My AED Resignation

November 9, 2012

Richard Nixon delivering the “V” sign outside Army One upon his final departure from the White House, August 9, 1974. (Robert L. Knudsen via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Five years ago today, on the second Friday in November ’07, I handed my resignation notice to my boss Sandy (see my post “Early November” from November ’08). We were at the end of a two-day final Directors Meeting for our Partnerships for College Access and Success grantees. I had decided to step down from my deputy director position with the initiative, and of course, with the Academy for Educational Development (AED). This wasn’t the first time I resigned from a job in order to move on to another job or to a new track in my career. But this was the first time I’d done it without much promise for new work.

I hadn’t even been offered my teaching position with University of Maryland University College at the time I resigned (that wouldn’t happen for another two weeks). Yet I was sure that after seven years at AED and nearly four years with PCAS, that my role as a full-time nonprofit manager with the organization was soon coming to an end. It was obvious that Lumina Foundation for Education was no longer interested in large long-term programmatic work on college access and college success, with changes in leadership and philosophy in the previous year. The additional grant extension that we worked on in ’06 was due to end in March ’08, and with my $70,000+/year salary, I’d find myself without work soon after.

There were other options. Sandy and the AED NY office (with my help in a few cases) had obtained some smaller grants for evaluation work from Citigroup, from Wallace, and from Lumina related to the PCAS work. None of this work was full-time, though, and would likely not be more than half-time work. I would then have to go through months of selling myself to other projects across the organization in order to get close to full-time and maintain my benefits. I’d done this once before, at the end of my time with New Voices, in late ’03 and early ’04. It was a stressful, gut-churning process, one that I didn’t want to repeat.

2007 AED Logo, November 9, 2012. AED no longer exists, releasing logo to public domain.

Plus, I’d learned so much about AED during that process and over those last four years in my deputy director job, most of it not good. Bad business practices, shady accounting practices, poor diversity and promotion practices (see my “AED Update – DOA for 50th Anniversary” from March ’11). I just saw AED as a way-station for people who were truly dedicated to social change, and not a place to build a career.

Still, the work at PCAS wasn’t complete, and would likely not get done (or get done at all deliberate speed – very slowly and gradually) if I just resigned with two weeks or four weeks’ notice. So I proposed the following in my resignation letter and in my conversation with Sandy. I gave three months’ notice, to ensure that I would complete any final reports for Lumina and to ensure my involvement in any potential funding opportunities to continue segments of the initiative. I proposed that I could finish the PCAS and related work as a consultant, making it easier for me to transition out of AED and for Sandy to transition PCAS. I could finish what would end up being a 144-page resource guide and a twenty-six-page scholarly journal article based on the PCAS work.

Sandy accepted my resignation and my proposal, of course. But I don’t think she believed I’d follow through with the resignation, given the amount of time I gave myself before my last day. I don’t think that she believed it until I submitted a copy of my resignation letter to Human Resources on January 9, ’08. She may have figured that my wife would talk me out of leaving.

But Angelia and me had discussed resigning as a calculated risk since the end of ’05. AED had rarely done right by me, right from the day I was first interviewed for a program officer position in November ’00. I was underpaid (given my skills, education and experience), and more important, I found the place an improper fit for the kind of work I wanted to do on education and other social justice issues. We had saved money and I had carefully applied for jobs in anticipation of this decision since the early part of ’06. A bit of good luck made it easier for me to move on, having been offered a part-time faculty position at UMUC right before Thanksgiving ’07.

Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption [screen shot] (1994), November 9, 2012. Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws – low resolution & symbolic relevance to post.

The question I’ve been asked the most often in the past four and a half years has been whether I miss working at AED. I sometimes miss the money I made while working there, as it’s easier working one job with a standard schedule than teaching and the feast-and-famine cycles of consulting and contract work.

But I don’t miss the organization, which essentially no longer exists. I really only think about AED when I do work for an organization that reminds me of AED (not good) or when I post about my experiences. Still, I learned a lot about business and greed, administration and ethics, people, social change and fairness in my time there. A mixed blessing, indeed.


“It Is Done” – 15 Years Later

November 21, 2011

Hands of God & Adam, fingers about to touch, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Vatican, Michelangelo, 1508-1512 (via Wikipedia). In public domain.

The next twenty-four hours will mark a decade and a half since my former dissertation advisor Joe Trotter wrote today’s title quote in a God-like-pronouncement of an email to me regarding my final content-based revisions to my doctoral thesis. With those revisions following my committee meetings in October, I was now officially Dr. Collins. I knew that. I just didn’t feel it.

