Monday, March 19, 2012

Re: Out of the Hunt

I wanted to say thanks to the people who expressed sympathy, support, and encouragement in the comments to my recent post on being out of the hunt. I am, obviously, pretty bummed out. But as I say, I'm still getting a lot out of professional philosophy and I'm not at all ready to throw in the towel yet. I still find teaching to be highly rewarding, I still enjoy the writing and research I'm doing and feel that the project I'm engaged in is interesting and worthwhile, and I still find this blog to be a rewarding experience--I feel like we're doing some good here, and I'm proud to be a Smoker.

So anyways, I wanted to take a moment to say 'thanks and good luck' to all our readers. So here goes:

To all our readers: thanks and good luck!

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

You certainly are doing a good thing here. This was my first year on the market and yet I did not even get an interview. But, your feelings about teaching and research I heartily share about my own work. I am a philosopher of science and currently I am adjuncting at the Social Sciences Institute of a private research university. I teach philosophy of science to a small number of grad students in social sciences and they are very enthusiastic to learn, which makes me feel really happy and even more enthusiastic. Us philosophers have a great profession, it's just that currently there are very few jobs, but this does not in any way lessens the greatness of our profession... Let's all hang in there and keep at it!

Anonymous said...


If you don't mind me asking: How do you keep getting your VAP renewed?

Anonymous said...

Stay in the hunt Mr. Zero. You represent quality work and character such as we sorely need in the profession. Can you do on-line courses? If so these days I'd promote myself that way--lots of institutions (including mine) see that as a big plus.

Best of luck.

readingandphilosophy said...

It's not often enough that I read sentiments that I share Zero.

Good luck to all of us!

Anonymous said...

When you're on the job market, and you're losing hope, it feels good to give and receive the "Best of luck to you!" message. But it rubs me the wrong way sometimes. "Best of luck to you" sounds like I prefer the situation where you get a job over the situation where you don't get a job. But why would I have that preference? If one person gets a job, then somebody else doesn't get a job. So if you're a stranger to me and I don't know your work, then I probably can't honestly claim to care whether it's you or some other stranger who gets a job. Don't get me wrong, I say "Good luck!" to strangers all the time, but I sometimes feel like I'm being maliciously insincere when I do. Perhaps we should say instead, "Here's hoping for an increase in the number of employed philosophers, and a decrease in the number of unemployed philosophers!" But somehow that doesn't really have the same ring to it.

Mr. Zero said...

Anon 4:02,

I don't mind you asking. I've been trying to think of what I could say that would be generally helpful and not too specific. It might take a little time, though. However, I'll try to get it going asap.

Mr. Zero said...

How do you keep getting your VAP renewed?

It's an inexact science, so it's hard to say exactly what works. And some of the factors are not under my control, such as (a) that the school I work for makes pretty extensive use of non-TT labor; (b) that I'm not up for renewal every year, and (c) that in the years I have been up for renewal, the department/college has been able to find money in the budget for me; (d) that there's no institutional or procedural bar to continuing to renew my contract. None of these except for (a) are inevitable, and I've been pretty lucky.

The stuff I can control: I work very hard to ensure that I do a really good job. I try to be as consistent and reliable as I possibly can. I teach the classes I'm asked to teach, I am flexible about scheduling, and I never complain about anything. I try to never create any extra work for anyone. I make an effort to be an active and engaged member of the department. I go to all department functions, official and otherwise. I try to be as helpful as I can. If somebody is moving, I offer to help. Etc.

(To be clear, I'm not saying you don't do this, or that people who are not consistently renewed have failed to do this, or that doing this is sufficient or even necessary for being consistently renewed. I'm just saying that, insofar as anything I do has anything to do with it, I do this stuff, and I guess I think it helps.)

So I think the net effect of this is that they need somebody to do my job, and they know what they're getting when they get me, and they know that what they're getting when they get me is somebody who works hard, does what he's asked, does a good job, and doesn't complain. And the effect of this is that they feel like they're better off hiring me back than they would be if they took their chances hiring somebody else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zero,

4:02 here. Thanks so much for the thoughtful response. I certainly do not doubt that you do your job well. I guess I was more curious about everything you mentioned in your first paragraph. Whenever I see ads for VAPs, they almost always have a time limit, usually for one or two years. Very rarely do I see anything that says "indefinitely renewable". I guess this raises the question: why do departments hire VAPs in the first place? If it is just to replace faculty on leave, then obviously the VAP will be finite. But if it is because the institution does not want that line to be a tenure line (for financial reasons I imagine), then presumably the line will still be there for the foreseeable future since whatever courses in question need to be taught. (Although I guess if financial push came to shove, the institution could always trash the VAP line and just make TT faculty teach more courses or something.)

So, Zero, where you're at now, it sounds like you are not there because some other TT person went on leave. It sounds like they need you to teach those courses, and the school does not want to make your line a tenure line. So 2 questions: 1) Any talk of a TT search in the future to replace your line (which you could apply for)? 2) If the answer to the first question is "no," then do you think your position could be sort of de facto permanent?

CTS said...

@March 19, 2012 12:59 PM

I recognize that blog comments are often laden with typos and such. However, I hope that philosophers - especialy those who teach - would know when to use 'us' and when to use 'we.'

Anonymous said...

@March 23, 2012 12:55 AM

Perhaps English is not your first language, but 'us' is sometimes used to replace 'we' in very colloquial, somewhat jovial speech.

Mr. Zero said...

Sorry if I misunderstood your question. I wasn't sure if you meant the stuff I'm doing or the administrative environment that makes it possible, so I included details of both factors.

My position is not a sabbatical replacement; it's a more-or-less permanent part of our departmental staff situation. My sense is that this is an extremely common thing. Most of the time they're still year-to-year, but my sense is that you can get hired for the same job year after year if you keep applying for it and the department keeps wanting to hire you.

There are a bunch of reasons why we do it this way. One is that I'm extremely efficient: I teach in a semester what the tenure-track/tenured faculty teach in a year, and I make maybe half the money. Another is that when the dean signs off on my line, he's not making a long-term commitment. It's longer than it needs to be, obviously, but it's not the potentially career-spanning commitment involved with hiring someone to a tenure-line. I'm not privy to all the details, but I think the current arrangement is somewhat of a compromise: the dean doesn't want to make any commitment he doesn't have to, but the department likes having the stability of the longer-term hire, and not having to rerun the search every year. And he does want to keep us happy. I think the department would like to convert all our VAP lines to these longer-term arrangements, but the dean doesn't want to keep us that happy.

To answer your other questions:

1) Any talk of a TT search in the future to replace your line (which you could apply for)?

There is a clear need for someone with my skillset to regularly teach sections of the courses I teach. This need is basically permanent: the lower-division courses I teach are embedded in the curriculum and aren't going anywhere; the upper-division courses I teach aren't covered by members of our TT/T faculty. And since the need is permanent, there's a clear rationale for having a permanent faculty line that does this, and for which I would be well-suited. I can see this need clear as day, several of my colleagues have told me they see this need, too (without my bringing it up), and these people have been in the range between open and enthusiastic about the idea of creating it and getting me into it.

But the administrative reality is that what the department actually needs and what the dean thinks we need are two different things. So I don't see it happening.

2) If the answer to the first question is "no," then do you think your position could be sort of de facto permanent?

Yeah, maybe. For that to happen, certain things would have to always go right, and certain other things would have to always go wrong. But it could happen.