March 03, 2004

"Jilted Entitlement"

In a recent entry on "Teachers Self-Evaluating," AKMA takes issue with the "self-deceptive, self-destructive, partisan, hollow rhetorics of jilted entitlement." It's an interesting post, and I think worth reading.

That said, I have to add that I'm a little surprised to find myself cited as Exhibit A in the proliferation of the above-mentioned "hollow rhetorics":

I read Invisible Adjunct’s blog regularly, and I used to leave comments there but quit bothering to compose elegant, finely-crafted arguments after I never won the Weekly IA Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory). (No, not really.) I am accountable to my many, many underemployed colleagues, and IA helps keep my feet to the fire.

I have to make an untimely, unwelcome observation, though. In all my reading of IA and the other sites of underemployed academics, the writers identify themselves as good (or “very good” or “excellent”) teachers and scholars...

...From what I read, everyone unjustly relegated to adjunct status is a popular, diligent, effective teacher, and many are strong researchers; are all the best teachers laboring as adjuncts (or in exile from academic), leaving only the schlubs in actual academic positions?

A couple of quick points.

First, just for the record, I don't believe I have ever identified myself as a good, very good or excellent teacher and scholar (or, for that matter, as a mediocre, bad or very bad teacher and scholar). I can't speak for my readers and commenters, of course. No doubt some of them have, at some point or another, in some entry or another, identified themselves in terms that conform to AKMA's characterization.

Second, it is not at all the argument of this weblog that wonderful teachers and scholars are adjunctified while mediocre teachers and scholars are tenure-tracked and tenured. And though, again, I don't speak for my readers and commenters, I have to say that I don't really see too many of them arguing this position either. I think AKMA is misinterpreting a sense of discontent, of grievance, of injustice, that is undoubtedly expressed in some of the comments here. What people object to, I think, is the perceived contingency of the process, the sense that the game amounts to a crap shoot. As pencil vania put it in the comments to this entry:

My friends and I did all the right things--attended a top-ten program, taught a bunch of courses, published, tried to make dissertations that stand out--and all it amounted to was tossing dice at a craps table.

To make my position clear: I firmly believe that in today's job market, anyone who gets a tenure-track job must have some impressive credentials, and must have demonstrated at least the potential to become at least a good teacher and scholar. But that is not to suggest that anyone who doesn't land a tenure-track position does not have similar credentials and potential. In a situation where large numbers of candidates are chasing after a small number of positions, the measurement of merit can only take a search committee so far, and all kinds of other, more local and particular, criteria will enter into consideration. The more candidates there are for a given position, the more these criteria will matter.

For me, it's just obviously not the case that "all the best teachers [are] laboring as adjuncts (or in exile from academic), leaving only the schlubs in actual academic positions." Which brings me to my final point (and this is a point that I made repeatedly many months ago in a series of related entries that I'm too lazy to look up and link to at the moment): my argument is that nobody who has acquired the credentials (a Ph.D.) and who performs at a minimum acceptable level should be adjuntified. To suggest or to imply otherwise is to make what I believe is a professionally suicidal argument about the value (or lack thereof) of the Ph.D. and of the credentialling process over which the profession purports to preside. Leaving aside the impact on individual lives and individual careers, this is a matter of serious concern for the future of the academic professions. I honestly cannot think of another comparable professions, the members of which would be prepared to argue that after years of intensive training, followed by certification, a significant proportion of the members of the profession would still be sufficiently lacking in merit, competency and potential as to deserve to work for minimum wage with no benefits.

To put it simply: if someone is good enough to be at the front of a classroom, that person should be working for a decent living. And if someone is not good enough to merit a decent living, that person should not be in front of a classroom.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at March 3, 2004 04:23 PM

"In a situation where large numbers of candidates are chasing after a small number of positions, the measurement of merit can only take a search committee so far, and all kinds of other, more local and particular, criteria will enter into consideration."

This has been exactly my experience over the last three years. In the three years since my PhD (from a private, Big 10 institution), I have published 4 articles, and a university press book based on my dissertation (so much for the crisis in cholarly publishing--in my case, anyway). I have a wide variety of teaching experience, and get very good student evaluations. I have letter writers from all over the country (east coast, midwest, west coast) who attest very enthusiastically to the quality of my work (I've had the letters vetted, so I know).

And yet, it has never been enough. The "local and particular criteria" always seems to win out. I've checked, after the fact, to see who got hired at the institutions that flew me out for campus interviews (which have always gone very well, crushingly, dissapointingly well given that the job offer did not follow), and on paper, I have yet to be the weaker candidate. Sometimes there has been a clear mismatch in terms of what the eventual hire said about the department's needs (and the accuracy of the job ad), but I have never had the satisfaction of losing a job--as a beginning assistant professor--to a candidate with more experience, or a better publication record. Often, it has been quite the reverse. I don't say this to brag, or even to whine/complain, merely to express my utter confusion in the face of what seems to be going on. It feels like Kafka's Door to the Law: I'm not going to get in no matter what I do...

I am going to try again, at least once more, but I do not know what else I can do, what more I can write, what more I can teach, how many more friends I can make or recommendation letters I can get. Not a single solitary bit of it seems to matter.

Posted by: Failed Again at March 3, 2004 04:38 PM

hmmm...make that "scholarly" publishing.

Though perhaps "cholarly"--rather closer to "choleric"--is closer to the underlying truth...

Posted by: Failed Again at March 3, 2004 04:40 PM

IA, I’m not sure of what precisely vexed you about my entry — and I say “precisely” because I mean no disrespect to you or anyone in particular (as I know nothing about any of the particular situations of particular adjuncts), and did not cite you “as Exhibit A in the proliferation of the above-mentioned ‘hollow rhetorics’.” I identify this wonderful site as a place where I’ve seen “jilted entitlement” come to expression, but if I wanted to criticize you by pseudonym, I would have done so. Since I agree that my post implies that some (undeterminable) proportion of the community that gathers here is probably unduly positive about their qualifications, I will apologize at the outset to anyone whom I have slighted in so implying.

I absolutely affirm that all teachers are undervalued and exploited relative to their importance to our culture, and that adjuncts bear a gross disproportion of that general inequity. I take these claims as incontrovertible, and I indict our present social and academic structures for perpetuating and aggravating these inequities. Indeed, I’m increasingly skeptical about the institution of tenure, and am looking around at non-academic jobs, in part because of my dissatisfaction with the institutional culture of academia.

That doesn’t immunize me from criticism, of course, if I’m unjustly characterizing people.

I’ve participated in searches for tenured, tenure-track, and contingent faculty; I’ve taken part in admissions deliberations at the doctoral level. I have underemployed academic friends, and I have friends who aren't working in academia any more, and I have friends who are career academics (both the critical ones and the assimilated ones). I’ve been rejected in many, many job searches — so that I’m well aware that my present status as a tenured full professor derives in great part from contingencies quite distinct from any personal strengths or pedagogical or scholarly accomplishments.

In my participation in the receiving end of applications, I’ve always observed fewer stand-out applications than I’d have wanted to see. But when I read about the structural exploitation of the academic factory work, I never hear about applicants whose ambition outstrips their capacities. First-person accounts of unjust fates in academia almost always emphasize the narrator’s unimpeachable credentials; I wish some of these first-rate scholar-teachers had applied in searches with which I’d been involved, but I just didn’t see them.

