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01/07/2016

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Scott Clifton

I could be wrong about this, but I think the SLACs are actually doing the opposite--they are enjoying the benefits of this being a buyer's market and going with the prestige. This is based on anecdotal evidence, but I have applied to a lot of SLACs through the years of my being on the market, in part, because I think I am a great fit for them. I got one of my BAs from a public liberal arts college, so I know what it's like to be in that kind of community. I have deliberately taught a wide array of courses in order to be an asset to a department that might need versatile teachers. I have a solid teaching record, with strong evidence that I devote a lot of time and thought to pedagogy. I have a considerable background in value theory, which enables me to teach the popular courses at SLACs. And I have publications, though none in the "top 10." And consistently I fail to even get interviews at these institutions. Later, when I check back to see who got these jobs, more often than not, the winning candidates are the usual pedigreed suspects, with references from recognizable figures. I think it would be interesting to pay attention to this in the spring: how many SLACs report hiring applicants from non-Leiterific programs with few, if any, "top-ranked" journal publications? As I've mentioned in several places before, I think the distinction between research-oriented and teaching-oriented jobs is fast collapsing, because departments that once couldn't attract attention from the prestigious candidates are now being courted by just these people. And, performing the thought-experiment you suggest, Marcus, I suspect that the new attention is just too tempting. Suddenly, the SLACs are counted as the handsome and the pretty--why not go with the flashy candidate, even if there might be a flight risk several years down the road?

clarification

There is some confusion (on my part at least). SLAC used to mean SELECTIVE LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES. This picked out schools like Williams College, Reed College, and Pomona College. These schools cater to the upper middle class (and higher); they can afford to be quite selective; and they usually offer students a lower student to faculty ratio (small classes). These SLACs have always preferred hiring for pedigree (look at their faculty lists ... a lot of Ivey and Oxbridge). It seems now people, including Marcus, are using SLAC to mean liberal arts college, which comes to include small state schools (under 10,000 students?). But those are very different from the SELECTIVE LACs. I think many fine state schools just do not hire on the basis of pedigree, because they really must get faculty who can reach the students they get. And these are often first generation college students (the first in the family to go to college).

Marcus Arvan

clarification: Interesting. I had always (naively?) understood the acronym to stand for "small liberal arts college." I also just did a Google Search and it returned both answers--see e.g. http://www.acronymfinder.com/Small-Liberal-Arts-College-(SLAC).html versus http://www.acronymfinder.com/Selective-Liberal-Arts-College-(SLAC).html .

In any case, I intended the term to refer to small, not necessarily selective,
liberal arts colleges. I'm glad you asked for clarification!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: thanks for sharing your (countervailing) experience. I agree that it would be good to study the phenomenon in the Spring, and indeed, I am planning to do just that. Hopefully, examining the issue empirically will shed some much-needed light on the truth.

As an aside, I can't help but wonder whether it's a bit of a numbers game when it comes to smaller schools. In my first few years on the market, when I had 1-3 publications, I hardly got any interviews. It was only once I started piling up a significant number of peer-reviewed publications (7+ articles) that my interview and on-campus numbers picked up markedly.

I suspect there may be two reasons for this. First, I suspect there's a large number of candidates with similar numbers of publications, and that it may be difficult to stand out from the crowd unless you have a *lot* of publications. Second, I suspect that "probability of tenure" is very much on the minds of search committee members at small schools, and that the best indication to them that a candidate is likely to get tenure is some combination of (A) demonstration of teaching quality, and (B) how prolific the person is as a researcher (in terms of pure publication numbers).

postdoc

My impression is that pedigree matters a lot to many programs. At my undergraduate institution they sought to hire people from Ivy League programs. They did this so they could brag that they had people from Harvard, Princeton and so on. Very immature in my opinion. But the idea was that it was good advertising. As I mentioned the other day, looking over NYU's placement, it is possible to obtain a job with no publications.

Here's my point. Not only do different types of schools want different types of applicants, but different types of applicants must meet different types of standards. If you're from Utah, you better have a dozen publications in top journals. If you're from NYU, none or just 1 or 2 will suffice.

Scott Clifton

Marcus: You write, "I suspect that 'probability of tenure' is very much on the minds of search committee members at small schools, and that the best indication to them that a candidate is likely to get tenure is some combination of (A) demonstration of teaching quality, and (B) how prolific the person is as a researcher (in terms of pure publication numbers)."

I think this is right, but it also shows that SLACs are just as invested in getting candidates with demonstrations of research productivity. If an SC is presented with a candidate who has multiple pubs in lower ranked journals and one or two in a prestigious journal and a candidate who has multiple pubs in only lower ranked journals, the best bet is to go with the one with the prestigious journal--right? That suggests they will publish in such journals in the future. (At least, this is how I am imagining an SC member reasoning.) Now consider the fact that a large proportion of candidates fit both molds. If so, I can see, even at SLACs, why the interview pile is full of candidates with prestigious pubs and the maybe/reject pile consists in large part of people with multiple pubs, but no prestigious ones.

