Monday, March 9, 2009

The dilemma

This is a post from an anon commentor that warrants being bumped to the top:
Given the dearth of jobs this year, I've applied for some community college jobs that are TT or equivalent. I'm also applying for some VAPs. Now I realize that a dilemma could arise: suppose I get an offer from a community college and a VAP offer. So far, the people at my current institution (where I'm VAPing), have recommended staying away from community colleges if I have aspirations to work in four-year colleges in the future.

Some dilemma-relevant details: My PhD is from a non-Leiter school; I've scored enough interviews (and some things still in the works) to maintain some confidence despite the lack of pedigree. (At the same time, I don't have delusions of grandeur, and have adjuncted at a community college in the past, and found it reasonably satisfying.) I have a family. (And a car payment to make.) The economy sucks, and some people say the job market will probably be even worse next year. 

The first person I talked to (from another discipline) said: "think long-term, take the VAP if you get offered one. Your family may hate it, but it'll be better in the long run. (And if it doesn't work out, don't blame me!)" The second person just seemed worried that even though everyone everywhere knows that the economy sucks and that this means some people may go under-employed (or unemployed), when search committees look at a CV, teaching full-time at a community college will look like a liability at anywhere but similar institutions.

I'm curious what others have to say about all of this. Please have at it, and thanks!

-- Second Suitor


Anonymous said...

I understand that I'm not really playing properly, but I find it hard to believe that you will ever find yourself in this position. Not because you won't get offered a VAP, but the odds of getting the CC offer are slim. Most CC's have tons of adjuncts. Some with Phd's and solid evaluations from the particular CC in question.

Anonymous said...

A lot depends on the CC system you land in. For example, I'm told that Houston's CC system is an excellent place to be a TT philosopher.

It's often the case that in states like Texas, students will take their 'basics' at CC to save cash. They take these credits with them to UT system institutions. So, you'll have some good students.

Many CCs have associates degrees in philosophy which allow faculty to teach upper-div courses too.

John said...

This is a good question. It's always also been my understanding that you should avoid taking community college-type jobs if you hope to get a research job later...but I don't know why that would be the case. Would it really be worse than simply not holding any academic position for that period of time?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, people who teach philosophy at a CC do so because they think that our "best" philosophy ought not necessarily go to the highest bidder.

Anonymous said...

Take the community college position over the VAP position. Why? More long-term stability for you and your family. Otherwise, you stand the risk of hopping from one VAP to another for the next 10 years. Also, if you change your mind and want to go back into the job market, you might not be competitive in a job search at a Leiterific school, but then again you would not have been competitive even if you had not taken the community college job (given that you lack Leiterific pedigree). I know several former community college professors who have gone on to teach at middling state schools, so don't worry. Your time will come. For now, buckle down the hatches and ride out the storm!

Dr. Killjoy said...

I think it all depends on how long you have been out (how long since the PhD). Factoring in the burden jumping around places on your family, you might want to ask yourself if you have any reasonable chances of landing a substantially better TT job than one at a community college. Also, is your CV substantially improving between VAp gigs? If not, then you should go with the permanent option of community college. The market will most likely stink to high heaven next year, so a VAP will be no safe haven and the CC jobs very well could dry up. To be honest, some VAPs aren't any different from CC jobs. Coming out of a 4-4 VAP at Southwest Texas State might not be all that much better than coming out of a permanent gig at a decent community college. Now if you are snagging some of the top VAPs, then perhaps you should slug it out, but barring that, you probably go with secure and permanent employment.

Anonymous said...

For whatever it's worth, I was recently told by a member of an SC where I applied -- but did not get an interview -- that my community college teaching experience, other things being equal, counted against me. This same person, however, also said that this sad fact was not (entirely) intentional, but was rather the result of a psychological bias against community colleges. In any case, I was then advised to remove community college teaching experience from my CV--even though my experience at the community college level came while I was still in graduate school. So, although I wish that the aforementioned bias were NOT representative of the general attitude in the profession, my guess is that it's fairly safe to assume otherwise.

