An anonymous reader writes in:
As someone on the job market, I'm befuddled consistently by the amount hiring committees care about "whether this person will want to come here" or "whether they will be happy here". Actually, I'm more than befuddled by it: I think it's a very obviously wrongheaded and backwards thing for departments to be focused on.
Here's why it befuddles me: getting a job is such a ludicrously difficult and lucky thing. You're willing to give me a job? I'll be thrilled. Ecstatic. Yes, I'll be happy to be there. Why? Because it means I'll get to continue to do philosophy, and that's a *FAR* from guaranteed thing otherwise.
You're worried I'm going to leave? And go where? Again, there aren't any jobs. There's just nowhere *for* me to go. I know, I know, dear committee member, you're thinking to yourself "surely a candidate with as many publications, as much teaching experience, etc. as you is fielding all sorts of offers!" I'm not. If you're making this inference, then you're simply misunderstanding how bad the market is. It's really really bad.
That leads to the next point: I feel (although maybe I'm wrong) that this obsession with "are they gonna be happy there" is a hangover from a time when candidates have choices. That time is not now.
Hiring committees, get this through your heads: we don't have choices. An incredible minority of candidates, even the really really good ones, will get even one offer. Stop, please just stop worrying about whether your candidates are going to take a job you offer them. They will. They will take it and they will be thrilled about it. And, since this is true, please stop screening candidates for whether they will like it there. Anyone you offer a job to will be glad to get the offer and thrilled at the bare possibility of continuing to do philosophy.
As much as I empathize with this reader (I was on the job-market for seven years myself), allow me to share the other side of things.
First, he's a true story I heard from someone at a conference a couple of years ago. Their department--at a small teaching school--had recently hired someone from a top-ranked program with good publications in top-20 journals. The committee had been concerned the person might be a flight risk, but evidently the person had "said all of the right things" during interviews, including the on-campus visit. So they hired him. The next Fall, the candidate showed up for the job and it was clear from day 1 that he was looking to leave for a research job. He was difficult to work with, didn't put much energy into teaching, spent most of his time publishing, applied for jobs elsewhere, got hired, and then left for a research job the next year. After vacating the position, the department lost that tenure-track line, have not gotten it back, and are now more or less permanently under-staffed. The person who recounted this story told me essentially, "This is why search committees should screen for flight-risks." While this is only one story, I have heard more than a few similar ones.
Now consider in more detail the situation that hiring committees face--say, at small teaching schools with a 4/4 teaching load in the middle of nowhere. Suppose you have a candidate who looks absolutely stellar: they recently got their PhD from Top Graduate Program, have published articles in Phil Studies, AJP, or Ethics (or whatever), have stellar reference-letters, etc. Suppose further that they have some teaching experience, and seem like a good teacher. In some respects, this person might look like the "ideal candidate" for the job you are hiring for. If they would accept your offer and you could retain them, you would love to hire them. But, supposing you fly them out, (A) will they accept your offer?, and if they do, (B) will you actually be able to retain them? I hope you see how difficult a position such a search committee would be in. First, there's a reasonable chance that a candidate this good will have interest from other, "more desirable" schools. But, more to the point, even if they don't and they accept your offer, will they really be happy teaching a 4/4 load in the middle of nowhere? Up to this point in their career, they have spent the better part of a decade in a Top Graduate Program, published articles in Top Journals, and probably self-define (and been encouraged by their program to self-define) as a Top Researcher. Teaching a 3/3 or 4/4 load is tough. It requires a ton of grading, and does not leave much time at all for research. Will such a person really be likely to stay? Or, will they be likely to go on the market again in the hopes of obtaining a research job?
Here's the problem again: it's hard to know--but, as the story recounted earlier illustrates, it can be absolutely disastrous for a department to take the risk. In other words, while it may seem terrible for hiring departments to screen for flight risks, they may have understandable reasons to do so.