Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Evidence of excellence in teaching"

Comments on the last post indicate an interest in the teaching portfolio, particularly for applications to those institutions where teaching is "valued." There was much discussion of the value of student evaluations, but I think a more general discussion of the teaching portfolio would be informative for job applicants.

I haven't served on a search committee, so I can only speak for what apparently worked for me as an applicant. My teaching portfolio included: a teaching statement, selected syllabi (tailored to the interests of the hiring dept), and student eval data sheets (with departmental data sheets for context) for every class I ever taught (but not the actual Scantron sheets or the student comments). Additionally, I would send a letter of recommendation from a faculty evaluator at a previous adjunct job. For a job where teaching was emphasized over research, I would send a CV with the teaching experience moved to the top, research further down. All in all, my complete teaching package came to 41 pages, about half of which was the student evals. Sometimes, I did not send the evals, because of file size limitations on e-applications. But in my cover letter I would always offer to send additional materials by request.

Some of my syllabi were for courses I had taught, and some were courses I proposed (but did not teach) or for courses I have an interest in teaching. So, some were "made up," but I can say that I put just as much work into constructing those syllabi as I put into syllabi for courses I have taught. (This is a good summer project for future jobseekers.) Which is to say, if you lack teaching experience, you can still think about teaching and invent syllabi and and a write a teaching statement.

I only ever had to do one teaching demo. It was a weird kind of trial by fire. I was asked to teach part of a class on something completely unrelated to the AOS/AOC of the job, and completely unrelated to my AOS/AOC. It was, so far as I could tell, an opportunistic scheduling -- the prof offered to give up half the class for the teaching demo. So I had to come up with something I knew that I could relate to the topic. At the half way point in the class, the SC filed in to observe from the back of the class. (In retrospect, the entire campus visit was a little odd, and I did not get the job.)

I reckon there must be some variation in what SCs are looking for in a teaching portfolio, and how much weight they give to various elements of the package.

I suppose applicants with less teaching experience might be at a disadvantage for jobs that "value" teaching, if actual teaching experience is a prerequisite. As I understand it, European PhD programs don't routinely (or ever?) include teaching or assisting duties for grads. Do they employ student evals? What should those applicants do about the teaching package (other than explain why they don't have teaching experience or evals)?



Marta said...

I'd be interested in knowing how search committees view teaching at your university compared to adjunct work. I am in my sixth semester of teaching my own courses (two semesters of ethics, three regular semesters of human nature, one summer school term teaching human nature). I had control over all these courses from syllabus design through evaluation and so have a fairly good set of evaluations, accounts of classroom visits, etc.

But they were all done as a teaching fellow rather than as an adjunct (except for the summer school, and that was still at "my" school). Is this likely to put me at a disadvantage?

Anonymous said...

Another element to think about is teaching awards. My impression is that these really help. But is there any reason to think that they are given based on reliable evidence?

Anonymous said...

I don't know why anyone would care about where exactly you taught your courses. The important thing is that you constructed the course and were the sole instructor. A disadvantage would be if you have only been a TA, when compared with a host of other applicants who have taught independently.

zombie said...

Marta, fellowships in general are highly regarded in a job candidate. A teaching fellowship, particularly a prestigious one, can be beneficial on your CV. I don't think anyone expects a candidate for an assistant prof job to already have loads of teaching experience as an assistant prof. Most applicants will have adjunct experience, fellowship experience or GA/TA experience.

Anonymous said...

Does it really matter whether you switch around the order of your CV for teaching vs. research schools? I have heard people swear that it does and that it doesn't. I guess my reasoning is that most teaching schools still want to see that you are doing research and since my CV is only 4 pages long and it makes logically sense to list your dissertation abstract and research right under your areas of specialization and competence it simply looks weird to switch it around. But if some teaching-orientated search committee member is going to get horribly offended that I didn't switch it around in order show I am truly 'committed' to teaching..then I guess I will switch it around. The whole thing just strikes me as stupid however.

Xenophon said...

Zombie, "teaching fellow" is used in different ways at different schools. Sometimes a TA with a master's degree is a FT. I'm not sure what Marta had in mind, but it sounds like at her school that's the term if you're teaching your own course. It sounds like you're thinking TF in the sense of full-time instructors at Chicago or Stanford. But maybe I misunderstand what you mean by this being "prestigous."

