Monday, March 1, 2010

I'll See Your "Grass is Greener" and Raise

In a recent thread, there was a lively discussion about the relative merits of tenure-line work and working as a VAP. The commenter that got the ball rolling has a fairly heavy 4-4 teaching load with the standard non-teaching duties, and was coming off a VAP with a pretty light 2-2 load. That's a lot of teaching, and the effect is probably magnified and focused by the transition.

But look. I have a 4-4 now. And I have almost no say in which four classes I teach every semester. (My chair is pretty good about keeping my preps down.) My classes are almost all at introductory level, which means they are easy to teach but which also means that my students almost all have no backgound or interest in philosophy.* I have no administrative responsibilities, but I also have no say as to what policies are adopted by my department or my school. And although I have an above-average amount of job security for a VAP, I have a lot less job security than your average "unmodified" assistant professor (UAP), and as long as I stay in this position, I will never have the opportunity to apply for tenure. I also make in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars a year less than your average UAP, and as long as I stay in this position, I will never have the opportunity to get a raise. And I have no travel budget, so I have to use my own money if I ever want to go to a conference (and I have less of my own money to start with).

I'm not trying to complain about my job. I love my job. Almost every job in the entire world would be worse, and only a few jobs could possibly be better. I'm having a great time, and I've learned a lot.

But the idea that a VAP's desire for a tenure-line job is a case of the grass is greeners is stupid. It's an objectively better job. More work and more responsibility, yes. But those meetings are a necessary evil and an all-things-considered good. Your department, college, and university could not operate without them, and you vote in those meetings. You have a say. And this having a say comes with more security, more autonomy, and more money.

--Mr. Zero

* To be clear, I like introducing people to philosophy who have no prior interest or background in the discipline. I also like teaching advanced students, and I would like to have more opportunities to do so.

And most VAPs are year-to-year, which means they go on the TT market in the fall and then the temporary market in the spring. This is time-consuming and sucks.

In the earlier post, I was complaining about the aspects of my job which lead to my being on the job market every year. That complaint is completely legitimate.

33 comments:

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Unless you have a significant geographic restriction, it makes no sense to prefer a VAP to a TT job elsewhere... and, unless you have no interest in money, control over your work, or research -- it makes no sense at all to prefer a VAP to a TT job in the same area.

Honestly, I significantly prefer my tenured, 5/5 CC teaching load --- with a bunch of admininistrivia AND the expectation that I defend my dissertation soon -- to going on the market continually and being a VAP.

I've said it before -- and I'll say it again -- y'all ought to strongly consider CC gigs in certain areas... I don't know if anything is open in Minnesota, but the union is pretty strong -- even for adjuncts (which helps with the 'tenure guilt').

Anonymous said...

Inside:

I'm actually very interested in finding a job at a CC when the time comes (which is all too soon), and I have some questions you might be able to help with (I except some of these you'll know more about than others)

1. Where do they advertise jobs? I haven't looked at JFP, but I'm guessing most CC's don't advertise there given the number of CCs and the number of jobs in JFP. Basically, what I'd like to know is what's the best way to look for a CC job if you're willing to relocate anywhere?

2. How important is a PhD over an MA for getting a job at a CC?

3. Do CCs still do significant numbers of TT jobs, or is it almost all adjunct for new hiring?

4. Is being hired at a CC harder for non-citizen candidates than it would be at other schools?

Thanks for any and all your help!

zombie said...

Anon 10:10: I can't answer most of these questions, since I don't have a CC job. But higheredjobs.com lists lots of CC teaching jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education website too.

Given a choice between a VAP and TT, I'd take a TT with no regrets. There are considerations like how often you want to move, whether you have a family/pets/own a home, etc. that all make a permanent TT job more desirable, regardless of the teaching load. There are plenty of jobs where you would work a LOT harder for a lot less reward. 5/5 still beats laying bricks for a living, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

I'm a TT assistant prof, and I have almost no say in what I teach, either. My chair doesn't keep my # of preps down, either--at least, I do 6 preps/year, and I have an official 4/4 load).

I also teach mostly lower-level courses--and mostly to students who have an active distaste for philosophy. I teach one upper-level course each year.

My service load is intense--I don't even feel like a teacher, let alone a researcher, during advising season. I meet my school's low research expectations, but win less praise than do those who flout the expectations to focus on recruiting and mentoring.

My salary is much better than a VAP's here would be, and I have a shot at job security, and I have a vote, though I never feel like my vote matters much (I tend to agree with my colleagues most of the time, and when I don't, I'm always outvoted).