I’m willing to allow that’s partly because I work in a field where everyone likes to think him- or herself an expert, but this is the sample I have to work with. If you tell me that the academic field of history so brims over with exceptional students and job-seekers that every opening finds more amply-qualified applicants than would be the case in a theological discipline, I’ll have no basis for questioning your claim. In theological fields, more people think they’re highly-qualified than I think are highly-qualified.

Presumably there’s a way to discuss academic inequities without collaborating in a facile reduction of the discussion to stuffy, undeserving occupants of cushy jobs (on one hand) and starving, brilliant, unjustly overlooked job-seekers (on the other), and presumably I fell short of that ideal. One obvious explanation for my running aground would be that I have poor judgment in assessing applications, and that more applicants are strong than I think are strong — a genuine possibility. We can even cast it pointedly: perhaps I’m a self-important, self-satisfied prig who doesn’t think anyone measures up to him. (I’m not accusing you, or anyone, of saying that; I do want to acknowledge it as one plausible inference).

Time for me to stop fiddling with this comment and go to dinner. I’ll sit quiet from now on, and learn from other conversation partners how better to make sense of what I’ve seen.

Posted by: AKMA at March 3, 2004 06:10 PM

Whoops! I just read more carefully the words you quoted, and I agree that they suggest that you, particularly, have made a point of your capacities. I imprecisely slipped between observations about your particular writing and a broad-brush characterization of first-person testimonies.

Mea culpa, and honest apologies.

Posted by: AKMA at March 3, 2004 06:14 PM

AKMA, I don't think the issue breaks down in such a stark polarity--on the one hand, unappreciated but excellent schoalrs and teachers, and on the other, the unjustly anointed. I think the first post above, by Failed Again, puts the issue in the right context: we look and see who is getting hired and we see no clear objective diffeences between us, and we wonder 'what more can we or are we supposed to do'.

A reasonable response might well take the form of "objective criteria such as published articles, book contracts (or books published), sutiable teaching experience, both in service courses and more specialized ones, along with interesting sample syllabuses are not the sole measure by which hirings are made." Okay, fine, but this begs a vexing question: what's left to base your decision upon?

And, I beg you, should you answer, I absolutely beg you to please, please not fall back onto the tired phrases "collegaility," or "fit with the department."

Posted by: Chris at March 3, 2004 06:46 PM

I think AKMA re-misunderstands IA's account of the problem. It isn't a question of whether or not the range of applicants for a job are in fact a little more average than they try to sell themselves (and maybe we're all that), but that there appear to be no clear, above-board criteria for what makes one application average and one "first rate". And AKAM doesn't really say what his/her criteria were in those searches. Agreed, there can be overly ambitious applications, but, in fact, isn't ambition in an important way SUPPOSED to "outstrip credentials"? How on earth can one be certain in advance how somebody is going to perform in the future? My grad school program had a significant number of admittees who were brought in on the red carpet (funding, fellowship years, the whole nine yards), but they flaked out of the program while us average folks who didn't look so brilliant at least finished up and wrote a dissertation!

The other point that was being made is that the core problem is with the frustrating nature of the job market and the structural nightmare of a multi-year process of studying, training, writing, discussion, conferencing, and the like with a yawning abyss of insecurity and humiliation as a reward at the end.

The argument is really that there should not be, at the entry level job search, a complex and mysterious process of seeking "stand-out" applications. That should happen down the line, when people try or don't try to get into the higher realms of the academic profession. "Entry-level" should mean, if you have an appropriate Ph.D. and some acceptable level of teaching experience, the door to the profession is -- and should justifiably be -- opened. What happens after that is in your hands.

But if the entry-level criteria are now at about 50% of what the official tenure requirements are (as I discovered was the case at a small institution I applied to), then it becomes surreal. The continual ratcheting-up of qualifications is a race that nobody can win -- except somebody with an inheritance who can also get by on four hours sleep -- unless a way is found to match up graduate numbers, benchmark qualifications, and market requirements more rationally. What looks like jilted entitlement is the quite natural reaction to discovering that the system has broken down and is creating a swathe of human and professional destruction across the landscape. Indeed, the gap between those inside (who think it's working fine) and those on the outside (Failed Again, me, etc,) who know that it's morbidly dysfunctional, is one of the really frightening things about the current state of affairs.


Posted by: flu in san diego at March 3, 2004 06:50 PM

Well, here is someone complainging about getting rid of the adjuncts (an e-mail I just received) on the basis that the adjuncts *are* better qualified by far than the faculty.

The truth? I haven't the slightest idea, post provided purely for perspecitve.

From: "Atticus Falcon"
To: "Stephen R. Marsh" >
Subject: U. Conn. LS

I just posted this to the Yahool PLS Group's board...

Steve Marsh, an attorney who's a trustee of The Themis Institute,
just e-mailed me an article by Keith Griffin in the March 3 The Connecticut
Law Tribune. It's about a situation at the University of Connecticut's law

It appears from the article that U.Conn. is going to can its
current legal writing instructors. (If U.Conn. is like virtually all other
law schools. those instructors are not tenure-track faculty, and only have
year-to-year contracts.) The law school instead wants the course to be
taught by profs who currently teach the "subtantive" courses (and who are
tenured or at least tenure-track). The students are not pleased. The student
bar association sent a letter on February 24 to all faculty, protesting the
proposed change.

Griffin (the reporter) interviewed the associate dean for academic
affairs, to get the law school's view. That dean is none other than Jeremy
Paul, co-author of the law school examsmanship book, Getting to Maybe.

According to the article, Paul said, it's "slightly premature" to
discuss the issue, because nothing may happen. But the article also said a
decision is expected by the middle to end of March. Today is March 3. The
middle of March starts in roughly 10 days, and the end of March is in four

So, if something does happen, it will likely happen within 10 days
to four weeks. And of course, if and when it does happen, it will be a fait
accompli. I am sure the students will be told they'll have to then try to
persuade the faculty to reverse their decision. By then, of course, the
present legal writing instructors will have been let go. And the law school
will say the earliest they could possibly restore the status quo ante will
be in the fall of 2005. That's the way the academic bureaucratic game is
played. "We don't do anything without talking about it a lot," Paul is
quoted as saying. Yes--talking while blowing smoke in the students' faces.

"Even if something does happen, the changes won't be major," he's
further quoted. Uh-huh. Well, firing the non-tenured and non-tenure-track
faculty is no doubt not a major matter to the tenured faculty. And anything
students care about is by definition not "major," right? Paul said, "The
kinds of changes we're looking at are tinkering, not wholesale
changes." --And from the administration's point of view, changing
instructors is indeed apparently mere "tinkering."

Let's do a "reality check" here. The addendum to Chapter 9 in PLS II
discussed the way it is for legal writing instructors (according to the
Association of American Law School's own presenters at the most recent
"workshop" for legal writing instructors, which program I attended). No need
to rehash that here. Suffice tt to say that legal writing instructors are
told to let students get by with little or no work, because legal writing is
not a skill that the faculty regards as important for future lawyers to have
(although, granted, they do give it lip-service). No tenured faculty person,
or tenure-track faculty person, can make his or her reputation bsed on being
a good teacher of legal writing. They make their reps based on what passes
for "legal scholarship" these days.

So, there are only two potential sources for the new legal writing

The first will probably be tenured faculty who are "coasting," and
haven't produced a published article in years--and who don't give a damn,
because after all, they have tenure; they're almost immune from dismissal,
no matter what. (Chapter 25 in PLS II noted the comment by law prof Arthur
Austin that over half of all law faculty never have another academic article
published once they've had the articles published that got them tenure.) So,
in a sense, any tenured faculty member who teaches this course will likely
be someone who can't even do real legal writing himself or herself, let
alone being able to teach it, and who is basically told that if he or she
will "teach" the course, this will give the prof a good excuse to continue
producing nothing by way of further "scholarship." Only the truly lazy profs
would go for it, I would think.

