Wednesday, October 30, 2013


You Make the Call, Version 1.2

Yesterday, I asked my wise and worldly readers to make the call in the following scenario, and I’m happy to report that many stepped up and did just that.

The Basketweaving department has a few long-serving full-time faculty, and a host of adjuncts.  One of the adjuncts has been there longer than most, and has been conspicuous in going above and beyond to help the department.  Let’s call her SuperAdjunct.

The department has a retirement, and gets the opportunity to hire a full-time replacement.  It drafts a job description, assembles a search committee, and starts the process.  But the chair openly refers to the position as rightfully SuperAdjunct’s, and seems to resent even having to go through a process when it’s clear what the outcome should be.  Meanwhile, HR is pushing for the full, open process, on the grounds that anything less is discriminatory.

Now, let’s add a wrinkle, just to make things interesting.  SuperAdjunct is white.  The college has an affirmative action policy, and it has identified diversifying its faculty as a goal.  In these circumstances, do you side with the chair, or with HR?

What do you mean when you ask whom we side with? Are you asking us to figure out which stance is most likely to avoid legal trouble? Which stance is most consistent with the values that the institution has proclaimed? Most consistent with the values that the institution ought to (in our opinion) proclaim? Are you asking us to weigh laudable diversity goals against the laudable goal of rewarding faithful service and strong performance by a person in a marginalized role?

If you ask me how to avoid legal trouble, well, do the national search. If you ask me how to be consistent with the institution's diversity goals, without regard to whatever other goals the institution might have (e.g. morale among long-serving employees), do the national search. If you ask me how to advance whatever set of goals or values I might think the institution should have, I would say that you should have a mix of internal searches (to reward faithful service among people who work in marginal roles) and national searches (to advance diversity goals).

It really depends on what we're bringing to this. I can argue that the internal hire is good from many perspectives, that the national search is good from many other perspectives, and if you want me to pick between perspectives then I need to know what the yard-stick is: My preferences? Legal considerations? One stated institutional goal? Morale?

It depends on the framing.
Isn't the more interesting question here whether the answer is different if SuperAdjunct is white or if SuperAdjunct is black (or Hispanic or Native American or Asian American)? If the answer changes depending on SuperAdjunct's racial or ethnic identity (self-ID or imputed by HR), that's likely to be an HR issue too; see e.g. Ricci v. DeStefano.
Unless it's a sessional course offering, we always search on the broadest basis and even sessional jobs get listed online so anyone could apply.

That said, I'd also be asking why the chair is so focused on Super-Adjunct. Is Super-Adjunct really a Superhero(ine)? If they're really good and suit the institution in particular ways, they're likely to be a real contender when the search starts.

Maybe your department head is insistent for other reasons, though. Is it social justice? Are the adjuncts being exploited at Make-the-Call U? Has Super-Adjunct or a predecessor been passed over blatantly or been promised opportunities that aren't there? Or is the chair's interest more venial, seeking to reserving the job for someone in their corner or who'll be "grateful"?

Knowledge is power and it sounds as if the administration needs to get some information about the dynamics in that department.
We actually had a search a little while back wherein a finalist asked if there was an internal candidate in the pool with her. She said she'd interviewed for *three other jobs* on our campus alone within the last few months, and had been bested by the internal candidate each time. I guess our position made for job number four, since we also had an internal hire. Ugh.

I feel like we used her. The institution used her. Her solid resume provided legal cover for the university every time she was interviewed, but she didn't really have a shot. How is that just? How is that even remotely decent? How is that anything but pathological?

And yet at the same time, if she doesn't even get a chance to interview...her chances of landing the job go from almost-zero to truly-zero.

I get why any sane organization would want to hire internally. And it is a really basic thing for morale, that people feel like their good work and dedication and institutional knowledge will pay off in the form of career advancement. This is kind of a core element of the employee/employer relationship. It is mean to interview people whom you know you will not hire, and give false hope.

But if diversity is one of your goals - and it should be! - you're not going to get there by reducing the number of interviews you do. Ever, ever, ever. I see no way around this.
Have the Pinkertons "take care of" Super-Adjunct and the Department Chair.

Then abolish tenure and the credit hour.


I sure wish I had written my comment before reading what Punditus Maximus wrote. Now I'm laughing so hard I can barely type.

I am waiting for Version 1.3 when we learn that Super Adjunct is a white FEMALE, teaching physics. Flip flop flip!