There is an arms race going on and I just don't think any department is that worried anymore about flight risk .They probably should be. I think the old system where there were roles that were properly filled by high prestige candidates, who spent most of their time doing research, and roles properly filled by low prestige candidates, who devoted more of their time to thinking about becoming an effective teacher, made a lot of sense. The system now seems--to me at least--to focus primarily on the former kind of candidates. (There are other factors that seem to be prioritized by some SC, besides prestige and research productivity, but teaching ability doesn't seem to be one of them.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: Thanks for your comment. Here are some thoughts in reply...

You write: "If an SC is presented with a candidate who has multiple pubs in lower ranked journals and one or two in a prestigious journal and a candidate who has multiple pubs in only lower ranked journals, the best bet is to go with the one with the prestigious journal--right? That suggests they will publish in such journals in the future."

My reply: I have heard *more than one* search committee member say precisely the opposite--that a person with a lot (lower-ranked) publications is a much safer bet than a person with only one or two highly-ranked publications, precisely because one or two highly-ranked publications "could be a fluke thing."

You write: "If so, I can see, even at SLACs, why the interview pile is full of candidates with prestigious pubs and the maybe/reject pile consists in large part of people with multiple pubs, but no prestigious ones."

My reply: Again, this doesn't fit at all with my experience. Like I said, I have *no* top-ranked publications, and yet my number of interviews (at SLACs) dramatically increased the more non-top-ranked publications I got. All the while, I saw candidates on various philosophy blogs consistently say things like, "I have top-ranked publications but no interviews!"

You write: "There is an arms race going on and I just don't think any department is that worried anymore about flight risk...(There are other factors that seem to be prioritized by some SC, besides prestige and research productivity, but teaching ability doesn't seem to be one of them)."

My reply: I *know* these claims to be false, on several different grounds. First, I have not only heard it "from the horse's mouth" (from people on search committees at small schools). Second, I was explicitly asked at multiple on-campus interviews (at SLACs) whether I would stay, and was told by a search committee member after getting passed over for a job that it was in part because they feared I wouldn't want to stay there long-term. Finally, I actually work at a small-to-midsized teaching institution! People at my institution care an *incredible* amount about teaching ability, etc., and by and large our new hires every year (in many different departments) are not "high prestige" people with "top publications." Our university is not stacked with people from Harvard or publications in Phil Review. It is stacked with excellent teachers from a very wide variety of universities with consistent, but decidedly "non-elite" publishing records (which, for the record, I do not in *any* way mean as a slight against my colleagues. For my part, I think the obsession with "top publications" and prestige are awful, and am thankful that my university--like many other SLACs I visited--does not buy into it).

Scott Clifton

Marcus,

I have no doubt you have heard these things--I have, too. My point is that, when you see how SLACs hire, based on (again, purely anecdotal) evidence, seeing who these departments actually hire, a different picture seems to emerge. But that was exactly your point in the original post--that individual preferences seem to lose out to collective ones. My suspicion is that flight risk is an individual worry, not a collective one. Collectively, prestige becomes more important than worries about faculty members jumping ship. Again, though--I may be wrong. This is based on four years' worth of keeping track of who actually gets these SLAC jobs. Let's have this conversation later, after we start to get some data about this year's hires. If I am wrong, I will gladly concede. :)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: Cool, that's probably the way to go! Numbers, as they say, don't lie.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: While we're on the subject, a few search committee members chimed in on this at the APA blog (http://blog.apaonline.org/2016/01/05/advice-for-applying-for-academic-jobs-in-philosophy-indiana-university-bloomington/#comments ).

Nancy Stanlick
January 7, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Reply

At a public college or university that must make its decisions based on the qualifications noted in the job advertisement, knocking someone out of contention for a position for which she or he meets the minimum qualifications because one didn’t receive degree(s) from a “prestigious” place or department, or did not receive a recommendation from a person of “prestige,” is the epitome of unfairness. If prestige is going to be used as a determining factor in decisions, then it ought to be stated specifically in the ad that one must have a degree from a prestigious university or department and/or a letter from a “prestigious” recommender. When on a search committee, I couldn’t care less whether a person received degree(s) from the University of Maine, Miami, or Oregon, Florida, Georgia, or Alaska — or from Harvard, Indiana, or Timbuktu as long as the University is properly accredited. There are plenty of people who have received degree(s) from “prestigious” places who are lazy, minimally effective teachers, or who aren’t any more successful at publishing than Jo Schmoe. And there are plenty who received degrees from lesser known places who do a solid and commendable job, who are good teachers, and/or who are also very good in the realm of publications. If a person doesn’t want to read the applications, then perhaps such a person shouldn’t be on the committee. Granted, the CV can indicate pretty clearly and quickly whether a person meets the minimum qualifications as they are written in an ad. If a person doesn’t meet the minimum, then rejecting that person right off makes perfectly good sense. But for those who get through that first round, their applications deserve to be read not only in fairness to the applicant, but for the benefit of the department and University considering the applicant. Plenty of excellent potential colleagues are apparently shoved aside simply because they don’t have a fancy pedigree. That’s really despicable.

