Monday, February 28, 2011

Get Off My Lawn

One day last week I was walking down the hall toward my office, past some offices my colleagues occupy. There were two students standing in front of the office of one of my colleagues, looking at the door carefully, examining it closely, testing the doorknob as quietly as possible, stuff like that. They saw me coming, and one of them said, very quietly, "do you know if he's in there?"

I said, "No. I don't know. Did you try knocking?" They hadn't.

The next day I was eating lunch in my office with the door closed. A student had made arrangements with me to take an exam that afternoon, but I had 15 minutes left before he was due. When he knocked on the door (very quietly) 15 minutes early, I had a mouth full of food, so I was going to wait until I could swallow it before I said, "come in." But I didn't have a chance, because he just opened the door and let himself in. I had to tell him that when you knock on someone's door and they don't say "come in" that means that they haven't given you permission to come in, and you should stay out.

Something similar happened just now. Door closed; student opens it; no knock at all. The guy didn't even knock. He just opened the door to my office. Is it normal for people not to know what the deal with doors is?

--Mr. Zero

Friday, February 25, 2011

Did we make it?


Is there an upside to contingent teaching?

Thomas H. Benton has a column here at The Chronicle on the state of higher education, and why it's so bad. He points to several factors, among them the increasing reliance on "contingent faculty."

Perhaps the most damaging change in higher education in the last few generations has been the wholesale shift in the composition of the teaching staff. Formerly, full-time, tenured faculty members with terminal degrees and long-term ties to the institution did most of the teaching. Such faculty members not only were free to grade honestly and teach with conviction but also had a deep understanding of the curriculum, their colleagues, and the institutional mission. Now undergraduate teaching relies primarily on graduate students and transient, part-time instructors on short-term contracts who teach at multiple institutions and whose performance is judged almost entirely by student-satisfaction surveys... Contingent faculty members, who are paid so little, routinely teach course loads that are impossible to sustain without cutting a lot of corners.

I'm of two minds (or maybe more) on this. One mind is in total agreement. As an undergrad, I attended a tiny SLAC where seminars might have had two or three students, and we were always taught by full-time professors, who were almost always available to students outside of class. As a grad student at a research university, I was a TA where, with no training whatsoever, I was grading papers and exams for a class of over 100 students. My first teaching job was an adjunct position at a SLAC. I was hired at the last minute, and had no prep time -- I pretty much had to prepare each lecture the night before class, since I was simultaneously taking classes and working as a TA. That was not me as the best teacher I could be. It was me as the best teacher I could be under extremely difficult circumstances.

The other mind knows that adjuncts, non-TTs, and VAPs are exploited as cheap, abundant labor, and Benton is right that as contingent workers, we can be worked to death and pressured to please students. As part-timers and temps, we have little connection to the institutions and departments we work for. The kind of personal interaction and sense of place and tradition that I benefited from as an undergrad isn't available to the students of adjuncts.

The other mind thinks adjunct teaching should be an important part of graduate education, since many philosophy grads do aspire to an academic career. But with so few permanent TT jobs available now, a substantial number of contingent faculty will never get TT jobs, so they are, in essence, being strung along in the vain hope that there's a permanent job out there for them. But the numbers are against them. (Granted, some adjuncts may not want TT jobs.) Eliminate most adjuncts and non-TT positions and there are fewer philosophy jobs to go around. But maybe that's better, both for students, and for the exploited workers.

Except that I gained a lot of valuable experience as a teacher while working as an adjunct, and that experience has made me a better teacher. Take away all that experience, and I'd be an inexperienced teacher if I was lucky enough to land a TT job.

How's this for a solution? Grad students who aspire to teach ought to be mentored in teaching, and instructed in teaching, just like education students are. Make teaching instruction part of the graduate curriculum. Give grad students real experience teaching classes in grad school. Then the argument that the exploitation of adjuncts can be justified because valuable teaching experience is gained evaporates.

The downside (or upside): more of us can figure out sooner that there aren't really enough jobs in philosophy to go around.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Leiter Jobs Thread

Is up.

--Mr. Zero

Edit: h/t anon at 11:21 here.

February JFP

It's up, and it sucks. 39 ads in the print version. The February 2008 issue had 69.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Which I Consider Changing My Mind About the E-APA Timing Issue

I was composing a comment for the comment thread here in which I propose an argument for keeping the E-APA meeting between Christmas and New Years. I was trying to explain why professional inconveniences should trump personal ones. The argument was that because the E-APA meeting is a meeting of our professional organization, it should be held in a way that does not conflict with our professional activities. That is, I was going to allege that the fact that the APA is a professional organization gives us reason to hold the meeting while we're supposed to be on vacation.

But then I read the sentences over again, and I thought, What? No it doesn't. If it's a professional meeting, it should cut into professional time, not vacation time--not family time. This, in conjunction with some of the other points people have made, has caused me to reconsider. Maybe we should try to hold it during the first week or so in January. I'll be damned.

How's that grab you?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, February 14, 2011

Poll About Whether to Move the E-APA to Early January

With commentary, here.

Last I checked, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of moving it. I am not wild about this idea. It's not that I am wild about the current timing of the Eastern APA meeting. It is because of the large number of schools (something like 30% of American colleges & universities, as I understand it) who utilize the quarter system and for whom winter quarter begins immediately after new years.

Now, at my current institution, this would not conflict with classes. But I would really hate it if the E-APA conflicted with my first week of classes. I don't like canceling class, especially not the first week. And I would especially especially hate to cancel class the first week if I was also canceling class in order to do on-campus interviews a few weeks later.