Anon 7:51, you might be right that most people view teaching awards as helpful. I'll say this, however. I served on a committee that awarded one of these, and after that experience I have no respect for them. For one thing, some departments game the system to pretty much ensure their folks win. Second, there generally aren't any objective standards, so it's a matter of who took the time to put together a careful application, and who got the most people to say nice things about them. That said, I'm sure it can't hurt, except maybe at an R-1 institution where they don't want faculty to spend too much time on teaching (that is, do just enough to avoid pissing off the dean).

zombie said...

Anon 8:12 -- I can't prove that it matters. I was advised to do this (although I don't recall by whom). So, I had two versions of my CV, one with research on top, and one with teaching on top.

But it could be nobody cares how you order your CV.

Anonymous said...

Again: Why not summarize all the numeric data for those questions that are particularly important and provide a few informative comments about your negative and positive aspects? Though someone mentioned we should send all the raw data, I doubt many committee members want to wade through all of them. And include a TOC so they can go directly to the aspects they are interested in.


Anonymous said...

I was on a search committee last year for what was definitely a teaching position. The things that meant most to me were the following.

First of all, quantitative evaluations. Anyone can fake the rest of the teaching packet, but this is one thing that can't be faked. With that said, you'd be surprised at how many candidates don't include these, but yet will include all sorts of written comments from students (things which can be selectively cherry-picked) in their place.

Secondly, the range of courses you've taught. Our job was in a specific AOS and AOC, and all else being equal, candidates who had taught the widest range of courses in both would have an advantage.

Thirdly, and something I don't often see mentioned, is something in your letters of recommendation that speak to your teaching abilities. What is your reputation amongst the faculty in your grad program or current department? Even the tiniest authentic-sounding praise from someone on your committee would often mean more to me than a whole teaching statement.

Just a few thought! I understand that people look for different things, that quantitative evaluations don't measure everything, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 10.16 Some of us work at places that still believe student evaluations are not easily quantifiable. We ask for written answers on pieces of paper. Therefore, I could not provide you with numbers if I wanted to. Apparently, that puts me at suspicion of cheating you.

Anonymous said...

How is it that you cannot fake teaching evaluations? How would they check evaluations that they suspect are misleading or fake? For example, are evaluations available to the general public for review? Or do hiring committees have special access to evals?

Anonymous said...

I served on a committee recently for a teaching position, and the emphasis various members put on the evaluations is what stuck out to me. One committee member actually took all the numbers for the finalists and directly compared them, arguing for one person on the basis that her average was higher than the other's (not by very much... something like 0.2 on a 5 point scale); this same colleague was also impressed by teaching awards. Several colleagues weren't impressed by teaching awards because of the gaming concerns and also apple-to-orange comparisons (i.e., not all schools have teaching awards for grad students, they're not administered the same or for the same criteria, etc). But I will say that there was a lot of talk about the data, and full teaching evaluations were preferred (candidates with selected student comments, rather than the whole thing, were treated skeptically). There was no discussion of where the candidates had taught, except as was relevant to the kind of students they would be teaching at our university (for example, if a candidate's only teaching experience had been at an Ivy League university or at a community college, there might have been doubts expressed about how useful their experience would be at our university). We definitely did look for candidates who had a good amount of experience teaching their own classes rather than TA-ing, and we also were concerned with whether candidates would know how to manage a team of TAs (so, candidates who'd had multiple TAs work for them were looked at favorably). I don't recall any prejudice against CV organization, but I know some candidates letters of rec said virtually nothing about their teaching, which hurt them (on the other hand, at some schools, the same person would observe their teaching each year and write a letter, and that was definitely very helpful, especially because the letter could talk about growth and so on).

Anonymous said...

I've served on 2 SCs for jobs at a "teaching school," so for what it's worth...

I couldn't care less about evaluations. Or awards. Ultimately, they are fairly meaningless. For all the reasons we all already know of. So I don't look for "teaching excellence." I look for "teaching potential." Just as I know we are not going to be hiring someone who is fully-developed as a scholar, why should we be looking for someone who is fully-developed as a teacher? Why should we assume that a graduate student (or recent graduate ) has figured it all out already?