The second source of instructors will probably be assistant profs
who are tenure-track but who do not yet have tenure. They will be subtly
made to understand that teaching the legal writing course is part of "paying
your dues" to gain tenure at the U. Conn. Law School.

Either way, it's a safe bet that virtually all of the work
connected with "teaching" the course will be done by student assistants, not
faculty. That's the way it's already done at most other schools, and I think
that's what U.Conn. has in mind.

U.Conn has 40 "full-time, permanent" faculty. I'm not going to
publicly predict who will end up teaching this course, but it should be easy
to figure out.

The students at U.Conn. say that the change is being made to save
money. That makes sense. Paul claimed that budgetary issues are "clearly not
the driving force." Note that he used the weasel-words "driving force."
Plausible deniability is the key here. Cutting costs can still be the major
result of the change--but of course that would not be the major reason for
the change. Sure. But he then said the school is aiming to create a program
that is less of an administrative burden. In other words, the
"administrative burden" at U.Conn. is costless? Paul tries to make his claim
colorable by saying that it's a required course now, and all the students
"have to take it at the same time." Well, duh. If he's such a fan of
"tinkering," why not change the schedule so students don't all have to take
it at the same time?

Paul notes that two students sit on the school's Education Policy
Committee. The implication is that those two students have access to the
financial figures regarding the proposed change. But the letter from the
student bar association apparently complained that no figures are available.
(And you know, even if they were, they would probably consist of "creative
accounting." And once the change is made, students would not be able to
check the books anyway, to follow the money.)

The most likely outcome is twofold. It appears from Paul's comments
that the course will no longer be mandatory, just an elective. But the
students are also concerned that this course, which carries up to six
credits, will be graded by "just one prof." (I have copies of materials from
over a hundred law schools, but alas, not from U.Conn. I accessed the
school's website, but could get no information on the "Lawyering Process"
course that this legal writing program is apparently a part of. To gain
information, I would have had to provide a student I.D. number and a
password.) So, the second likely outcome is that the course will become
pass-fail, the way it is virtually everywhere else. (Either that, or the
student assistants will sit as a committee to "recommend" a final grade to
the prof who will be the official teacher of the course--and the evaluation
of students' work will be done "blind.") If the course becomes an elective,
and becomes pass-fail, everyone will be happy: the students will get up to
six credits for doing little or nothing, and the law school will get up to
six credits' worth of tuition dollars in return for doing little or nothing.
It's a win-win ituation.

But the law school at U.Conn. should start calling itself "We Con."

It would be nice to know how much, if anything, the parent
university rakes off from the law school. My guess is that the ultimate
force behind this proposed change is that the parent university is putting
the squeeze on the law school for more money, and the law school does not
have the clout to refuse that demand.

The student government president at the law school is Brian P.
Murphy. I do not know if anyone who belongs to this Yahoo PLS group is at
that law school. If you are, please call this posting to Murphy's attention.
And if you are not at that law school, but know someone who is, please call
that person's attention to this posting. (I am going to find Jeremy Paul's
e-mail address, which is buried somewhere deep in my computer's innards, and
will send this to him directly.)

Posted by: Steve at March 3, 2004 07:21 PM

"I honestly cannot think of another comparable professions, the members of which would be prepared to argue that after years of intensive training, followed by certification, a significant proportion of the members of the profession would still be sufficiently lacking in merit, competency and potential as to deserve to work for minimum wage with no benefits."

This phenomenon is not really unique to liberal arts/humanities. Doctors have residencies, scientists have postdoc-ing. I'm sure engineers have something, but other than decent paychecks I'll be damned if I know what =).

In physics the best case scenario is 15 years from starting college to reaching a tenurable position:
1) 4 years to BS
2) 5 years to PhD
3) 2-3 years as a postdoc to build CV
4) 2-3 years as visiting or non-tenure-track prof
(teaching experience since the years of TAing don't count, more research and publications for the CV)

Two-thirds of this occurs after the PhD, and this schedule assumes all sorts of things (not having to work as an undergrad, not struggling excessively with any classes, REU research the summers before the junior and senior years for networking and research experience, a quick dissertation topic, an advisor who doesn't believe in the slave labor system, etc.) I was rather ticked for a couple of days when I first learned that finishing a PhD meant another half of a decade before I could be realistically considered for tenure. I was even more ticked when I realized that just to be eligible for a tenure-track position I would have to spend at least five more years than many of the gods of physics had to a century ago.

Posted by: AGM at March 3, 2004 07:43 PM

AKMA's point about the observed *self-assessment* of teaching ability and actual teaching ability is quite funny, I think. I know I have several friends and collegues who I have listened to and nodded sympathetically about how misunderstood they are, how their students are stupid and lazy and aren't capable of assessing their teaching, while silently agreeing that some of the student's complaints are legitimate.

However, with regards to her point about the over-representation of teaching quality amoung adjuncts - I think it quite likely that the quality of teaching amoung adjuncts is likely to be higher than that found by permanent faculty. There are compensations for permanent faculty who are not talented teachers - research, flexible hours, a nice salary, job security. What misery awaits the adjunct who does not like and is not talented at teaching?

Posted by: Matilde at March 3, 2004 08:14 PM

Adjuncts are often better teachers because they have the toughest classes, such as the 100 level introductory courses which 20% of the students fail. How many tenured professors teach these classes - and I mean teach as in "grade the assignments" not just lecture.

I know many adjuncts who do not deserve such a fate. On the other hand, I know many who completed a PhD simply because the department didn't have a good reason to throw them out. Though they have skills on paper, several rounds through the application process have failed to net them an interview (unlike Failed Again) because they have truly awful people skills, refuse to meet students halfway, and feel that knowing their FIELD well is enough.

Posted by: dissertating at March 3, 2004 10:14 PM

American universities should discriminate against Canadians, as they do us.

Posted by: chun the unavoidable at March 4, 2004 01:37 AM

In response to #8, AGM:

I think this is simple economics. When my dept went to hire in a realtively new sub-field (of biology) where there were very few PhDs, we interviewed (& hired) recent grads (no post-doc, etc). However, in well established fields, we can get 200-300 applications. The ones who are recent just don't look as good (on merit criteria), and frankly, wouldn't do as well as junior faculty. If such folks want to hang around (and get better), then yes, its one or more post-docs. There is a supply & demand problem (which has been discussed here many times before).

By and large, medical schools (and vet schools and PT programs) do the limiting on the basis of who gets in, before training. I would guess law schools are pretty similar (ie accepting a small % of applicants). An undergrad engineering degree or an MBA does not guarantee a job. I know lots of engineers who would like a job at X or Z, but don't get it.

And while there are flaws in the merit system here, you should look at what goes on in any third world country (I was briefly associated with universities in SE Asia) where merit is irrelevant, but family, and religion, and race are overt criteria. Promising every PhD a job isn't going to happen, and its not clear that if it did it would solve any of the problems that do get discussed here.


