October 08, 2003

IA to Jack Blake: My CV is in the Mail

And as I read the First-Person columns this year about the scarcity of tenure-track jobs and the complaints about the indentured servitude of the adjunct track, I will try to resist the temptation to scream, lest I disturb my academically employed wife and my well-schooled daughter in our nice, large, affordable house three blocks from the nice public library in the semi-rural South, far from academic Mecca.

-- Jack Z. Blake, "Give Us a Chance"

Jack Blake reports that "we have trouble filling tenure-track positions across the university, including in my field, journalism and mass communications." This leads him to the following conclusion:

Even in a tough economy, it appears to me, especially after reading some of the First Person columns on this site, that many tenurable academics would prefer to read Proust in a Boston Starbucks and work at slave wages as adjuncts at a big-name university than to make a difference in the lives of first-generation college students in a land in which Levi Strauss makes jeans, not critiques of cultural hegemony.

Well, I'm ready, willing and able. Granted, my first response would be to ignore "an intriguing job announcement in a creative, professional field," because my own particular field is that of history. But I can retool. And I don't even like Starbucks coffee. My application is on its way.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at October 8, 2003 10:26 AM

The jobs we fail to fill here at These Colleges are in the sciences -- unless a search falls through for internal reasons.

However, we are always asking the "quality of life" question in a town in which there are charming 19th century houses for the taking and an excellent grocery store.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at October 8, 2003 11:26 AM

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if even in a horrible job market, small colleges in the rural south have trouble recruiting.

I was on the hiring committee at a large Southern research university in a location, that for many people (I include myself) was less than desirable. We had a terrible problem recruiting people. Even if they could stomach the rednecks, the football proms, the confederate flags, and the four-hour commute to a Starbucks, the rural setting didn't allow for two career couple to have an easy time of it, unless the nonacademic half was a schoolteacher or a doctor or a cattle rancher. Of course, we were in a job market that wasn't nearly as terrible as the humanities, which made our recruitment problems even worse.

But when a friend of mine in the art history department told me they were hiring, I contacted all my unemployed friends with art history Ph.D.s, all excited. I mean, wasn't the market terrible? Didn't I have a connection, a friend in the department, an advantage? Not one of my friends would even consider applying for the position. "Move there?" was the overwhelming response. I even had a friend who decided it wasn't a prestigous enough opening for her top-university Ph.D. Last I heard she was still making $12,000 a year adjuncting at a university that apparently was worthy, and considering leaving academia altogether.

Posted by: Matilde at October 8, 2003 11:37 AM

As I posted over at Household Opera, when I read that piece I found myself wondering if I had seen that position ad while looking for a job. My suspicion is that, if I had, it was one of those ones that was for a generalist with a few very specific desirable sub-specialities that are not my own. I've stopped applying for these jobs -- I'm not competitive for them and would be miserable teaching them.

I would add, in terms of the location itself being desirable, that the research potential is something also to consider. I had a lovely time in a wonderful place the last two years, with great colleagues and a nice major metropolitan area within close haul -- and found that the resources for my particular research interests were quite thin.

Also -- who can afford Starbucks while working "at slave wages"?

Posted by: Rana at October 8, 2003 12:55 PM

Whoops, sorry. Make that posted over at Blue.

Posted by: Rana at October 8, 2003 01:16 PM

I've been teaching for the last two decades in the history department of a large, midwestern state university, located in a small midwestern college town. We are the state's flagship campus, a Carnegie Research I institution, with a 2/2 teaching load and good support for research. Our discipline, as all readers of this blog know, has experienced a quarter-century of a continuously bad job market. Yet, our department has had just the same sort of difficulties in filling positions as Jake Black reports.

Posted by: In the provinces at October 8, 2003 01:56 PM

Indeed, I just heard this complaint from a professor at Very Prestigious Private Research I in the Middle of Nowhere: you'd think candidates would be falling over themselves to teach there (great library, low property values), but most people take one look at the location and run for the hills. We (Small Regional Comprehensive in Rural Village) have similar issues, although a decent-size city is within shouting distance. Some of the CSUs in large urban areas run into trouble because of housing prices.

Posted by: Miriam at October 8, 2003 02:03 PM

I would like to add that this phenomenon explains the "Yale English PhD with a book and no job" phenomenon that THB describes in a comment to an earlier post; these young go-getters must certainly could have a job, if they only applied to everyone that was available.

I've no sympathy for anyone who won't apply to every job in their field--barring censured places and perhaps those in dictatorships, etc.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at October 8, 2003 03:47 PM

I have no intention of applying to (tenure-track) jobs in small towns in the midwest. I will be much happier being a non-academic somewhere I want to live (read the northeast) than an academic in the middle of nowhere. I don't see what's wrong with these priorities. Nor do I see where I'd be in the wrong or hypocritical complaining that there are no jobs available that I want and am qualified for.

Posted by: wolfangel at October 8, 2003 08:05 PM

I've no sympathy for anyone who won't apply to every job in their field--barring censured places and perhaps those in dictatorships, etc.

Okay. So, are you saying that because my field is history I should apply for jobs in Asian, African and European history as well as American? If we narrow it down further, shall I apply for 20th century American jobs even though the vast majority of my experience is with 19th century topics? Shall I apply for positions seeking a women's history person, though I've only dealt with gender in two papers in grad school?

I take issue with this reasoning -- if this is not what you meant, Chun, please clarify -- partly because it contributes to the glut search committees have to wade through anyway and partly because it is simply bad advice. If a committee is looking for someone who studies the Civil War, and I do not, is it really worth my time and money to try competing with candidates who have specialized in that field when I could direct my energies more appropriately?

