Trading in the Lectern for the Office
by Chris Cumo
MARY JO SOUTHERN once taught English as an adjunct in North Carolina. Since then she has spent 20 years in textbook publishing: 9 years as a sales representative for several publishers and the last 11 as editor at HarperCollins, Prentice Hall and Houghton Mifflin. Today she is senior sponsoring editor for developmental English at Houghton Mifflin and the creator of Adjuncts.com, a web site of lesson plans, test questions, worksheets, discussion prompts and discussion forums for part-time college instructors. She has more responsibility and clout
than she ever knew as an adjunct.
Southern is among a legion of adjuncts who have traded the lectern for the office.
Why would someone make this trade? The reasons are obvious to Annamarie Rice, who knows the itinerant life of an adjunct. During the 1990s she taught in Korea, Lithuania and Indonesia through the University of Maryland’s overseas teaching program. But the Asian economic downturn in 1998 led the university to curtail its overseas program. This left Rice without a position. Scrambling for work, she settled for adjunct teaching one semester and knew immediately that she had made a mistake. She was always on the road, commuting among the University of Maryland, American University, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. She lacked medical insurance, could not form professional bonds with faculty and students because she had no assurance of employment beyond a single term, had Draconian teaching loads (which saddled her with “gazillions of papers”) and could not live on the pay. She had to take a nonteaching job to supplement her income.
“Adjuncting was, for me, a nightmare,” Rice says.
At the end of one semester, she vowed to find work that was both satisfying and remunerative. Rice found a home in August, 1999, when Houghton Mifflin offered her a job as a sales representative. Her work, she says, now gives her variety and opportunities for professional and personal growth.
“What sets us [Houghton Mifflin] apart is our professionalism, integrity and intelligence,” Rice says, adding that she feels proud to walk into any professor’s office because Houghton Mifflin means excellence. The company is at the cutting edge of technology, Rice says.
“Technology is changing everything,” she adds. “It’s changing the nature of business, the nature of
educational delivery and the nature of books.”
Philip Slater entered textbook publishing after a short courtship with academe. Between 1995 and 1996, he taught English literature as an adjunct at Saint Louis University in Missouri. The next
year he landed a tenure-track position at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
“My career trajectory was what any academic would want, but I wasn’t happy,” he admits. The preparation of lectures, the stacks of essays to grade and committee assignments took energy and time from what he really enjoyed: reading and writing.
In 1999 he astonished his colleagues in the English Department by leaving the university for a job as assistant editor at Pantheon Books. He finds the variety of work stimulating and enjoys working with bright, engaging people at Pantheon.
Slater laughs as he admits that as a graduate student he never would have thought of himself in textbook publishing. Today he can hardly believe he was once so parochial in his outlook.
“You have to trust your instincts to guide you to the right career,” Slater says. “For me, that career
is at Pantheon.”
Sandi Ayaz is another adjunct who migrated from teaching to textbook publishing. She taught freshman and sophomore composition, introduction to education and student success courses from 1991 to 1997 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and from 1998 to 1999 at Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Florida.
Unlike some adjuncts, she never expected to parlay her part-time experience into a tenure-track job, and she kept an eye on textbook publishing employment opportunities for several years.
When an opening arose in December 1999, she applied for and became Houghton Mifflin’s manager for college survival. As head of a nationwide team of educational consultants, Ayaz
aids colleges and universities in retaining students by helping them excel in student success courses aimed at improving study skills and personal development strategies. The job allows
her to work with administrators and professors throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Ayaz, who says she loves her job, anticipates a long and productive career. She hopes in 10 years to have risen to vice president with the challenge of developing new programs at Houghton Mifflin while continuing to be an advocate for students and teachers. She sees her potential, and that of Houghton Mifflin, as limitless.
“I am respected as an academic, a trainer and a researcher,” she says. Ayaz advises adjuncts who are thinking of trading the cap and gown for the navy suit to strive for excellence while keeping a sense of humor.
She does not advise everyone to relinquish the classroom.
“Make no mistake about it, I miss teaching,” she says. “I find life and breath in front of a class. But
I made a decision to seek a larger audience and to attempt teaching reform from another vantage point.”
Allen Gainer took a circuitous route to textbook publishing. As an adjunct he taught introduction to economics and business writing in 1990 to sailors who were working toward degrees at Central Texas College, on a naval base in Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. His teaching coincided with military preparations for the Gulf War. Some of Gainer’s students missed a week or two of class because commanders deployed them to search for submarine spies or Iraqi watercraft.
“They were great students,” he says. His passion for teaching earned him high course evaluations, an achievement he credits to his students. “I had students who wanted to learn and excel in their careers,” he says. “It was an honor to teach. I enjoyed it so much.”
From Diego Garcia, he moved to Hawaii, where he edited a weekly newspaper called Hawaii Navy News in Pearl Harbor. In 1993 he returned to his hometown in Cheney, Washington,
where he looked for a broadcasting or public relations job while helping his mother-in-law sell textbooks in her store, in competition with Eastern Washington University’s bookstore.
“We did quite well and got a lot of business,” says Gainer, but after four years the store folded with his mother-in-law’s death.
In 1997 he found work as a textbook manager at Boise State University. Although he enjoyed the job, he yearned to return home to Cheney. When he learned that Houghton Mifflin had a job in Spokane, only 20 miles from Cheney, he applied.
Perseverance may have won him the job, for he drove 10 hours through a snowstorm from Boise to Spokane for the interview. The interviewer already had someone in mind for the job, but Gainer impressed her with his knowledge of textbooks.
Today he sells Houghton Mifflin texts to professors at 15 colleges and universities in Washington, Idaho and Montana. Gainer takes a personal approach, visiting each professor during a term “to ensure that our books are in the right professors’ hands and to share with them why our books are
better and how they can help them succeed in their classes.”
Gainer hopes to use this work ethic over the next 10 years to build territory worth $2 million in annual revenues. He would like eventually to become a regional manager.
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