Posted by: rzg at March 4, 2004 07:59 AM

I've lurked on this site for months and am finally moved to post a comment in response to AKMA's report that in his (her?) "participation in the receiving end of applications, I’ve always observed fewer stand-out applications than I’d have wanted to see." I don't know what field this person is writing about. I've recently participated in a history search and a writing search at my institution, a 4-4 load teaching- factory-kind-of-place. In both cases the committees ended up disheartened by the high number of excellent applications. Many of the applicants had more publications and a wider range of teaching experiences than those of us sitting on the committee. In both cases, we did our best to try and hire the "best" applicant for our institution. In the process, we had to reject 10-20 applicants who were just as qualified as the "winner" and just as qualified as those of us already doing the job. I'd say IA's diagnosis of the crisis in the academy is dead on.

Posted by: finally posting at March 4, 2004 10:21 AM

I second "finally posting".

In at least two places where I had a shot at getting a position (in the late '90s), members of the hiring committee had fewer publications when hired (some in the late '80s and early '90s) and many had much less teaching experience (having been hired so quickly after finishing their doctoral work or in one case, without having finished the doctorate).

Future grad students will be forced to do even more than I did (publish, teach, etc.) in order to even get a chance at a full-time, tenure-track position.

It's highly exploitative and unfair.

Posted by: David at March 4, 2004 10:44 AM

"To make my position clear: I firmly believe that in today's job market, anyone who gets a tenure-track job must have some impressive credentials, and must have demonstrated at least the potential to become at least a good teacher and scholar."

You're joking here right?

This year Cal State Northridge did a national search for a public law professor, and when they made their short-list the number one criteria was that the candidate had to be withing driving distance because the department didn't want to (or couldn't) pay for transportation or a hotel.

And according to some of the older faculty at my school, the place it rife with professors who got their jobs over more qualified candidates because their dissertation chair was friends with people on the hiring committee.

I love my job and all, but can we please stop pretending that academe is a meritocracy?!?

Posted by: Mud Blood & Beer at March 4, 2004 11:20 AM

Now here's the real bitter pill.

Members of my own department treated me, and others who didn't get jobs, as if we did not merit them.

They had internalized the meritocracy myth.

Posted by: David at March 4, 2004 11:28 AM

I want to return to a very early comment in the list - from "Failed Again". FA mentions the question of JOB DESCRIPTIONS.

1. the department doesn't agree on what it really wants in advance of advertisement, but then agrees on subfield, etc.

1.a. the indecisiveness last b/c of a departmental schism.

2. the department (esp at small schools) really doesn't know the field. The retiring occupant has been there so long (and may be so out of touch) that he/she can't help. They're fishing -- seeing what the range of, say, 19th C Brit Lit is really like. We're in one of those this term.

3. the dept is under pressure from other powers to list absurd sub-field combinations (Byzantine and strong preference for African sub field - good luck!). They don't mean it. They just want to choose a good candidate in the main teaching field; they know what they need and are satisfying the deans.

In the case of my institution we write "position requests" in an atmosphere in which in a good year 5 out of 25 are approved for searches. There is a strong feeling (though impossible to prove) that adding sexy subfields improves the chances of evenly matched requests.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at March 4, 2004 12:22 PM

Weird subfield combinations are also a warning sign that the department may have an inside candidate and is simply going through the motions for legal reasons. (My personal fave is the "Victorian British and African literature" combination from about seven years ago.)

In re: CSU Northridge--if that anecdote is true, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the university gave the department an unfunded search. I'm gathering that such searches are becoming more commmon at the CSUs in the wake of drastic budget cuts, leaving all expenses for job advertisements (which, incidentally, can be pretty expensive), interview committees, fly-outs, etc. to be borne by the department. If the department has no money, well...

Posted by: Miriam at March 4, 2004 01:37 PM

CSU Northridge is one of the institutions that interviewed me this year at MLA. I gathered from them that they had no money at all for fly-outs and were going to try to base their hiring decision on the MLA interview and the paperwork (writing sample, CV, etc.). After what I thought was an unusually pleasant interview (engaged and engaging conversation, even laughter and good humor--imagine that), I never heard from them again. It would be better for my ego to think money (and the fact that I was definitely not within driving distance) was a major factor in the silence coming from their direction, but I am no longer sure any of these decisions have anything even beginning to resemble a rational basis...

Posted by: Failed Again at March 4, 2004 03:44 PM

I love it when the Tenureds (#17) throw up their hands and say "we don't know what we're doing either!" But what they add to "we don't know what we're doing" is "but we have all the power, so it doesn't really matter whether we know what we're doing."

Posted by: Chris at March 4, 2004 03:46 PM

Pencil vania's crap shoot analogy seems spot on to me. And I won my game without even knowing the rules.

When I started my grad studies, I was told by a dept. head at a very prestigious uni that my subject (which required learning a second language) would never lead to a job in a traditional dept. I decided that writing my dissertation on a market-driven topic, rather than one I was passionate about, was too awful a prospect to contemplate, & so ignored his advice.

Meanwhile, my closest grad school friend did everything she was told: dissertation in a "hot" field, book contract before she'd even finished, conferences, publications, all the uni awards etc. She was a few years ahead of me, & on completion applied to literally hundreds of positions. She didn't even land an interview.

That frightened me into two actions: 1) I started reading sites like the forebears to this one, 2) I decided to continue practising my art form on the side (I pursued a theoretical PhD), figuring I may as well be happy & artistically satisfied if I was going to end up unemployed anyway.

So what happened? When I finished, my art form was suddenly & unexpectedly hot, & having both practical & theoretical experience suddenly made me marketable. I landed interviews at places all over the country - at way better institutions than I'd studied at. I had to shake my head in wonder: I was doing academic interviews based on what I thought of as my hobby. In the end, the position I accepted required knowledge of the second language I'd been encouraged not to learn.

This seemed, still seems, bizarre to me. However, when my much more academically successful friend asked me to read her application to my current uni, I noticed she was very good at describing her achievements, but said nothing about how they'd apply to the context of the dept. she'd be going into. Ie, she didn't elaborate on her "fit." Precisely because her achievements were so stellar, it came across as quite egocentric. I advised her to address the needs of the dept., but she was pretty dismissive of this. Although I wasn't on the committee, I know this is why she wasn't even long-listed for this position. It's absolutely the only thing I can think of that she hasn't done & I have.

But I'm with Rilke on this one: no one knows anything.

Posted by: mab at March 4, 2004 07:37 PM

Another issue related to entitlement is that there are in fact now "two Americas", though as usual they aren't the ones John Edwards thought. The fact is that there are various classes of workers who are in various ways entrenched in de facto or de jure tenured situations -- not just professors, but other teachers, civil servants, well-placed people in private industry, and so forth. Then there's a large group of people -- adjuncts, IS type contractors, ordinary talented knowledge workers, and the like, who in fact have to scramble.

There is a tension between these groups that doesn't just come from "jilted entitlement". On my site right now I'm discussing my jury duty in a murder trial in which a major factor that influenced the jury toward acquittal was the attitudes of the "tenured" police and crime lab workers who were basically trying to send a couple of guys up the river for Murder 1 on flimsy evidence (and some lies) -- and didn't care. I think it was the people on the jury who had to scramble to make a living who had to step in and stop what was happening.

It seems to me that there are many, many reverberations to this tension between the "cushy job" holders and the "ordinary people". The lottery-like -- or system-gaming properties -- of getting into the "cushy job" do, and ought to, excite some sense of injustice here.

Posted by: John Bruce at March 4, 2004 08:13 PM

What none of you are getting about the CSU Northridge comment is that they did a nationalsearch -- or at least they pretended it was such. So people from across the country applied and were rejected. Why? Because they didn't live close enough to the campus.

