Author Archives: Sean Patrick Palmer

Bonus post from Sean

I just thought of an issue concerning DH and mentoring today while preparing for meeting with a new adjunct who hasn’t used Blackboard before.

My job has several different duties, and DH is only one part of it.

Heck, I was hired in 2004, either before the field really existed or, at least, when it was in its infancy. I was hired for my Instructional Tech skills and my background in language learning.

Even now, very few jobs are explicitly DH. Instead it’s either a part of the job or not mentioned in the job description at all. Honestly, I think that most of us won’t be working a straight up DH job. We’ll be taking the skills that we learn in this program and apply them to our field(s).

This can make mentoring difficult because the people in charge, and therefore, the people likely to mentor us, don’t have a solid grasp on DH as a field or how it can be applied across the Humanities in general.

Even if, say, you were hired in a department that already had a DH specialist, they still might not be able to help you as much as either of you would like.

Take the Humanities Department where I work for instance. We have ten (soon to be eleven) different majors. I am Communication Studies and Linguistics. I don’t know how useful my experience would be to a DH specialist in Philosophy or Art History. We would approach things from very different (and all completely valid) angles, and, therefore, have different expectations of what DH can do.

From an administrative standpoint, I’d be happy to help them, but from a strictly DH standpoint, I am not sure about how much help I’d be.

Precarity — Personal Perspective

— Sean

I do not really know what institutional support feels like. Institutional indifference? Absolutely. But support? Not at all. 

Even when I was hired, many of the people in the Communication Studies area didn’t think it was necessary to hire me or that what I did was particularly worthwhile. My direct supervisor supported what I did… or at least, he gave me room to do it. 

Especially since the pandemic, I;ve been left to my own devices, and I like to think I’ve done some interesting and worthwhile work, but my colleagues either don’t understand what I’m doing or still see no value in it. If I’m being honest, it’s probably a combination of the two. 

Seriously, that communication studies faculty just doesn;t see the worth in multimedia projects still astounds me. Of our full-timers, two do media based projects, and of our part-timers, another two (one of whom is me when I teach). That’s it. Everyone else is still stuck on papers and speeches. 

However, the real precarity in my area right now is with our adjuncts. LaGuardia’s student enrollment has crashed, partially due to the pandemic, partially due to the four year schools becoming open admission. At one point, we were down by about one-third from pre-pandemic levels. When the numbers were last publicized – a few weeks ago– we were at about 74% of projected student enrollment, but that projection was lower than projections pre-pandemic. 

Fewer students means fewer sections, so many adjuncts either lost their positions or had the number of classes they taught cut. This term, a few of our long term adjuncts on guaranteed contracts are up for renewal. I don’t know if their contracts are getting renewed. I haven’t heard. 

I used to teach four classes per year. I’m down to one, maximum. I have a full-time job otherwise, so it makes sense to cut my classes: I don’t rely on these classes. They are extra money. Being discarded like this bothers me, but I understand. 

I mean, it’s part of why I’m job-hunting, but I understand the decision.

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.

So… you say you have concerns about the budget…

by Sean

I felt like I could follow the big picture in CUNY’s financial statement, but got lost in the weeds in the details. I mean, I already knew CUNY was having financial difficulties, but seeing it laid out like that was something different. LaGuardia’s situation is perhaps more precarious than most because our student population has crashed since the pandemic started. 

Rumors of merging schools have been floating around. Now, I don’t know how much credit to give those rumors, but they are out there. 

Back in a dark era called the 1990’s, I was involved in an attempt to get NEH funding for continued work on the Kolb-Proust Archive. I was mostly involved in writing up the work I and my fellow research assistants did and giving a presentation to the powers that be at the University. I was never involved in the budget set up, though.

We didn’t get the grant. 

I am not high enough in LaGuardia’s hierarchy to be involved in this level of budgeting, and I’ve never tried to do any grant writing, even though there are grants specifically for non-instructional instructional staff. 

But… I have tangled with budget issues on the departmental level. 

First, I was put in charge of the budget for our tutors. I schedule them both for the maximum I could for the term, because I was never given an idea of the budget. In fairness, I didn’t ask, and I absolutely should have. 

I went over budget so badly that it landed on the college president’s desk and all spending for the entire department was suspended until the situation could be fixed. My supervisor and my department chair found funding, and I am still not allowed to deal with scheduling and budget for tutors. 

Keep in mind that this was sixteen years ago.

However, I am the person in the Communication Studies area responsible for ordering small items (headphones, hard drives, flash drives, webcams, wireless remotes, etc) for the area. To do this, I’ve had to deal with both our business office and CUNYFirst. 

The business office can be an issue, but once I figured out how they wanted things, my relationship with them was smoother.

My only constant issue with them was that they would drag their feel. The price quotes I’d get would only last two weeks, and they would not always process the request in time. 

So I would have to cancel the request and redo everything. 

Dealing with CUNYFirst’s requisition section is not A circle of Hell. It’s EVERY circle of Hell. It’s not intuitive. For instance, when I made a request, I had to attach an invoice or a price quote, which makes sense. However, there were two? Three? Different places it could go. I just would end up attaching it anywhere it let me to make sure the business office saw it. 

Another issue is that it was difficult to find the code for the vendors in the system. And if there wasn’t a vendor in the system, I couldn’t add them myself. As a result, I stopped trying to find the best overall price, and just stayed with the same four or so vendors. 

It was odd. 

Overall, it’s easily the most frustrating part of my job. 

Institutional Power and the syllabus

by Sean Palmer

My one suggestion for the syllabus is that the power dynamic between institutions and the person needs more than one week. 

The difficulty is that that relationship is awfully complicated: it depends on institutional concerns, departmental concerns, and personal issues. 

Take my position for example. After a visit from the Middle States accreditation agency (I’m not sure what to call them, if there is a term better than agency, I’ll happily edit this.), LaGuardia was tasked with improving students’ oral communication skills. Part of that involved replacing the VERY outdated tape-based language lab with a digital one. 

The college needed to hire someone to run it because they had no one with the proper skill set, so I was hired.

Since I was hired to run the new Speech Lab (later two speech labs) and be the oral communication person, I was immediately put on the committee to write the Oral Communication Assessment Rubric.

So, in institutional terms, I should have been a good fit. The personality issues, however, got in the way. At one point, about two years into my employment, my department chair said something like, “Please understand, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t think your line was necessary.” 

In fairness, this person changed their mind and we work together well now. 

But at the time, my thought process was, “How do I deal with THAT?” 

There were other issues, but that one still sticks out to me. Sometimes, someone in power doesn’t understand or respect what you do, and you have to figure out how to cope with that. 

This is why I think more time spent on the institutional – new hire relationship is worth considering.