What I read for in applications is how the applicants discuss teaching. Not that I'm looking for some cheerleader for students, but rather I want to know if the applicants have seriously considered pedagogical issues. How well can they discuss teaching, and what place does it hold in their own career aspirations? (For instance, one successful applicant noted in her application the different techniques she used in class to teach a rather tricky problem to her students. This is someone who has clearly thought about her teaching, and worked to improve her approach to the material for the benefit of her students. This is the kind of person I want teaching my students. One unsuccessful applicant for the same search noted that he isn't interested in teaching, but would take a job at a "teaching college" as a first step to a research-oriented career.)

In the CV, I would like to see a variety of courses, particularly courses that you will be teaching at my university (though I recognize this isn't always possible, and that it favors those with more extensive adjunct work). In your cover letter, paying some attention to how you engage with your research interests in the classroom helps. But when we ask for "evidence of teaching excellence," I appreciate those applicants who - in addition to various versions of materials from evals - also included a short narrative (what many schools are now calling a "Teaching Philosophy" or "Teaching Narrative") that allows me some insight into how the applicants establish their own pedagogical practice. Bonus points for those who note that they are still developing as teachers, and can explain that development.

The information that, for me, best explains the applicant's *potential* as a teacher simply cannot be conveyed by student evaluations.

Anonymous said...

One committee member actually took all the numbers for the finalists and directly compared them, arguing for one person on the basis that her average was higher than the other's (not by very much... something like 0.2 on a 5 point scale)

Did this person run a test for statistical significance? Or just looked at the raw numbers? If the latter, everyone should have just told this person to shut up, or run some tests and then come back.

(I realize that often we don't have information necessary for statistical tests, like sample size (which, by the way, also matters for interpreting evals). It's a cheeky point, but a point nonetheless.)

Anonymous said...

I love you, 5:34pm.

P.S. Hire me.

WV: bulsha

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:12 -

You're being too kind. What that committee member did was idiotic.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in hearing from those who have served on committees -- there's a lot of talk of cherry picking -- what if you have a certification that you are sending all comments for a course? Is it viewed the same way?

Anonymous said...

The student evaluations at my university have about a dozen questions. The first asks students to rate the "overall" quality of the course on a numerical scale. The others ask students to rate more specific matters, e.g. the clarity of lectures or the effectiveness of exams. I have been told that search committees will care about the first, overall score but not the scores on specific issues. Any sense whether this is true?

If so, it seems odd, since the overall score is much harder to interpret than the specific scores. On the latter, I have a fairly good idea of what the students are rating (e.g., clarity), whether or not that rating is accurate. However, with the "overall" score, I honestly don't know what is being rated--how fun the class was, how much students learned, how much they liked it, how easy it was? I always find the overall score useless to me, because I don't know what it is supposed to mean, nor do I have reason to think that the students gave it anything close to a uniform interpretation (not their fault, given the unclear question). I sometimes find the specific scores helpful, insofar as they can signal trends in the class about whether I was clear, etc. But if search committees are taking overall scores seriously while ignoring specific scores, that seems worrying to me.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated but important: is it just me or is the APA website down again?

Anonymous said...

Yep, I've been trying to access the website all day and keep getting the following message: "Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete." That doesn't sound good.

Big D said...

Haha. The APA has your money, and now they'll never let you access their website.

WV: pikeran. To run someone through with a pike. Ex: Sir Theodor charged forward to meet the enemy, but he was solidly pikeran.

Anonymous said...


"Search committees" don't all behave the same. Each one will value what it wants, how it wants, differently from other committees.

One of the problem when people pass around advice on "what search committees want" is that they often get their information from: searches they have served on, what they may have gleaned from search committees as an applicant, and what they have heard from other sources and passed on as evidence. Even on one specific committee, the individual members of that committee may value different parts of the application differently when making their recommendations to the committee as a whole.

I'm 5:34, and I can tell you that I don't give a damn about any part of student evals, for reasons I explained above. But my committee members might. And other committee members might value some parts of those evals over others.

