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« Evidence that 'weak' publications help candidates | Main | Phd program prestige and TT placement »

05/28/2019

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Amanda

I was given 4 days to accept my first TT job offer. It was a good job - nothing horrible about it. Or at least nothing that wouldn't be true at many other similar kind universities. (ill-prepared students, lots of teaching, remote area) But having only 4 days had very real world consequences, as I had to cancel another flyout for a job that may have been a better fit. It seems that in these situations, the candidate doesn't have much of a choice, assuming there is no reason to think the job is uniquely horrible.

Anyway, I am curious if the 2-week standard I is really standard, and if the timeline I was given really was unusual...

Anonymous

I was hired for a tenure-track position. Over the negotiating phone call, the Dean said something like "I want you to know how committed we are to the liberal arts moving forward. I pushed for this philosophy hire because of our commitment to the liberal arts". This turned out to be horseshit.

Once I arrived, during my first faculty meeting, it was revealed that the school had a structural budget deficit that accreditors were demanding be closed within one academic year. Four weeks after beginning, I was laid off effective the next academic year, along with a few other new tenure-track hires.

One search committee member warned me that there had been budget problems in the recent past, but he was unaware of this most recent budget issue until after I had already been hired.

One thing I could have done to avoid this situation was seek out information about what tenure-track contracts look like at other universities, and then made some requests for specific language. The college did not declare financial exigency, but the wording of my contract allowed them to lay me off after the academic year. If I had requested different language, and if they had resisted, that might have tipped me off that they knew about the upcoming budget issue and I could have taken a NTT position.

I would also warn potential job marketeers to be wary of non-elite colleges and universities--especially small ones. If small colleges don't meet their admissions quotas for just one year, then this can ruin their finances very quickly. Now, being wary doesn't mean that you shouldn't take a job with one. Just be vigilant.

TT

I resigned from my TT job after a few years of dealing with very serious issues at my institution. Here is some advice to those considering TT job offers and those who are considering staying on the philosophy job market:

- Watch out for red flags. If admin refuses to give you a formal offer letter with a signature, which includes everything you agreed to, that's bad. Also make sure that everything in your offer letter is specific and cannot be interpreted in ways that harm you (e.g., a "start-up" cost - what does it include? Does it expire? If so, what specific date?)

- If you are an international hire, ask very detailed questions about sponsorship for a work visa and permanent residency. Will they sponsor you? Will they pay all the fees? When are they committed to file for permanent residency by? (There is a deadline for this.) You do not want to end up being sent back to your home country or paying an enormous cost for these things. I'd honestly be cautious about accepting a job in the US right now as an international hire. This might depend on the institution, but I'd certainly be worried about accepting a job at a teaching institution that does not have money.

- What is teaching like at the institution? What kinds of teaching schedules do you see online? Map out a few faculty members' course schedules to see what your actual life would look like. Are they all service courses? Are faculty teaching way outside of their areas, and are you good with doing that? If there are no (or almost no) philosophy majors, that can be bad - in the classroom, for autonomy in course offerings, and for job security.

- Read university policies online: tenure and promotion, faculty handbooks, leave policies, etc. You might be shocked at some of these policies.

- Sometimes the # of tenure denials in any given year across the institution will be available online. If you can find out this info, find it. Look at the CVs of people who have been denied tenure. Some schools have bad reputations for hiring people, burdening them with teaching and service, but denying them tenure because they didn't (couldn't) publish.

- How many tenured (not tenure-track) people will there be in your department? One? Two? 8? This can make a huge difference to whether you are protected from service demands pre-tenure.

- Sometimes the # of faculty resignations will also be available online. That's another thing to look at -- are people leaving? In your discipline? Why might people be resigning?

These are just a few thoughts. On the whole, I will say this: faculty are on their best behavior when you are on campus for your interview. If that behavior is already not ideal, that's bad. Faculty might also not talk honestly about what it's like to be where they are because they can't/because they need to recruit you to share the load/because they cannot fail the search, etc. So find out as much as you can by researching the institution, department, faculty, and policies before accepting an offer.

