Sunday, January 24, 2010

That's not a unicorn, you can see the string holding the horn in place

Fellow Smoker, Phaedrus, e-mails us with the following story/question/request:
Dear Phil Smokers,

I am a recent philosophy PhD in the UK, currently unemployed. I've had a string of brief appointments doing teaching work over the last two years. These have been very enjoyable. I would very much like to keep doing philosophy - especially teaching it - but like so many of us I'm having trouble getting published.

In fact, I've reached the stage where I'm fairly sure I just have a tin ear for writing publishable papers, and I no longer enjoy attempting to do so. I'm so convinced of this I'm ready to give up the profession. However, friends of mine keep telling me about these so-called 'liberal arts colleges' in the states, where publication is of little importance, and teaching is all (and I'm told by colleagues and students I have a gift for teaching philosophy, and that it would be a shame to waste it).

Now these places sound like mythological institutions to me, but before I quit the profession to become a soulless office drone in some large, ethically irresponsible corporation, can any of you confirm or deny these rumours? If these places exist, what god-like qualities are required to obtain employment there? Does it necessarily entail living in nowhereseville?

Yours in last-ditch-hope,

Quick answer, because I should be working on finishing a draft of the dissertation: Yeah, small liberal arts colleges exist where teaching is very important, though at the very good ones my impression is that research shouldn't be, and isn't neglected at all. A lot of these places are in nowheresville, but not all of them. Finally, it's just as hard to get a job at these places as it is to get an academic job at research-oriented universities. The secret formula for these jobs is just like that for any other: do everything, yes, *everything*, really fucking well and hope that the people reviewing your awesomely composed dossier have some modicum of interest in you.

I'll have more to say about this less-than-foolproof strategy in a later post.

--Jaded Dissertator


SLAC Prof said...

Alas, such creatures don't exist.

At my SLAC research now trumps teaching for tenure, but you'd better be DAMN good in the classroom at the same time. If not, you won't make it past your third-year review, let alone tenure.

I had two offers, here and a flagship R1. The research expectations were pretty much identical for both. Teaching load is nominally the same (2/2), but resources for travel, etc. are generally better at my SLAC (big endowment). Also, the students are superb, cost of living is low, and salary is higher than the R1. Now that I see the state budgets going kerplowie I thank my wise daimon even more for steering me straight.

Short version: SLACs demand research, so give up on that dream of all teaching no publishing.

Anonymous said...

Given the original letter, I'd say we certainly do have a system that would fit the author's expectations perfectly. It's called the community college system. Many do not require publications at all, and in quite a few of them, you can have some amazing teaching experiences.

Anonymous said...

I'll second "SLAC Prof." I've had t-track jobs at both a (well-endowed) liberal arts college and a (state-funded) research university. The research expectations are identical at the two schools. The only difference is that no one cares much about teaching *excellence* at the research university: you have to be conscientious and professional, but you don't have be a pedagogical marvel. It may be that one could get away with publishing in slightly less prestigious venues at the liberal arts college -- older faculty have, though I suspect that wouldn't fly any more.

My impression is that every college and university in the US expects roughly the same quantity of research from its junior faculty in the humanities: either a major-press book plus a couple of articles, or 6-8 peer-reviewed articles, with at least a few in top tier journals. The only difference is that the better places want to see *impact*: are your publications major contributions? 'Better' places in this respect include many liberal arts colleges.

Mr. Zero said...

I'm not really an expert on this stuff, but my understanding is that the sort of place you would intuitively and automatically think about when you think "Liberal Arts College" is the kind of place where publishing would be a pretty important part of your tenure requirements.

Perhaps community colleges would be more up Phaedrus's alley. I have a friend who is chair of a small philosophy department at a community college who, to my knowledge, has never considered attempting to write a paper for publication. He really really likes his job. Additionally, my friend lives in the city he most would like to--not nowheresville.

As I was writing this, a couple of other people made the points I was trying to make. I decided to post this anyways.