The only advice I can give regarding "what search committees want" (or how they read what they get) is that there is no consistency. You can't prepare for "search committees." The best you can do is take each application individually, and prepare your application based on what that committee has asked for, what they claim to be looking for in the ad, and anything you might get from any research into the program you do in preparation.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before, and zombie's experience notwithstanding (that was truly odd zombie! Good for you they didn't hire you--you seem waaaay too good for a place like that): well-designed teaching demos are the best indicator of teaching ability and potential. The problems with evaluations, awards, etc. etc. cannot compete with the pressure and opportunity for someone doing a 20 minute presentation on a topic of interest to undergrads. (Since almost all candidates even at R1s must teach undergrads that should be the teaching-demo baseline.) Teaching demos should be required for all universities if they care at all about putting someone in front of students. I realize that the "best" philosophers typically do not teach very often due to light loads and grant releases and sabbaticals and etc. I wonder in purely utilitarian terms who in 100 years makes the greater contribution: the philosopher who transforms a way of thinking for a few dozen theorists, who ultimately may be proven to have gone down the wrong path, or hundreds and thousands of students who receive a greater respect for the difficulty of obtaining certitude, and thus are less susceptible to intransigent irrational beliefs.

wv: sopholli: go with it

Anonymous said...

Right on, 6:37! I love your final comment.

Would any of these SCs hire Socrates? No publications... the midwife of ideas in others but the parent of none himself...

It's interesting to consider whether, if Socrates were here today and everyone on an SC _knew_ that he was, in fact, Socrates, they would give him the job.

Anonymous said...

The Socrates comment reminds me of a story John Perry tells in one of these interviews on line somewhere. He was at UCLA, I think, and they wanted to tenure Albritton. And he hadn't published much and so Perry and his colleagues made a big to-do about how Socrates never published and blah blah blah. And the relevant Dean bought it but said "don't ever try that Socrates argument again."

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to consider whether, if Socrates were here today and everyone on an SC _knew_ that he was, in fact, Socrates, they would give him the job.

The fucking young boys part seems like a disqualifier. But hey, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Socrates might be thought to lack "collegiality." Heh.

Having been on a few search committees at a mid-range SLAC, I look first for serious interest (as opposed to excellence) in teaching as well as research. Evidence of this can come in a teaching statement or a cover letter, preferably both.

Candidates who offer no evidence of interest in teaching would not advance even to a phone interview at this SLAC. In other words, don't send the same application that you're sending to R1s.

Then we can start about excellence or likely excellence. Even candidates who have not had much teaching experience can demonstrate, based on reflection about their observations of others' teaching, thoughtfulness about pedagogy.

Anonymous said...

"The fucking young boys part seems like a disqualifier."

He could join the coaching staff at Penn State. Pays better than philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Just because SC's wouldn't hire Socrates doesn't mean they don't have good reasons for not hiring you.

Anonymous said...

For people who have done these things: Are the teaching demos hard and/or awkward? I mean, I think I'm a good teacher and so on. But parachuting into someone else's course and being expected both to just pick up with the material and establish an immediate rapport with the students is. . . well, a whole lot different than what I'm normally trying to do week to week as I teach. I'm not complaining about this as a way of evaluating candidates (though I definitely see some weaknesses with it). But I'm just wondering whether these things tend to be awkward and weird and way more difficult than normal teaching. I can't imagine it being all that enjoyable--though I love teaching, generally.

Limey said...

I'm from the UK where it is unusual for people to keep their teaching evaluations. SCs in the UK NEVER ask you to send them in, nor for other teaching materials beyond what is on your cv, references and cover letter (the cover letter is probably more important in the UK than US). This strikes me as a reasonable way of proceeding and it is how most of the rest of europe operates too. However, I suppose european candidates will be at a large disadvantage when applying for US jobs without such materials (I would say, unfairly). I've just sent in some applications to US schools without much of the teaching materials requested...I'll let you know how I fare...

Anonymous said...

I'm with 4:10AM: Can the experienced job seekers describe the types of teaching demos that they've done? I was under the impression that candidates were typically asked to teach a mock class on the topic of their choice, rather than teach one of the current department member's courses. Is that wrong?

zombie said...

Anon 4:10 -- I think (and hope) that my experience was unusual, in that I was tasked with jumping into the middle of a class and taking over for 30 minutes. Teaching demos can be structured in different ways, from taking over an actual class to setting up a fake class for you to teach the subject of your choice.

I generally think I have pretty good rapport with my students, and that was not a problem during my teaching demo. After the class, a few students came up to tell me they enjoyed it. The students are not going to be motivated to make you look bad, but you can assume that, like your students, they will not have done the reading assignment (if you prepared one in advance). So it is up to you to get them engaged.