No problem here: My answer is still the same. We always do a search and I agree with that approach. (My answer also doesn't change if Super Adjunct is a black female mathematician.)

PS to Alex:
I think he wants to see how you react when put on the spot with the kind of difficult decision that Deans and Provosts have to make. This is not a trick question!
I suppose I am of two minds on the “internal-vs-external” search.

If I were that “super-adjunct” that was referred to in Dean Dad’s intro, having put in years of exemplary service and having done a lot of extra work that was above and beyond the call of duty, I would resent having to compete with superstars from all over the country for that full time tenure-track gig that I, rightfully or wrongly, regard as belonging to me. Better than anyone else in the world, I know how the job should be done, since I have effectively been doing it all along anyway.

But suppose the college or university holds a “sham search”, one in which they advertise nationally for the opening simply because they were required to do so, when all along they knew they were going to hire the super-adjunct that was already on staff. If I were a well-qualified applicant from outside, I would resent having wasted my time in applying for a job in which the “fix” was in, one where I really had no chance at all to be hired, because they already knew who they wanted to hire.

A lot of adjuncts reason that if they put in extra efforts, do work that is above and beyond the call of duty such as serving on committees or holding extra office hours, that they might be able to attract enough favorable attention from the administration that they will get promoted to a full-time gig. But this almost never happens, and if a full-time position opens up, the school advertises nationally, and the adjunct is forced to compete against a gaggle of superstars for the opening.

About the “affirmative implications” of the search. I suppose the wisest tactic for the school is to choose the alternative which provides the least probability of the school being sued. HR people tend to be ultracautious, and they are always asking themselves: If I do X, what is the probability that I can be sued? This will probably depend on the “affected class” status of the super-adjunct. This may mean that the best strategy is to carry out a real nationwide search.

I remember back in the day when I was on the academic job market, I saw a lot of ads for openings which asked that you apply to the Affirmative Action officer of the school. A lot of people in the know said that this was a sure sign that the job you were applying for did not actually exist, that they were simply collecting resumes to show that they actively seeking affected class members.

A lot of schools will “tease” their adjuncts, dangling before them all sorts of attractive future prospects such as the possibility of salary raises, possibly benefits becoming available, or the possibility of the position being made full-time or a new full-time tenure-track position being opened up. But these promises are never made in writing, and it invariably happens that they are bogus, and the money and position never appear.

Diversity is a good goal, but it should be an "all other things being equal, hire the member of the under represented group" thing, not a "pass over a nearly ideal candidate because she's the wrong race" thing. It does not seem to me like in this scenario, all other things are equal. The set up is that you have a highly qualified, hard working, already loyal and local candidate who has proven themselves in a closely related role and is almost guarenteed to take the job. Any "diversity candidate" you identified would be, by comparison, an unknown quantity. So I stick by my previous answer: hire SuperAdjunct already. There will presumably be other searches where there is not such a great candidate already in such a perfect position, and there it will be a lot easier to find a lot of approximately comparable CVs, then, which you'll find yourself having to sort on fairly meaningless criteria anyway just to whittle down the numbers, and that is the time to take race or other minority status into account.

Isn't context everything? We don't know what kind of college / university we're supposedly dealing with here, and SuperAdjunct has been there "longer than most." In this case, for any position that requires research / publications to rise to the top of the candidates, she is NOT likely to be competitive, because she's been there teaching. Most adjuncts are not afforded that privilege.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this. The fact that SuperAdjunct has loyally served the department may be what shoots her in the foot because in many places, she will have the teaching credentials, but not the research credentials, just by the nature of the job she's been doing for the department.
First: Tell the Dept Chair to stop publicly attributing the "rightful" claim to the job to ANYBODY, because if/when the person who the Chair wants does not get the job, then there is likely to be trouble, or at least, bad feelings. At least in my experience, the Chair doesn't get to make the hiring decision for tenure-line positions by themselves. There is a committee, and the Chair might not even be on it.

Second: If SuperAdjunct is qualified for the position (Anon@5:24's comment about research is salient!), then there is not a conundrum here. Have the national search. Encourage SA to apply. Every SA should understand why national searches are typically necessary. Application does not equal having a lock on the job, but since SA is qualified and a proven, successful colleague, then that should shine through in the process.