Crito said...

But LAC ≠ SLAC, remember. I can think of some LACs where there is very little publishing done. What I don't know is whether there are enough jobs like this to make it worth Phaedrus' while to apply on the US market. Maybe someone knowledgeable could take a look at JFP for Phaedrus.

Anonymous said...

Another option is to apply for jobs at satellite campuses of large state universities. These small campuses emphasize quality teaching, interdisciplinary scholarship, faculty diversity, small class sizes and tenure/promotion based on a truly balanced formula of research, teaching and service--at least more balanced than flagship campuses where expectations are heavily weighted in favor of research/scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Both SLAC Prof and Anon 1:42 are talking about the higher end of colleges. But here and there, there are some places that while not being exactly the prototype for the SLAC label, require nominal research only while still not being a community college. I have in mind examples such as the state college system in MA (e.g. Bridgewater, which was hiring this year). Fancy SLACs would of course have research requirements that are just as heavy as R1 schools, but the key to finding the slacker SLACs is teaching load. If it's 2/2, you'd need to publish a lot. If it's 4/4, Phaedrus, that's the place for you!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I'm noticing that even so-so SLACs have expectations that their faculty will both publish and teach. The problem is that those positions also come with a 3/3 or 4/4 load AND lack the library to support research. Their tuition is expensive, so students expect a lot of attention etc.

If you really don't want to pay attention to publishing, be prepared for a 5/5 at a community college -- and students with WIDE variations in ability. I'm doing it now... in a major metro area. The salary is decent, the benefits are good and our administration pretty much lets us teach how we'd like... it isn't a bad gig and it pays the bills.

The key to getting these kinds of jobs is often to have experience teaching the kinds of students the CC serves, and the classes (mostly lower level) the CC offers. Also - I'm pretty sure they won't pay your costs to come over for an interview.. so many will assume you won't accept the interview and thus will pass you by.

Anonymous said...

I second Anonymous 1:38. I have a tenure-track full time teaching position at a HUGE urban community college. Publishing is encouraged but not required in the genuine sense; publishing makes you look like a shining star, but not publishing really (really) doesn't hurt at all. I'm not sure if this is true at all CC/junior colleges or just mine, though. As expected, there is probably variation between different institutions.

But do expect to trade the woes of publishing for the woes of administration and bureaucracy. Instead of publishing, our faculty are expected to engage in "professional development" activities (workshops, additional grad classes, etc.) for purposes of promotion and/or maintenance of rank, in addition to active participation in a wide range of committees which range from interesting and genuinely useful to mind-numbingly painful and wholly unnecessary. These demands probably vary greatly from place to place.

The teaching loads and assignments for CCs vary by institution, location, student population, and (crucially) unionization/union effectiveness. My teaching load (12 classes per year split between fall spring and summer, with a guaranteed nine week off period) often elicits cartoon-worthy eye pops from others in the discipline. But its really not nearly as bad as all the fainting and chest-clutching would have one think. I still have plenty of time to do other things, or, you know, sit around and watch TV instead.

A problem, however, for Phaedrus would be legal snafus with immigration. CC/Jr Colleges vary in the funding they are offered by their respective states, but the approach to budget is generally no-frills. (CCs are expected by state legislatures to teach the hardest populations at the highest volumes with the most effectiveness at the lowest cost; basically, it's the Ivory Dungeon.) Consequently, it's unlikely that any CC/Junior college would bear the legal cost of getting a foreigner into the US -- ie, the money involved in paying attorneys, filing for visas, renewing them, getting work permits, bribing the INS, etc. Our CC definitely doesn't do this; maybe others do, but I doubt it. So to apply for these jobs, you'd have to get here legal to work first -- perhaps marry American?

