A majority of the American student body consider their university as a place to gain the knowledge, experience, and skills required of them in the workforce, and then, in this economy, move on as quickly as possible to get a well-paying job. Not many would think of it as a place to get that well-paying job, or even consider their professors and administrators to be a sort of family. However, it has happened, right here in our own neighborhood of Jersey City.
Paul Robertson was finishing his graduate degree in music when the head of the music department approached him with a job offer. The position of music clerk, a part-time office job, was opening up, and they wanted someone who understood their systems and way of doing things. Robertson was a little surprised at the offer; he had not been actively looking for a job at his own university, but the faculty “watched the [students] who make an impression.” Since his “great dream” was to perform music, not necessarily teach it, Robertson took the job as a means of income while he made connections in the performing world. A few months later, another job opening was available, and Robertson was recommended, and then another, and soon, he found himself a Production Services Specialist, and a member of the Music, Dance and Theatre administration.
How often does something like this happen? Robertson should consider himself lucky, as not many universities look to hire their own graduates. As of 2011, only 5.7% of Harvard’s graduating class was employed in a school-funded job (Zhang), and other Ivy League schools have statistics that are not much better. It makes logical sense for a school to hire its own alumni. Robertson was chosen for the number one reason people argue in favor of this hiring technique: he already knew the system, the environment, how the music department worked. There was no need for him to go through a training process; he did not have to make a name for himself among the faculty. They already knew him, for better or for worse.
However, a university hiring its own graduates can be seen as an issue. Robertson was offered his job also because the faculty knew he was a hard worker; he had made an impression, and it was a good one. When the personal aspect is taken out of the equation, it is easy to see the situation from the point of view of a critic, that the university hired its own people “to make the statistics of employment look good”, or they run the risk of “academic inbreeding” (Zhang). These things are true. It is very easy to simply pick names out of a hat of graduates to fill open positions, rather than conduct time-consuming interviews and read pages of résumés and applications. It is easy for older faculty members to convince younger, newer teachers that their way of thinking, teaching, and researching is correct if the young person was once a student of theirs, which could lead to blind eyes being turned towards abuses of the system.
“Being here [at NJCU], even as a student, I felt the music department was a kind of family,” Robertson said. “I was excited to be a member of that family, and even more so when they asked me to continue on after I graduated. They pursued me, and I am forever grateful for it.”
Despite the issues surrounding whether or not a university should hire its own graduates, it must be said from the graduate’s point of view, it is a great situation. Not only are they getting a job, most likely in their chosen field, but it is a job with people they already know and respect, and can continue to learn from. These are people that have already established themselves in the graduate’s life, and with a friendly, comforting atmosphere found at NJCU, it is no wonder that Robertson refers to the music department as family. They have always supported him in every venture that he made, whether at the university or beyond. A performer first, Robertson plays percussion for dozens of different venues: from community and regional theatres to high schools and opera houses, “basically every opportunity from Teaneck to Red Bank”, as well as several organizations in Manhattan. Because of this, it is often difficult for him to work the standard 9 am to 5 pm office hours, but “everyone here understands. They’re performers, too.” Robertson’s supervisor is very lenient when it comes to this crazy schedule, even “pushing [him] to take advantage of opportunities [he] was going to pass up.” It once again instills the idea of a family into this particular workplace: fellow faculty members pushing Robertson to be the best he can be, and willing to cover for him in the office so he can do so.
How important is the feeling of family in the workforce? Aside from the obvious benefits reaped by musicians, or anyone in a field where a career outside of teaching or office work is ideal, the fact that Robertson is excited to come to work every morning, “no matter how late that show went the night before” speaks volumes in it of itself. In addition, a study about the top reasons people quit their jobs in 2013 are “ 1) They don’t like their boss (31%), 2) A lack of empowerment (31%), 3) Internal politics (35%) and 4) Lack of recognition (43%)” (Hall). Certainly, these same kinds of issues can be seen in the nuclear family, but family provides that something extra that can more often than not overcome these issues: love. It might seem odd to have the term associated with coworkers, so for the workplace family, but whatever terminology is used, that level of caring for one another, affection, and general pleasantry is common between family members, but scarce in the workplace. In truth, who would not want to go into work knowing they were surrounded by people who genuinely care about them, versus people who did not?
Perhaps this feeling of family is fostered by the fact that Robertson works at a university. One of the biggest pulls colleges have in recruitment is that they want prospective students to feel like they belong at the campus. They go to great lengths to make sure people feel welcome and accepted at their schools, in order to increase tuition rates. Robertson was a student before he became a faculty member, where he “first felt that sense of a familial bond” towards the members of the music department. It is easily understandable; even in my own first semester at NJCU, I felt the same of the teachers and staff, Robertson included.
However, Robertson is not just a teacher. In fact, when he started his undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware, teaching was one of the furthest things from his mind; he wanted to perform. Upon graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Music and Percussion, though, he realized “just how difficult it is to make a living as a bum with a pair of drumsticks” and started a Master of Music degree at NJCU to both help him in the performing world and to allow him to be an adjunct professor to supplement his income. While he was employed as the music office clerk, Robertson was also teaching the percussion methods course, which he still teaches today. “I sort of see it as an overtime kind of thing,” he said, “I love being an adjunct because it’s so much more flexible than teaching in public schools. But it’s definitely not something you can live off of.”
For his teaching work, Robertson is paid per credit, and a check comes in the mail three times a semester every time his course is run. For his administration work, though, Robertson makes a salary between $60,000 and $80,000, in addition to paid vacation days, sick days, and full medical benefits. Most of his performing gigs pay cash or check. The interesting thing about it is that, in order to have the administrative position, Robertson only needed a bachelor’s degree. There are not many jobs out there that pay an upper middle class salary and only require a bachelor’s degree. A psychologist, a radiation therapist, and a civil engineer also make salaries in this bracket, and in order to make these salaries, a master’s degree is required (Zupeck). It is an interesting phenomenon that could take pages to describe, but Robertson just considers himself “incredibly lucky and blessed” to have gained this particular employment.
Any member of a family is automatically surrounded by people who care about them and want to see them become the best person they can possibly be. When these benefits are added to the workplace environment, it makes perfect sense that it creates happy, excited employees. In the education field, it creates teachers that are passionate about passing on this sense of family to their students.
Being a Member of a Family