Third: If SA is not qualified, then the position does not "rightfully" belong to SA, in the first place (and dept chair/others need to stop over-promising out of guilt or whatever, which is not a kind thing to do to SuperAdjunct). This is the hardest truth. I'm watching that happen in my own dept right now, where an adjunct is being strongly encouraged to apply for a job she has no chance of getting (she has a professional degree, not an academic terminal degree - and that is among the first cut points being applied to the applicant pool). The only people telling her the truth are other non-tenure people, but of course, she's putting more weight on the department chair's encouragement. He, meanwhile, is leading her on for reasons I don't fully comprehend.

Fourth: If SuperAdjunct is not qualified based on the search criteria, it might mean that the department ought to take a good, hard, look at what they think someone needs in order to be "qualified" in the first place. For example, how high is expected the research standard, and is that standard truly reasonable, given what the new hire will be asked to do? I have seen some searches where the research standard is set at a ridiculous level, just because the search committee got carried away with their daydreams and forgot that we are a teaching-focused, regional public with no institutional support for research. At the end of the day, everyone loses - failed search or unhappy, mismatched new hire who leaves in a couple of years, angry or disappointed SuperAdjunct who would have been a great fit but was passed over due to the unrealistic standards, department that has to fill that hole yet again, if they can even wrangle another tenure-track hiring authorization out of their administration.
Since Matt works at a CC, I've been assuming the situation he posits is at a CC. In that case, research if required for the TT position would lean towards pedagogical research, in which case the Super Adjunct may well have some relevant experience. And, since I'm assuming a CC, I would add that the reality is (maybe not in Massachusetts, but many other places) you can announce a national search but the vast majority of candidates are likely to be local or maybe regional -- and that is a good thing. The workforce patterns for 2-year and 4-year institutions overlap, but often not greatly so. It does not make sense for CC's to try to emulate in every respect the hiring practices of 4-years and especially R1's.
I left something out of my snark this morning: The next version should be that Super Adjunct is a white female VETERAN teaching STEM!

To Anonymous@5:24AM

The context was given in the original version 1.1 posting: "As context, let’s assume that this is taking place at a publicly funded community college."

No publications or research program needed. Assumed 5/5 load of lower division classes plus office hours and service, etc.

Like Anonymous@7:37AM, our open searches generally draw from those living nearby, but we have hired a very good person who was a Super Adjunct on a different coast at the time of the interview.

ArtMathProf brings up a point that perhaps Dean Dad Matt could elaborate on. Has anyone told adjuncts that there is no such thing as "promotion" to a tenurable position at most colleges? I'd guess that there is a lot of ignorance on that topic. There are advantages and disadvantages to being an internal candidate, both related to the fact that you are well known and the other candidate is not and will be judged only on the vist.
Even at a university that requires research for tenure, the Super Adjunct is not necessarily screwed. In my STEM department at a teaching-focused state school, we require research, but not a lot of research. An outstanding adjunct who kept some sort of research collaboration going on the side might be competitive.

FYI, I know of a lecturer in another department who kept research going under trying conditions, did not get to upgrade to a TT position, and eventually left for another school. She was a respected teacher, and she was from an under-represented group (i.e. woman in STEM), FYI. Our loss, on many levels.

Also, at some research universities they have a class of full-time lecturers with tenure or something roughly equivalent. Generally those lecturers are not expected to do research, though they might be supported (to some extent) if they choose to keep some sort of scholarly effort going. A super-adjunct could be competitive for that sort of position.
As one of those full time lecturers (and no, people in those positions don't have tenure. On my campus, we negotiated significantly improved job security provisions, but it differs in many important ways from tenure.), all I can say is that Super Adjunct should aim for a TT job if she can get it. Typically, full-time lecturers make meager salaries that are barely better than what an adjunct is making. The median full-time, non-tenure, salary on my campus is in the high 30s. The advantages to being full-time are that a) you probably have benefits and b) you probably don't have to worry about whether you have a job every four months. While some schools might offer better salaries that are more comparable to starting tenure-track salaries (a living wage), that is not the national trend for full-time non-tenure hires.
I will admit not wanting to answer this question as affirmative action is not a policy I support, so it's taking me a day to come up with a response. But, being a hypothetical administrator, I will take the circumstances laid out here.

I still think a national search would be better. In an affirmative action-related lawsuit, I suspect the public search would do a lot better in court (both legal and public opinion) than hiring your buddy. While SuperAdjunct certainly isn't anyone's "buddy" and really is a shining example of excellence, perception at public institutions is going to go in a much different direction than perception at a private company. The perception, especially where AA/EO is involved, needs to be as objective as possible, as ironic as that sounds.
One thing I noticed in the last thread was people making comparisons to the private sector, saying that hiring an internal candidate if they're qualified is normal.