Beyond this, I agree with wolfangel that there is more to the search -- or should be -- than simply fit between qualifications and position. We are more than our job descriptions, or at least I hope we are.

Posted by: Rana at October 8, 2003 08:29 PM

I think the issue here is clearly that for some "the job" is not the supreme giver of personal satisfaction. My husband and I were at a large, prestigious univeristy in the South--where housing was so affordable that when my best girlfriend came from Chicago to visit for the first time, she said, "Are you guys rich now?"

"No," I said. "We just live in the middle of nowhere."

My husband and I realized that we get our charge, our inspiration from city life--and I don't mean the monster that is Starbucks Nation. For some, winding down a long week at home with your children and luxurious home is enough. For others, like me (and I don't have children,) I need stimulation. I want to go to the theatre, see world-class art, see live music, and just plain LIVE in a city where there is energy and diversity that I can capitalize on and use as a source of renewal. Academics, of all people, should realize the value and the need of outside cultural and intellectual stimulation. It's not a sin to put location above job.

(FYI: My husband and I have now found a comprise that requires a bit of a commute, but still allows us to live in a city.)

Posted by: Jen at October 8, 2003 11:10 PM

You may or may not have been told about the reality that a PhD does not guarantee you a tenure-track job, but I find it difficult to believe that anyone, anywhere would tell incoming graduate students that, not only would they get a job, they'd get one in whatever geographic area they happened to want to live in.

To apply the term "job crisis" to those who won't apply to or accept a job in a region they deem beneath them is exactly the type of self-righteous absurdity that makes it very difficult for people to sympathize with academics. If you're not complaining about not having a job or the type of job you want, then that's acceptable.

Housing isn't cheap in Durham-Chapel Hill, Atlanta, Charlottesville, or Nashville, so our definitions of "prestigious," "large," "cheap," or "Southern" might be at odds. "Nowhere," too, come to think of it.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at October 9, 2003 01:22 AM

I am not an invisible adjunct, but I was one. I now teach in a humanities department at a good private university with a mid-ranked PhD program. When I was the job officer I had a terrifically hard time trying to convince my candidates to do a national search: usually, one out of ten would. The others wouldn't even apply to jobs they thought were below them: schools in the rural Midwest, south of the Mason-Dixon line, or far from the coasts. _I_ had applied for these kinds of jobs when I was on the market, and it was hard for me to have sympathy for the underemployed when they wouldn't broaden their imaginations to include most of the country. Like it or not, 80% of the jobs out there are not at research universities or lovely prestigious small colleges in the Northeast. They are at schools you've never heard of.

Posted by: Experienced at October 9, 2003 01:47 AM

Many scholars are happy just to get by and could do productive work if their desk was in the middle of a freeway. This obsession with 'environments' is infantile. Maybe a stint in the army or the factory floor would have helped some of you. What you really lack is hope, creativity and stamina.

Posted by: 26miles at October 9, 2003 02:10 AM

Why don't those readers with Ph.D.'s apply for these 'unfillable jobs'? See if they get interviewed, and hired. If the departments are truly desparate, they'll interview anybody who is even a poor fit, and offer a job to anybody who doesn't commit too many felonies during the on-campus interview.

Posted by: Barry at October 9, 2003 09:26 AM

"Many scholars are happy just to get by and could do productive work if their desk was in the middle of a freeway."

So you've heard about the "freeway flyers," have you?

I didn't think so.

What you really lack is any ground on which to support your statements.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 9, 2003 09:57 AM

IA, Don't bother to send your CV. Note what "Blake's" committee did:

"Many candidates simply didn't have the credentials. About half the candidates said they had some experience in some tangentially related field and made no effort to make that experience relevant."

"We eliminated more than half of the candidates".

Sounds to me that people applied, but got rejected out of hand.

But what of "Blake's" desirable candidates?

"Some . . . refused to even discuss a job that involved a four-course teaching load." One "was quickly snapped up . . . for nearly twice the salary we were offering." Nearly twice. If this isn't simply hyperbole, it's very revealing. "Blake" is offering a four course load at not much more than half the salary available elsewhere. And he wonders why people refuse it.

Look at his final example.

"My colleague says he thinks the guy just got cold feet. He was leaving an adjunct position at a major research university with a standard six-credit load. His university is the state's flagship institution with 50,000 students. We have 10,000 students and are a second-tier state university" and require a four course load for a salary maybe twice what the guy is making as an adjunct.

It's not clear that "Blake" is offering something better. If the guy can in fact live on what he's making as an adjunct (recognising that his wife is bringing something in to the household), then with a two course load, he'll have time to do some research, get some publications, perhaps get himself into a reasonably paying tenure track position in a more desirable college. If he takes "Blake's" job, with a four course load, he'll have no time to do any deep research, he won't get enough publications; they'll give him tenure at "Blake's" university, but he'll never get out. And with their (maybe!) miserable pay scale and his wife not able to find a job there, he may actually be financially worse off if he takes the job.

"Blake" asks why no-one seems to want the job he offers. Prejudice on the part of job-seekers may not be the right answer.

Posted by: jam at October 9, 2003 10:17 AM

A complicating conjecture about some schools, both off the beaten track (as seen by northeastern urbanites and other hipsters) and on or near it: perhaps some schools cannot fill positions because the departments in question are seething viper pits of bitterness, administrative ineptitude, and/or general nastiness? Candidates may discover this before applying, or during an interview. Not an accurate generalization (I hope). But I wonder if persistent vacancies might not always be the fault of pompous Yale and Princeton PhDs who think that Tuscaloosa and Bozeman are beneath them.

