Wednesday, January 26, 2011


January Hires

In the “real world,” hiring is usually year-round. There might be peaks and valleys, with some variation by industry, but generally speaking there’s nothing unusual about hiring in April, or July, or October.

In the colleges I’ve seen, that’s still true for certain types of positions. There’s nothing unusual about advertising for building maintainers in March or financial aid staff in August. But faculty hiring has a rhythm of its own.

Since semesters happen when they happen, hire dates are usually timed to have someone start at the beginning of a semester. Typically, there isn’t much sense in having a new professor start, say, the week of Thanksgiving. Since my college adheres to the traditional September and January start dates for semesters, most of our faculty hiring is timed for September starts.

(When I worked at Proprietary U, this was not the case. Semesters there started in July, November, and March. Hiring out of cycle like that was a nightmare, since so many candidates simply assumed traditional start times.)

We have done some January starts over the years, and I’m starting to see a pattern. (Any Ed.D.’s out there looking for a dissertation topic, you might want to check this out!) January hires are much more likely to go to incumbent adjuncts than are September hires.

In a way, that makes sense. Most of the people looking from a distance have some sort of position for the academic year, and are looking to find something for the following one. Moving for January would involve leaving in the middle, which many people are unwilling to do. The lead time for January hires also tends to be shorter. Since search committees generally can’t be bothered to focus until late October at the earliest -- maddening, but true -- I’ve seen interviews for January hires extend well into December. That’s not necessarily a problem if you’re already local, and it’s especially easy if you’re already adjuncting and don’t have a full-time job. But if you’d have to relocate, that’s not much notice.

In practice, then, January hires tend to go to incumbent adjuncts.

The positive side of that is that it gives folks who’ve been undervalued in the market a chance to turn their availability into an advantage. From a darkly cynical perspective, a run of adjunct conversions also helps the college hang on to the other adjuncts, since they’ll see the position as not-necessarily-dead-end. After all, if nobody ever won the lottery, people would stop playing it. I’m okay with that as long as the wins are real.

But it does lead to a certain lack of diversity. The adjunct pool reflects the demography of people in this area who have advanced degrees. It’s difficult to diversify that when you keep drawing from the same pool over and over again. That’s true whether you define diversity according to race, or location of graduate training, or just about anything else.

(Interestingly, in some of the evergreen disciplines, we’re getting close to the point of using ‘diversity’ to favor men. I don’t think that one has much to do with geography.)

I haven’t seen any actual literature on this, so I don’t know if I’m observing a local quirk or a broader truth. Vox blogosphere, vox dei, so I’ll ask my wise and worldly readers. Have you found January start dates generally favoring adjuncts on your campus?

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