What makes it awkward and weird is that the SC (and other interested faculty and/or students) will be there watching you. Your best bet is to teach something you're already really familiar and comfortable with, so that you're as smooth as possible. It's not the time to try out new material, if you can help it. (Make sure you know in advance what kind of technology will be available to you -- laptop, chalkboard, whiteboard, etc.)

Anonymous said...

"Just because SC's wouldn't hire Socrates doesn't mean they don't have good reasons for not hiring you."

True. But if it's a teaching position, it does mean that they are fucking morons.

Also: I hope those who claimed that Socrates 'fucked young boys' are joking rather than completely ignorant about the history of philosophy. Has _no one_ here read the Symposium, innoich the point of Alcibiades' conoibution was that Socrates surprised him by _not_ going in for that sort of thing? Or do you just believe that Socrates was a pedarast because your first-year instructor said it to get your attention and you never checked for yourselves?

Anonymous said...

FWIW: I arranged it so that I could teach on a topic that hadn't been covered in an intro to phil class. However, even though it was a topic I had taught before a few times, I still was slightly off balance during the demo. That was the worst part of the interview for me. Though, I would prefer that to having to give a talk geared towards both faculty and students, which I have also done. That truly sucked.

Anonymous said...

@6:46 AM

I was one of two finalists for an open/open job at a small college with philosophy courses taught by people outside the profession. The search committee asked me to teach Anselm's Ontological Argument in 50 minutes, to which I added Kant's objection. At that point I had yet to teach it, though it is now part of my Intro courses.

Prior to leaving for the interview, I gave the teaching demonstration to a couple non-philosophers to ensure smoothness. The demo went great. The students understood it and the participation was excellent. If I recall correctly, I had at least seven or eight people engaging me. I provided a brief handout of the argument for both students and the search committee, and I gave a copy of my notes to the scheduled instructor.

I didn't get the job.

Anonymous said...

anon 4:10
I had three teaching demonstrations on the market in the recent past. All were state schools with 3/2 or 3/3 loads. They were all very different.

1. First was subbing in an intro course in which I was given a topic area that they'd be covering, and expected to fill in. When I arrived, I asked the instructor where they had actually gotten in the syllabus, and used that knowledge to make an actual transition. I got the students engaged by having a modern "take" on the problem, asking them to fill in parts, and learning the names of students who responded, so I could refer to "Julie's" point and "Bret's" question.

2. Was a class in my area, in which I was allowed to a topic related to my research. I created handout with different problems, divided into groups, had them respond to problems. Worked well, but mostly b/c it was very applied.

3. Was a pretend intro class on any topic of my choice, where faculty acted as if they were students. TERRIBLE. I chose a topic good for an intro class, but the faculty treated it like the point was to get at more nuanced argument. I flailed--I know how to respond to student questions, and how to explain in different ways for student-level responses, but I couldn't deftly answer more demanding questions. So, I should've realized that it's impossible for faculty to act just like undergrads. My advice: make the intro class about your research area if its to faculty.

Offers at 1 and 2. 3 (which occurred in the morning of my interview day) led to a disastrous visit overall. Painful.

Anonymous said...

Like zombie, I did a variety of different kinds of teaching presentations during my job search.

Some schools schedule a special session and let you choose the topic. This is nice because the students who volunteer to come tend to be the most motivated.

Others use a regular class but still let you choose the topic. This is bad because the students know what you're teaching won't be on the test.

Others assign you a topic, either as part of a class or as a special session. The former can be bad if it's not your aos, though most schools are going to put you in an introductory class, which you need to be able to teach anyway. The latter can be interesting. The school I'm working at now actually gave all three candidates the same short article to teach in a special session, with the students having committed to read it (and they did). Apparently the candidates' styles were quite different; I was praised for having added something to the text by talking about how it related to other things (I had about a week to prepare this) and for establishing rapport with the students and getting them to participate (make sure that at least some of your questions are easily answerable, and others require some thought -- the SC was impressed that I waited patiently for over a minute at one point for the students to work through my question).

Faculty members of the SC may or may not be present for these sessions. Generally at least one will be, but perhaps not the rest.