I don't think that's a valid comparison. The private sector doesn't have tenure. Given how tenure is such a major factor in staffing colleges, procedures in place to make it workable shouldn't be short-circuited. That includes any procedures at the front end of the process. In academia, filtering tends to happen much earlier in the career path than in the private sector — at least in my experience, and I've worked in both. So conducting a national search for a position that, if filled, is expected to be occupied for a couple of decades is reasonable; after all, no private sector position makes any pretence at that level of future planning.

I'll also note that my college has hired a couple of 'outstanding' adjuncts into full-time positions. Both were good (although not as good as the chair thought they were), and both are disappointing as full-timers, because they are still performing like good adjuncts. They seem to view their hiring as proof that they were doing the right thing, and so that's all they do — but a good program keeps changing and improving. So our newest hires are the biggest barriers to change in my department. I don't know if a wider search would have weeded them out, but I rather wish it hadn't been short-circuited, because I have a nagging feeling that going through the whole search/interview process would have impressed on them that the ideal full-time candidate would be expected to do more than an adjunct is.

So dragging myself back to this post, my answer wouldn't change: make the search. If they're really the best candidate, they'll get hired anyway; if they aren't, then the college gets a chance to hire someone better.
OK, so point one is that in a teaching centric institution (community colleges for example, where the good dd is) research is not very important.

Point two is if you want diversity, hire diverse adjuncts.

Point three is hiring internally builds a modicum of institutional loyalty, or more to the point limits the FU attitude of the adjuncts.

Capcha is rimshot
Interesting remark from Anonymous@6:14AM:
"The median full-time, non-tenure, salary on my campus is in the high 30s."

My takeaway from that statement is that CCs should be targeting full-time instructors at R1 universities as well as snagging some of their students. Our starting salary for a t-t Asst Prof is 50% above that, and someone with that kind of experience starts above the minimum. That is even worth a move across the country.
My real answer:

Have a Come to Jesus talk with the Department Chair about who decides who gets to hire who. Include HR and witnesses, tape it if necessary. Tell the Department Chair that he or she is perfectly allowed to personally fund Super Adjunct's job, if he or she is that committed to Super Adjunct. Make it clear that no matter what comes of this, Department Chair is on your permanent Shit List, and if Department wants any lines from here on out, it might be a good idea for someone else to ascend to the role.

Then hire the hell out of Super Adjunct. Because if you don't, you lose twice. Firstly, you lose Super Adjunct. This is why Super Adjunct is Super Adjunct. They are making it clear that they want a piece of what you have to offer and are willing to beg for scraps to get it. This is a tenure-TRACK position; if Super-Adjunct turns out to not be so super over the next five years, problem solved. I doubt it, though. Anyone willing to live on ramen for a decade to make $35k a year on the 'track is probably committed in a deep and personal way.

The second way you lose is that you kill off all your other adjuncts' wills to live. If Super-Adjunct can't get a gorram internal hire, then -- most will reason -- neither can anyone else. This will have little effect on staffing. It will, however, convert a nontrivial number of adjuncts to the "Beige" adjunct you described in a previous post. Possibly most of them. Or result in (horrors) demands for a union.

I don't care about diversity in this context. We're in the bunker here, as DD notes in today's post. College budgets live and die on adjuncts' perception that they might promote someday. Kill that perception, and you either kill your adjunct population or beigeify them, and the college can't afford it.

If you're gonna run your college on an exploitative model, then RUN IT ON AN EXPLOITATIVE MODEL. Things like diversity, incestuousness, and other fancy-pants liberal ideals are irrelevant when you're paying starvation wages to a desperate two-tier workforce during a Depression. By creating Super Adjunct, you've already made a decision about what your college is. Follow through. If the Legislature doesn't like it, see your answer to Department Chair above.

I really like PM's refreshing answer above. Well stated.

How about we flip the facts, and make Super Adjunct a black female? And make the chair black to boot? And make that department overrepresented by minorities, while the rest of the CC is not.

Still do the national search? What's going to happen if you find a white male who is much better qualified?
I think this: "Anyone willing to live on ramen for a decade to make $35k a year on the 'track is probably committed in a deep and personal way" is sort of a nice way to say delusional and masochistic.
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