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01/09/2023

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luckluckluck (but also merit, too, of course)

Given the important role of luck in the job market, perhaps we shouldn't view the OP's experience as surprising. (So I guess I'm not directly addressing the "VAP treadmill" part of the query).

OP asks, "Why would multiple departments (and I’m not talking R1 here) see a candidate as good enough for a visiting position but not a permanent position?" But is this the right question? Did these SAME departments also seek to hire a TT position and turn the OP down? If not, then differences between departments and the idiosyncrasy of the hiring process could be the primary relevant factors. OP might try asking faculty on the hiring committees for these VAP positions to see why they hired OP and whether their standards/expectations would have been different had they been seeking to hire a TT.

r53

UK SC member here. I'd say 'no' to being pigeon-holed. But the need to belong to the 'right' demographic group is much lower for a temporary position than for an ongoing one ('permanent' as it was once). So, and this is an educated guess, if you don't belong to the right group, you could end up either longer or forever on a temporary treadmill because it's not something you can 'improve' over time (in contrast to pubs, teaching experience, and so on).

Assistant Teaching Professor #2

I’m not sure whether this is the best place to ask, but I’ve had a similar question, particularly for search committee members, as to whether there is a bias against a candidate who has held a teaching title like “Assistant Teaching Professor” for something like five years.

Caligula's Goat

In my own experience I haven't seen any sort of bias for people's prior employment history. What matters far far more is that you have excellent teaching experience and (for TT positions) the research trajectory that leaves us feeling comfortable that you'll get tenure here. Lastly, there's luck (as we all know). I've been on search commmittees where our top three candidates were all amazing but we only have approval for one hire...that's just how it goes some times in the neoliberal academic hellscape we share.

I'm at a place that, at least officially, weighs teaching and research equally for tenure (unofficially, my experience tells me that research always matters more than teaching when it comes to tenure and promotion at the tt-level). Having said that, a complete LACK of employment history is more of a red flag unless you're ABD. If you lack an employment history altogether (or there are large gaps in it) then you'll need to make sure to put those in context in your cover letter so that search committees don't make the wrong assumptions about why you have such a gap.

Bill Vanderburgh

There are so many details we don't know, it is difficult to say what the causes are. Luck, as mentioned by others, is certainly a dominant factor. We don't usually need to look much beyond that to explain most cases.

I agree with Caligula's Goat that I've not seen a bias against people with VAPs when hiring ttrack. In fact, having lots of successful teaching experience is often one reason candidates have been preferred over their rivals for ttrack roles.

In my experience in our searches, probably the top 20-50% of the applicant pool would be successful in the job and be an adequate fit for the specific role. The differences between the person who gets the job and the person who is 15th on the list are often small and hard to characterize. So there might be nothing the OP is doing wrong.

If it isn't just luck, what is it? There is a difference in the standards for hiring temporary teaching positions vs. tenure track. Perhaps the candidate doesn't have a research record competitive with those who are winning the ttrack jobs to which they are applying? You should be able to find the names and CVs of the folks who won the jobs you applied to in previous cycles. Perhaps you'll learn something by looking there. But don't over-interpret any difference between them and you. Hiring decisions are not always made for obvious reasons, or for reasons that appear in the cv itself.

Speaking of other parts of the application, have a few people you know who hire ttrack philosophers look over your application materials. It might be that there is something there, in content or presentation, that makes you look like a better candidate for a VAP than a ttrack job. The letter, teaching statement, and research statement are the things I give most weight to. Make sure your research record, and how you talk about it, shows that you have established an independent research trajectory beyond the dissertation.

Then there is the worry that your letters of recommendation might not be strong enough. That's a harder one to evaluate yourself, of course. Maybe have conversations with each of your letter writers on just this point: Tell them you are successful with VAPs but not ttrack and wonder if they have any insights about your case.

A department hiring for a ttrack position is looking for the whole package: research, teaching, service, good colleague, fit of AOS/AOC, fit with the kind of institution, and bonus features like experience mentoring or recruiting students from underrepresented groups. Work on your credentials in those areas, too, to help your future chances.

To answer Assistant Teaching Professor #2: The main worry would be that someone in such a role doesn't have the research record or trajectory for a regular tenure track role. As long as you foreground your interest in and success in research, there should be no issue.

hubris

Something alluded to above needs to be emphasized. I have seen cases where people are getting VAPs at very good places, and then they presume they are going to get a TT at such a place - so they only apply to highly ranked places. This is a mistake - as noted above, the standards for a VAP are different than the standards for a TT. In one tragic case, someone who had a series of VAPs at very good places, turned down a TT offer at a 4-year state college, only to find themselves on the market for 5 more years, and finally getting a TT job at a 4-year state college.

East Nowhere State

I'm at a regional comprehensive university that is teaching focused and have served on several search committees across the humanities. I've never heard prior employment discussed with the exception of someone who had substantial non-academic employment after earning the PhD.

At our institution a VAP is a full-time teaching position with upper division / graduate student teaching and mentoring. VAPs do not get release time for research like TT/T faculty do. Research productivity does not play a large role in these searches because it is not a requirement for the position. I'm not sure that is the norm, but it may account for your experiences.

Patrick

I went through the VAP treadmill for five years before ultimately leaving the professoriate.

I second the comment made already to the effect that searches for VAP's often do not have nearly as rigorous of HR/DEI requirements to fulfill, and can often be filled based on networking/connections alone rather than strength of the CV. VAP hiring often does not require a national search HR-wise since it's a temporary appointment.

In addition, based on anecdotal evidence as well as comments I've read elsewhere on this issue: being a VAP and having a decent publication record doesn't always trump a freshly minted PhD with a proportionate publication record. Ex. a VAP with 4 years post-PhD and 4-5 articles, in many cases, isn't going to be appear exceptional compared to a new PhD from a ranked program who has just one publication. To be sure, some institutions value a seasoned junior person with bona fide teaching experience but this is definitely not the case everywhere.

Finally, again based on both experience and anecdote, hiring departments can often offer a *lower* salary to someone with no teaching experience, as opposed to a VAP with multiple years experience. This is due to institutional pay grades that equalize starting salaries based on experience. Simply put, they may opt to go for the cheaper candidate.

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