Working on a book-length research project with an abusive advisor and disinterested committee members at a school as conservative and isolating as Carnegie Mellon University left me exhausted. For I never felt I could ever be all of myself there. I made myself into the scholar I hoped that I wouldn’t become. At least, the twenty-one version of me that began graduate school back in ’91 held that hope. Five years later, I felt alienated from my own purpose and calling, and was more than unsure about becoming a full-time professor and historian. Especially given the wonderful examples of scholarly inhumanity and hypocrisy that Trotter, Dan Resnick and so many others had proven themselves to be (see “You’re Not Ready” post from November ’08 and “And Now, A Plagiarism Moment” post from September ’10).

I was burned out. I felt numb, with a boiling mantle of rage underneath the surface. If Trotter had said the

Arching fountain of a Pahoehoe (like my post-PhD rage) approximately 10 m high issuing from the western end of the 0740 vents, a series of spatter cones 170 m long, south of Pu‘u Kahaualea, September 10, 2007. (USGS via Wikipedia). In public domain.

wrong thing to me at the wrong time in ’96, I probably would’ve laid him out with a right hook to the jaw. And Resnick’s lucky that I didn’t own a car, because I might’ve run him down with it.

As it was, when Trotter attempted to meet with me a few weeks later to discuss “my future,” I refused. Especially given his suggestions for job applications. One, a one-year position at a University of Nebraska branch campus. The other, a CUNY school in Queens with a proposed position that wouldn’t begin until July ’98. I told him, “You don’t get to determine my future, certainly not without me.”

What should’ve been a period of rest and repair between Thanksgiving Week ’96 and graduation day in May ’97 was hardly that at all. It took me, really and truly, six months to recover from the dissertation process, and probably close to two years to not pass by or go on Carnegie Mellon’s campus without wanting to strangle my dissertation committee with piano wire. By then, I’d moved on to the rather mundane task of figuring out how to cobble together a career that wasn’t dependent on a full-time faculty position in academia.

And over the past fifteen years, I have pieced together several careers. As a part-time college professor, as a nonprofit program officer and as a consultant. It helped to have people like the late Barbara Lazarus and my dear friend Cath Lugg in my corner in those first years after I’d finished my doctorate. It helped that I expanded my career options from merely pursuing a history professorship wherever Joe Trotter’s winds could’ve taken me.

But it helped, most of all, for me to start trusting my instincts, my own heart, again. The irony of my complete disillusionment at the end of my degree-earning journey was that it left me with the time to contemplate whom I thought I really was, what I really wanted to do in life, and how I wanted to do it.

It was far from an immediate process of epiphanies and revelation. It took me nearly six years after finishing my dissertation to see myself as a writer, cutting through twenty years of denial and abuse in the process. It took me a little longer to see myself as a writer first and foremost, with all of my other professional hats second, third, and so forth. To understand that mine was a concern far greater than multiculturalism in education. My role as a writer and educator was also about aspirations, academic pathways to success, racial and ethnic equity in education, access to and success in college.

Barbara Sizemore, 1927-2004, circa mid-1990s. (http://sesp.northwestern.edu).

Now, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t looked back to wonder what could’ve been. If I were a White male with my credentials, I’d long ago been doing what I’ve been fighting to do as a writer and educator for years. If my advisors had been someone like a Cornel West or Henry Louis Gates. Or if I had attended an Ivy League school in undergrad. Or if I’d earned a master’s degree in journalism or communications, or a doctorate in a school of education or in psychology.

The late Barbara Sizemore once warned me about earning my doctorate in history some two decades ago. “You always have to do things the hard way, don’t you?,” she said to me with disapproval when she learned of my acceptance into Pitt’s history PhD program. I should’ve said, “Yes, I do.” Because the last fifteen years have been a hard road, as all roads to enlightenment are.


USAID suspends District-based nonprofit AED from contracts amid investigation

December 16, 2010

I learned from a friend last night that my former employer, Academy for Educational Development (AED), was suspended by USAID for mismanagement of millions of dollars http://wapo.st/gIhw8Y. I’m mostly unsurprised. But it’s still shocking and very disappointing to learn that a place that I worked so hard for between December 2000 and February ’08 might’ve been involved in corruption, and on a fairly large scale.

The slogan for the organization for most of the time I worked there was “Connecting People, Creating Change.” It seems to me that if this investigation holds water, the C’s for corruption (obvious why) and chaos — for the futures of most of the staff — should be added to its fifty-year legacy. I was never a big fan of the organization, as its corporate structure wasn’t particularly appealing to me. But I did have quite a few friends and colleagues who I enjoyed working with over the course of my seven years. It’s those folks that I feel for the most right now. Especially in our current economic and job climate.


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