Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Advice for Community College Faculty Job Seekers

Melissa Dennihy, from Queensborough Community College (CUNY), has a good piece in IHE offering advice for folks seeking faculty jobs at community colleges.  I’ll say “yes” to nearly all of it, with one asterisk, and offer advice for an earlier stage. If you’re in grad school and have a community college faculty position in mind, what can you do to position yourself?

The asterisk comes with her point about research expectations.  It’s true that the CUNY community colleges generally have research expectations for faculty.  But the CUNY schools are outliers, nationally; most community colleges don’t. While research is welcomed and congratulated, it is not usually required.  In my fifteen years of community college administration at three different places in two states, I’ve never seen a professor fired for lack of research. With a few exceptions, that’s not the coin of the realm in this sector.

Dennihy advises that you should expect to be asked to give a teaching demonstration.  That’s certainly true. I’d add that if you can find a way to gain experience with online teaching, that will help.  Many colleges have more demand for online classes than they have incumbent faculty who are comfortable teaching them; offloading them onto the new hire is a way for departments to meet enrollment needs and keep the peace.  If you’re in the running to be the new hire, showing an ability and willingness to teach online could tip the balance.

If you’re coming from a graduate program at a place that’s relatively selective at the undergrad level, you may encounter skepticism about your experience or knowledge of working with underprepared students.  If you can pick up experience adjuncting at a place with students similar to those at a community college, or even working in a tutoring center, that can help. If your only teaching experience is as a T.A. at a selective place, you may not be credible about your ability to reach the students you’d actually have.

At most community colleges now, full-time faculty lines are rare and carefully allocated.  If a college actually posts one, it’s trying to solve a problem. Presenting yourself as a possible solution could make it easier to say yes.  For example, many faculty are skeptical of outcomes assessment. If you can pick up some experience with it and present yourself as eager to tackle the task, you may quickly rise to the top of the list.  As with online teaching, you could represent the possibility of the department both meeting its obligations and keeping the peace. That’s powerful.

Be honest with yourself about why you’re applying.  If you feel like you’re settling, or the position is beneath you, you may unconsciously give off signals that will turn off the committee.  A few years ago I interviewed a candidate who opened with “you might be surprised that someone like me would be willing to work here, but I am!”  I don’t know what he thought “someone like me” meant, but his candidacy died on the spot. If you think you don’t belong here, I’ll assume you’re right.

Anything you can do to demonstrate that you’re concerned about diversity can help.  Community colleges are the most diverse sector of higher education. It wouldn’t be unususal for a class of thirty to include people from multiple countries, speaking multiple first languages, and ranging in age from sixteen to sixty.  Several may have prescribed accommodations for documented disabilities, each different from the other. Does that scare you or excite you? How have you handled that in the past? How have you changed your teaching over time to meet the needs of different sorts of students?  

Finally, try to keep in mind that the notion of the job market as some sort of meritocracy is pure hogwash.  Years of sustained austerity, inflicted for various political reasons, has made the market much harder to crack than it used to be.  Don’t take rejection as anything more than losing a numbers game. I’ve seen some utterly excellent candidates walk away without offers, simply because other excellent candidates beat them.  It happens. Don’t let myths of fairness add insult to injury. It’s not worth it.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you add or change?