If I could keep the shot at job security but lose the vote, the higher salary, and the unreasonable workload that goes with it, I'd eagerly choose a VAP position in my dept. over a TT job.

Mr. Zero said...

If I could keep the shot at job security but lose the vote, the higher salary, and the unreasonable workload that goes with it, I'd eagerly choose a VAP position in my dept. over a TT job.

I'm sorry your workload is so high. But the "shot at job security" is the defining characteristic that separates TT jobs from VAPs. A VAP like that would not be a VAP. What this remark communicates is that the chance for tenure is worth all the bullshit.

This thread is not going to become a "My-Job-Is-Shittier-Than-Your-Job" bitchfest. That's not the point I was making: my job is awesome and if you're reading this then probably so is yours. My point is about how much sense it makes for me to want the one thing we all want.

Anonymous said...

thank you, Mr Zero, for so clearly nailing it, once again. Well put.

Anonymous said...

But the idea that a VAP's desire for a tenure-line job is a case of the grass is greeners is stupid. It's an objectively better job.

I thought I addressed this already: Tenure is a fiction whose time is about to pass very quickly. We're already seeing this in the firings or layoffs of the tenure-track as well as tenured line worldwide. I just received tenure, and I'm still nervous about the job market, just as much as I was out of grad school (maybe more since I now have a mortgage, etc. to pay).

I'm not saying that a TT job is not better than a VAP, all things considered. I'm only saying that it's not obvious that "it's an objectively better job." You need to weigh the various factors and arrive at your own calculus.

As others pointed out, it's not always (or even mostly) the case that you have a large say in what classes you teach. You might have a vote on university policies, but often this is an indirect vote through your academic senator or whatnot. Further, your vote often counts for little, unless you've organized a voting bloc, which you could do as a VAP through your union.

And if you've never done administrative or service work, boy, you are in for a treat. Some years, it's so much work compared to your teaching, that you might be better off with a "real job" that requires the same kind of admin work, and teach a few courses on an adjunct basis.

All this depends on your institution and the details of your position. Which again is to say that the grass might not greener on the other side -- you need to make that determination given your preferences and priorities.

Anonymous said...

OP here. Wow, I did not realize that my ruminations would generate so much rancor! If I did, I might have kept quiet. I wonder if J.S. Mill's argument that experiencing both (in his case, higher and lower pleasures, in mine, VAP and TT positions) puts one in a situation of being able to appreciate how one is more worthy than the other in some respects, yet less worthy in others. I know that I did not appreciate how much administrative work could kill one's passion, not just for the job, but for life in general! I would have sold my soul to the devil for a TT job before I had one. Now, having one, it feels like I did sell my soul and I got a raw deal!! I shouldn't complain though. Despite having no time to research while teaching, I worked my ass off last summer and over winter break, and now have two publications coming out this month. I might have some hope of publishing my way out of this position and into one with a 2:2 load, but in the current job market I doubt it will happen.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:42:

I totally forgot you said that already...whoever the hell you are.

tenure, however fictional, is pretty reassuring. I suspect that the original point was that this job security, however illusory, is widely valued and probably rightly so.

Anonymous said...

OP: again, whining about committee work in this forum is thoughtless and a bit thick.

I get it. I don't like committee work either. but tenure makes up for it. are you really surprised, given the present economic climate, that your remarks generated such a strong reaction? c'mon.

Anonymous said...

But the "shot at job security" is the defining characteristic that separates TT jobs from VAPs. . . . What this remark communicates is that the chance for tenure is worth all the bullshit.

To me, tenure and the chance for tenure aren't parts of the job. Instead, tenure is a sort of promise from the employer that you can expect to continue doing the job, where the job is teaching, service, research, and community outreach. That promise only comes to some of those who have a certain set of duties that VAPs don't have. But the job is the duties (and one's control over how one performs them), not the set of perks one is permitted to compete for.

Your post left me with the impression that you think what makes the TT option objectively better is the control over the way in which you do your work that comes with it. My point wasn't to start a bitchfest. Rather, it was to point out that the work and one's control over it isn't automatically better on the tenure track. I'm sure it very often is better, and that's deeply important. But to me, what it means to say the promise of job security is worth the bullshit is that the rational choice is to choose the objectively worse job, if it comes with the chance to compete for job security.