Posted by: random polisci guy at October 9, 2003 10:32 AM

On the subject of the last comment, anyone read Richard Russo's Straight Man?

Posted by: JT at October 9, 2003 10:56 AM

This is an unbelievably inspiring thread. I am a current attorney with a crushing desire to get back into academia -- beginning with the arduous task of graduate school. This page (and others like it) has been filling me with dread. But Lo! My goal has always been to end up in a rural Southern town! Now I find out that such things are the only opportunities out there, and that no one else wants them. Huzzah!

Posted by: CajunCavalier at October 9, 2003 11:11 AM

Even if I wanted a job in a small-town Southern University, the small-town Southern University probably wouldn't want of me. In that kind of environment everything about you becomes widely known very quickly. In many places (not just small towns in the South, of course) the quota for sarcastic leftist atheists who drink a lot is zero.

So even if you get hired, you have to remain guarded all the way to tenure time. It sounds like a six-year interview, with the likelihood of rejection at some point. The same insecurity as an adjunct, with a more boring environment and a somewhat better standard of living.

Posted by: Zizka at October 9, 2003 11:36 AM

"Sounds to me that people applied, but got rejected out of hand."

Yes. It would be interesting to know just how many candidates applied for the position. Chances are, there were at least a couple of competent, qualified candidates in the reject pile who would have snapped up an offer had they been given a chance. And when Blake's search committee lost out on the two or three candidates who made their short list, did they even bother to go back to the original list of applicants to see whether they had overlooked a few people who might have been considered? I doubt very much that they did.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 9, 2003 12:05 PM

A lot of so-called "elite candidates" DO apply to small colleges in rural locations, but they get screened out for a host of reasons: too Leftist, too gay, not Christian, not married, too culturally alien (and not "diverse"), too trendy, too intimidating (might look down on us/me), too interested in publishing, couldn't communicate with our students, not likely to stay long, wouldn't "fit," and so on. I've been on both sides of the table, and I know the stereotypes go both ways.

A lot of job candidates think their s*** doesn't stink, and, IMHO, they deserve to end up waiting tables in Cambridge. On the other hand, there are a lot of well-qualifed, almost desperate candidates, who would jump at the chance to teach anything, anywhere. They are willing to adapt, to make themselves "fit," but they are prejudged out of the process.

Posted by: THB at October 9, 2003 12:05 PM

Jam, thanks for your comments. After going through the original article a bit more carefully, it was clear that Blake's university was far from desparate. It might be classified as normally picky (in the corporate sense; in the academic sense it would be pretty good).

Posted by: Barry at October 9, 2003 02:58 PM

Why not have a match sytem like for MDs in-training? Wouldn't that at least begin to elminate much of the inefficieny of the current situation?

Posted by: TreeTop at October 9, 2003 03:18 PM

There are differences, Christopher, between the Luca Brazie situation and this right here.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at October 9, 2003 03:59 PM

I wouldn't call it a job crisis, but I don't see why academics, among all disciplines, should be expected to have no choice in where they live and like it and be grateful.
I don't care about a major research university or a small liberal arts school; there are community colleges in the northeast as well. I like the northeast for a number of reasons, and I think it's odd that people expect academics to defend having a preference about where they will live -- and that this preference should never ever outweigh the magical job.

Posted by: wolfangel at October 9, 2003 06:03 PM

wolfangel, I'm not sure anyone is expecting "academics to defend having a preference about where they will live." Chun, for one, explicitly said in an earlier post that he had no problem with that. But I have heard from many, many acedemics over the years complaints that their inability to find tenure-track jobs in precisely the part of the country where they want to live itself constitutes evidence of injustice, unfairness, inequity. And that's just ridiculous. But anyone who prefers the adjunct + barista lifestyle in New England to a TT job in the South or rural Midwest is welcome to that preference.

However. As a native Southerner (now living in Chicago) I'd like to point out that many of the preferences expressed in this thread are based on quite complete ignorance of what life in Southern college and university towns is like. The idea that the faculty of such schools is comprised largely of Bible-thumpin' football-lovin' rednecks is, to put it gently, fantastic. And can think (off the top of my head) of several friends or colleagues who took jobs at such schools only because nothing else was available, wailed and beat their breats at the prospect of such Siberian exile -- and eventually came to discover that some little corners of the American academic Gulag are actually pretty nice places to live. Even at places without Starbucks the U S Mail still runs and internet access can be had -- so you can go to the Starbucks website and order some coffee and a good coffeemaker, and sip the delicious brew as you get caught up on the conversations at Invisible Adjunct. It's amazing what a resourceful person can do even when faced with something as dreadful as a teaching job at a Southern university. . . .

Posted by: Ayjay at October 9, 2003 08:41 PM

I represent the group of posters who tried living in a rural and isolated region---I took the great tenure track job with a 2-2 teaching load and was miserable. For all of you who say "better to take the job in a rural/isolated region" let me tell you a little about my experiences and why I would never recommend that anyone apply for a job in an area of the country which is incompatible with one's views, morals and general way of life.

As a small woman who is half ethnic and half WASP, I encountered several people who asked me "Where are you from?" When I replied "New York" (which was regarded as the great Satanic outpost in those days before 9/11), I was quickly informed that the question had not been answered correctly. The question was "Where are your people from?" Sometimes people got specific "Are you a Jew?" Apparently, if the answer was "yes" this meant that I was less than American. I had COLLEAGUES ask this question---not just students, shopkeepers etc. I was made to feel exotic and un-American (and on my dad's side, my family came here in 1632) repeatedly. Even my well-meaning colleagues told me that I was "too New York" in my dress and physical appearance. While I could have changed the former, I have to wonder why I was constantly greeted with this information---and why I was supposed to change how I dressed. But even if I had wanted to, I couldn't change
my dark hair, dark eyes and small stature.