One possibility to consider that worked well for me at a couple places: take a handout with some short excerpts for students to read on the spot. I did this with some passages from Mill; I copied four or five short selections from Utilitarianism onto a handout and asked the students to read each one at certain times as we moved through the discussion.

Lloyd Dobler said...

Regarding CVs, I would say that you may as well go in the standard order for the profession: research, teaching, service. Anybody who has ever seen an academic CV knows to expect this order most of the time anyway.

Regarding teaching portfolios 5:34 11/15 and 2:34 11/16 is correct to emphasize that different members of a search committee will evaluate information differently. Unlike 5:34, I generally couldn't care less about candidates' teaching statements/teaching philosophy. Very few that I have read said something that I would call either astonishingly interesting or astonishingly bad. I therefore generally only give them a quick once-over to make sure that they aren't in the latter category. If they do happen to say something astonishingly bad, then I don't both looking at the rest of the file (this is true of every part of the dossier, by the way... if you include one bone-headed thing anywhere in the dossier you're probably sunk).

What I generally find most revealing are sample syllabuses: are they well-organized and well-constructed. A good syllabus will tell me a lot about you as a candidate--about your organizational skills, about your interests as a scholar in your field but also in your areas of competence or even your hobby interests. In terms of teaching, it will also tell me if you understand fundamentals of good pedagogy. I should also add that syllabuses that seem overly ambitious about the number of texts they will cover irritate me as much in a candidate as they do in a colleague. If you give a tentative schedule for a semester that says, e.g., that you'll cover Hobbes' Leviathan in two weeks in an undergrad class, I'll think you either don't understand Hobbes or you don't know how to teach. By all means include supplemental readings on your syllabus, but keep your tentative schedule manageable!

My own preferences aside, you can always do yourself some favors by attending to the overall organization and readability of your entire dossier. In the teaching portfolio specifically, this means that you should provide the quantitative data in an accessible, easy to read format, and maybe a page or two of summary comments (positive and negative) from students. Include one or two syllabuses from past courses as well as one or two for courses you imagine you might teach at the place to which you are applying. If you have teaching observation letters, include them as well.

BUT, here's what you don't want to do: DON'T send a big stack of teaching evaluations for the committee to sift through an interpret. Give them as much data you can in summary form. Especially consider collating your own teaching evaluations scores across multiple courses on the same sheet.

As for the kinds of comments to include in summary comments, keep in mind that the negative comments are often more help than you might thing. It shows confidence in your own teaching to include them, and SCs will interpret in a positive light comments such as "I thought the professor graded too hard." Of course these are cherry-picked comments and so won't by themselves get you or lose you an interview opportunity, but a handful of interesting "negative" comments might be more revealing than 10 repetitions of the vague and largely meaningless comment that you are the best professor the student has ever had.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:12 - I don't think this particular colleague convinced many people of her view.

On teaching demos: we didn't see any great demos--I would describe them seeming more like section discussions than a lecture by a professor (in the confidence, polish, etc. on the part of the candidate), and those negative aspects were certainly discussed. But, we passed over a candidate who had a pretty good teaching demo but disastrous personal skills for a candidate whose teaching demo had some flaws but seemed serious about teaching (and becoming better at it) and who was collegial. All the teaching demos were asked to take over one lecture of an intro class (one that the candidate would be teaching if he/she got the job) and were assigned whatever topic the professor had been planning to teach. This resulted in some candidates having less favorable assignments, but it was also felt to be the best way to evaluate how the candidates would be at teaching to our audience.

- Anon. 4:15

Anonymous said...

For guidance on how to prepare an effective teaching demo, don't forget Shane Ralston's "An Outline for a Brief Teaching Demonstration: On the Distinction between Morality and Ethics," Teaching Philosophy, 33:1 (2010). He responded to questions about the paper on this blog last year. I believe that you can get access to the article via his web-page (publications section).

Anonymous said...

Lloyd: It's "syllabi", not "syllabuses". If I were ever on a search committee and a candidate's dossier contained sample "syllabuses", I'd throw that shit right in the trash.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:45:

Would you also throw a package in the trash if it said 'octopi' rather than 'octopodes'?

Anonymous said...

Lloyd: It's "syllabi", not "syllabuses". If I were ever on a search committee and a candidate's dossier contained sample "syllabuses", I'd throw that shit right in the trash.