Another problem is (and don't take this the wrong way) most philosophy Ph.D.s are totally and completely unprepared for the sheer poverty of education students have had before arriving at these institutions. They are almost always completely unprepared for college, educationally immature, and borderline illiterate. They are typically extremely poor and have been systematically deprived of real education throughout their entire primary and secondary education. Working in CCs, depending again on location and economic background, is really, genuinely social justice work -- with all the stress and joy that brings with it. Frankly, most of the folks I know in philosophy -- from first year grad student to respected tenured full professor -- would not be able to survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment. It requires real knowledge about pedagogy, real sensitivity to problems of race and class oppression, and some measure of actual training in how to teach. You can't fly by in this environment just with your innate abilities. You must consider teaching a skill and be willing to revise and change; you must give up the idea of meritocracy to some degree; you must face your own unearned privileges.

That being said, I love my job -- at least on most days. And I may be working in the Ivory Dungeon, but its still better than being a corporate slave (which I have done, and would never do again). I feel like what I do actually matters, and that even if I am not a philosopher remembered by time, I will have meant something to at least some of the students I teach. (I'm 3 years in, and the tally is at 2,600 students so far.)

Anyway, that's my rant. Hope it helps, such as it was.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon. 2:58: I love you.

Anonymous said...

Is it really that hard/impossible for a foreigner to get a job at a community college? I didn't realize sponsoring someone for an H1 or a green card was prohibitively expensive (but of course I have no clue, I was just assuming).

CTS said...

Liberal arts colleges vary incredibly. My SLAC requires more publishing now than it did, but our standards are rather vague. We do not require a certain number of articles nor even a book at the College level (depts. vary).

However, there is an expectation that one has 'mail in all slots.' This means, for us, excellent teaching, 'scholarship.' and college service. That can be a lot to balance.

On the other hand we have fairly good students - some gems - teach 3/2 as the norm, and can choose whether we want to focus on shcolarship or service.

Anonymous said...

"it's unlikely that any CC/Junior college would bear the legal cost of getting a foreigner into the US -- ie, the money involved in paying attorneys, filing for visas, renewing them, getting work permits, bribing the INS, etc"

Hire an attorney? Really!? Not everyone is on a no fly list... You may have to pay the visa expenses out of pocket, but the biggest issue is that the institution will not have any support, like an international office, so you will be on your own (which is not really that bad). This is often true of smaller 4yr institutions too.

Anonymous said...

I once interviewed at a state school one step up from CC (a "polytech") and was told I could get tenure with no publications. That might be the thing to pursue in this circumstance.

Glaucon said...

Anon 2:58 raises an interesting point that I don't remember ever being discussed here: "Working in CCs, depending again on location and economic background, is really, genuinely social justice work…"

We discuss the (un)fairness of the job market (e.g., taking pedigree into account), whether justice and solidarity with labor demands moving conference venues, but there's little if any discussion of the moral / social justice dimensions of the sorts of jobs most of us seek and find most desirable. The jobs we're encouraged to think of as most desirable do not involve teaching mostly students who are not economically advantaged, etc; indeed, one might "settle for" such a job, but it seems safe to say that few of us would choose them if we had other options. While the desire to teach the best prepared students is clearly not intensionally equivalent to the desire to teach the economically most advantaged students, to some considerable extent these desires are extensionally equivalent. The horrendous crappiness of the current job market makes other things decidedly unequal, but I wonder what if any moral responsibilities folks think they have with respect to the sorts of jobs they seek, and indeed what weight (if any) such considerations have in the sorts of jobs people desire.

Anonymous said...

I'm a tenured prof at a satellite campus such as Anon 1:59 describes. Yes, it's 4/4, and yes, at least a couple solid peer-reviewed articles are needed for tenure. (Aside: we might be compadres in the Ivory Dungeon with Anon 2:58 (love that!), but we've also published in many of the major tier-one journals; collegial challenge and encouragement is a powerful motivator.) But my department requires above all else excellent performance in the classroom--and Phaedrus would be most welcome to apply. And we'll have a couple of retirements in the next few years that will open TT appointments. Hint: we love cheese!