Anon2

The issues that Anonymous brings up are huge and I think it's always a good idea to find out everything you can about the financial health of your institution as well as admin before you start. (Though easier said than done!) After I'd been on my job for a few years top level admin here decided to close a budget shortfall by laying off faculty. Thankfully philosophy wasn't a target for reasons I won't go into, but I had friends in other departments who started at the same time I did who really got a raw deal. One guy I know moved his family here and turned down another offer (albeit not TT) to take the job here. I will add though that I think that job candidates should be most worried about this kind of thing at non-elite, private SLACs. At public schools the state can and often will do a bit to make up year to year shortfalls from enrollment fluctuation and except in the most dire circumstances the state will not let a college close. Neither of those hold for private institutions. Also, since state institutions have to worry about the voters if admin mishandles things too egregiously there's a much better chance they'll be held accountable than at private colleges. (We're public and in our case top level admin's gross mishandling of the situation got so much negative attention that they ended up getting cashiered.)

Amanda

All of the above helps explain why TT shouldn't reflectively be assumed to be more secure than non-TT renewable positions. A non-TT renewable position at a large government supported institution is probably much more secure than many TT positions at small, private, non-elite, liberal arts college. And the latter might also be in a much worse location.

anon

Amanda makes a great point, and I hope that these sorts of discussions help add some nuance to the TT-or-bust attitude that is so prevalent in our discipline, and may well unduly influence job market candidates who (understandably) lean on their mentors for advice when making tough choices about offers. While ABD and on the market for the first time in 2017-18, I received a TT offer at a non-elite SLAC in an undesirable (to me) location. The institution was undergoing major curricular changes to try to improve its precarious financial situation and had recently cut the philosophy department, and, with it, the philosophy major. If I took the job, I would join a combined Humanities department as the sole philosopher. There were no other philosophy departments in the area. Despite these issues, almost all of my mentors at my PhD institution (committee members, the placement director, the chair of the department) strongly advised taking the job (because it was TT). The chair explicitly told me I would be making a grave mistake by turning the TT offer down. They said this despite knowing I had three other job offers - 2 postdocs, and a VAP position. I understand where they were coming from - departments want to place their grads in TT-positions, and it's risky to hope for something better to come along next time around - but in my case, the TT job was not clearly the best option: I I cared about things in addition to the relative security of a TT position, and had carefully considered whether I could live with the risk/badness of having to immediately go back on the market. I made the decision that was best for me and accepted a different position, but the goodness of that outcome for me (which I have not for one second regretted) was sullied by being made to feel that I had not just erred individually but also somehow let my department down by turning down the TT job. Of course, I recognize that everyone's mileage may vary, and I was exceedingly lucky to have multiple options in a shitty market - but I hope that faculty in mentoring roles dispense advice to job market candidates that doesn't assume TT always and obviously trumps everything else.

A Philosopher

"The chair explicitly told me I would be making a grave mistake by turning the TT offer down. They said this despite knowing I had three other job offers - 2 postdocs, and a VAP position."

If your goal was an R1 job or an elite SLAC, and those postdocs were real postdocs (not just misnamed VAPs), then it would have been a bit crazy not to take one of them. I've known several people who turned down TT jobs in favor of taking a postdoc. No one thought they were making the wrong choice.

If you're a grad student who hasn't yet experienced being out of your prestigious research bubble of an R1, the full weight of how shitty some situations can be may not be apparent to you. You might think that so long as you're tenured or TT and doing philosophy, a high teaching load with unprepared students in a research desert at school with bad financials in the middle of nowhere isn't so bad. But clearly these factors can outweigh the goodness of tenure, and these stories make clear that tenure isn't so secure anyway.

The point is I'm always surprised by how much bad advice is still floating around.

TT

I'm the poster from above and just to be clear, this was at a state school.

Amanda

State schools can be in bad financial positions, but it is less common than small, private, schools. And has already been said, often state schools get bailed out by the taxpayer (not always, of course...)

If a state school offers you a job, some research should typical reveal if the school is about to be in a financial crisis.

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