When I started (technically, restarted) this blog a couple of months ago, I said that I wanted to use it partially to come to terms with a decision I had made to commit myself to staying at the community college level more or less permanently. I really saw it as a way to compensate for the fact that I don't get much real professional interaction here. The blog would, as I saw it, give me an outlet for the part of my life that isn't nourished by my community college career and a chance to take part in larger conversations about the academic life, conversations that few of my colleagues seemed very interested in.
Something weird has happened over the past couple of months, however. Somehow I have turned into a community college apologist, a de facto spokesman for community college faculty. This is a role I have never actively pursued. I've always tried to be honest about the benefits and particular problems of teaching at a CC, and I've rarely felt very dissatisfied with the path I happened to follow, but I've never seen myself as a cheerleader for community colleges. [NOTE: such people absolutely exist, of course. Some of my colleagues see universities as the enemy and see themselves as saving (or at least salving) those students who either have been or will be mistreated by the cold, uncaring world of 4-year institutions. But I digress...] After all, the impetus for this blog was my own failed attempt to break into the 4-year ranks, and I'll admit to sometimes being envious of my friends who inhabit that world.
So I've been surprised recently to find myself writing posts (and especially, it seems, comments on others' blogs) advocating and defending community colleges. Somewhere, somehow, I have become Community College Man. I'm still working on the logo, and the position of sidekick is open.
My main mission appears to be saving community colleges from the low expectations of both students and the academic world at large. In comments to posts by the Rebel Lettriste and by New Kid on the Hallway, I have argued that CC jobs offer a viable alternative to the staggeringly difficult 4-year job market. This is actually a tune I've sung before. I've watched too many friends throw themselves on the mercy of the job market, only to land at an institution far away, geographically, culturally, or academically, from where they really want to be. And, of course, I've watched too many others land nowhere, except in a depressive, self-hating funk. And usually, these friends never even glanced at community college jobs. It's not all their fault, of course. I went to graduate school at a top-tier R1 institution, where all roads were meant to lead to a tenured position at a 4-year, similarly research-oriented school. The option that CCs offer was never mentioned by the faculty or by the students. I landed where I am essentially by accident, and it was assumed by all involved (including me) that it was just a temporary sanctuary on my path toward a "real" academic job. Now that I'm here, essentially tenured (though we have no tenure system) and making a comfortable living, it seems irresponsible not to spread the gospel a bit. Can't find a four-year job? Look at community colleges. Don't like the jobs that you have been offered? Consider a community college job. Secretly wish that you didn't have the specter of publishing requirements hanging over you for the next seven years? Have I got a job for you.
See, there I go again. I don't know where this compulsive desire to preach the virtues of community colleges comes from. I suppose part of it may be that, as a result of wider interaction with the outside world of academia, I'm seeing fresh the kinds of attitudes about CCs that you sometimes forget about in the insulated (and often insular) world of community colleges. Blame the blogs, in other words.
Occasionally, though, I'm reminded of these attitudes even within the world I've chosen to inhabit. Yesterday in class, a student asked me why someone like myself, with a Ph.D. from a respected university, would want to teach at a place like HHCC. My first instinct was to redirect to the material I had planned for class (and I suspected that the question was partially intended to divert me from those plans), but, probably because of the comments I've been making in the blogosphere, I decided to face the question head on. I briefly explained the realities of the academic job market and admitted that I had chosen to work at HHCC in order to be close to my family. But I stressed the fact that I had chosen this job, that until last fall it was the only academic job I had ever applied for. And then I addressed the self-defeating attitude that the question carried with it. It's one thing, I said, when people at four-year institutions or even people in the outside world at large think of community colleges as havens for the not-quite-good-enough. It's something else entirely when those who have chosen to work at or attend community colleges hold the same attitude. By the end of the class, I was in full-blown savior mode. I was offering hope and a compelling vision of student potential. I was Barack Freakin' Obama.
So if you see Community College Man rear his idealistic head, either on this space or in the comments of your own blog, cut me some slack. I'll do my best to remain honest about community college jobs and community college students, and I'll try to keep the preaching to a minimum. But sometimes, duty and the American Way simply cannot be ignored.