Now, perhaps I'm wrong here. For example, perhaps there is a sense in which actual job security really does automatically yield a superior degree of control over how one does one's work. I don't think it does, actually, now that I've been on both sides of the fence, but perhaps someone could persuade me I've gone wrong somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I thought I addressed this already: Tenure is a fiction whose time is about to pass very quickly.

Well, someone mentioned it earlier, but not convincingly. Sure, everyone's heard about U of FL and King's College. Nor am I denying some worrisome trends in higher ed. But I want to see more evidence before I endorse the rather sweeping claim that "tenure is a fiction."

Glaucon said...

4:42 writes:

I thought I addressed this already: Tenure is a fiction whose time is about to pass very quickly.

I'm not sure that repeating an ill-supported conclusion actually counts as addressing an issue. It just counts as repeating an ill-supported conclusion.

Unless of course you're Nigel Tufnel, and this one goes to 11.

Adeimantus said...

Glaucon, repeating the assertion does address the issue. A premise that entails the desired conclusion surely addresses the issue, and every proposition entails itself.
Please don't forget this or we're going to have to drum you out of the Society of Sophists.

Anonymous said...

Off topic:

The Leiter thread seems slow. A previous post comparing this year to last year suggested that the pace was similar. As of today, however, there are 30 hires listed compared to 42 for last year on this date (and 43 the year before).

We all know that there are fewer jobs this year. Does this dip simply reflect that? Or is the process also moving more slowly (perhaps because there are more applications for any given job)? Might it also be that hires aren't getting posted at the same rate (perhaps because of the "Rusty" fiasco)?

Mr. Zero said...

Your post left me with the impression that you think what makes the TT option objectively better is the control over the way in which you do your work that comes with it.

It's true that I mentioned that as one of the things that makes the TT option objectively better. But your post leaves me with the impression that you didn't notice all the other things I listed. Such as money, job security, and courses in the upper division.

to me, what it means to say the promise of job security is worth the bullshit is that the rational choice is to choose the objectively worse job, if it comes with the chance to compete for job security.

Ok. So tenure isn't part of the job because it's not a duty. It's just a thing about the job that makes up for the various drawbacks. It doesn't make the job better, it just makes it rational to prefer the chance to compete for it to the non-TT alternative. I can accept that.

Perhaps there is a sense in which actual job security really does automatically yield a superior degree of control over how one does one's work.

I don't think that job security yields control; I think that being invited to attend and vote in faculty meetings yields control.

Gordon Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

on the pace of the Leiter thread, there are a couple of factors I can think of that may be slowing things down. First, folks from the candidates' PhD departments can't post. They have an interest in getting things out quickly (in part to recruit incoming students), so that might slow things down. The unposting of the one position may make others shy, too.

There's also the East coast storms in the second week of February. That pushed things back in several places (delaying candidates from interviewing, postponing meetings, and so forth).

Anonymous said...

tenure, however fictional, is pretty reassuring. I suspect that the original point was that this job security, however illusory, is widely valued and probably rightly so.

Does this argument work?:

God, however fictional, is pretty reassuring. I suspect that the original point was that this existential security, however illusory, is widely valued and probably rightly so.

Well, someone mentioned it earlier, but not convincingly. Sure, everyone's heard about U of FL and King's College. Nor am I denying some worrisome trends in higher ed. But I want to see more evidence before I endorse the rather sweeping claim that "tenure is a fiction."

It would seem that only one counterexample is needed to show that tenure -- previously thought to be permanent job security -- is not necessarily permanent. And you mentioned two counterexamples.

Now, whether there's an increasing trend toward eroding the concept of tenure, that's debatable. But what's not debatable is whether tenure is a fiction; it is. Any university -- from Oxford to Harvard to Stanford -- would fire or layoff tenured faculty in the event of economic disaster, among other reasons provided for by their respective faculty unions.

My anxiety isn't so much from any increasing trend away from tenure (which would increase unease if true), but more that the fiction of tenure has been clearly exposed, which means it's possible that my TT job will lead to no permanent job...just like a VAP except I'm also doing bullshit administrative and service work.

Anonymous said...

"It would seem that only one counterexample is needed to show that tenure -- previously thought to be permanent job security -- is not necessarily permanent. And you mentioned two counterexamples."

Strawman much? Perhaps only one counterexample is needed to show that tenure does not offer permanent job security in some deep metaphysical sense, as though once one is tenured the universe is altered in such a way that losing one's job is impossible. But that, of course, was never the case, and was never a part of any meaningful conception of tenure. On the other hand, one, or two, or even several counterexamples can still be consistent with the fact that tenure generally offers job security, which is all that anyone ever thought.