Was I really supposed to live in a region where I was routinely made to feel as tho' I am not an American? Was I really supposed to live in a state which has ONE synagogue---and that one four hours away? I wasn't tempted to go to the synagogue before I moved there (nor am I tempted to go to one now that I no longer live there). But hearing comments about "your people" and other similar expressions made me wonder if living in an area with a synagogue, a local chapter of the NAACP etc. shouldn't be de rigeur for more people.

In addition to this, I encountered students who casually informed me that the Holocaust never happened, that African-Americans were "different" from us and that affirmative action and welfare had made them lazy (this in a state where farm subsidies are obscene---it's one of the very few states in the Union which rec'es more money BACK from the federal govt than they pay in taxes and where hatred of the federal govt is rampent).

I missed many things---not just ethnic food, bookstores, museums etc. (all the things which had caused me to become an academic in the first place) but the basics. On the day I drove three hours to go to a TJ MAXX so I could stock up on inexpensive stockings etc. (and three hours back), I realized that I could not continue to live in this place anymore.

I left academia and I don't work at a bookstore earning slog wages. I live in a wonderful city and I have a fantastic job.

What is troubling to me about these posts is the assumption that this is about an either/or scenario. You can find satisfying work outside of academia (even if you are, as I am, an historian) and live in a place which you love. The worst lie that the academic culture perpetuates is the lie that one must sacrifice everything for academia.

Academia is NOT a calling for which you should be prepared to sacrifice everything (if you want that, enter the priesthood---I understand that they have LOTS of openings!).

Posted by: Happy at Last at October 10, 2003 11:14 AM

"Academia is NOT a calling for which you should be prepared to sacrifice everything (if you want that, enter the priesthood---I understand that they have LOTS of openings!)."

I beg to differ. One's worthiness as an academic should be measured by the sacrifices one makes to get a tenure-track job. I think we should have reverse bidding wars. "I'll teach 4-4 for $15,000 a year! No, 5-5, and $12,000 a year! Over here, "6-6, and I'll give you back all of my pay for the experience of teaching at your college!"

Of course, this wouldn't be all that different from what we are doing now.

From what AcademicGame says, perhaps the priesthood is a better option. It's not like male academics aren't basically celebate anyway.

Posted by: THB at October 10, 2003 02:17 PM

I'd like to point out that Jack Blake's field, like mine, is journalism. We sometimes have a lack of qualified applicants, particularly people with both journalism experience and a Ph.D. And the salaries in journalism departments are generally higher than what you'd get if you were teaching journalism in an English or communication department. The difficulty in filling this position may be due less to location than other factors -- maybe he's in a communication department, for instance, and can't offer as much money as competing journalism departments.

Posted by: drivingal at October 10, 2003 03:07 PM

I just want to add something to my post and respond to what Arjay said. No, not everyone in the South (or rural Northwest) is a bible-thumping redneck. I will admit that I did encounter thoughtful and open-minded students and that you can find these everywhere---in urban and rural areas.

However, there is an acceptance of racial stereotyping, anti-semitism etc. in the more rural regions of the US. This greater acceptance meant that people felt comfortable saying the most horrible things to people who did not fit their vision of an "American." (I can't imagine what life would have been like if I had been Asian-American or African-American in the region in which I lived). It wasn't everyday that I ran into these people but I encountered them enough to make me feel miserable and unwelcome..

Try as I want, I knew that I would never feel at home in the rural region where my job was located. Living in a place where you feel welcome and at home is pretty basic and should be a right. The fact that too many academics trundle off to places which they would never even visit on a vacation is more than a little troublesome.

Posted by: Happy at Last at October 10, 2003 05:00 PM

I took a job at a small, somewhat-rural (I have to drive 1/2 hour for the nearest non-campus bookstore, and I'm not sure where the nearest Starbuck's is, not that that's important to me) college in what could be considered an outpost of the South.

It's different from what I knew. My first couple years here, I would have times of such crashing homesickness that I once or twice had to close my office door, turn the lights off, and weep quietly, wondering what I had done.

But now, as I prepare my tenure packets for filing (and have been told by several that my chances of achieving tenure are somewhere between 90 and 100 percent), I realize that I am pretty happy here.

Life is a series of trade-offs. I've come to the conclusion that of these four desirable things, you cannot have all four:

1. A worthwhile, interesting job with generally sane co-workers.

2. A favorable balance between cost-of-living and salary

3. A generally safe place to live

4. An exciting place to live.

I have 1, 2, and 3, and count myself lucky. There were times I was places where I had #4 and no others, and I was miserable - living in a bustling metroplex is no fun if you're eating Ramen and can only go to the museums on "free" day, and the rest of the time have to listen to your colleagues backbite and scheme.

I regularly get asked - from longtime locals as well as "university people" who moved here from elsewhere: "Why did you come HERE?" (Implying that HERE is not a desirable place to be, or at least not a place where an Ohio Yankee (that's what I'm considered) would choose to stay). I shrug and say "it's the best job I was offered" which is true - my other choices were the hellish world of being an adjunct teaching three mega-sections of non-majors biology, working as an "academic gypsy" taking on sabbatical replacements as they came up, or teaching at a community college near to my parents and living in their basement.