I have a former colleague who works there and said that the applicant pool was excellent, filled with tons of top-notch scholars with multiple publications. But they were ignored, because they lived too far away.

I'm a regular reader of this site, but please, someone tell me that you understand that getting a tenure track job in our profession has less to to with merit than we pretend.

Posted by: mud blood & beer at March 4, 2004 09:52 PM

I'll tell you: I now believe merit has nearly nothing to do with getting that first tenure-track job. Luck and the elusive "fit" (which I am beginning to suspect is often just an excuse for hiring "people like us") are in play here, but merit does not seem to have much influence on anything. It seems as if hiring committees (someone please tell me I am wrong about this) do not make distinctions between the candidates based on any measurable achievements (publication, teaching experience, etc.).

For goodness sake, we are talking about ENTRY-LEVEL jobs here! What used to be tenure requirements (book plus articles) now is not sufficient to get a tenure-track offer? What is going on? Since when did trying to get an academic job become like rushing a fraternity or sorority?

Posted by: Failed Again at March 4, 2004 10:26 PM

"If you tell me that the academic field of history so brims over with exceptional students and job-seekers that every opening finds more amply-qualified applicants than would be the case in a theological discipline, I’ll have no basis for questioning your claim."

I don't know that the field of history brims over with exceptional job candidates. But I certainly believe that it brims over with amply qualified job candidates.

I probably agree with you (at least in part) on the inflation/self-inflation of capacities. As I've said before, it's an age of immodesty. It's not enough to be a good teacher and a fine scholar. We must all participate in the ritualized proclamations of Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence :-)

But then, as several commentators have noted, to expect to see stand-out applications at the entry level (the level at which, after all, we are often talking more about perceived potential than about an established track record of solid, sustained accomplishment) is perhaps to participate in the very inflation to which you object.

In any case, I do think it possible "to discuss academic inequities without collaborating in a facile reduction of the discussion to stuffy, undeserving occupants of cushy jobs (on one hand) and starving, brilliant, unjustly overlooked job-seekers (on the other)." But it's not always easy to do so, because of those very inequities.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at March 4, 2004 11:11 PM

RE: "Jilted Entitlement"
Well, honestly, here's one thing I think everyone in the world is entitled to: the right to complain. Yes, people who get to study what they love for several years and get paid just a little to do it are privileged, relatively speaking. But what if every year, after a big convention, half those people were chosen at random to get their heads flushed in a toilet? Wouldn't it be pretty dumb for them not to complain, no matter what privilege they had? And here's a point about the very word, "entitlement": that word presumes that the people who pursue graduate studies are already of a privileged class, with the time and money to live like one of the Bloomsbury group. I'd just like to remind everyone that pursuing the PhD in hopes of becoming a professor was and is a logical (if idealistic) aim of many young people, like myself, who were smart and creative, but poor, and saw the academic profession as a way of reaching one's potential in the world. When Madonna complains that her butler, nanny, and yoga classes don't bring her happiness, that's "jilted entitlement". When thousands of people attempt the laudable dream of educating themselves and others but fail because the older generation of educators can't write an effective job announcement, that's righteous anger and damn right they're entitled to say something about it.

Posted by: pencil_vainia at March 5, 2004 12:24 AM

rzg, I tend to agree, with the proviso that the specialization is so new that there are few PhD's to research, let alone postdoc. In anything that's been around more than a decade I would really doubt that that would be the case.

Slightly off topic, but a detail I seem not to know: For those of us from my side of the fence (STEM), someone finishing up a PhD should have at least a couple of papers published in peer-reviewed journals before even defending the dissertation, with a postdoc garnering several more. Is it that much harder to get books and papers published in your areas?

Posted by: AGM at March 5, 2004 12:39 AM

Re #25:

I'll tell you: I now believe merit has nearly nothing to do with getting that first tenure-track job. Luck and the elusive "fit" (which I am beginning to suspect is often just an excuse for hiring "people like us") are in play here, but merit does not seem to have much influence on anything. It seems as if hiring committees (someone please tell me I am wrong about this) do not make distinctions between the candidates based on any measurable achievements (publication, teaching experience, etc.).

You're not going to like to hear this, but "fit" is a huge part of it. Especially in smaller departments.

When I was in academia I taught in a small liberal arts mathematics department. I had a conversation with my chair in which this subject came up. He said something to the effect of "Look, we have a department of eight people. We have to work closely with each other every day. When we hire, we are looking at someone who could be around for thirty years and we want to be very careful that this is someone who we get along with and who gets along with us. If not, then it could make our lives miserable for years on end and, as important, their life miserable as well. Of course, we could deal with this at the time of pre-tenure review or tenure, but denying someone tenure is a really serious thing and we would prefer to address this concern at the time of hiring. It is the fairer thing to do for us and the candidate." This isn't a direct quote, but it is the gist of what he said.

Does that mean that so-called objective criteria didn't matter? Not at all. You had to be an excellent teacher and scholar to get in the door for an interview. But once you were there, the question of "fit" definitely came up in the meetings when they were deciding who to hire.

The real problem with this, of course, isn't that someone who has marginally better publications might perpetually be number two on the hiring list, but rather that this is often used to deny jobs to groups who are traditionally underrepresented and discriminated against.

The other thing I can say is that if this has happened several times it might be a cause for self-examination. When you go on campus for an interview, is being a good fit for the department on your mind? If not, it should be. You should be going in there trying to figure out what the agenda of the people who are hiring you is and where your place is in the scheme of things, because they are not going to change their ambitions for their department to suit you.

Posted by: Jay at March 5, 2004 01:02 AM

Whoops, shoud have been re: 24...

Posted by: Jay at March 5, 2004 02:11 AM

AGM - In all the science/engineering fields that I know of, publication is in fact, relatively easy (funding is not), for good work. The expectation for grad students is 3-5 papers (first or single auth'd), and then 2 per year in post-doc.

And it is very true that productivity (let alone an objective measure of quality) is non-uniform across age. It's not just the candidates or the adjuncts. In my dept, nearly every 40-something(now tenured) produces more than all of the 55+ folks. To listen to our "wise elders" critique the un-tenured is one of the most frustrasting & ugly things I've ever seen.

Posted by: rzg at March 5, 2004 07:59 AM

Re: #28

"You should be going in there trying to figure out what the agenda of the people who are hiring you is"

And how does one manage this? Beyond scrutinizing the institution's and department's website, checking out faculty publications, and asking around to anyone one knows about whether they have any insight into the hiring department in question--all of which I make a habit of doing--I simply cannot figure out what else might be done to "figure out the agenda of the people who are hiring."

How can one "figure out" what might be the internal tensions (who hates whom, and would be willing to torpedo any candidate that the other likes, etc.) of a given search committe or department???

Posted by: Failed Again at March 5, 2004 09:28 AM

One thing I notice in this discussion, and in the initial post, is the people who are saying "you're doing something wrong", rather than recognizing the system is an issue. Individual cases differ, but reading Failed Again's account, which, since it's well-written, doesn't contain self-dramatization or clear exaggerations, suggests he's telling things pretty much as they are, I think he's giving good anecdotal evidence that the current academic hiring system is broken. This is certainly corroborated by the fictionalized "Pictures from an Institution" stories on Critical Mass.

Many in the IS job market (almost as bad for the past couple of years) recognize there is no way an employer can make an intelligent hiring decision with such an enormous pool of applicants -- it simply clogs the process. And there are too many opportunities for human error, corruption, or the tendency to go for the mediocre candidate.