Marianne Janack
January 7, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Reply

Speaking as someone who has only worked at (and done searches for) colleges that value teaching, I would like to add something about the issue of “prestige”. I would say that for some colleges like mine that value teaching, the way to make up for a perceived lack of pedigree is with teaching experience. We often select people who have lots of teaching experience for our first cut, even if they don’t have a degree from a high prestige Ph.D program or lots of publications. That said, however–and this may just be personal preference–I don’t like being given “selected” evaluations of teaching. I’d rather have access to all the evaluations, and then I can decide if I want to read them all or not. Sometimes a flawed (but complete) teaching record is better than a pruned and selective set of teaching evaluations, especially if the applicant has a story to tell about how he or she responded to the more critical comments about his or her teaching. At my college, the ability to respond constructively to criticisms is one of the things that the tenure and promotion committee looks at, and so someone who has shown that he or she can do that has shown us something about their teaching abilities.

Scott's Friend

Marcus,
You missed Scott's point. Let me quote you (including your quote of Scott):
"You write: "If an SC is presented with a candidate who has multiple pubs in lower ranked journals and one or two in a prestigious journal and a candidate who has multiple pubs in only lower ranked journals, the best bet is to go with the one with the prestigious journal--right? That suggests they will publish in such journals in the future." My reply: I have heard *more than one* search committee member say precisely the opposite--that a person with a lot (lower-ranked) publications is a much safer bet than a person with only one or two highly-ranked publications, precisely because one or two highly-ranked publications "could be a fluke thing.""
Scott is presenting a case where each candidate has, say, five publications, but the first has one in a top-10 journal, and the other does not. Other things being equal, most schools would choose the first. This betrays the fact that everyone really does value highly ranked journals. It is hard to argue with this.

Marcus Arvan

Scott's friend: Ah, you're right. I misread Scott's comment. Nevertheless, as someone who works at a liberal arts school, it is not at all obvious to me--and indeed, quite arguable!--whether they would prefer the person with the highly-ranked pub, all things being equal. If the person were from a top-ranked department/research powerhouse, having a top five pub or two might make them look like someone who wants to move up in the research world--and thus, might be a real flight-risk. Moreover, all things are rarely equal. The candidate with only lower ranked pubs might look like a more interesting colleague (some work in top journals isn't that exciting!), a far better teacher, etc.

Still, for all that, I would wholeheartedly agree with the idea that people should publish the best work in the places they can. It's very hard to predict what different committee members prioritize at different institutions. The best one can do is become the best philosopher (researcher, teacher, and colleague), and let the chips fall where they may. However, as I explain in my newest post, I suspect the safest thing to do--the way to make oneself as attractive to as many different types of jobs one can--is to publish widely, shooting for publications in top journals but also, failing that, lower-ranked publications too.

Scott Clifton

Thanks, Scott's friend. I did notice that Marcus had misread the comment, but I didn't point it out, because I still think the prestige issue is more worrisome.

Marcus, if we're going to discuss anecdotes, here's one:

A faculty member (FM1) at a public liberal arts school related to me a comment made by a different faculty member (FM2) during a search. When discussing one of the candidates, FM2 said, "Do we really want to hire someone from [unranked philosophy department]?" FM1, untenured at the time, didn't say aloud, but thought, "Wait--FM2, [unranked philosophy department] is where you got your PhD!" FM2's comment won the day--they didn't further discuss the candidate. Granted, FM2 might argue that the department is different today from when s/he had been there, but FM2 didn't. The reason was merely that the candidate was from a non-famous department and they had candidates from star-studded departments.

I suspect that there is no general pattern among SLACs, so anecdotes can be traded all day. I can say, however, from personal experience, that teaching experience and excellence hasn't carried much weight for me. I have an extensive background in teaching, solid student evals, even an article published in Teaching Philosophy based on empirical evidence in pedagogical research; multiple pubs in peer-reviewed philosophy journals--fewer than seven, but more than three--and only two TT interviews with SLACs in the last four years. I realize it may be due to letters of rec, to which I have no access, or writing sample or whatever. But teaching experience has had very little effect for me.

Just as an aside: I have also heard that private SLACs also pay attention to whether candidates received their BAs from a private SLAC. If not, in the rejection pile they go!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: Thanks for sharing the anecdote. It is very disturbing, and I agree we can probably share anecdotes all day. I give anecdotes and arguments (including some data) not to "prove" that prestige doesn't play a role, but rather simply to argue that it's not clear--either from the data or my own experience--that it plays the overwhelming role that many internet commenters appear to assume it does.

In any case, I agree that prestige bias exists, and that we should do what we can to combat it. I hope to write a post soon on how academic hiring practices are inconsistent with our best science on hiring, and that improving hiring methods (with sound science) might go a long ways toward reducing such bias.

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