Yet Another SLAC Prof said...

Variation is wide, but I echo those who say that research is definitely needed for tenure at the GOOD SLACs. Still, there are certainly tenured people at good SLACs whose publications are sort of pro-forma affairs. Here's a suggestion: look around at a bunch of SLACs and check the CVs of folks who have just recently received tenure. I suspect that what you will find is a number of places where those places tenured people whose publications are, shall we say, lackluster. I'm sure their teaching is great, though. . . . Or rather, that their students really love their teaching (which is not the same thing, but is what all too often matters).

Chike said...

The advice about trying out "community colleges" raises the question - is there any need for Phaedrus to come to the US?

I'm not sure what they call "community colleges" in the UK. In Canada, where I'm from, we call them "colleges" (if you go to the University of Toronto, you're not "in college"... you're "in university"... although, confusingly, you're also associated with one of U of T's colleges). But I would be surprised to hear that they don't exist. Surely "going to uni" (I know that bit of UK slang) is not one's only option.

Anonymous said...

I'm at a small-ish state U system campus (not a "satellite" campus) where the official load is a pretty intense 4/4, usually with at least five preps/year, and where the service load is also very heavy. We're classified as a "research University, but that's partly because we have some tech and professional grad programs. (There is only one humanities grad program.)

Research is required, but all sorts of silly things count as research (book reviews, merely attending conferences, serving as a commentator or a session chair at a conference, organizing a conference on a subject you'd like to write a paper about, writing a manuscript you would like to publish, writing about your class syllabus, etc.). Of course, these sorts of things are bowls of regular cereal compared to the just one bowl of super colon blow that is a peer-refereed journal article, but it is at least possible to meet the research expectations by being a book review-writing machine a few weeks every year.

That said, we don't rejoice when we encounter an application from a job candidate who says "I just want to teach--I love it, I'm good at it, and I'm just not sure I'm cut out for writing publishable papers." We like to see an applicant whose publication prospects are good, since that bodes well for him or her meeting the research expectations without doing all sorts of busy work that he or she calls research.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:58, thank you. What a good post.

Anonymous said...

I second Chike's comment - there are plenty of places in the UK where publishing wouldn't be a priority. For example, London Metropolitan University was hiring recently, and a look at their department suggests that research isn't an overwhelming focus. I'd imagine many ex-polytechnics are similar. I suspect Phaedrus is really asking whether there are any prestigious posts with excellent students where not publishing is not an issue, and hoping the existence of the liberal arts college in the States makes a difference. If this is really the question, then I think the answer is a striaghtforward 'no'.

Anonymous said...

I think the UK equivalent of a community college is a college of further education, if those still exist. There are several challenges I can think of for someone in Phaedrus' position:

1. Most places prefer someone with publications to someone with no publications, other things seeming equal on paper. And there are lots of unemployed philosophers out there.

2. Getting a green card, unless you marry into it, requires your employer to do some paperwork asserting that you were the best qualified person for the job. They might not want the hassle, and they might have a hard time convincing anyone that you are that special unless you have relevant and impressive publications. (I could be quite wrong about this, but I think it's true.)

3. At my SLAC and the other nearest one (and so possibly at many others too) there is an internal division between older faculty members who have published little to nothing and younger people who are much more research-oriented. This means that some search committee members might hold publications against you (especially good ones) while others will hold a lack of publications against you. It is hard to predict what the result will be of any search, but it could be a compromise of someone who is just good enough for the young folk without being too threatening for the oldies. Hitting that sweet spot of mediocrity takes a lot of luck.

4. Letters of recommendation differ greatly in the UK and the US. A UK professor once told me that they basically did not consider US applicants because they were all said to be the best thing since sliced bread and there was no way to tell who was actually good and who wasn't. UK letters tend to be less enthusiastic, sometimes (I expect) devastatingly so for the UK-based candidates' chances of getting a job in the US.

Despite all this it is possible for British people to get jobs in the US. It just isn't easy.

