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
“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
“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
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.
Interested in finding work in the textbook publishing
industry? We’ve compiled a list of links to on-line job listings.
Visit the Adjunctnation.com
to browse links to jobs at college textbook publishing companies.
Short URL: http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=87