See here, here, and here.

People who use 'syllabuses': Good enough to be dons at Oxford; not good enough to even merit consideration for an assistant professor job in Anon 1:45's department.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:45 - I'd suggest you look it up in the OED first.

Lloyd Dobler said...

Anon 1:45. Since you are an accomplished pedant (and I'm sure also an accomplished scholar of both Latin and Greek as well as English), I'm sure you're already aware of this, but I'll respond in kind:

1) Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s, and American Heritage all accept either spelling (syllabuses/syllabi) as conventionally acceptable.

2) The origin of "syllabus" is disputed, but it is almost certainly a neo-Latin word of Greek origin. Some argue that it is derived from either the Greek sillybos, which means "a parchment label for a book" or from the Greek word syllabe, a form of the verb syllambanein, which means "to put together." Others have argued that it has a different origin altogether and that the word in fact originated as a misprint of the Greek word sittubas (already a Greek plural in the accusative), which would mean "title slips or labels" in a 1470 edition of Cicero's letters to Atticus. According to this hypothesis, the altered form took root even though it is a Greek plural because syllabus looks like a second or fourth declension Latin nominative singular.

3) Second declension nominative plural would be syllabi, but fourth declension nominative plural would be syllabus (with dipthong that I can't reproduce). Generally, neo-Latin words would follow the second declension in this case, but plenty of Latinized Greek words follow other paradigms, and fourth declension is pretty common in these cases.

4) Since the matter of the pluralization of the term is disputed and since about disputed things one should err on the side of charity rather that pedantry, it's hard to know how to read your comment on my use of syllabuses.

Perhaps you mean to suggest that you expect search committees to be as pedantic as you are and that one ought therefore to be VERY concerned with how these letters are addressed and the proper layout and citation format of every jot on a CV. I think it's clear from comments above, however, that this generally isn't the case and that SCs are perhaps less pedantic than you are.

I would not, in any case, throw out a dossier that uses the term syllabuses any more than I would throw out one that uses syllabi. As they used to say in Latin: de gustibus non disputandum est. I would, however, throw out the dossier of anyone who gave the impression that they are as uptight about a matter such as this as you seem to be

Jack said...

Words of wisdom, Lloyd my man. Words of wisdom.

1:45 said...

"Perhaps you mean to suggest that you expect search committees to be as pedantic as you are and that one ought therefore to be VERY concerned with how these letters are addressed and the proper layout and citation format of every jot on a CV."

No, Lloyd, but I do at least hope that search committees have a better sense of humor than yours!

Anonymous said...

Llyod the kickboxer!

lloyd dobler said...

Search committees have excellent senses of humor, by necessity if nothing else. And there are always things in a stack of 300+ dossiers that tickle the ribs of SCs as they go through the process of distilling the initial batch of applicants to something manageable for their colleagues to review.

As far as pedantry goes, I can recognize it by a whiff in part for the same reason that I cringe more at my own typos than the pedantic silliness of the comment to which I was responding.

Still, I'm heartened in all of my good humor both by the responses that appeared above my own before I saw them (probably they came in and were posted while I was writing) and by Jack 4:35 and Anonymous 7:18, who evidently probably remember that Lloyd Dobler takes punches pretty well, too.

If there's anything serious here worth noting, it's only this: if you are on the job market (but especially if this is your first time out), beware of your own convictions. Being in grad school seems often to reinforce rather than dispel the arrogance to which most of us in Philosophy-land are prone. The smarter you think you are, the more careful you should be to show some humility. The tension here is obvious: if you want to be interesting, you should seem like you have interesting things to say. But, on the other hand, lots of people you will be dealing with in a job interview context also have interesting things to say (and sometimes they'll be posturing against each other as much as they are listening to you). Sometimes the best way to be interesting is show that you're the kind of person who will make for a good conversation, and that means showing that you can listen... listen crtitically and stand your own ground, but LISTEN.

And, for what it's worth, a personal anecdote. A few years after I was hired, a colleague told me that the thing that landed me an on campus interview was that I was the only candidate at the APA interviews who showed an interest to get to the root of the question and explore what it meant. I've got to confess that I don't really know what I did that gave the impression, but my colleague told me that it was basically a body language thing. In other words, neither of us can put a distinct finger on it, but it was, from his standpoint, important that I was indicating an interest in hearing what the committee was trying to communicate in their questions. And I can definitely recall interviews where I was on the other end of the table in which I thought: "what do I have to do to convince this candidate that they need to stop talking now?!"