Anonymous said...

Nice use of a Simpson's quote!

Filosofer said...

Based on my experience teaching at several different LACs of varying quality, it seems safe to assume (in general, ceteris paribus,blah blah blah) that research expectations are inversely proportional to teaching load.

Also, to echo Anon 10:04, there's publishing, and then there's publishing. The less impressive an institution's academic reputation (a rough guide to which might be the average test scores for incoming freshmen), the more likely it is that merely presenting at a few regional conferences, writing an occasional book review, and publishing in a less-than-stellar journal will be sufficient to meet tenure requirements.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:10: I'm glad somebody recognized this as an issue. The fact that most philosophers I know are only interested in teaching elite students long ago led me to conclude that they're a bunch of hypocrites who like talking about social justice but don't actually give a damn about those who are less privileged.

On a related point, I've often wondered about the ethical merit of concentrating intellectual talent at a handful of elite schools. Surely the common good would be better served by spreading talented philosophers out over a larger number of schools. Or maybe we do actually believe in "rising-tide economics" when it comes to our own backyard.

Anonymous said...


Why would a school make an offer to someone if they were not the best candidate they could get for the job? Except nepotism, I can't think of any plausible reasons. Given this, I wouldn't think much convincing was needed and that stating it would be enough.

Anonymous said...


I think I remember hearing that US government officials need to be convinced that no US citizen or green card holder could be found who would be as good as the preferred foreign candidate. If the candidate's primary qualification is "she's a great teacher" then it might need to be demonstrated that she is a better teacher than all the US citizens who applied for the job, which would be hard to do. It might not be rational for government officials to doubt the judgment of the school wanting to make the hire, but it could happen.

I am relying almost entirely here on the impression I remember getting when someone who seemed to know about it explained the situation to me years ago. I am happy to be corrected by anyone who knows better.

Anonymous said...

At my somewhat selective, very small LAC, there's some lip service given to publishing, but people can easily compensate for an almost complete lack of publications with excellent teaching & service. I also concur with the varying definitions of publishing; we've actually had training on how various activities can be classified as research.

The ethos is changing somewhat due to the influx of new faculty who are more pub-oriented, and the outflux of old faculty, many of whom have published little to nothing (including full prof's).

As far as hiring goes, a pub-heavy CV might hurt one's chances here, since the applicant could be seen as not serious about teaching, or not serious about staying. In general, some research is smiled upon, but not too much.

Anonymous said...

"As far as hiring goes, a pub-heavy CV might hurt one's chances here, since the applicant could be seen as not serious about teaching, or not serious about staying. In general, some research is smiled upon, but not too much."


More reason to go back in time and not graduate from a crap program. No publications -- no interviews. A handful of publications -- no interviews. Loads of publications -- no interviews from fancy research places b/c there's always some young hot thing with nothing on their CV that could be the next David Lewis and one interview from a good SLAC that is the dream job but clearly thinks you don't take teaching seriously because you publish so much. Fuck. I'm fucked. Not as fucked as some, I'm in the ivory office park, but fucked if I ever want to get out of here and live somewhere near the someone I want to marry.

Take it from someone who knows. If you think you can work your way up, you can't. Let the dream die. Go make money in law or bank robbing.

zombie said...

Maybe an online university would be up Phaedrus' alley. Not one of the rip-off ones that steal money from students, and give them phony degrees, but something accredited. Western Governors University?

I'm only speculating. I don't really know much about their teaching standards, but I think it is possible to teach from anywhere, so immigration would be less of an issue.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the "too many pubs" worry is disturbing to folks, but keep in mind that there are steps you can take to keep search committees from being frightened away.