"Now, whether there's an increasing trend toward eroding the concept of tenure, that's debatable. But what's not debatable is whether tenure is a fiction; it is. Any university -- from Oxford to Harvard to Stanford -- would fire or layoff tenured faculty in the event of economic disaster, among other reasons provided for by their respective faculty unions."

I am astounded by the ridiculousness of this argument. Do you think that there was a time when it was actually impossible for someone with tenure to be fired? Again, that (which is the only fiction here) was never the case--so showing that Oxford, Harvard, or Stanford might fire tenured faculty in no way shows that tenure "is a fiction."

Anonymous said...

Check out my hot data:

Hires posted on Leiter's site through February for the last three years:

2009-10: 30 total, 10 non-US, 6 post-docs

2008-09: 39 total, 9 non-US, 8 post-docs

2007-08: 41 total, 9 non-US, 4 post-docs (That includes one February 29 entry, though!)

Discuss.

Anonymous said...

In response to:
" the fiction of tenure has been clearly exposed, which means it's possible that my TT job will lead to no permanent job...just like a VAP except I'm also doing bullshit administrative and service work."

How's this for some nice, high-quality reasoning:

- In a tenured job, it is not the case that there's a 100% certainty that you will not be fired.
- Therefore, job security in tenured jobs is equivalent to job security in VAP positions.

Right. Look, the fact is that if you're tenured you have an overwhelmingly high (though not 100%) chance of having a job for life. If you have a VAP, you have a near 100% chance of NOT having that particular job for life. Is this really so hard to understand?

Glaucon said...

I don't see how the fact that tenure lines can be eliminated in economic emergencies shows that tenure is a fiction, anymore than emergency exceptions to any x show anything about x -- other than that there are exceptions to x.

That I can take your car to drive a dying person to the hospital or break a promise to meet you for coffee to tend to an injured dog or get divorced even though I said "till death do us part" doesn't imply that ownership, promising, and marriage are fictions.

I guess if someone thought that tenure was a come-what-may, exceptionless guarantee of lifetime employment, then recent developments show that that idea is a fiction. But why would anyone think that's what tenure is?

Also, I don't see how the examples cited can support the claim of tenure's imminent demise. (I assume that that's what "Tenure is a fiction whose time is about to pass very quickly" means -- that it's tenure, not its fictional status, that is about to pass very quickly. I'm not sure what it would be for the fiction to pass quickly.)

Anonymous said...

"tenure, however fictional, is pretty reassuring. I suspect that the original point was that this job security, however illusory, is widely valued and probably rightly so."

Does this argument work?:


There was no argument here 8:16, nor any argument intended. The main thrust of the comment was to poke fun at the claim that tenure is fictional. Your point that tenure does not offer armor-clad security does not imply (as you suggest) that tenure does not offer some security. When someone makes the silly suggestion that tenure is fictional, it's hard to resist giving a silly reply. If, in fact, one wants to make the case that tenure does not provide the security many of us believe it does, say so clearly and give some compelling reasons. Dramatic rhetoric ("tenure doesn't exist!") won't do the trick.

Anonymous said...

a propos:
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/02/exigency

adeimantus said...

The "Tenure is a Fiction" case is so weak as to need no serious refutation, and the unnecessary refutation has in any case already been provided, but I still have a couple of factual corrections.

1. The lay-offs at King's College cannot possibly be a counterexample to any claim about tenure, since nobody at King's has or has had tenure (even the fictional kind).

2.
Any university -- from Oxford to Harvard to Stanford -- would fire or layoff tenured faculty in the event of economic disaster, among other reasons provided for by their respective faculty unions.

The faculty at those institutions are not unionized. The faculty at Harvard and Stanford are legally ineligible to unionize.

Anonymous said...

What would you do if you applied for a pre-doctoral fellowship, was interviewed, turned down and then found out years later that a faculty member at the institution that interviewed you ripped off your unpublished writing sample?

Anonymous said...

RE: "y'all ought to strongly consider CC gigs in certain areas"

I recently got a Ph.D. from a top-ten Leiter department and I have been trying *desperately* to get a CC gig. I have sent out scores of applications, each with three letters not just about my teaching, but specifically about my intro-teaching.

From all of these applications I have received only one phone interview which lasted all of ten minutes. (I did not get a flyout).

WTF?

