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I am a new lecturer (non-tenure track) at an American engineering university (lecturer=teaching track professor, in my case). I am on a 9 month rolling contract and am contracted to work between Sep-May of a year. I am really young in my career and will embark on my first teaching assignment as a lecturer this Summer (2015).

Our university does offer graduate and undergraduate courses in the summer and needs instructors (teaching track lecturers or research/tenure track professors) to teach them. Usually, research/tenure track professors supervise Masters or PHD students in the summer and trade teaching for that. It is incumbent on lecturers to teach summer courses.

I volunteered to teach one course in the summer (June 2015-Aug 2015) and my department chair, who is responsible for course load distribution asked if I "would be willing to teach" a second course during the same months. I politely declined and offered to teach the second course in the following Fall semester if the need arose.

June-Aug is really "off-contract" season for me and teaching a course "off-contract" is compensated on an hourly or a per-course fashion ($xx/hr or $xxxx per course).

I am unsure of whether I was tactless in my handling of this situation. How does one manage such a request from the department chair? Did I shoot my career really early in the foot by declining such a request (however offering to teach the course in a later semester) or is declining a request OK in academia? How do I improve my approach to manage such a situation for course negotiation or teaching load distribution in the future so that I am not perceived as being a slouch "who dodged extra responsibility"?

  • You are using "this" way too often. Slightly related: youtube.com/watch?v=bIIm7yBdUG4 – xLeitix Mar 10 '15 at 11:26
  • @xLeitix Removed the use of excessive "this". Apologies. Have been playing way too much with C++ pointers at work and have been using "this" quite a bit over the last 1 week or so. – dearN Mar 10 '15 at 11:31
  • That's not what I meant :) I meant the excessive quotation marks around all kinds of words. – xLeitix Mar 10 '15 at 11:36
  • @xLeitix Also removed excessive usage of quotation marks. – dearN Mar 10 '15 at 12:39
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As usual, there is no clear answer. People are different. "Requests" are different - maybe, the request in your case was an honest, open-ended question and your department head is not surprised that you said No. Maybe the request was supposed to be a rhetorical question, and the department head was really surprised that you said No.

How does one manage such a "request" from the department chair?

Well, as you would handle any request. Check if it is ok for you to comply with it (do you have the time? is complying with the request aligned with your interests?), and if it is, agree. If it isn't, carefully explain why you can't do that, and offer alternatives. From your descriptions alone it does not sound like you did anything particularly wrong. However, most people are a bit more accommodating when starting a new job, so I would say that your department head was probably at least a little bit surprised that you turned him down.

Did I shoot my career really early in the foot by declining such a request

"Shot in the foot" is maybe a bit strongly formulated, but it is certainly possible that the head has the impression that you are not overly flexible. I mean, asking somebody to teach a second course is not really an unheard-of request.

  • +1. When you get these types of requests, it's often best to stick your head in the department head's office and ask them about it in person. You can read something in their tone and body language that you can't in e-mail. – RoboKaren Jul 1 '15 at 14:24

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