I am going to take this up on my site in the next week, I think.

Posted by: John Bruce at March 5, 2004 10:16 AM

IA, John, and all —

Thanks for the helpful discussion; I was keeping my eye on the asbestos suits after I read IA’s original post, lest the heat erupt into flame, but have been gratified that the conversation has tested but not torched me.

I don’t think that adjuncts or unsuccessful applicants are doing anything wrong; I do believe that institutions tend to hire homeostatically; I’m learning that there’s even more variation in the job “market” for areas outside theological disciplines than there is within those disciplines.

The system is corrupted, in part because more people aspire to jobs in academic teaching than the academy (as it’s currently constituted) can employ full-time. Institutions take advantage of that circumstance to depress working conditions across the board (I think it’s important not to lose track of the fact that plenty of tenured full-time faculty are overworked and underpaid, too — not to ellicit sympathy from even-more-oppressed adjuncts, but to keep in view the systemic problems).

Another complication in the system arises when praise and encouragement and blame and criticism come in irregular amounts from unpredictable sources who aren’t accountable for their judgments. Some folks’ hopes get unduly inflated, where others are abused and battered. There’s no objectivity in the system anywhere, and perhaps the closest source of objective judgment comes when people make hiring decisions with the conseqeunces of which they’ll have to live for a long term. Even there, though, the criteria they employ deviate markedly toward the social and personal, as Jay indicates.

Again, thanks for the gentle but firm pushback.

Posted by: AKMA at March 5, 2004 11:28 AM

"(I think it’s important not to lose track of the fact that plenty of tenured full-time faculty are overworked and underpaid, too — not to ellicit sympathy from even-more-oppressed adjuncts, but to keep in view the systemic problems)."

Exactly. This is one of the arguments that I make at this site (actually, I haven't said much about it lately, because I said so much last spring and summer). Adjunctification is happening to the profession, and not just to the adjuncts. It goes hand in hand with increased expectations and decreased pay (salary stagnation and compression) for tenurable faculty.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at March 5, 2004 11:39 AM

"You had to be an excellent teacher and scholar to get in the door for an interview. But once you were there, the question of "fit" definitely came up in the meetings when they were deciding who to hire." (#28, Jay)

I don't mean to "pile" on, but Jay's post aptly frames some of the more instcrutable and perplexing facets of the enigmatic "fit" issue.

The question is what exactly is being scrutinized to determine when an applicant is a "good fit"? In my experience, having watched several hiring processes at both a liberal arts college and a also research university, a sadly important factor is the overall aesthetics of self-presentation. The individuals hired wore subdued colors, their suits (both for women and men) were traditionally cut, not stuffy but also not overly stylish--dark earth tones, blacks and greys. They also sported conservative hair styles, and none sported any visible tatoos, or ear piercings for men, or nose or multiple ear piercings for women. In addition, they all possessed a soft, slightly indifferent, but confident style of speech.

In addition to these aesthetic issues, the kinds of answers one offered to off-hand or casual questions became very important. The problem, though, was that the kinds questions that ultimately determined the degree of "fit" were never direct. On the contrary, they were very roundabout and indirect, and often on subjects that appeared to have nothing whatsoever to do with one's professional life. Except, as we all know, in the end, all of our seemingly non-professional interests count as part of our overall profesional profile.

Posted by: Chris at March 5, 2004 01:07 PM

The questions which examine "fit" are also often illegal.

Posted by: dissertating at March 5, 2004 01:20 PM

The number of qualified applicants does indeed vary widely depending on subfield. My department ran two junior-level searches this year, one in a standard old-school subfield where we received at least a dozen super-qualified candidates, the other in a newer, trendier, and somewhat interdisciplinary subfield where we barely scraped together six conference interviewees and eventually found only two of them remotely hireable in our department (by which I mean that several of them clearly belonged in another humanities dept. but were applying to our search just in case). I sat in on the conference interviews for the second position, and I was surprised at how ill-prepared some of those candidates were to talk about how they would teach the sorts of courses we offer in our department.

In the old-school subfield, the people we wound up inviting to campus were all 3-4 years out of grad school, working on second books, and teaching on visiting appointments or low-level tenure-track positions; we hired our first choice, a thriving junior scholar who had published despite her 4-4 small-liberal-arts job. In the trendy subfield, our one potential Big Fish hire opted to go elsewhere, so we joyfully hired our second choice, a candidate just finishing a Ph.D. (while adjuncting full-time) whom we'd all agreed would be an excellent addition to the department.

We also made a third hire under less traditional circumstances. I was surprised to learn that one of my colleagues who attends department meetings and has been a wonderful mentor to me -- who is also a program director and widely-recognized stellar teacher in the department -- was still being paid on a course-by-course basis. I suspect that our outgoing department chair and outgoing interim dean indulged in some administrative hanky-panky, because none of us can figure out exactly where the "line" we are allegedly using might have come from, but once the tenured and tenure-track faculty had the matter put before us we unanimously agreed to hire our colleague as a non-tt professor on a five-year contract (renewable unto eternity) with all the usual full-time benefits.

Of course, the week after the last of our hires went through, the administration discovered a budget crisis and imposed a hiring freeze. They couldn't withdraw formal offers, thank God, so all our hires are all safe, but the departments with Dec/Jan/Feb professional conferences and slightly later hiring cycles got burned. Several searches were canned on the verge of making final offers. It's not always anyone's fault when things don't work out.

(I'm a semi-regular IA poster, but I'm submitting this anonymously because it's got a lot of details my university probably wouldn't want publicized. I'm proud of my department, though.)

Posted by: Anonymous For Now at March 5, 2004 01:32 PM

How many tenure-track faculty are overworked and underpaid?

At my university the range of starting salaries for 3-3 tt positions is pretty broad:

School of Education: $36k
Foreign Languages & Literature: $42k
Computer Science: $70k
Business School: $92k

Interestingly, it's the business faculty who are most likely to leave because their pay is too low.

Posted by: ABD Instructor at March 5, 2004 01:43 PM

Re: failed again -- I think the criteria used to judge candidates varies, often by department. I teach at small liberal arts college. In my department we throw out any candidate who does not have multiple publications, since there are so many candidates that do have them. It seems to us grossly unjust to consider an unpublished grad student or recent PhD based on "potential" when many other candidates have built a record of actual achievement, often while teaching 4-6 courses a semester as adjuncts (as I did for 4 years before getting this job). I recently sat as an outside member on a search committee in another department, also humanities, and things were quite different. This department had not hired a new faculty member in well over a decade and the tenured professors had absolutely no sense of how the market changed. When I objected to interviewing unpublished grad students (even an ABD made the long list!), they responded with outrage that I would expect graduate students to publish -- not surprising, since they don't publish as tenured faculty members. When I tried to get the conversation focused on the candidates with teaching experience and publications, people who clearly merited an interview and would be successful in our environment, I got nowhere. After all, the ABD was from Harvard and the unpublished PhD had a glowing letter form a VERY IMPORTANT SCHOLAR. So reputation and potential trumped merit, and the offer went to a lucky grad student lottery winner over a pile of people who had actually produced something – including a couple grad students that had published.

The lesson, it seems to me, is that as more young faculty get t-t positions and are willing to communicate the changes in the market, merit will become more important. That has happened in our department, largely because the junior person hired before me educated the older faculty (though one still persists in wanting to interview ABD's from Harvard, Yale, Chicago, etc. -- we just ignore him). But that means junior people in positions to influence searches need to say something, and need to risk some political capital.

