Monday, January 30, 2006


Ask the Administrator: Ethics and Internal Candidates

A new correspondent writes

We are a small department at a CC. We currently 3 full-time, one
one-year and one full-time adjunct. Last year we hired the third
full-time person and the one-year. This year we will fill another
full-time position. It is unclear whether or not there will be an
additional one-year position or whether our course offerings will
expand to allow the adjunct to keep her current job.

I'm working under the assumption that I'll be on the hiring committee
again this year, as I was last year.

I would like to help the one-year candidate to be a better candidate,
and would be willing to help the adjunct as well -- if she asks. I
know I cannot do or say anything when I am actually on the committee,
but what are ethical concerns or limits before the committee is formed?

Also, I could use some words of advise about how to handle bad
potential bad news given to either one of them. Since I'll have a
hand in making those decisions, I'm afraid of being in a hard spot.

What’s a “full-time adjunct”?*

I’ll start with the positive: it’s great that your department is growing! That’s relatively rare these days, and all told, the problems of growth are the problems you want to have.

That said, I see several issues here.

First, don’t do anyone else’s jobs for them. You never actually say that either candidate has asked you directly for help. That’s good; if they don’t ask, you shouldn’t go out of your way. I don’t mean that to be heartless – your first obligation is to run a full, open, and aboveboard search. Too much ‘hinting’ in advance can look like fixing the results. Figuring out how best to package themselves is the candidates’ problem, not yours.

If they do ask, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, at the risk of seeming evasive, don’t overestimate your own power. (Apparently, it’s not even a given that you’re on the committee!) Decisions that are made by committee (esp. if there’s veto power at higher levels) are inherently unpredictable. You might believe in good faith that you’re giving the best possible advice and that your friend is a shoo-in, only to have an unanticipated application simply blow her out of the water. You just don’t know.

Second, a tainted search may be a re-opened search. In trying to do someone a favor, you could be setting up the department and the candidate for disaster. Imagine, for example, that a strong external candidate in a protected class doesn’t get the job, hears about ‘hinting,’ and files a civil rights lawsuit. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Sometimes playing fair requires circumspection, even with friends.

Finally, you really do have an obligation to your department to make the best hire for the department. If that happens to be one of the incumbents, great. If not, it may look like you’re being evil, but you’re actually doing your job.

I’ve faced something along those lines at my current school. There’s a culture of waiting in line, in which it’s simply assumed that long-term adjuncts who show loyalty to department chairs are next in line for full-time jobs. The problem is that, in some cases, the only distinguishing characteristic these adjuncts have shown is loyalty. That’s not a small thing, but over time, it has led to some pretty inbred departments. I know it’s hard to say ‘no’ to a loyal, local adjunct, but you don’t make a permanent hire just to avoid a difficult conversation.

In terms of breaking the bad news, again, don’t do someone else’s job. Usually, it falls to the department chair to break the news. If you’re not the chair, it’s not your problem. If you are the chair (nothing in the correspondence indicates either way), my advice is to break the news as directly, and succinctly, as possible. Don’t try to justify your decision to the denied candidate; nothing you say will make it hurt less, and it could very well hurt more. Simply say that the department was impressed, but has gone with someone else, and good luck in the future. It’s banal, but there’s a reason for that.

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

*Okay, grammarians, have at it. Does the question mark go outside the quotation marks or inside them? I know a period or a comma goes inside, but putting the question mark inside scans funny. The entire sentence is a question, not just the part in the quotation marks. Your thoughts?

OOOO ooo, I know the answer! Forty-two!

Okay, no, really.

In this case, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. So you were correct. Congratulations.

The rule is: if the question is part of the quotation, then the question mark goes inside the Q marks. If the question isn't part of the quotation, then it goes outside.

Here's an example: When he walked in the room, Professor X asked, "will the semester never end?"


I think you give excellent advice here, especially about the committee members' primary responsibilities to the department and school and about giving of bad news.

ps: word verification: zyxtdivd - the latest, newest disc technology, which lets you turn the volume up to 11.
In British and Canadian use, the punctuation, whatever it is, goes inside only if it is part of what is being quoted. I am a "full-time adjunct". vs. She said, "I am a full-time adjunct." or Did Matilda say "I want more mice"? vs. Matilda wondered "Do I want more mice?"

I believe in American use, this is the rule except for periods and possibly commas.
I concur with Wolfangel, and note that some Americans are rebelling against the rule that commas go inside the quotes. See the last issue of This is True, for example.

"Imagine, for example, that a strong external candidate in a protected class doesn’t get the job, hears about ‘hinting,’ and files a civil rights lawsuit."

It's not clear to me that only members of a protected class could raise that issue in a legal challenge to a hiring decision. I think anyone could. Perhaps you think that protected class members are more likely to actually file the lawsuit? Or that for some reason a plaintiff in a protected class would be more embarrassing to the school?
No, I just think that a lawsuit based on a discrimination claim would be more damaging to the institution than a lawsuit based on another kind of claim. The publicity would be worse, the monetary damages greater, etc. It has nothing to do with propensity to sue; it has simply to do with how much damage could be done.
On the inside/outside for periods and commas, for it to look right, you need to make single quotes your default quote if you want to put a period or comma which is not part of the quote outside the quote by default. Our punctuation rules are partially determined by logic but are also partially determined by aesthetics.

Xerxes heard every insect chirping for pride
I should have thought to mention that I only give US rules for such things as quotation marks.

Do other peoples' students get totally confused by reading texts with different conventions?

Admittedly, British and Canadian conventions seem to make way more sense... but, all in all, they're really just conventions.
I don't know about the comma thing but shouldn't your metaphor be "arms race" rather than "arms raise"?

--Another academic admin
My school also tends to use adjunct appointments as a way of "test driving" potential tenure-track applicants. However, even those people who have secured the rare full-time adjunct positions (limited to one or two semesters) are not automatically chosen for tenure-track appointments. While loyalty is a great thing, the competition for positions here is too keen to allow mere loyalty to outweigh teaching ability or technical skills.

I've been on several hiring committees and I, too, am as helpful as I can be to candidates I know until the committee begins to meet to consider applications and interview questions. Then I'm no longer available for feedback except to direct the curious to other faculty members who are not on the current committee. Fortunately, since I'm a professor and not a dean, I don't have to deal with conveying bad news, although I have on a few occasions provided the shoulder to cry on afterwards. Our adjunct ranks currently include three part-timers who once held full-time temp positions. Two of them will never get another full-time appointment or tenure-track assignment, I'm sure, while the third still has that potential.
According to modern British rules, which are beginning to be accepted in the US, it varies - if the whole sentence is a question, it goes outside; if the quotation itself is a question, it goes inside.

The geek in me wouldn't have it any other way. Giving the command "dd." to a certain application could be catastrophic if you meant to type "dd", for example (note where the comma went there).
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