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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dealbreakers: the department's perspective

We have just done some campus visits and this article does not ring true in the least. I realize it's supposed to be a semi-humorous caricature, but, really, the notion that people are losing out on jobs because of trivial sartorial missteps is really not true in the least. If that were true, then nobody would get a job at all. I'm sure I've done badly on campus visits. On one, at the height of my depressive years (or the low point, maybe), I found myself unable to speak Spanish coherently. I've also done well on visits and not gotten the job, because Teresa VilarĂ³s and Brad Epps got the job instead. They are very job-worthy people, better suited to those departments than I was. Here are the real dealbreakers:

1) You aren't interested in the job. Did you ask a lot of detailed questions about what it was like to work with out students? Are you interested in us, our research? Can you answer the question, why do you want to come?

2) You are the wrong kind of candidate for the position. I would not fit in well at a SLAC, and my one campus visit to such a place was pleasant, but I doubt I would been the best person for them. Someone excellent in a SLAC might not do well in an R1. A very nice guy we interviewed once, gave a job talk that from which I didn't learn a single thing, but that would have been great for undergraduates.

3) You don't speak the language well enough, for a foreign language dept.

4) You are not interesting and dynamic.

5) Your research talk was good enough, but someone else's was simply better. Here it is not a "dealbreaker," but simply that someone else is smarter and more engaging.

6) Rebecca Schuman dismisses the concern that you have to work with the person for many years, but come on. It is not just a matter of the few hours a week when you are face to face, but having wonderful colleagues, as I do, is wonderful, and having bad colleagues, as I did at Ohio State, is hell. I'm sure my colleagues wish, too, that I were as wonderful as they are. She also says that academics hate each other anyway. That may be true, but why start with that assumption? In one case I am familiar with, where someone was known to be a problem, and was hired anyway at the senior level (initials MM), the person was a problem and did best to tear the dept. apart.

7) You seem to have no clue about teaching.

8 comments:

profacero said...

Who is MM, dying to know.

On collegiality:

We are about to tenure someone who as a new assistant professor called me and others at home late at night calling for us to create havoc. A true troublemaker.

I wish Schuman would work with him so I did not have to. He says one of our colleagues is illiterate and that another needs to be raped. Sic.

Department chair at the Stanford equivalent in this area says his behavior is normal for Spaniards and also Argentines but I think I know more Spaniards and Argentines than does this chair. I wish said chair would hire this individual so we could have someone normal.

The only reason we hired is that we are only allowed one on campus candidate at a time. We have to *really* hate them to get a second visit authorized, and it takes weeks, so if you reject the first person who comes on campus you may not get authorized to interview anyone else until May. So we took a chance and it turned out he was on BEST behavior at that interview and could not sustain.

profacero said...

(and oooh, you have shared this to Facebook so I hope somehow this comment does not get traced to the real life me, who would not say these things in writing under my own name ... I can just hear Historiann and the Tenured Radical say tsk tsk, I should have known)

Thomas said...

(The link to Schuman's article doesn't work.)

I really don't get Schuman. It seems like completely unfocused outrage, and I also don't quite know how to deal with her "semi-humor". I don't think it's very funny, nor finally very trenchant.

So, in this article, I don't know what she's proposing to change. Yes, campus visits are "subjective" to some extent. Presumably the candidates who are invited have passed the objective tests. So, yes, you may have to do a few of them before the caprices of the committee line up with our own. ("Chemistry.") And, no, it's not going to ensure anything, mainly because, no, you are not entitled by the suffering you (perhaps needlessly) went through as a PhD student to get a job in academia. But on the whole and in the long run, if you've got a reasonably well-formed, adult personality, and are a competent scholar who wants to hold an academic post, then you've got a fair shot. No, that doesn't mean you will definitely one day get tenure. It just means that whether you do not depends on who else is applying—how adult they are, and how smart.

Schuman is right that there are too many applicants. But she has not convinced me that this makes all the conventional hiring practices ridiculous. And so her ridicule falls flat.

Jonathan said...

fixed the link...

Jonathan said...

I don't really get her either. You can't point out inaccuracies or exaggerations, because it is supposed to be satire, so you are left with a perspective that is emotionally true (for her) but can't be questioned. I think she thinks it's funny to say, well, if you murder someone on the campus visit, THAT should be a deal breaker.

Thomas said...

Yes, the completely hyperbolic dealbreakers were weird. I've heard of one campus visit where a really qualified applicant kept making weird, creepy comments about female undergraduates. I can kind of see how that would lose him the job; it seems like exactly the sort of thing you'd want to catch in a campus visit. But in Schuman's satirical universe it seems like something that would always be a Kafkaesquely arbitrary judgment.

profacero said...

I think I know what she is talking about. When I was on market and filing dissertation, my department was hiring. They only considered the Iviest of candidates, and because of differences between their graduate programs and ours, we dissertation filers were much more advanced as scholars than any of the candidates they invited. They ended up not hiring from that group and there were six.

This having been said, all the candidates were good people and all got good jobs elsewhere. We, the students, thought they should have just picked one ... after all, they were the ones who wanted someone from an Ivy ... or hire someone from somewhere slightly less fancy who would be good.

Eventually they got someone good so maybe they were right but I do remember noticing the over-pickyness and I remember some of the things they said about some candidates, terms they used to refer to them with, that were a bit ... ahem. I also remember thinking, well, if you are going to criticize someone because they only had three years of coursework in their graduate program, why are you complaining now ... you knew that about them when you read their application.

profacero said...

P.S. subjective, I thought that was sort of the point. By the time you have a short list, as Thomas says, they're all good and it is subjective from there on out. That's different from arbitrary.