Frankly, I wake up most mornings and feel incredibly grateful - and even blessed, if I may say that - to be where I am. Because frankly, I took the job I have now on sort of a whim - it was the best (in terms of what I get to teach and salary) semi-permanent job. I went into it with the idea of "I can always apply somewhere "better" in a year or two." And now I am up for tenure, and am hoping and praying it works out, so I can stay in this place that seemed so backwaterish and isolated.

True, it's not Nirvana, but it's pretty damn good for the way the job market seems to be for Ph.D.'s these days.

Posted by: ricki at October 10, 2003 05:24 PM

Keith Richards,

Just so we're clear on this, you have the right to live wherever you wish. To call the desire to be given an academic job in an area of the country you want to live in a "right," which is how I read your remarks, is invoke an utterly absurd sense of entitlement.

There's nothing at all "troublesome" about academics taking jobs in rural locations. Your implication that it does betrays a profound lack of seriousness about education and research and a classism every bit as worse as the prejudices you describe.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at October 10, 2003 05:52 PM

When I was on the market for the first time several years ago, I received an offer from a public university in a small Southern city and a much less desirable position in an East Coast city.

I chose the latter for reasons that are related to location.

Blake doesn't tell us of other factors that candidates might consider - health benefits, taxes, or whether or not children would receive tuition reductions, for example. What is there is a illness with a close family member? What if one's partner has very limited job opportunities in the region? Not everyone wants to enter a long-distance relationship, and I don't think academics get a bonus for taking a job that threatens their relationships.

Ironically, I hope to land a job in a rural area now because an academic salary is not enough to support my family in the city.

Posted by: better left nameless at October 11, 2003 09:17 AM

whoops! i meant to write that I chose the East Coast job for reasons only partially related to location in that last post.

Posted by: better left nameless at October 11, 2003 09:20 AM

A reply to Happy At Last's most recent post: I hope you are saying merely that people have a right to live where they feel welcome and at home, and not that they have a right to exactly the career they want in that location. If you mean the second (as Chun thinks you do), then you either have a sadly inflated sense of entitlement or almost all of us have been deprived of our rights.

I sympathize with the misery you felt during your academic career, and I'm glad you found something that suits you better. But a couple of points remain to be emphasized. First, as I have already said and several comments here have confirmed, many academics from big cities and the Two Coasts adapt much better to rural or semi-rural or Midwestern or Southern environments than they think they can. And second, these problems of adjustment can work the other way. If I had a dollar for every time someone has mocked my accent, my native region, or what they imagine to be my family, I would be a very rich man. And when they find out that I am a Christian, it's not my status as an American that can come into question, but rather my status as a sentient being. One way to "solve" this problem would be for people like Happy to stay where they come from and people like me to stay where we come from; but I don't think that would be healthy for our common culture.

Posted by: Ayjay at October 11, 2003 10:23 AM

As a Visiting Professor and a minority, I lived in a few rural areas. It was incredibly isolating and I grew weary of driving two to three hours for a cultural experience. For similar reasons to Happy's and my own *selfish* reason for wanting a life outside of work, a rural place does not work for me.

There is no reason why a decision to accept or decline a teaching position shouldn't include location along with other extended factors.

Posted by: Anna at October 11, 2003 04:06 PM

I probably fall into the too far to the left, too atheist, too edgey camp to even be considered seriously by the kinds of institutions this thread is discussing. It's sad, because I would in fact be willing to go anywhere for a job. I can make-do in any circumstance. I don't even like bookstores all that much, and I can order books if/when I need to. Similarly, I can rent/order videos, and I'm a good enough cook to supplement the lack of good restaurants (and then sometimes I'm in the mood for a good diner). But alas, I am always passed over by these kinds of schools, even when the job description matches my strengths and background perfectly.

How can I get these schools to take me seriously?

Posted by: Chris at October 12, 2003 11:29 AM

Is it really that easy to tell if someone is far-left, atheist, or edgy from their academic CV? I've been a prof in economics and then finance for about 15 years now. I can think of maybe 10 economics CVs that told a lot about the candidate's politics and beliefs, but that is about it.

Are the humanities really so politicized that academic CVs inevitably tell us the candidate's personal views and attributes? And is that a problem? I suspect Erin O'Connor would say "YES" to both questions, but what do the rest of you out there think?

Posted by: gerald garvey at October 12, 2003 01:02 PM

"Are the humanities really so politicized that academic CVs inevitably tell us the candidate's personal views and attributes."

Where you publish, the organizations to which you belong, your advisors, your institution, your gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation--these are all political affiliations, and in a tight job market in which every plausible candidate is highly qualified, having the "right" political affiliation is essential. This is not as visible in economics or as important, given that there is closer balance between candidates and positions.

I have seen English candidates eliminated for "political" reasons that are inferred rather than openly stated. If there is anything about a candidate that might cause a flare up from a couple of chronically-offended but powerful departmental citizens, the candidate goes into the reject pile. The result is candidates who are not controversial in any way (a sort of bland, herdish Leftism seems to prevail).

When everyone is qualified (and often outstanding), politics (along with other factors like gender and racial composition, nepotism, and personal prefereneces) become determinative.

Posted by: THB at October 12, 2003 01:56 PM

A response to Arjay: I am saying that everyone should have the right to live in a place which they love, whether it is NYC or a small town. My point is this: no job is worth it if you hate the place in which you live. If you hate the Northeast (and many people do), you should not take a job there. The same goes for LA, San Francisco or any other place...including...gasp! NYC.