Posted by: visit2 at March 5, 2004 01:48 PM

One further note. I would not take comment #35 too seriously. I haven't seen many subdued unstylish people getting the jobs at our college. We tend to respond positively to style and flair (maybe it's a fit issue?). the last time I did conference interviews, the stylish who were willing to challenge the committee and fight with us a bit, seemed confident in their individuality, and departed in interesting ways from the sartorial expectations (as long as done well...) stood out from the endless procession of subdued, nervous, and often toadying interviewees. We might be an exception, but you can’t bank on bland in all circumstances.

Posted by: visit2 at March 5, 2004 01:49 PM

I'd like to stress, Chris (#20), that I am myself an adjunct -- so if I'm reporting on what I've seen in job searches, it's from the REALLY weird position of being a full-time adjunct in 2-year renewable contracts in a small department which hired 2 tenure track people after me -- and I was expected to participate and vote. I was even asked to be on a conference interview team.

So if the "tenureds" are throwing up their hands, it's not me.

I'm just reporting from a more-inside-than-some-adjuncts position.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at March 5, 2004 05:34 PM

Mud, Blood, et al. --

The reason for a National Ad has nothing to do with intentions and everything to do with Federal Equal Employment and Opportunity requirements that jobs in this market be advertised nationally.

What you report is low, but probably not so uncommon.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at March 5, 2004 05:44 PM

Again what I have seen at both ends of the job search are after meeting some basic standard of a good resume:

1. Who you know / whether you are ideologically compatible.

2. How good your presentation is - both interest of the topic and quality of presentation skills.

3. Affirmative action criteria. Important in some locations though mainly in getting interviewed from what I can see. However, I did apply 3 times for a job at my old department and was rejected on the basis they didn't want clones of the professors already there and now see that a woman who graduated from there got a job there. Maybe she can teach better or something?

Posted by: moom at March 5, 2004 10:55 PM

When I was at "Elite Australian University" (at least that's what they thought there) the choice of job description criteria were weird combinations made in clueless committee meetings trying to get to a compromise between different disciplines etc. in an interdisciplinary department. Then the searches changed nature once they got underway and we saw who applied. In the end you ahd to justify that the candidate met the criteria which could require some creativity. Some broader searches just ended up with lots of candidates who were hard to compare. Or the searches were overly narrow and few talented people appliled.

Here (small US research university) at least we made the search very broad and then worked out what we wanted. In the search I participated in there wasn't much talent (apart from one foreign senior guy who wasn't really serious) in the one field or candidates who kind of fitted it but were really in a different field. So we didn't hire anyone in that area. We hired two people in one of the two fields we advertised in. The final two guys were good and were also well known to the chairman.

Posted by: moom at March 5, 2004 11:11 PM

Re #39 - this varies across fields - in Econ publications before the PhD are unusual and not expected and I am not sure if they give any edge. Just look round the web at the resumes of newly hired assistant profs. In my original field they are helpful and give an edge as not all have them. As part of our grad research methods course we got to look at the CVs of all our faculty - I think so we got a better idea of their research interests (this is pre web). I made sure my CV would look roughly like theirs was when they were hired by the time I graduated. I got research positions and a temporary teaching position as a result and now finally am halfway through an accelerated (3 year) tenure track position. Got the PhD 10 years ago next month.

Maybe the lack of postdocs outside the hard sciences is the problem? Thsi was mentioned. I was lucky to get some of the few that exist in my social science.

Posted by: moom at March 5, 2004 11:33 PM

Following up on what moom just said in #45 . . .

In English, publications prior to a hire are not particularly required (although this varies according to subfield--medievalists don't necessarily publish that much as grad students, modernists do). This has a lot to do with the fact that monographs in English are generally revised/expanded dissertations. If you put too much of your research out there prior to getting a book contract, you run the risk of deep-sixing your chance at the book. ("Why should we publish this as a book? 4 of the 5 chapters are already out there for free as journal articles!")

In addition, any publication you do prior to the job gets you the job--and nothing more. It will most likely not count toward tenure. Promotion and review committees will want to see what you've done after getting hired.

A single publication while ABD is probably a good idea--it shows that your ideas merit a wider audience, and it gives you a nice professional looking writing sample. But I would recommend against ABDs in English publishing more than a single article.

Posted by: IvyLeagueGrad at March 6, 2004 02:01 AM

Re 45 & 46: My point wasn't that ABD's should have to publish. Rather, my point was that departments should not hire ABD's or newly minted PhD's when a large portion of candidates in the pool have been out 2-4 years working in visiting or adjunct positions, and have been publishing. I've found that some of my older colleagues seem to think that people who have been working already are somehow not as attractive as the new PhD. I think that's just wrong. If our applicant pools were just ABD's or first year PhD's then I would be less likely to expect publications. If I am going to vote to interview, much less hire a recent PhD, they had better be absolutely fantastic, since they must compete with the 20 or so people who have been able to adjunct and publish at the same time. I know those folks will keep producing and be good teachers -- our 3-3 load will be a relief, and they've demonstrated an ability to research while managing heavy teaching burdens. I'm less certain a new PhD can do so, unless they already have a record; even then, the experienced person is a far better choice, pragmatically and ethically..

In short, an ABD with 1 publication can't really compete with a PhD with 3-4 years adjunct/visiting experience, if the latter has also published regularly. They only reason they do sometimes get jobs is because some faculty don't understand the new realties. That doesn't make the new reality acceptable -- that's a different topic -- but even within a structurally unjust system we need to be fair. And fair, to me, means hiring people with evidence of accomplishment (usually accumulated under the fairly rotten conditions detailed in this blog) before hiring people with "potential."

Posted by: visit2 at March 6, 2004 04:09 AM

"in Econ publications before the PhD are unusual and not expected and I am not sure if they give any edge."

Three factors may contribute to this situation. Firstly, econ phd education in the US is around 5 years, where the first year or so are usually spent on building the foundation. Very few candidates,save those already with master's degree under their belt, have sufficient technical skill to read and understand current research. (for some reason, the jump from undergraduate econ to grad econ is really big, much more so than say compuer science.) Thus most people start writing papers around their third year. With the "3-paper" style of thesis becomming more popular in econ, the push is to write/complete the papers first and worry about polishing it up for publishing it later.

Secondly, the turn-arround time from submission to publication can be longer than usual when one takes into account requests for revison.

Finally, econ isnt a "group research" discipline. In engineering and sciences, phds are grouped under research labs, where the principal investigator gets the funds/grants, and severl grad students, post-docs, other profs work togerther on the project. Since the money involved is big, the number of competiting labs doing the exact same research is smaller. Better odds of getting your paper published. And since many people are needed to write software, run experiments, etc, its easier to get your name tack onto some project than in economics.

Posted by: Passing_through at March 6, 2004 04:12 AM

#47: I would agree with all you say if you were also willing to relax the multiple publications criteria for people who have been out of grad. school for a few years. I think if an adjunct can squeeze out one or two publications while working under those conditions, they're worthy of consideration.

Posted by: Chris at March 6, 2004 08:07 AM

Re: #46

"In addition, any publication you do prior to the job gets you the job--and nothing more. It will most likely not count toward tenure. Promotion and review committees will want to see what you've done after getting hired."

