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Quick followup question - you said you think that would it be a good idea to mention extenuating circumstances in the cover letter. Why is that? Would it increase the chances of being shortlisted/getting the job? I'm thinking that it might because it would go towards convincing the committees that the applicant is serious. Are there different/additional reasons?

Marcus Arvan

Hi A: Good questions.

I think it can indeed convince the committee the applicant is serious. When a candidate applies from a TT job to another TT job without explanation (at least in cases where it isn't obvious that the person is "trying to move up in the world" to a more prestigious place), it is natural for committee members to wonder why. In many cases, the committee might think the person is coming up for tenure and just hedging their bets if they don't get it. One can often get a sense of this from how long the person has been in their current job (if it's five years or so, chances are indeed they are coming up for tenure)--and because people often *don't* want to move if they actually get tenure, committees may be reticent to interview people like this, thinking it may be a waste of time.

For these reasons, giving the committee some reason to think you are serious about actually making a move (rather than just hedging your bets) can be important!

Another thing extenuating circumstances can do is make committee members more sympathetic with a candidate's position. For instance, if a candidate is working in a difficult situation (their department has a toxic climate, their university is threatening to close their department), if the committee knows this they may think something like the following: "This person is really good, and I totally get why they would want to leave their current situation. I would too if I were in their position!"

Are there other ways extenuating circumstances in a cover letter can help? I would love to hear from other commenters. Let me conclude, however, with one way noting them could potentially hurt: by indicating negative things about the candidate (viz. their bad situation being caused by them rather than outside forces). If/when mentioning extenuating circumstances, I would think one should try to do in a way that makes it clear that, whatever difficult situation one is in, it is not the result of unprofessionalism on one's own part.


There are cases of universities counting time at other universities toward tenure. I am moving from a (permanent) Lecturer position at a regional state school to a TT line at a SLAC. I asked for time toward tenure after I was offered the job, and they gave me one year. I didn't have a TT counter-offer, but I did have a contract as a Lecturer.

A member of my dissertation committee moved from a TT and his time counted as well.

Marcus Arvan

jmugg: Thanks for weighing in! It's good to hear you and your dissertation committee member were able to get time toward tenure.

I'd be curious to hear from others as well. "Tenure-a-comin'" mentioned they wanted (all?) of their previous publications counted, and "several years" toward tenure. I suspect what you received is more realistic, and that what TAC is looking for would probably require more bargaining power. But I could be wrong!

Anonymous TT prof

The first year I was on the market I learned that schools are very different in terms of what they count toward tenure. In one interview, I was told that I would likely get tenure with my current (at that time ABD) CV; at another, I was told that I would be starting from scratch. So I wonder if it is possible to find oneself in a better position moving from a start-from-scratch school to a school that counts publications before you arrive.

I'm also glad to hear that others have had success jumping from one TT or permanent job to another. Although it seems like *any* TT job is the dream before one actually gets there (at least that's how I felt), accepting a TT job despite red flags for lack of better options is a serious struggle as well. It can also feel like a hopeless position.

Midwest TT

I'd be really interested to know how common it is for schools to start you over from scratch, because that hasn't been my experience. I went on the market after being in a TT job for 3 years. All of the schools I had fly outs for said they would count all of my previous publications and would give me at least some time off of the tenure clock (although the standards were really different there - some said they'd give me a set number of years off, some said I would "start over" but could go up early whenever I wanted). This was also all discussed at the fly out stage, so it didn't look like I needed leverage beyond my current job. Do others have experience with this?

Martin Shuster

It all depends on the school: most of this information is almost always in the school's faculty handbook and you can see what the policies are. I've interviewed at some places where they wouldn't count anything and at others, where everything was up for negotiation, and still yet at others where there were firm limits on how much could be counted (as determined by faculty legislation). So it all really depends.

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