Most jobs (and yes, I include academic jobs) take up to 40-60 hours a week. That leaves you with 168 hours which you have to spend in a place which you may loathe. Is any job really worth that sacrifice? I am a pretty ambitious (Ivy League educated goal-driven) person but...I came to realize two things. First, in this academic market, there was no guarantee that my sacrifice (years spent in a place which I loathed) would ever pay off---even if my job included, as it did, good benefits, time off for research etc. Moreover, even if my sacrifice paid off, how would I feel if I got that job at Harvard when I was 55 and I realized that I had spent the bulk of my life living in a place I hated? Second, altho' I loved my work, there are other things which make living worthwhile to me: I genuinely love art museums (and no, you can't get that off the internet) and I also really love to spend the day buried in a bookstore, used or new, flipping thro' books (nope, you can't do that on the internet either). These things were pretty fundamental to who I am and I suddenly realized that sacrificing myself was simply not worth it.

Additionally, a lot of posters have pointed out that two-career couples have a hard time in rural places; I'd like to point out that single people do as well. I had just broken up with a longtime boyfriend when I took up that good job in a rural area. I genuinely tried but I only met one single man the whole time I was there. I really disliked him but my loneliness was so intense I was terrified I would wind up sleeping with him (one of my other single female colleagues did and deeply regretted it). I also missed my family (a $700 flight which took, b/c of all the changes, all day). Leaving that job enabled me to move back east, meet Mr. Right and spend all of the time I wanted visiting my widowed mom, my siblings and my nieces and nephews. For many people, myself included, these things are essential---at the risk of sounding rather corny, they make my life worthwhile (I say that even when my sister drives me crazy).

As for the idea that one cannot have personal and job satisfaction, I'm sorry but I think that is garbage. When I was in academia, my siblings and friends (lawyers, physicians, business people etc.) could not understand why I insisted that academia was worth my living in a place I hated. I insisted it was---b/c any other job would be a compromise and evidence that I had failed. This is, again, a really idiotic myth. I work for one of the most prestigious govt agencies around; I make a great living, I have fantastic and amazing colleagues---many of them PhDs. It took a year of very hard searching to find this job (and it was a very scary year) but it can be done.

Posted by: Happy at Last at October 12, 2003 03:29 PM


Thanks. That clarifies a lot, although as an economist I am probably biassed toward your explanation based on supply and demand. Pay and conditions for TT folks are "sticky", meaning that there is a huge gulf between the lot of a TT professor and an adjunct with very similar talents and bckground (this blog has pretty much convinced me of the truth of that last statement!). So folks on the hiring inevitably discriminate based on their own personal preferences. Ends up looking like a bit like the allocation of apartments under rent control. Now none of this explains WHY there is such a gulf between TT's and IA's, but it certainly traces the consequences.

One quick question, however; do humanities CVs report sexual orientation? I have definitely seen cases where race is reported (driven in part by AA at the hiring institution), and of course people will often insinuate race based on name. But sexual orientation? How does that get in there? I doubt gay academics exclusively publish stuff with words like queer theory in it.

Posted by: gerald garvey at October 12, 2003 03:36 PM

Just a response to Chun that I lack a serious committment to education and research and/or that I have a sense of entitlement. Wow! On so many levels, I find that comment astonishing.

Why do you or any of the other posters believe that education and research are limited to academia? Is it fair to infer from your comment that people who work for the National Institutes of Health, the Library of Congress, the Annie E. Casey Foundation (which researches and funds educational issues) and other organizations of this ilk are not committed to education and research?

I'm sorry to tell you, Virginia, but people do care about and do work on these issues outside of academia.

Wow! I can't say it enough! Talk about elitism! Intellectual life is not limited to the university setting. Get over yourselves!

Posted by: Happy at Last at October 12, 2003 03:40 PM

"One quick question, however; do humanities CVs report sexual orientation? . . . I doubt gay academics exclusively publish stuff with words like queer theory in it."

Of course gay academics do not publish exclusively in queer theory any more than "straight" academics publish exlusively in, I dunno, military history. But having a publication in "queer theory" can raise red flags at some institutions. (At small, church-affiliated places, an openly gay candidate cannot get through administrative oversight without the department spending institutional capital that is better spent on other things.)

I am not "gay," but I have published in queer studies. And I remember the indirect personal questions that emerged during first-round interviews with some schools. I also remember unexpectedly perfunctory interviews that were held, apparently, to verify whether or not I was a "diverse" candidate, since I have also published in African-American studies and worked at an Afro-Am Research Center.

Posted by: THB at October 12, 2003 04:33 PM

A brief response to "happy":

If you complain about academia because you don't like where the univerisities are, as you strongly seemed to, then it's hard to see how you have a justifiable basis for claiming an entitlement to a specifically academic job. If you work in other areas, that is of course a different story.

It might be hard for you to realize the contempt with which those of us at universities a cut or two down from the Ivy/Berkeley, etc. schools regard the whinging of those from these places when they don't get a job in their peer group. Eighty percent of the faculty at 2/2 jobs come from twenty or so programs; you have to be superhuman in some way to get one otherwise. So try to imagine how others might read your complaints about not ending up at Harvard until you're 55, not to mention your offensive and ignorant comments about the unbearable idiocy of rural life (which says as much--if not more--about your own prejudices as it does about those of the yokel-inhabitants).

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at October 12, 2003 05:48 PM

I agree wholeheartedly with CajunCavalier. I am a graduate student at a more-or-less prominent urban university, and I spent my undergraduate years at a small, rural, state school. My formative years were thus spent at the latter, which is located in Rush Limbaugh's hometown. Students at my current school shudder when I describe the predominantly Republican, uber-Christian environment at this college, but as a self-professed liberal and religious skeptic, I have many fond memories of my alma matter. In fact, I would much prefer the life of a Southern, rural, TT professor to that of an adjunct in a large, chic urban area. Having spent a great deal of time in "the middle of nowhere," I find myself longing to go back to the clean air, the starry nights, the open spaces, and the powerful sense of commraderie I shared with the locals who were of similar ilk.