I should also add that, in my opinion, the bias against community colleges and the people who teach at them is complete BS. I went into my situation not knowing what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of both faculty and students. So, if my experience teaching at a community college is any indication, the people who teach at community colleges -- at least a significant number of them -- are competent and engaging both as philosophers and as teachers. I can only conclude, therefore, that the negative bias against community colleges is born out of ignorance and pettiness.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, people who teach philosophy at a CC do so because they think that our "best" philosophy ought not necessarily go to the highest bidder.

Right. They had jobs at four-year institutions, but left to take up a community college positions because Swarthmore and Stanford cost too much. That happens a lot. And by 'a lot', I mean 'never'.

zombie said...

I guess it really depends on what you hope to do in the long term with your career. If you're hoping for a job in a top research school, or some other "prestigious" position, maybe the CC job would be a liability. If you're looking for long term stability and a permanent job and financial security for your family, a TT job at a CC might not be a bad deal, all things considered. A fellow grad from my school, who has had his PhD for a few years, recently took a TT position at a CC after adjuncting for years. He was glad to get it, and was about to hang it up on philosophy if nothing came through. Some of the adjuncts at the state school where I teach are, to put it delicately, getting on in years. I don't know their stories, or why they're still adjuncting after all these years, but I sure don't want to be 60 and still without any job security. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by the comments here. If you have aspirations to a TT job, I think you'd be best to take a VAP. Some of my friends are finding it hard to transition from a CC job to a TT one (at a non-CC school), and are finding themselves having to take VAPs to bridge the gap between them anyway (i.e., the CC and TT jobs).

That said, I totally think it's best to do whatever works out for you and yours. But I do think it's harder to go from a CC to a TT job in general, for what it's worth. Best of luck to you, in any event.

Asstro said...

Here's my advice, perhaps a middle road. If your VAP is at a great or very good school -- a school with a graduate program, say; or a SLAC with a great reputation like Williams or Amherst -- take the VAP. Chances are that it'll act as a springboard into a tt position somewhere. It'll introduce you to new faculty and grad students who could very well provide you with tremendous support on your next job run.

If your VAP is at a middling school that will only possibly help your reputation, don't take it on account of the stress on your family for the move, as well as the anxiety associated with next year's job market. Take the CC job.

THEN, when you apply for tt jobs next year, just sell yourself as an adjunct at the CC, or don't even put it on your CV. Take the CC for job security, for your family, for your future -- be happy with it, because it's probably a damned good job -- and if you're really eager to get out and on to a TT at a four year, try also to teach one class as an adjunct at a nearby big-name school. You can get to know the faculty there.

BunnyHugger said...

I would take the CC job, but based on the other comments, that is evidently an unusual preference. However, I do wonder how likely it is that you will be offered one. I have had plenty of interviews over the years, including a few flybacks, but I have never been interviewed for a CC job, even though I apply for them. I have come to the conclusion that they mostly hire from among their adjuncts -- at least, that is my guess.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

As a CC philosophy prof, I have to say that if you get an offer -- take it. It isn't as bad as you may think and, it's a matter of statistics that the students/jobs are moving toward CCs (46% of current undergrads are at CCs -- that was before the economy crashed).

Work your butt off publishing, take any committee assignment that looks like "honors" or academic excellence etc... and, if you really hate the CC gig, start applying elsewhere. At that point you can position yourself as a productive scholar AND an experienced teacher -- with undertones of, "if I can publish while working a 5/5 load, then imagine what I can do with a cushy 3/3."

CC's have their own version of snobbery -- we tend to favor people with CC teaching experience, so you may not have the "problem". Also, if your CV smells at all of "I'll take a step down and take your TT job at your lowly CC" -- you'll go on the reject pile very quickly. Before the economy sucked we had a huge stack of applications for one tt philosophy line --

first year tt guy said...