I'm not sure how much more enthusiastic about CC teaching I can be in my cover letter.

Notably, while many SLAC search committee members have insisted that they do not reject people simply because they are from highly ranked research departments, my strong sense is that CC search committees do.

So, would "Inside the Philosophy Factory" please tell me what I can do to get a CC to take me seriously?

Sincerely,
Exasperated

Anonymous said...

It's not just the tenured line is at risk of being fired, perhaps now more than ever. It's also that the concept of tenure is falling out of fashion. The only thing it has going for it is a vague notion of academic freedom, in the face of countless reports of tenured faculty behaving badly.

If you think that firing of the tenured and tenure track is an anomaly, here are more examples: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/02/exigency

Ask anyone in academia: They will all predict a decline in the tenured line. This isn't just a result of a poor economy but the above-mentioned trend away from the institution of tenure.

So, yes, if you can get a tenure track job, then get it. Job security is great, and it might outweigh your extra administrative duties, etc., depending on your priorities. But the rules are changing as we speak, so like virtually every other dream one might have -- from having a house with a white picket fence and 2.3 kids, or making law partner, or being a professor, or being married, or whatever -- it's never as good as advertised.

Anonymous said...

that's why the question should be less, how do we get tenure, and more, how can guarantee greater job security and academic freedom to contract positions? because that is the future of academic work (future, please, it's the *present*).

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there are forces at work that will ultimately lead to tenure positions being very rare and reserved only for the superstars who can command this. When we'll reach this state of affairs in the US is an open question that I think will largely depend upon what happens with state budget crises over the next 3-5 years. But for this to be the common state of affairs, given the pace of change in higher education might require another 20 years. It will depend I think on how long the "buyer's market" in academia continues.

Tenure is not in any simple sense a fiction. Its existence is that of all contractual arrangements and legally enforceable agreements, which is to say sometimes it is worth it for an organization to violate it, but it places a pretty high price on doing so. So for example, if at my SLAC, tenure were to be violated in any significant sense it would have consequences for morale (very important at SLAC) and for the successful operation of the college. It is in most cases a "nuclear option." At a large state school of middling to mediocre quality it's not so important. At a high end University it would ruin, I think, the institution chances of hiring the best talent.

That said there are all sorts of limits of tenure, since it is not absolute. Removal of academic programs can result in the elimination of tenure lines and therefore the faculty who hold them. (At some schools one is tenured to the college and so that even elimination of an academic program might not involve elimination of the line so much as a change to another department.

What's crucial is that tenure gives you grounds for a certain set of institutional and legal processes that limit the reasons for which you can be terminated. The most important of these protections is "corrupting the youth of Athens." Unfortunately, many faculty are under the somewhat silly idea that tenure means that they are guaranteed a job no matter how shittily and incomptetently they behave.

So, the idea that tenure provides additional security is I think correct, and I think it is a complex multi-variable problem of practical reasoning to determine whether or not a particular VAP is preferable to a particular TT job.

Anonymous said...

Assuming that most philosophy graduate programs are essentially vocational programs for academics, that is, that they are driven by the desire to get their graduates into academic careers, why don't more focus attention on their students being conversant with "issues in higher education?" I'm amazed at how many people end up on the market with about as clear an understanding of what's going on in higher ed as a kid who picks up his/her knowledge of sex from conversations in a junior high school locker room. Maybe I'm being unkind here.

Anyway, I'm curious about how many folks read Chronicle of Higher Education regularly? How many feel that they are conversant with what's going on in higher ed by the time they're on the market? Yes, I know that everyone would rather read the latest issue of Ethics than Chronicle of Higher Ed, and your faculty probably are instilling in you a contempt for administration and teaching fads etc. But, seriously, why aren't graduate students better informed of the "business" of higher education? Or, is this impression a false one, and do you think graduate students are better professionalized? (I think this is true with regards to pedagogy over the last 20 years.)

Applicantus said...

Assuming that most philosophy graduate programs are essentially vocational programs for academics,(...) why don't more focus attention on their students being conversant with "issues in higher education?" I'm amazed at how many people end up on the market with about as clear an understanding of what's going on in higher ed as a kid who picks up his/her knowledge of sex from conversations in a junior high school locker room. Maybe I'm being unkind here.
No, you're not being unknind: I think that's spot on. I don't think there is any reason why - other than unrealistic snobbish holdovers - why getting deeply involved in one's studies should be regarded as dichotomous with becoming familiar and prepared for the practical side of the profession, as it is often exercised now.