I've been sufficiently scared by the employment trends in academia, and have been wavering over whether or not to really pursue my Ph.D. in light of the odds against getting a TT position. However, if there really is an availability of jobs in rural areas that has been simply dismissed by a predominatly urban elite, then I couldn't be more enthusiastic about the possibility! As a first-generation college student from a working class family, I would love the opportunity to encourage and stimulate those whose backgrounds are similar to mine. And frankly, I'll take a cold Coke or a beer over a Starbucks frappachino anyday.

Posted by: surfmichigan at October 12, 2003 10:21 PM

Chun, I wish I were as arrogant as you seem to think I am. It would have made my life much easier.

I made the comment abt ending up at Harvard b/c I was saying that achieving what is regarded as the pinnacle of academic jobs may not be worth spending most of your life in a job which made you unhappy. For the record---altho' it is irrelevant to my argument---I actually never saw a job at Harvard as the be-off and end-all. However, most academics are told that it is the be-all and end-all and that is why I used that example. I also am not saying that rural towns are horrible and should be avoided---I am saying that no one should live in a place which they loathe, regardless of whether that place is urban or rural. I am using examples to illustrate my argument---these examples are not to be taken literally.

A few months ago, I met with the one of the leading individuals in my professional organization; when I mentioned that I found it disturbing that so many young PhDs cling to poorly paid adjunct positions or jobs in areas which they disliked, she said "don't feel sorry for these people; they want to suffer and they'll do anything just to have an academic job of any type." At the time and even now, I found the comment callous. However, when I read your comments, I cannot help but wonder if she is right. You seem determined to believe that academia is worth any and all sacrifices and that those who decide to leave academia are spoiled, arrogant and not committed to research, learning, education and/or an intellectual life.

You didn't answer my question: are people who work for NASA, the Brookings Institute, the Pew Charitable Trust etc. not committed to research and education? And please don't tell me that these jobs are reserved for PhDs from elite schools or people who possess PhDs in certain fields. I am an historian and I found fantastic work outside of academia. Yes, there were people who were impressed by the universities I had attended but these people did not offer me a job. I got my job the hard way---I spent a year re-tooling myself, looking and thinking seriously abt the skills which I possessed and how these could be adapted to fit a good research job.

It is, I realize, preferable to think that the laurals and accolades go to an elite few as opposed to looking for a job and thinking creatively abt how to find good and satisfying work. I know b/c I often did the same thing while I was in academia. I started looking at this and other sites b/c I was curious to see and understand how and why academics fall into jobs which they dislike and why most of the academics I know are suffering from low-grade depression (again, I also experienced depression while in academia). Looking at the sites sadly and quickly became addictive. But reading your post pretty much breaks me of the habit. You seem determined to be miserable, to scorn everyone outside of academia and to believe that when others are happy or successful, it is because they had an unfair advantage. Sadly, life isn't like that: you are actually in charge of your own destiny. Hard to believe but even harder to accept b/c accepting this requires you to take responsibility for your own life.

Posted by: Happy at Last at October 14, 2003 09:01 AM

I'm quite happy, actually, and I'm sure many of the readers here will appreciate the comment from the "senior member" of your profession about how their opinions are valueless because of their masochism.

A lot of what you've written seems to be free-association. My original comments about a "commitment to education and research" apply to those who, as you once did, accept academic positions but refuse to accept that these commitments apply to red states as well. The most miserable academics I've met are those who felt themselves far above their surroundings, and I certainly wish that more would follow your example in leaving their jobs; and, even better, that they would not take the jobs to begin with.

People live in places they loathe because they, unlike you, don't have the choice to do otherwise. "Should" has nothing to do with it. It's a mistake to generalize from your experience that comfy research-related jobs in major metropolitan areas are just sitting around waiting to be taken--excuse me, sitting around waiting to be a taken after a year "retooling"--and that those here who are adjuncts, etc. simply want to continue to be miserable rather than to find real work. It's not only a mistake, it's truly arrogant.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at October 14, 2003 10:24 AM

Some very interesting comments.

To the discussion of discrimination in economics vs. other fields by gerald garvey and THB: gg, I can't help but think of Gary Becker's theory of the costs of discrimination might pertain to this discussion here. If faculty in rural conservative areas like to have conservative, straight collegues, the cost of indulging those preferences would be much higher in economics, where the job market is much more competitive. (It's also true that our work tends to be lot less revealing of our personal lives or our politics, but it's not hard to pick up in an interview that someone is gay, and people do gossip, even in economics.)

As for people's willingness to adapt to their surroundings, and how much people should be willing to sacrifice for an academic job - obviously that is a personal decision. I must say I don't harbor a lot of sympathy for an grumbling adjunct who has never conducted what could be reasonably considered a nationwide job search; however, if after trying out these locations and finding that you will never truly be happy there, there's certainly no shame in picking yourself up and finding another career path. (In fact, I'd say that takes pluck and is certainly better than spending your days complaining that you were stranded in the provinces.) I've met both people who adjusted wonderfully to locations they despaired moving to, and people who never stopped hating them (generalizing, adjustment to rural life seems to go more smoothly and happily if one is attached, one is white, or male, and particularly if one has or is having children - but I also know a Jewish lesbian in the rural South who loves it, so there is a lot of variance).

Posted by: Matilde at October 14, 2003 11:13 AM

Chun: Read my posts more carefully. This is the last one I will post b/c I have a feeling you are not open-minded on this subject.