The truth, of course, is that I got my job by playing "In Your Eyes" outside the window of the Department Chair after the Dept. refused my calls for a week.

Anonymous said...

I've been on search committees and currently am on the job market. What I do is include two (recent) years of quantitative computer-generated teaching evaluation summaries together with syllabi, teaching statement, and one confidential letter from a former chair that testifies to my success. The sheets the students fill out can be easily forged and typewritten summaries of comments can be forged. Given that so many (especially those with poor evaluations) think they are meaningless, there is a strong likelihood people forge these things without feeling bad about it. That being said, as a SC member, even computer generated quantitative summaries are limited in worth. The only thing they tell me is that someone probably isn't a failure in the classroom (provided the numbers are at least decent). The teaching demo counts for much more. verification word: "syness"

Anonymous said...

Are people really that worried about people forging these things? I make my own chart with the date because the way my school does it is very counter-intuitive and hard to read. I then put at the bottom that a full set of all the data is available upon request. I think everyone should consider here the balance between making the presentation of your data as easy as possible for the committee members to read and paranoid worries expressed by some people on this blog that applicants are simply making up numbers for their own benefit.

Anonymous said...

Lloyd, good point on "beware of your own convictions." To that I would add that many grad students come out of their own department thinking that there is One Right Way to do things. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have heard (in interviews, at conferences, etc.) applicants complain because things at one university are done differently than wherever they were trained.

Lane Meyer said...

Another issue that I haven't seen come up yet vis-a-vis teaching evaluations and hiring: for most Universities, tenure evaluations are of course determined by both research and teaching (and service). But at many Universities (such as the one I'm at), the teaching excellence is almost entirely determined by the numerical scores one receives on teaching evaluations.

Of course many of us are trying to change this, but there's no denying that this makes the numerical evaluations count more heavily than they otherwise might when making hiring decisions as well - we don't want to hire someone that the admin is likely to deny tenure down the road, even if their methods of evaluating teaching aren't very good.

Of course, there is the epistemic problem of comparing different scores across different schools when considering applicants. But I think this fact about tenure decisions creates some pressure for hiring committees to care about such things as numerical scores over and above the value they actually have in evaluating good teaching. (Analogous remarks apply to evaluating research - we have to hire Plato over Socrates based on their research promise - Socrates just isn't going to get tenure. Alas.).

Anonymous said...

As the guy who wrote the Socrates comment:

I get the joke of the Albritton thing, and think the dean's comment was appropriate in that context.

But the only reason why it is appropriate is that the job the candidate was going for was primarily a research position.

The teaching-oriented positions, for all their lack of status and lack of pay (the income disparity for teachers and researchers is remarkable), are the ones that will make the biggest difference in the world, let's face it.

My comment was not to imply that Socrates should have been given a research position. It is, rather, that if the average SLAC would knowingly pick a so-so teacher with research over Socrates -- and I mean, literally Socrates -- than the members of that search committee should lose their jobs, immediately.

Anonymous said...

11:47, I'm the 6:47 you threw a bone to and got some grief for it (I think). I'm on your side, Sister/Brother. Research does have real impact on the world--witness the impact of symbolic logic on computing and tech, and moral theorizing about equality over the last century. Then again look at what the result is: unrestrained use of computing power to control economics and politics to largely bad ends; theories of equality that are distorted to the ends of libertarian protection and aggrandizement of plutocracy. The useful goods of research in philosophy have been seized by self-interested forces for their own purposes, and even used to undermine their very source: liberal education. The malignant users of machine logic and the shallow rhetoric of equality clearly see that further ends of rational enquiry such as found in typical philosophy classes endanger their interests--and need to be shut down.

We need excellent instructors in philosophy more than ever, because there are tons of citizens who have their billshit meters completely out of whack due to FOX-financed propaganda.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's paranoid at all to think that people fake student evaluations. There are hundreds of applicants for most positions and many feel their careers are on the line when it comes to landing a job. When the stakes are so high, the chance of getting caught nearly zero, and so many teachers resent student evaluations to begin with, I would expect at least some applicants to forge them.