Friday, December 03, 2010
When Internal Adjuncts Apply
Internal candidates have been on a winning streak lately at my college, though there are no guarantees. Are the rules different for them?
No, but some of them think they are. That’s how good adjuncts can torpedo their own candidacies.
Don’t approach the interview with the attitude, either stated or implied, that we already know you and you have nothing left to prove. I’ve seen this a few times, and it’s always the kiss of death. The interview is a performance. It’s a chance for us to see what you can do when you have our undivided attention. If you can’t even take an interview seriously, the message you send is either an overweening sense of entitlement -- no thanks -- or basic cluelessness.
References can also be an issue for longtime adjuncts. If your references are primarily from the department to which you’re applying, you’re hurting yourself. I’ve had candidates list members of the search committee as references, which is a glaring conflict of interest. Even if they aren’t on the committee, members of the home department often find the role ambiguous at best. There’s also an obvious issue of inbreeding. Even if you’ve been adjuncting primarily at one place for the last ten years, you’ll need references from other places.
Since full-time lines are rare, colleges will often try to use them to bring something new to the table. That can put adjuncts at a disadvantage, since they were usually hired to fill already-existing slots. There are exceptions to that, of course, but know that you may be competing with people who’ve done things elsewhere that have not been done here, and that we might want here. To the extent that you can show that you have more in your bag of tricks than you’ve been asked to share thus far, you’ll be in better shape.
The role of full-time faculty is different from the role of adjunct faculty. In the full-time role, there’s an expectation of college citizenship, which involves participation in committees and shared governance. There’s a fuzzy but real expectation of a sense of responsibility for a program. Since full-time lines are so rare, they’re often used to add to or transform a program, rather than simply to do more of the same. Be prepared to address how you’ll step into those roles.
Finally, and I know this is hard, think about how you’d handle it if you don’t get the job. This is a real risk. We’ve had cases locally in which a half-dozen adjuncts applied for the same job; even with one of them winning, five lost. Most handle it well, at least in public, but some choose to go ballistic. “I”m good enough to teach, but not good enough to be full-time?” The fallacy in that statement is that the decision is not about you in isolation. It’s about you as compared to other candidates. The obligation on the hiring end is to choose the person who best fits the needs of the college at the time. In getting the adjunct gig, you may have been up against one other person; in going for the full-time job, you may have been up against fifty or more. I know that sucks, and it isn’t much comfort, but it’s true.
I don’t pretend for a minute that the current adjunct system is fair, just, or reasonable. It isn’t, and I’ve been saying so in public for years. But structural critique is one thing, and job search tips are another.
Wise and worldly readers, do you have any special tips for adjuncts applying at their home institutions?
What surprises me, though, is the notion that some "contingent academic labourers" were indeed hired inside their department.
What I've heard, repeatedly, is that it almost never happens. Even an institution with a special rule favouring a bridge between part-time and full-time has a very tiny proportion of such hires (2% is the figure I've been given).
Maybe CCs are different. Or things are changing. Or it's just a fluke.
But, for years, I've been talking about the near-impossibility of transforming contingent academic labour into a tenure-track position.
Many of the reasons I give are similar to those you mention. Including about the obligations of "campus citizens." And, in my mind, there's a special kind of freedom which is taken away from most people on the tenure-track.
Thing is, though, even if it is possible to do such a significant role-shift within a department, I get the impression that it might not be a very appropriate thing to do. To me, it's too likely to generate problems down the road. And it's closing more doors than it opens.
At my current department, one thing I have seen, though, is a shift from part-time faculty to limited term appointment. There have also been shifts from limited-term appointment to the tenure-track. So it's conceivable that a PTF may eventually get tenure without ever leaving the department, but there might be a transition period in there with the LTA.
But, again, it might specific to my department, institution, or even social context. I currently teach in Quebec (after IN, MA, NB, and TX) and I've often noticed huge distinctions between academic systems across those diverse places. For one thing, there may be big difference in income (five to seven-fold increase, it seems) between an "adjunct" at Indiana University South Bend and a "course director" at York University, though they may be hired to do the exact same tasks.
At any rate, it was interesting to hear about fellow contingent academic labourers getting on the tenure-track "from within."
Given that TT positions are few and far between, the "expected value" for adjunct participation is probably negative. They should be compensated if their participation is desired.
"What surprises me, though, is the notion that some "contingent academic labourers" were indeed hired inside their department. What I've heard, repeatedly, is that it almost never happens."