The worry is this:

(1) older faculty will be intimidated (those active in research make them look bad),

(2) the candidate will seem to be interested in--and, if she's really that active--capable of leaving for a job where she'll have more time and support for all that research, leaving a small department in a bad spot (if the Dean refuses to authorize a replacement hire, and you know there's nothing the deans at small state Us drool over more than the opportunity to refuse to authorize a replacement hire in the humanities),

and (3) the candidate thereby shows his values to be out of step with those of the institution, the department, and/or their dire situation--the search committee fears that faced with a choice between writing a paper, designing or participating in a recruitment event, or finding ways to make the business majors hate your class less, you'd write a paper.

But all of these are things your letter writers can anddress, and which you can address in a cover letter, right? It takes more writing skill than any candidate should reasonably be expected to devote to cover letters, of course. (I'm not saying this isn't all crazy.) But it can be done. You're looking forward to being in a department with colleagues who have decades of teaching experience (the ones who couldn't publish if their lives depended on it), you're been lucky enough to do enough research to have an idea about what you want to accomplish in your teaching career and why and to be able to conduct research efficiently (building on the base that is your sea of publications), etc.

Anonymous said...

An H1 visa is prohibitively expensive: it costs $10K. Normally the employer pays it, but I've heard of people volunteering to pay the cost themselves (not in academia though). Unless you marry into it, or win it in the green card lottery, there is no way to get a green card other than getting a work visa and keeping it for several years. So yeah, someone has to pay that 10k.

A.N.Immigrant said...

What Anon 8:17 said is false. H1B work permit fees amount to less than $2,500, or $3,500 for "premium processing", which speeds the wait time from months to a couple of weeks. Employers normally pay and handle the paperwork, and lawyers are not normally involved.

Anon 2:58 said...

Anon 3:15: I love you too! Love all around.

Anon 4:27: Typically, colleges/universities don’t just hire an attorney as a one-off thing, like “Hey, we need this dude to get into the US, so, wanna do that?” They keep these folks on retainer. There’s a lot of possible liability involved that the state expects the institution to be prepared for. Like what if the college sponsors some guy who is accused of being a terrorist? Or gets married thus generating a whole bunch of new and different immigration conundrums? Or breaks some fairly serious law on the college’s sponsorship? Or doesn’t get tenured and sues the college? Or doesn’t like something else and sues the college? Or gets sued by a student? Or sues a student? Or gets killed on college property thus starting an international diplomatic disaster? What if some loud mouth like Bill O’Reilly gets POed that we are used state money to bring in a foreigner when there are plenty of reasonable qualified Americans? Use your legal imagination. In my experience, the no-frills approach is at hand here. Keep only those attorneys on retainer that are needed; why pay an immigration lawyer an annual salary, when the college can just hire those people who are already here legally? Easier, cheaper, and less risky.
Glaucon: I’ve served on a search committee to hire a philosopher at my CC and it’s fair to say that, in my humble opinion, it is incredibly obvious that the dominant attitude, with respect to this kind of thing, is “at least it is a job.” Your comment that The jobs we're encouraged to think of as most desirable do not involve teaching mostly students who are not economically advantaged, etc; indeed, one might "settle for" such a job, but it seems safe to say that few of us would choose them if we had other options. is spot on. Looking at cover letters, it was really easy to pick out people who were just trying to get a job, and those who were genuinely interested or capable of doing the work we do here.

Anon 10:31 : You are welcome.

Anon 8:17 and AN Immigrant: My understanding of immigration laws and visas are basically: it’s fucking complicated as hell, and varies from situation to situation dramatically. You may both be write – it may be $10k in some cases and less than $3.5k in others. I don’t really know. But your dispute (and other immigration comments) just further establishes my point – immigration is a PITA, and most CCs don’t really have the time or money to deal with it; it is left to the applicant to be legal to work when they apply.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:17 here, happy to be corrected: I work here on a different visa, and I have that other visa partly because I was told that detail regarding H1B, and my school preferring to take a an easier route. Maybe it was an exaggeration, maybe it used to be the case and is no longer so, maybe I was simply lied to - one way or another, I am glad to hear it is only $2500-3500. Thank you Anon 5:38.