So, according to this formula, if I finally do get a tenure track job, I will be required to produce a second single-author book (something my own PhD advisor--a scholar of some weight and reputation in Early Modern studies--did not manage until some 11 years after her PhD. The ABD or newly-minted PhD, given entry to the tenure-track, based not on accomplishment, but on something that more closely resembles a Calvinist notion of unearned grace from a capricious deity (with hiring committees in the role of God), will be asked for only what I have accomplished already. My book counts for nothing. His or her book will count for something. Why?

Posted by: Failed Again at March 6, 2004 10:03 AM

#47: I don't agree that an adjunct with 3-4 years experience is by definition an all-around better candidate for a job than an ABD. Where you publish is often as important as if you publish in the first place--not all journals are created equal. Put another way, just because an article is published doesn't mean a search committee will consider it a good article--an ABD candidate's writing sample might be a better piece of work than an adjunct candidate's article. As Chris says in #49, one or two quality articles published in leading journals during adjuncthood is a lot smarter than a greater number of lower-quality articles (or articles placed in journals known for publishing most things sent to them).

Teaching experience is also not necessarily an area in which adjuncts trump ABDs. Given the labor system discussed on this blog, many ABDs have taught 10 or more classes during their tenure in grad school. (At the time I was ABD, I had taught 16.) My sense of the job market in English was that teaching too few courses of one's own design was a liability (and something many candidates from the most elite programs had to cope with)--but that you also got no bonus from having taught more than 8-10 courses. I.e., once you established that you had sufficient teaching experience, it didn't really matter whether that experience was 12 courses or 24 courses.

I do agree with your general point, though: there is no excuse for holding an adjunct's adjunct status against them.

#50: What can I say? Welcome to the ridiculous rule of "a book for tenure/promotion"? I don't like it, many of my colleagues don't like it, Stephen Greenblatt doesn't like it. But no administrator, trustee, or tenure committee at a high-profile university has had the courage yet to buck the rule. And until that happens (or until the university presses make it happen), the pressure to raise "standards" is going to keep trickling down through the system. I would love to see a system in place in which candidates for promotion at all levels simply submitted a research portfolio which demonstrated their commitment to an ongoing, high quality research program. But I suspect that we're stuck with the fetishization of the book for some time yet.

Posted by: IvyLeagueGrad at March 6, 2004 11:28 AM

Re #51

I already *have* the book. My point in #50 is that it seems that two or more books will be asked of me (and others in my general situation), while only one will be asked of others.

Posted by: Failed Again at March 6, 2004 11:43 AM

We need a way out of the chaotic insanity into which the "entry to the profession" phase has collapsed. Here's a wild suggestion for a collectively bargained national agreement or just one option that departments could avail of on a case-by-case basis:

- a national not-for-profit foundation to be established that will accept and review academic job searches in the humanities and social sciences, handle the initial screening of candidates, do brief phone interviews, etc; these searches will no longer be geared to rigid MLA, AHA, or similar schedules but as schools require.

This radical reform could achieve many things. For example, it could
a) force departments to be precise in their requirements,
b) remove an unloved task from many many faculty and chairs,
c) remove obvious biases and injustices from the system, and
d) still leave the search committee the power to make the final selection from a reasonably-sized group of competitive candidates.

The breakthrough advantage for the job applicants would be that the foundation (for a small standard fee) would be able to match up candidates' qualifications with a number of vacancies, negotiate with different schools, and generally change the dynamic in which the applicant's life consists of time, energy, and money wasted sending out the same or slightly tweaked packet -- letter, cv, writing sample, dossier, teaching philosophy -- and the hiring committee gets a stack of 350 applications that make its job impossible to complete in any humane way.

There would be a lot of resistance of course, but over the medium term many departments might be attracted to what could be a way of keeping final control of hiring, but (for an appropritae fee) transferring the initial stage to a more anonymous, merit-based, and unbiased process.

The foundation would operate on the principle that it will try to fit candidates to vacancies by way of open and fair criteria, and an accountable system of rolling assessment (the candidates update their profile and materials as needed) and negotiation with the schools and departments as to their needs.

Just a thought.


Posted by: flu in san diego at March 6, 2004 01:36 PM

re #47

At research universities in Econ it seems it is a disadvantage to have been an adjunct. They say "why didn't you get a tenure track job on the first shot". And if you didn't you want a full time visiting position not paid by the course. Well this is a field where most new PhDs are getting the jobs they want.

#48 My PhD field is geography. I'd actually published 8 journal articles by the end of 1994 when I got my PhD. I was very pissed off in 1996 when I was interviewed at one of the top departments and they were sitting there crossing out those publications to see how much I had actually published that they would count! my first job in between those two dates was a postdoc (in UK) and then a visiting position at my Alma Mater and then my second round of hunting for the tenure track job in the US failed and I took a research post in Australia. So in my last job search I was up against mainly new PhDs again - now I was either too qualified or finally in my current job they did decide to take the most experienced candidate.... Again how well the presentation went down and how well I knew the people seemed to be the clinchers.... A lot of places I've interviewed I have to pretend to hold different ideological viewpoints (more left wing pro environment anti-econ or the opposite) than I really do, but it is hard to do so.... when I can "be myself" then I think I pretty much get the job....

Posted by: moom at March 6, 2004 05:10 PM

I certainly hope no-one is expecting me to publish a book to get tenure! :)

So it is a requirement in certain fields and therefore it can't be a general requirement of the provost, trustees etc. Rather it drives the letters and the department recommendation that goes up to the next level in the process.

Posted by: moom at March 6, 2004 05:19 PM

Re #52:

Failed Again,

I just want to clarify that I agree with you on this point: the "book for tenure" standard one finds in many fields does unfairly burden adjuncts who have been publishing in order to stay competitive on the academic job market. An academic shouldn't have to write two books to get tenure (he or she shouldn't really have to write a single book for tenure either, but that's a different discussion).

Posted by: IvyLeagueGrad at March 6, 2004 07:56 PM

Re #56

I was told (by my chair) if someone published a book in economics too young people might say "who does he (or she) think he/she is"

That is weird....

Posted by: moom at March 6, 2004 09:36 PM

There's a 500 pound gorilla in this thread, whose presence is all the more noticeable for its absence: affirmative action. It has been both my personal experience, and that of many people in academia with whom I am acquainted, that job candidates belonging to certain protected groups receive favorable consideration in job searches and are very frequently hired over others with better credentials and even better (sometimes substantially better) performance in job interviews. University administrations exert substantial pressure on all phases of a job search, from the initial approval to the final job offer, to ensure this is the case. This is not to say that no women or minorities are unemployed, or that affirmative action is the cause of widespread academic unemployement. I agree with everyone else on this blog that the problem is too many applicants chasing too few jobs. However, in that situation the application of systematic preference for certain groups increases the difficulty in the situation and multiplies the ill will people feel.

Posted by: In the provinces at March 8, 2004 02:10 PM


I have been enjoyably lurking - and I just wanted to add my two cents. AKMA is welcome to check out my credentials, which include both having a book forthcoming AND being an adjunct for the past 2-3 years.

I have been keeping insanely anal stats on my job search, which right now is at 145 positions applied for in 3 years, 16 requests for my 'dossier', 11 conference interviews, and 1 campus interview.

In several of the conference interviews I have been informed (afterward/privately) that I made the final cut. But I am usually beaten out by someone from Princeton or Yale (I am UC).

(The campus interview was a classic, "Oops, we want something completely different from what we advertised for, sorry" scenario.)

I really do not understand why we continue to have graduate schools anywhere else than the Big 10 -- as long as they churn more than enough students to fill the positions available, what chance do the rest of us have?

Posted by: Susan at March 13, 2004 01:36 PM