First, you say that my job was sitting around waiting to be taken and that my year of re-tooling was easy. I spent a year slogging around showing my resume to people in all sorts of fields, asking them for advice and help. This was extraordinarily difficult and I spent most of that year deeply depressed and frightened abt my future. But b/c I was so eager to try something different, I listened to what people had to say (and some of it was painful and difficult to hear). I went into serious debt that year (and yes, I have student loans already). I asked everyone I knew for advice and I called people blind on the phone to ask them if I could speak with them about my resume. I got lots of rejections---but I persisted and ultimately, yes, I succeeded. Your implication that my year of re-tooling was easy may go a long way in explaining why you are reluctant to view this possibility realistically. It's difficult for anyone and everyone; it's time consuming and it requires constant effort and work. While I re-tooled, I worked as a salesclerk---and no, I did not consider that work beneath me.

Second, I did not look down on the school at which I taught. I did, however, look askance at SOME (but by no means the majority) of my students who casually informed me that the Holocaust never happened etc. I taught some amazing students---bright and curious---at that school and I think the school provides a good education to the students who attend it and are willing to be open-minded and to learn.

Third, my comments abt rural regions are not the product of ignorance. I lived in said rural region for three years. I did not visit it casually. And, as I said in one of my posts, I do not believe that every student and/or resident of that area is prejudiced but what I encountered from a small and vocal minority was enough to make me realize that I did not want to live there.

Fourth, if you are so deeply committed to education and to teaching, may I suggest that you teach in a rural or inner-city high school? These places genuinely need good teachers and I find it sad that so many PhDs who love and feel passionate about their subjects disdain this kind of work. I work as a volunteer at an inner-city high school and find this deeply satisfying. I realize that my comment that I work as a volunteer at the school may cause you to demand why I don't do it full time so I'll clarify why I don't do it full time: I enjoyed teaching but I gradually realized that my intense shyness which gave me stage fright whenever I taught was too much to deal with on a daily basis. I'm not interested in teaching anywhere full-time at this point in my life.

Posted by: at October 14, 2003 11:40 AM

It's been saddening but not surprising to see the amount of prejudice expressed in this thread toward the South and the Midwest. It goes to show what diversity really means, and that it's much more than skin deep. The Middle of Nowhere is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by: Doug at October 15, 2003 12:36 PM

I'm hoping that by "South" and "Midwest" most commenters actually mean "removed from urban centers." I've known a few otherwise intelligent people who seriously *do* believe that culture ceases below the Mason-Dixon Line, but there aren't so many of them as to render loads of otherwise excellent jobs free for the taking. And some of us have CVs that don't betray our regional ties -- but we're quite skilled at slipping mentions of how much we'd like to be near family into our cover letters. ;)

I was a serious candidate for a job in a small town in my home state (which is, yes, below the M-D Line) but was happy to take another offer when I considered the financial pinch at a third-tier state university, the small number of colleagues in anything approaching my field, the lack of library holdings ditto, the heavy teaching load, the distance to synagogues and major airports, and the low salary. (I can cook Thai, and the area *does* have a low cost of living, but I need books and airline tickets and other nationally priced items.) I definitely agree with those who have pointed out that geographic location and regional biases are seldom the *only* factor in how jobs go unfilled.

Posted by: Naomi Chana at October 16, 2003 08:06 AM

While some posters are saying that the south and/or midwest and/or rural positions are not their cup of tea, many of the other posters disagree. Better Left Nameless says he/she wants a job in a rural region and so do some of the other posters. I think what this thread is about is whether people should live in regions which they dislike. So while there is probably a greater slant toward dislike of the rural regions/midwest and or south (and that is the site which Jack Blake mentioned in his original article), I think if you read the posts carefully, you'll see that most posters are talking about having a choice as to where they can live.

Posted by: Just a Thought at October 16, 2003 08:46 AM

Naomi -- love the bit about having family in the region where you're applying. Now-a-days, I manage to have family in virtually every region I apply to.

Posted by: Chris at October 16, 2003 11:06 AM

I know that one semester I applied for 48 positions at small colleges and junior colleges around the nation. I'm no elitist snob, jus' a good ol' boy myself who knows what it's like *cleaning* the Ivory Tower.

I got exactly *zero* calls.

I *wanted* a non-urban (or heck, even urban) position, and loved the idea of teaching ANYWHERE. NO calls and lots of rejection letters is what I got.

Unfilled positions happen because colleges want to hire superstars to be wage slaves. They can afford to be picky.

Posted by: Linguist at October 22, 2003 08:59 PM

"a state which has ONE synagogue"

Heck, even Alaska has more than one. I can't think of a southern state whose capital doesn't have at least two.

But, that post does reflect a consistent bias.

Posted by: Anon Again at October 25, 2003 01:25 AM

The state is Montana. Look it up.

Posted by: Happy AT Last at October 28, 2003 08:03 AM

I have to add this b/c I am peeved that someone who never bothered to look up the veracity of my statement re: one synagogue calls him/herself a scholar. This information is available via the internet as most Jewish organizations track the info. I am very very tired of people from the Midwest and South being so defensive abt their regions (which often boldly claim to be the "real America" or "the Heartland"---give me a break). The South and Midwest are, in historical terms, the stronghold of the KKK. I am not saying this to attack these regions (believe me you can say equally horrible things abt the Northeast) but this belief that anyone who critiques the Midwest and South is unfair is idiotic. I lived in both regions and didn't like them. Am I not allowed to say this because it may hurt people's feelings?

Posted by: Happy at Last at October 28, 2003 11:36 AM