Wednesday, February 01, 2006

 

Ask the Administrator: Late-Night Calls from Deans...

The female reader who wrote a while back to ask about convention interviews (and clothing tips!) writes with an update:

--------------
You and your readers were so helpful when I was preparing for the Major
League Convention interview that I'm back with another question.

The interview went well and now I've been asked for a campus interview. A
few days ago, a few days after arrangements for the campus interview were
finalized and one week before the interview itself, the dean of the college
called me, at home, on a Friday evening. He wanted to talk to me about my
ABD status. We discussed the particulars of my situation (I am ABD not
currently enrolled in a PhD program, but if I had the opportunity, yes, I
would prefer to finish my degree). We ended the conversation with him
reassuring me that we'd discuss this further at the interview itself (so
the interview is about what I would need to do to finish? rather than why
I'm a good candidate for the job?). The job announcement specifically
stated that although a PhD was preferred, it was not required. I checked
with a friend who works in this system (but different dept. and campus) and
she found out that members of this dept. do make tenure without the PhD
(including the current chair, who interviewed me at the conference). I
also checked and only a couple of the faculty members in this dept. have a
PhD. That said, all but a handful of faculty at this particular campus
have a doctorate. So I went ahead and applied. Although the conversation
was very friendly the entire situation troubles me. I'm hoping you might
offer me some insight from a dean's perspective.

ps The clothing advice was great! I hope the chair has no recall of what I
wore because I'll be wearing the exact same thing for the campus interview.
------------

I’m glad the convention interview went well, and I agree that my readers are uncommonly brilliant, charming, witty, and good-looking. Happily for me, their sartorial advice is far better than my own, as The Wife could attest.

Questioning ABD’s is tricky. In this office, I get lied to at least twice a day. “There’s a perception out there” means “I think.” “It’s not what you did, it’s how you did it” means “I don’t like what you did.” “How was this decision made?” means “I disagree with this decision.” And “I’m almost done with the dissertation,” well, you get the idea.

Some of us, having been burned by terminal ABD’s many times, start to discount excuses. That’s not to say that we don’t hire ABD’s at all – sometimes you have to – but it does mean that you probe the excuses more aggressively to see if there’s actually any merit to them. Not currently being enrolled would certainly raise a red flag.

One of the frustrations of the academic job market of recent years has been the rapid ratcheting-up of requirements for new hires, relative to the people already there. It’s mostly a function of supply and demand – if you can get a good Ph.D. for about the same price as an M.A., why the hell not – but it does create some weird dynamics in hiring, in which people who never got doctorates require new hires to have them.

A term like ‘preferred’ in an ad allows the institution some wiggle room. In an odd way, it’s actually honest: all else being equal, someone with a Ph.D. will have an edge, but sometimes all else isn’t equal. Depending on the needs of the college or the department at a given time, it can be a heavy preference or a light one.

For example, at my previous college, we moved from a two-year school to a four-year school fairly rapidly while I was there. Meeting the state regs for four-year status required hiring some bona fide Ph.D.’s, post-haste (which had a lot to do with how I got hired in the first place). Once we crossed the magic threshold, the Ph.D. dropped from a requirement to a preference. At my current college, which is content to remain at the two-year level, we like Ph.D.’s, but we care mostly about good teaching.

If a Dean called you at home on a Friday night, I’ll assume the college sees this as a relatively important issue. (In five years of deaning, I’ve never called a candidate at home on a Friday night.) Why it’s important, I don’t know. I’ve been in negotiations before where I’ve been told that hiring the M.A. candidate I really want this time will require me to hire someone with a Ph.D. in hand next time. There may be an accreditation issue, or a union issue, or a salary issue (which could actually work in your favor). More nefariously, there could be a favored internal candidate without a Ph.D., and the doctorate was the leverage the Dean was using to break the inbreeding. There’s really no way to know at this point, and it probably wouldn’t help if you did. At this stage of the game, there’s nothing to be done pre-interview except to figure out how best to present the strengths you actually have. If the Ph.D. were a deal-breaker, they wouldn’t have invited you to campus. They did invite you, so you should assume they take you seriously. Show your real strengths, don’t apologize for anything, and ask lots of questions. Make sure they’re worthy of you.

As for wearing the same outfit the second time, could you maybe accessorize it differently? Again, I appeal to my female readers for advice on this point.

Good luck!

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

Comments:
Gosh, Dean Dad, from the title, I thought we were going to get into something WAY more racy.

I think every person on a hiring committee knows a couple things about candidates, and one of those things is that most candidates have ONE interview outfit. I can't really imagine anyone caring that they're seeing a repeat for an on campus interview. Okay, I can't really imagine anyone even remembering, since they probably saw 10+ people at the initial interview stage. (Unless, of course, you were wearing something so outrageously memorable that no one could forget.)