What you have heard cannot be true based on what I have seen, so it cannot be based on a reliable national survey of CC employment statistics.
It is more likely triggered by the fact that a typical hiring pool contains more than one local adjunct, as DD points out. At least 80% of them will be disappointed. But then we sometimes hire an adjunct from nearby CC X while nearby CC Y hires one of our good ones.
I have little doubt that what you say is true at R1 universities, because the best advice is to do a post doc at a place different from (and better than) where you want to get a job. The exception would be if the contingent position is a research professor who has grants, etc.
"Maybe CCs are different."
CCs are, without any question, significantly different from any other part of the higher ed system, although there are probably some similarities to a teaching intensive university that does not have (or intend to have) an MA or MS program in the department in question. See yesterday's posting and discussion.
"Given that TT positions are few and far between..."
Only they are not. Our CC (admittedly not a small one) has been hiring quite a few t-t faculty every year, many as retirement replacements. But you won't find our ad in the Chronicle so you might not know about them.
I think Dean Dad nails a couple of the reasons that even with an explicit policy at least looking within that internal hiring for tenure track doesn't happen that often. Issues of attitude/entitlement and references ringing true. Also, at CCs, long term internal adjuncts who think they have the best shot are often also only ABD and can't overcome the finished degree points - at least that has been the case in most searches I've witnessed.
Internal candidates, however, should be able to beat out external candidates in areas of understanding the institutional mission and needs. This is, in fact, the primary line of reasoning used by both CC unions to try and give the internal candidates a leg up.
It is nice if the CC pays adjuncts for service and prof development but don't use lack of pay as an excuse to ignore these important CV points. Seek out opportunities to do training - especially outside of your department.
But there's something else at work here that's harder to talk about. There are terrific people who are teaching PT because the job market is tight; they may be beat out by other terrific but more experienced people for a few years, but after that their experience + their terrificness will land them a FT job. There are also lots of PT instructors who are just fine. They are competent, well-meaning, and hard-working. However, they aren't the best of the best, and so they are consistently beat out by the "terrific" folks. Many times I've seen these people apply for jobs for years, never getting past a first interview . . . and finally give up, deciding that they will just cobble together PT work (or leave teaching altogether, though in my areas there are not a lot of options). They are fine teachers, pleasant colleagues, and good people--but they just don't excell in a way that will get them a coveted FT position.
People talk about how you can "adjunct for too long" and at some point, your experience counts against you. I don't quite see it that way--in our hiring process, experience is only ever a plus. But in the end, I do think the message is really the same. If someone has been consistanly applying for jobs for 10 years and can't get to the finals, in my experience it's very rare that he or she will get a full-time position. Of course, this is just my observation and your milage may vary.
The flip side, though, is the luxury hire where what's needed is a solid draft horse and what's purchased is a showy, temperamental thoroughbred with bad ankles and a quick bite.
Since I know we get enough applications (50+ for one similar position last year) and ended up with very good people from that pool, I'd guess that the department figures its advertising reach is adequate.
And when temporary full-time positions have opened up, at several schools I've been offered them (sometimes I said yes, sometimes no) instead of adjuncts who applied for the permanent tenure-track positions and didn't get it.
Decades ago I was a temporary full-timer at one cc for four years with four yearly appointments. During that time maybe six or seven tenure-track positions opened up, other adjuncts applied, were rejected, and then they either left in bitterness or stayed on in bitterness. And I would be asked to be f/t another year when they were not.
It was as if I were being rewarded for not looking desperate. The full-time positions I did get were always at colleges where I never adjuncted.
There is a great freedom in knowing that you can leave at the end of year. You don't have to work that hard, for instance.
I actually knew (and am still on good, professional terms with) the internal candidate who made it to the final interview. During the entire interview process I was certain they were going to get the position. I would have bet money that this other person would have gotten the position simply because they were an internal candidate.
What it came down to, though, was how a candidate (whether internal or not) fits into the campus community and whether or not that person is a good fit for the specific department. I was told time and time again by administrators at all the colleges I was working at part-time during the application process that all of the applicants interviewed were strong contenders for the position. They assured me that in final interviews administrators were not concerned with an individual's specific skill set as much as personality and the likelihood that a full-time faculty member would be a good long-term (potentially decades) fit.
BUT, there is a definite "I'm writing this to feel better about taking part in practices I know are unfair, rather than using my position of power to try to better things" to alleviate guilt and responsibility.