It all depends on what you value more:

CC TT job: stability, income, plenty of teaching opportunities (but limited to lower level courses to non-majors), heavier course load not intended to give time for research, no research support

VAP: Lower teaching load, more research support, better chances to move to a 4 yr tt job

On the whole, I don't think taking a CC job is quite the 'kiss of death' for your job hopes at a 4 yr school. But, it will be a serious barrier. I think the key to getting out would be a strong publication record and you'd need to continue producing despite a heavy teaching load (5/5?) and no research support.

BUT, this would be a choice between dangers. If you find a CC tt job reasonably satisfying, the danger of getting 'stuck' there is probably a more preferable danger than continuing your unstable bouncing between VAPs and risking ending up with 'nothing'.

Good luck! its scary out there.

Anonymous said...

So, it's difficult to transition from a CC job to a TT job at a research institution. What about moving from a CC job to a job at a SLAC or not-so selective LAC?

zombie said...

Another family consideration: going from VAP to VAP makes it pretty hard for a spouse to find a decent job (unless said spouse works at home or telecommutes). If the spouse working is an issue (and in this economy, it could well be), the permanence and stability of the TT CC job is a substantial bonus.
Those of us with spousal units and kids have to take such factors into account.

first year tt guy said...

Oh, I forgot one important factor... the length of the VAP position and possibility of conversion to TT track. As you probably know, not all VAPs are equal. Some are one year replacements with no real chance of anything more, others are three years with the possibility of conversion to tt track.

I would take a three year VAP (with or without conversion possibilities) over CC job. (In fact, I suspect there's really no such thing as a three year VAP with no chance of conversion.... a lot of unexpected things can happen in a department in three years). But, I would probably choose the CC job over the one year VAP.

The one year VAP isn't worth it due to the financial, relational, and emotional costs of the move combine with the necessity to go 'full-on' the job market immediately. The three year VAP is a lot more valuable.

VAP course load might also be a factor. But, even a 3/3 isn't that attractive if its only for one year.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. I guess my biggest long-term worry has something to do with the "kiss of death" that first year tt guy mentioned--not really for a "top" research job in the future, but just possibly somewhere with a major, for example. What anon 4:42 says makes me feel better on this count. I did recently do a preliminary interview with a CC, so that's why I'm starting to think about this.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit surprised not to see anyone bring up an incredibly important factor in all of this, which is that one would think that search committees down the road would realize that this year (and next) the economy totally and completely sucked. The market sucked. The article from the NYT concerning the market ( is about all of us who are on the market right now. That said, if you have the opportunity to take a job, take the fucking job. If you apply to other jobs outside of the CC system down the road, one would hope that SC's are not so totally clueless as to ignore the fact that this was "the year of no jobs". If those SC's really do have their heads shoved so far up their asses that they are 'biased' against CC teaching experience, would you really want to be working there anyway?

If you are presented with a dilemma between taking a job with a CC or taking a VAP, I wouldn't try to predict the future regarding how your choice will look to other hiring committees down the road. Go where you think that you and your family will be the happiest.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone really think that many SCs don't have their heads up either their own or the image of good pedigree's ass? PhD will keep getting put onto the market, and I suspect the SCs won't want to change the way they perceive things just because it was hard for a couple years.

Anonymous said...

I think Anon 10:19 is being overly optimistic when s/he writes, "one would think that search committees down the road would realize that this year (and next) the economy totally and completely sucked."

While this year's market has been the worst since (I'm guessing) at least 1981, the market has nevertheless been tight for some time. And that means SC's have had plenty of opportunity to drop the "PhD's go stale" attitude. But, unsurprisingly, many of them persist in their irrationality. I was planning to defend this summer but will likely postpone, even if I can score a decent VAP somewhere. On account of the recalcitrant irrationality, I just don't see the point of defending unless one has a TT job lined up.

brian said...

If you have the choice, take the CC job and move on with your life. Once you stop bouncing around on VAP's and JFP's you quickly realize how BS it all was. If you are productive and Saul Kripke smart you will percolate to the top one way or the other, if you are not, settle down, pay your bills, drink a beer and have a life and write if/when the muses call.