My department hired someone ABD a while back(not at a CC, though), and we're concerned when we do that the person's going to finish. I'd be honest and up front about your intentions. Could you realistically finish in a year if you were working at this job? Would you be willing to do that? Be honest with yourself, too.
 
I agree with Bardiac although accessorizing a bit differently might help show some flexibility. :-) I probably wouldn't remember either and, if I did, it wouldn't be a deal breaker.

Our university still requires us to advertise for PhD preferred when, as faculty doing the interviewing, we know we need PhD in hand. There's no way with our teaching load and research and service expectations that anyone can reasonably expect to finish much of a PhD unless they are already almost done. And, yes, the market is changing even at our area cc's - if you want to teach college, you're going to have to finish the terminal degree eventually. It's like your union card.

There's also the possibility that those of us who have finished will wonder what departmental taks or course tasks you won't finish . . I know that is blunt but it's the truth.

Good luck!
 
I would come to the campus interview with a plan of how you would hope to complete your Ph.D. and work through your first years at new job, if they hired you. Scope out the possibilities of re-enrolling in your doctoral program (some places are good about this, others aren't) so you'll have some concrete information for when the dean asks.

Unless you were seriously far along on the dissertation, itself, I'd not think it likely that you could complete in one year given the usually hectic and heavy workload of a new fulltime job. When I was hired, ABD, I was in the fortunate circumstance of having the dissertation draft completed when I interviewed in April and my defense was in September. Honestly, however, if I'd had to do any real writing during that first academic year, I'd have been toast -- I was already spread too thin with three new preps!

As for the interview outfit, I wouldn't fret too much. A change of shirt/blouse might make you feel more confident. And be sure to have some very, very comfortable shoes to wear as they're likely to walk you all over the campus and maybe even farther afield (hiking through a muddy conservation area in high heels was one of the highlights of my campus interview, here).
 
If the chair was male, where the same thing. Jeeze, Dean Dad, you should realize that guys never remember this stuff (unless it's REALLY distinctive).

Unless lions yodel, dogs investigate.
 
My thinking from the story was, "they, or at least the Dean, really likes this candidate, but someone is making a fuss about her not having the PhD, so the Dean is calling to give her a heads up so she can address that in a reassuring way in the interview."

The job ad may say it's not necessary--and actual practice may confirm it--but that doesn't mean that someone doesn't have a bug up their butt about "improving" the department. Every department (alas) has one, or more, elephants in the living room: truths that no one wants to admit to. E.g., "our program in X studies is a sham" or "we're serious about serving commuter students" or whatever. And during the interview, you worry about it--"gosh, I have no background in X studies, but the job ad said they had a preference for someone who did, maybe I should bone up before the interview"--and they ask you in the interview, "so, we are also looking for someone to do X studies. Do you have any ideas in that direction?" And you say, "oh yes, my work could move in that direction, for instance ___" and they cut you off mid-answer and say, "okay, great." And you think, "oh shit, they could tell I was faking" but what was really going on was that they wanted to be able to check the box--"the candidate we want to hire will teach courses in X studies (even though we no longer offer such courses)"--and voila, you've got the job.

This sounds to me like it could be one of those situations. If they don't want a non-PhD, why would they waste their time and money interviewing you? Obviously they think you're an attractive candidate. Either your qualifications in something they really need are *so* good that they're taking a chance--and therefore are looking for reassurance that you'll get the PhD after you get there, because you're gonna need it to get tenure--or they love you as a candidate but someone is making a stink about the ABD status, and they want you to say enough to pacify someone (even though they mostly don't give a rat's ass) so they can offer you the job.

My vote is the latter. Prepare a plausible answer. Be careful about asking about the fact that X number of people don't have PhDs--that's almost certainly a sore spot for *someone*, and you can't know who. Sound like "oh yes, I plan on finishing the degree, and here's my plan" and save the questions about how much they *really* care until *after* they offer you the job.
 
Oh, and re. same outfit, no big deal. Wear comfortable shoes, even if that means going out and buying a new pair that is neither pumps nor your old Doc Martens. Check the weather forecast.
 
If it were me, I'd reward the fact that I got the campus interview by buying a pair of cool earrings or a chunky necklace or scarf... spice up the interview outfit a little bit.

Is "ABD" an official status in academia? I know several professors who fall under this category, but they've been sitting there for decades. Is it usual to get all of your coursework done and then put off the dissertation for a while?
 
On the ABD status, and keeping in mind that I work in administration and am not now nor have I ever been faculty, why don't more schools give their ABD's an M.Phil? I know Yale does it and at least that gives the ABD something that looks finished.
signed,
I'm accounting as fast as I can!
 
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