It’s unfortunate, but today is my last day as an adjunct professor at Howard University. I know, I know, I barely started teaching there two months ago. The reasons? There are so many that to list them all would make today’s blog a rant about the administrative incompetencies of Howard and typical of many HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Oh well.
I ended up teaching a six-week course titled Teaching Black Studies, even though the course was all about research methods and helping undergraduates learn how to do research using various methods. At the time I began teaching the course, my paperwork hadn’t been processed by Howard’s Provost Office, paperwork that would’ve authorized me to teach at the university. This meant that I couldn’t prove that I was a teacher at Howard, at least without calling the chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies in case security gave me a hard time. Three students were on the roster for my course, but only two–including one not on the roster–showed up for the first class, the day after July 4th. I wouldn’t know for two weeks whether Howard would cancel the class or not.
Well, they didn’t cancel the class, but they should’ve. When I first agreed to teach at Howard, it was for evening classes, once a week. Now I was teaching a two-hour per day, four day per week class after work in the heat of a Washington, DC July. More days than not, only one of my students showed up for class. The other student was attentive when there but not ready for a class of this sort. Neither of them bought the books for the class until the fourth week, but blamed me for not going into the nuanced of these books even though they didn’t have them. The worst thing that happened, though, was that my less attentive student was robbed at gunpoint in his off-campus housing during week four of my course. I didn’t see him for more than a week.
This wasn’t the only raw deal that affected me or my two students. I never received a post-registration period class roster, so I never knew how many students had actually registered for the course. I never received confirmation that my employment paperwork was processed, which also meant that I didn’t get a paycheck for this course. No one–not the Provost Office or the Dean’s Office or my department chair or her secretary–ever notified me of my employment status or course schedule with Howard for the summer or Fall.
So when I went to Howard’s website one more time to look at the Fall 2007 course schedule, only to find that Teaching Black Studies had been scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 5:10 to 6:30 pm, I realized that it was time to put my foot down. I sent the department chair an email asking for the class to be once a week, from 5:10 to 7:30 pm, a reasonable request I thought. Especially in light of what I originally asked for in October 2006. Instead I get a phone call five days later in which she accused me of “not caring about the students” and “not being fair to her or the students.” Plus, she said, “all of our classes are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or Tuesdays and Thursday”. Howard apparently doesn’t offer many evening classes for undergrads, much less one day-a-week evening ones. I made the only reasonable decision I could. “If you can’t reschedule the class, then I can’t teach it at these times,” I said. Of course, it turned out that no one had registered for the class anyway.
What did I learn from this experience? That the administrative and attitudinal problems of HBCUs like Howard are as good as advertised. My course ends today, and I’m still not officially teaching there yet. I’ve assigned grades for my two students, and yet I haven’t been paid for my work. I’ve taught at five other universities over the years besides Howard — University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, George Washington, and the University of the District of Columbia — and yet Howard has the proud arrogance to say that they don’t offer evening courses once a week at the undergrad level, and even the evening schedule request isn’t typical. No wonder Howard has a hard time surviving a research/teaching university. It still acts as if it’s some small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, the only game in town for African Americans.
It’s a recurring theme in Boy At The Window that some Blacks in my life have their own sense of race and individual advancement more in mind for themselves than for other Blacks. Such is the case with my experience at Howard and my knowledge of happenings at other HBCUs. It’s sad but true that the folks I’ve been dealing with at Howard, while they purport to care about their students, are more about taking the path of least resistance (e.g., incorrect naming of courses, refusal to see benefits in scheduling a course on research and research methods for only once a week, putting an unofficial faculty member between a rock and a hard place) than about doing the right thing. Even if it means filling out forms in triplicate.