I am Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Humanities and Philosophy Departments at Saddleback College. Two years ago, I was granted tenure.
I never thought I’d get here.
In 1988, when I started studying Philosophy at Purchase College, my interests were interdisciplinary. After completing my B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology in 1991, I entered the Ph.D. program at the Claremont Graduate University. But having lived in Britain, I wanted to return. So I applied to Kings College London to do the MPhil/Ph.D. At Kings, I mostly studied analytic philosophy of language and mind.
In 1997, I met Christopher Norris from Cardiff University, who had similar interdisciplinary interests. So I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Cardiff, hoping to finish quickly. But actually, after intending to write a thesis that included analytic philosophy, existentialism, and psychoanalysis, I became obsessed with philosophical skepticism. So my Ph.D. thesis addresses epistemic and semantic responses to skepticism.
In 2001, I was trading American equities from my flat on the Isle of Wight to get by. I was oddly good at such trading, but it was truly meaningless work. So I moved back to Philadelphia to begin teaching as an adjunct at Lebanon Valley College, LaSalle University and many other universities. I taught at least 8 classes a semester. I taught whatever anyone wanted no matter what it was. Of course, many would consider this an academic nightmare, but it taught me to manage my time. Still, because of the driving, reading, and preparing, I only defended my PhD. in 2005.
In 2006, I started applying to jobs and was hired immediately by John Tyler Community College in Richmond, VA, where I was made Chair of Philosophy and Religion. My JTCC colleagues and dean were welcoming and supportive, and I felt at home. But in 2009, after a holiday to Orange Country, CA, I applied for a few jobs just to see what would happen. Amazingly, I was granted interviews at almost everywhere that I applied. Mesmerized by the beach, Disneyland, and other fun things, I accepted a position at Saddleback College, where I am now Chair of the Humanities and Philosophy Departments.
At JTCC and Saddleback, the teaching load has been 5/5, with an option to teach summers. Classes at SB are capped at 45 (so 225 students per semester) and faculty are encouraged to let in more. As Chair, I get a modest stipend but the teaching is the same. This teaching load might sound daunting, but it is not that bad. Because I teach Introduction to Philosophy, Ethics, and Logic over and over again, preparation is minimal. Moreover, because I arrange my schedule to teach between Monday and Thursday mornings, I have afternoons, evenings and long weekends. Lastly, because I not longer drive between many universities, there is no driving stress, nor recovery time. Given such full time privileges, my 5/5 teaching load can be done.
Recently, I was able to push two new classes - Ancient and Modern- through the Curriculum Committee, as part of our new AAT degree. So I’m looking forward to teaching Modern.
Still, I think that teaching philosophy at a community college is uniquely challenging, for two reasons. First, because my 225 students are often badly prepared for the subject, they need constant feedback to quell their worries and bolster their confidence. Given this, the grading of such classes is constant, and can be overwhelming. Second, because my students are often badly prepared, they can read sparsely and carelessly, and eventually dismiss philosophy. Even during the class, such students can disparage philosophy (i.e. verbally or online), which hurts enrollment. But actually, because I want my students to appreciate the material, I try to be creative, inclusive, and engaging. Clearly, though, such efforts are work, and can be overwhelming.
Philosophers in research universities (or other four year universities) can assume that philosophers who teach in community colleges have no time for research, and perhaps do not care about publishing. When my former students doing their Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy ask their advisors about jobs, they are routinely advised against careers in community colleges. Even if this advice just reflects elitism, I can understand where it comes from.
Consider two themes. First, given all the teaching, grading, and other responsibilities that philosophers in community colleges have, how could we research and publish? But actually, I have my afternoons, evenings, and long weekends to myself. Actually, I seem to have more time to myself than do many philosophers in VAP positions, as well as some TT positions.
Second, because community colleges do not consider research and publications for tenure, how can this not undermine our motives to work? True, because community colleges ignore such matters, many just forget what they hoped to read or publish. But actually, many philosophers teaching in community colleges have the drive to research and publish, regardless. Perhaps, as Wittgenstein says, such problems force themselves on us, even if we do not want them to.
As noted above, being an adjunct around Philadelphia for 4 years helped me manage my time better. So when I can get meetings, colleagues, and students off my mind, I do. After I finish teaching for the day (at 10.30 or noon), I attempt to flee. Assuming that I make it off campus and that the weather is on my side, I take my umbrella, drink, book, and computer to the beach. Otherwise, I secure a quiet room at home. By August, my plan is to have a unique introductory text done, as well as an article on progress in philosophy.
Concerning service to SB, I am expected to be on at least two committees. Presently, I am on the Faculty Development Funding committee. Sometimes, I do extra projects and committee work. In 2014, I worked tirelessly to hire a new full time Humanities Professor, and chaired the hiring committee for this position. In my departments, moreover, we offer a yearly “David Hume Award” for the best essay, which requires us to read many essays. But actually, being Chair of two departments has been my most taxing college service. As Chair, I attend monthly meetings, negotiate all the schedules (e.g. who teaches what and when), hire and monitor all adjuncts, review courses for the State of California, write Program Reviews (i.e. 15,000 word reviews), and put out any academic fires that happen to arise.
Concerning service to Philosophy, over the last few years, I have done Introductory or Logic text reviews for OUP, McGraw Hill, and other publishers. Again, I have done peer reviews for Philosophical Psychology, Synthese, Philosophia, and other such journals. Recently, on the Cocoon, there was a discussion about how much time we should put into these reports. Perhaps it is the editor in me, but whenever I write reports (of texts, or journal articles), I typically write long, detailed, and hopefully constructive ones. Even if I don’t have any responsibility to do this, I really enjoy doing so.
Typically, I try to get up about 6 am and get going. After meditation, coffee, and emails, I get to work about 8.30 and teach at 9 (or 10.30). After teaching, I attempt to flee. Recently, I’ve been taking dance lessons- my latest hobby- that I do at noon. During afternoons, I either work at the beach, or from home, moving locations a few times during breaks. Perhaps it is age, but by 8 or 9 pm, my brain rudely tells me to stop thinking. Evenings are for anything frivolous.