A new commenter, Fubecona, left an impassioned comment on this post yesterday, and I was just going to comment in response, but then I realized that it was probably better to make this its own post. Up front, I just want to say clearly and for the record that this I am only speaking from my experience here – I’m not some sort of spokesperson for all institutions or all tenured faculty members or some bearer of The Truth about How All Hiring Committees Work and about How All Hiring Decisions Are Made. But as much as I’m only one person, with my own perspective, I still think it’s worth it to discuss these issues in a public forum, as honestly as I can – mainly because I think that it’s not helpful for tenured folks to keep quiet while a whole separate (and oftentimes not entirely informed) conversation happens amongst people who are off the tenure-track. If it’s true that we’re all colleagues (and yes, this is what I believe), then we should be talking to one another and sharing information as we have it. So this is my attempt to foster that conversation.
So, I wrote this in my previous post: “When we hire for the t-t, we aren’t interviewing somebody because they’ve already had a crushing workload, so there is no BENEFIT to doing that to yourself.” I suggested that one could look equally good to us as a teacher by just keeping one’s hand in by teaching one class a semester and working at some other job that would give one benefits and money – a day-job if you will.
“Do these hiring committees ever stop to consider that adjuncts do this so they can feed their children, pay their rent, buy their children clothes for school, pay for gas etc.? People who are adjuncting at 3 or 4 schools and teaching 5-6 courses aren’t doing it because they want to have a “crushing workload” or think it will look good on their resume. They are doing it out of economic necessity plain and simple. And why should that be a negative? Also, getting a “day job” in the current market isn’t any easier than getting a TT position, so the assumption that a person can just easily switch to another field and cut back to one course a semester is a naïve one. Oh, and on that point, is it really better that a person leave academia for a “day job” and only teach one class, than for them to plug away at 3 or 4 adjuncting positions? Why does that make a person a better candidate for a TT position than adjuncting? Isn’t it better to have a person dedicated to teaching than someone who treats it as a side job—or if not better, at least just as valuable? I don’t understand that one.
What’s so disturbing to me about all of these discussions about how hiring committees choose their new hires is the seeming lack of humanity. It’s like they’re searching for a robot that they can program to their own specific needs and that was “built” following a very specific blueprint (no deviations from said blueprint allowed). If you have had the misfortune of life getting in the way of your career goals, as it sometimes does, it seems you’re screwed.”
First things first: I need to clarify what I was saying (inarticulately) in the initial post, and what I wasn’t saying. What I was saying is this: at my institution, which is teaching-focused, when we hire for the tenure-track, we are not just looking at teaching. Why not? Because, regardless of what the faculty handbook says about teaching being 50% of one’s workload on the tenure-track, the reality is that it’s probably more like 30% of one’s total workload. And teaching will not get you tenure. Not even here. And when we hire for a tenure-track position, we hire with the tenure process in mind.
For this reason, while teaching is one piece of what we’re looking for, and it is important to demonstrate that one won’t be at a loss when one enters the classroom, a candidate can do that by having a consistent record of teaching, which doesn’t require quantity. At a certain point, accumulating courses taught on one’s cv has diminishing returns in terms of marketability. Teaching more and more and more classes doesn’t make a candidate look like a “better” teacher (and teaching multiple sections of comp semester after semester, for example, doesn’t do anything for a candidate who is applying for a literature position), and it can get in the way of the other essential qualities that successful candidates possess, like strong scholarship and the ability to do administrative and service tasks. Not because teaching a lot of classes in itself means that you can’t do the other stuff – just that teaching is intense and exhausting work, work that is made even more difficult when one is in a contingent position without adequate resources. If teaching is going to get in the way of publishing, or if it is going to get in the way of developing the administrative skill set that you will need to succeed in the job, then doing more and more teaching is not going to make you a stronger candidate. It might make you a stronger candidate to work at Starbucks and teach one class a semester to keep yourself current with teaching, if that means that it allows you to be innovative in that one class that you teach, and if that means that you can attend to the other parts of your application in a more focused way.
What I wasn’t saying: I at no point said that we did not give equal attention to applications from candidates whose cv includes a lot of adjuncting. We do, and when appropriate, those candidates have been invited for first-round interviews and campus visits, and they have received offers from our department.
But this gets to the “humanity” issue. When we choose candidates to interview, no, we aren’t thinking about anything other than the application materials in front of us, and how well those materials match what we ask for in our advertisement. Which, frankly, I think is appropriate. We are trying to hire a colleague, and we need that colleague to do a particular job. It would be unethical – and potentially in violation of laws about equitable hiring practices – to let factors beyond the application materials influence hiring decisions. Does that hurt some candidates? Probably. But it also helps some candidates who might otherwise face discrimination because of some aspect of their personal-life profile. Finally: I don’t know of any job in the world in which humanity is a primary factor in the hiring process. How would you judge whose life circumstances count more than another person’s? And if those criteria were primary, how would that relate to getting a candidate who will do the most effective job completing the work of the position, which, after all, is supposed to be the point?
Let me be clear: I am not in any way disparaging part-time faculty or saying that teaching part-time disqualifies a person from a tenure-track position. And I agree that my part-time colleagues are, for the most part, incredibly dedicated teachers, and that they do their jobs often in the face of incredible adversity.
But at the end of the day, let’s say I’m on a search committee, and I have to evaluate, say, 200 applications for just one position. It’s likely that at least a quarter of those applications will come from candidates who are adjuncts. So let’s say that we throw out everybody who’s not a part-timer. That still would leave us with 50 candidates for just one position. What criteria am I going to use to narrow the pool from 50 down to one? I’m going to look at innovation in teaching in the field in which we are hiring (not the number of courses taught); I’m going to look at consistency of scholarly engagement; I’m going to look at the person’s ability to carry the very heavy administrative and service load that goes with tenure-track employment at my institution. And 49 adjuncts will still be left out in the cold.
The hiring process is brutal. And even if we disqualified recently degreed folks or folks who somehow escaped freeway-flying (which, let’s note, is “offensive” and “appalling” in the opposite direction), that would not mean that every candidate who meets the minimum qualifications for a job ad would ultimately get hired on the tenure-track. The jobs just aren’t there.
So, finally, I want to object to the implication that tenure-track faculty are awful gatekeepers who are trying to deny access to the privileges of tenure-track employment, that we are trying to reinforce a caste system in the academy, with haves and have-nots. I mean, maybe some people are like that, but I don’t know any of them. I would love it if we could hire enough tenure-track faculty – or hell, even full-time lecturers along with tenure-track faculty – to staff all of the courses that my department offers, not in the least because it would help to ease the service and administrative burdens that distract me from my teaching. And we ask for lines each and every year, in the hope that maybe sometimes we will get a line or two, even while lines from our department have gone unfilled and are “redistributed” to other units on campus, and more often than not the answer is a big fat no.
Tenure-track faculty and adjunct faculty are on the same side, or at least they should be.