It also seems to me that the fact that many universities begin their spring semester during the second and third weeks of January is a decisive reason not to hold the big meeting during those times. So I'm not sure why the fact that quarter schools begin during the first week wouldn't be decisive against that week, too.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We're number 16!

The worst part about being a philosopher on the job market is, you know, looking for a job. It sucks, fer sure. I complain as much as anyone. But hey, being a philosopher is otherwise pretty groovy. You get to think about stuff that's fun to think about. You get to teach stuff that's fun to teach. You get to more or less make your own hours. You get summers off. (Apparently this is a controversial claim. I'll revise it.) If you're a teacher, you get part of the summer off from your normal teaching duties to devote to your own research. (If you're in a lot of other jobs, you don' t get anything like this.) You get to stay in college forever. We're in a pretty safe work environment. No toxic waste, no crushed limbs. My biggest job-related problem today was dealing with a something in a paper that has already been accepted for publication. It could be worse. says here in their annual ranking that philosopher is the 16th best job. Surgeons are a lowly 100. Yeah, they make ten times as much money, but they have to get up at the crack of dawn, and apparently it's a really stressful job being elbow-deep in blood 'n guts. A roustabout makes half as much as a junior philosopher, and it's apparently the worst job. So, looking at some of the jobs that ranked pretty low on the list, I realized that I know quite a few people who have those jobs. My dad had one of those jobs, and I don't remember him ever complaining about it. And I reckon my dad would be happy that my job is in the top 20.

Just sayin'.


A break from your regularly scheduled programming

Blackboard is SO SLOW. It's crashing. When it's not crashing, it takes like 30 seconds to load each student's submission page - an eternity when you have a lot of student and a lot of assignments (that's how we do right now, so don't worry about the pedagogy). Students e-mailing when they can't submit assignments because the site's down - don't worry, ought implies can. Your paper's not late!

Any worthwhile free blackboard replacements out there?

-- Second Suitor

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


-- Second Suitor

ps I'm a driver, I'm a winner... things are gonna change I can feel it.

The Paradox Paradox

Via The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator:

--Mr. Zero

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mass E-mails

Maybe I'm just past the rage portion of being on the job market (for now). It seems like every year I get at least one mass e-mail rejection with the e-mail addresses of a good number of my fellow job candidates cc'd. This year Siena's the culprit. And, every year I've gotten a kindly, (I always believe) heart-felt apology mass e-mail trying to make up for the initial error. I appreciate the apology and all, and I think it's good for departments take responsibility when things screw up. That said, who cares! I mean, I'm still dealing with the deep black gmail 'rejection' label I just applied to the mass e-mail. I knew I didn't get the job. I knew I didn't get an interview for the job. Now I'm officially never getting the job. By the time I get the follow up e-mails, the message is already archived and out of my sight. *SIGH*

Time to go stuff my face with pre-super bowl junk food.

--Second Suitor

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Do you have any questions?"

In the "Waiting Around" thread below, a Smoker relays an anecdote about a job candidate who seems oddly incurious about the job and school, which doesn't make a good impression on the interviewers. One of the things you get asked constantly on a campus visit (in my experience) is if you have any questions about the college/U/job, etc. This question typically comes from almost any/every person and/or committee you spend any time with during your visit, including the faculty members who pick you up from the airport and take you to meals. It can get kind of awkward, especially since you don't really want to keep asking the same question of everyone (in case they compare notes, so to speak), but at the same time, you don't want to come off as if you really don't care or have no interest or curiosity at all. Charming people skilled at small talk can probably do this easily. But we're philosophers. It's a tricky situation to be in, and one a candidate should be prepared for, i.e. you need to have ready a bunch of sincere questions you can ask that show that you're interested in the school and job. To some extent, asking the right questions comes down to having a feel for what your possible colleagues think are important considerations. For instance, if they are really trying to sell you on the location or community, you might ask some substantive questions about that, starting with ice breakers about how long they've been there and how they like living there. If they are really interested in knowing how you would approach the job, questions about what kind of multidisciplinary research and teaching opportunities are available, and so on can be appropriate.

I'll turn it over to the Smokers: What questions do you ask when you're asked "Do you have any questions?"


Waiting Around

This waiting around for the phone to ring really sucks.

On the one hand, it's pretty awesome to actually be up for a job. There is some chance that I will receive a job offer this year. And the offer will be for a job I really want, in a place I really want to live, with people I like. And I've never been in this position before.

But on the other hand, I am completely distracted. I can't think clearly about anything else for more than ten seconds. And it's agonizing. Agonizing.

And it's basically all I think about. There are two main things I think about: my performance and my chances. When I think about my performance, I feel good. I think I did a good job. I think they liked me; they were impressed with me on paper and I don't think I did anything to convince them that this was a mistake. When I think about my chances, though, I worry. Even if I knocked 'em dead, there are two other people out there with visits to this same campus, and there is no way that they're a lot worse than me. They could be worse, but they could be better, and if they're worse they're not substantially worse. So even if you allow that I helped myself a lot during the campus interview, the probability of my getting an offer can't be much more than .4. At least, that's the highest number I let myself contemplate. And that's not a very high number.

So I vascilate between being optimistic and being discouraged. It would be nice to know either way. I'm not really excited about the prospect of finding out I didn't get it--which I think is the most likely outcome--but at least then I could eventually think about something else for a change.

--Mr. Zero