals, complete them. You will hear about it if you don’t. 


Class observation

According to the contract, peer observations have to be set up in advance. They can;t just show up to your class. 

As a result, choose to teach something you’re comfortable with. For example, I’ve been teaching the basics of how English word stress works. I’ve done it so often, that I could probably teach it while medicated at this point. 

I am less comfortable teaching intonation. It’s more complicated than you think, and I have never found a way to simplify it. So… this is something I’d avoid. 


In both of these forms, you can respond. I never really felt the need. Most of the time, the criticisms I received in both of these evaluations were legitimate. 

But you can respond. You can also grieve them with the union, if something egregious happens. 



I’ve tangled with this twice:

  1. Revising Voice and Diction

This was more of a revision. The course was last revised int he late 80’s or early 90’s (the form was actually typewritten), and it needed to be updated as we were establishing our Communication Studies Major. 

The form (which has since been revised) was not easy to navigate, and because of its formatting, printing it out was a problem: the spacing on it would change, making the document unreadable. 

Still overall, this was not a horrible experience. 

  1. Proposing our Sports Media course

This, on the other hand, was a terrible experience. 

First, the college had changed what they wanted on the form. They wanted much more detail for example, but they never publicized this. So, we did it the same way I did Voice and Diction and we were slapped down hard. 

Second, some of the people on the committee didn’t understand the technology we were using. The two largest assignments in this class are podcasts, which means we have to use audio recording software. Two of the committee members doubted that this was possible. 

Third, department and college politics. Our film and television person (who was on the committee) felt that this class should have been in her area. Not Communication Studies, the English Department raised concerns because they felt we were stepping on their journalism courses, and the college was resistant because no other CUNY school had a sports comm course, so, clearly, there was no interest. 

 And even after this, we had to fight to get it into PAthways, which is another story.

4 thoughts on “Adventures (?) in Academia — Sean

  1. Adrianna Rios (she/her)

    I really appreciate you sharing this, Sean. I’m a first year and am always eager to hear about others’ experiences in Academia (curious about that inside scoop!). It’s interesting to see how you had some power in the tenure track evaluation and class observation, I honestly thought we would have no power in such instances.

    I sort of connected the Sports Media proposal to Dylan Walsh’s article and Brie’s post. You clearly needed more representation in that committee, more power sharing would’ve helped. You tried to propose a different course, one that probably was inclusive to students’ diverse interests, and instead of receiving support for this you get resistance. Once more I keep asking myself how would power sharing look like in academia? Is the diversification of a curriculum/course always met with open arms or is there mostly resistance to this?

    1. Sean Patrick Palmer Post author

      Whenever they give you a choice. make a choice. Do not say “I don’t care” or “You decide” because that will lead the powers that be to believe that they can just give you whatever assignment they choose. You will always have something that your chair or the college want you to do — that’s how I got into assessment, among other things– but if you come in with ideas of your own, that can limit the amount of things that they have you do.

      A lot of the wiggle room and power you have in these situations comes from planning. Think about what you want to accomplish, then figure out how to fit it into what you think the department of college’s plans are.

      For example, LaGuardia has been big on eportfolio since before I got here. But when I started working here, I noticed that the student portfolios were occasional photos and lots of block paragraphs of doom, but no audio. no video.

      So, since I was exploring digital storytelling anyway, I decided to frame it as “exploring ways to incorporate multimedia projects into eportfolio”. My direct supervisor and department chair loved it, and I got to come up with several assignments using technology that could be adapted by others for eportfolio based projects. Several of the project I do when I teach came from this.

      Basically, think about what your department wants or needs and then think about how your interest and skill set can work in that framework.

  2. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    “When they give you a choice, make a choice”–> this is such good advice. I really love thinking about the ways that we can turn some of these bureaucratic processes to our advantage (where ‘our’ is really any individual within the system, since power shifts pretty dramatically depending on context). Performance evaluations are a great example. In my experience in most higher ed spaces, they are pretty empty exercises—unless you can make them something else, for yourself and your goals. Being able to point back at the end of the year to a document that is clearly part of the official system, and use that as leverage to seek out more responsibility/a pay increase/etc, is a great way of taking back some power. Similarly, learning how to frame your own goals as being aligned the goals of the institution (as Sean describes in reframing the digital storytelling component) can be a way to obtain some freedom without having to come into conflict with institutional power.

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