Bad Advisors; Good Jobs

Got two articles out this week; first one’s on Vitae and it’s inspired by some of the comments I’ve gotten on this very blog, from dissertators with the Worst Advisers Ever. Here’s a taste:

Here’s what I mean when I say that too many dissertation advisers are guilty of dereliction of duty: I’m talking about advisers who fail to provide constructive and useful mentorship at every step of the dissertation process, from the first book cracked to the final polish. This should be nonnegotiable. Hey, graduate faculty: You want so badly to preserve your Ph.D. programs, with little remorse about foisting graduates upon a carcass-strewn jobless dystopia? Actually advising dissertations well is the price for that.

And, just this second, here’s the article I wrote for Slate inspired by the “alt-ac” conference I attended this week (and thanks to Sean Goudie and Penn State for having me out there; it was great, AND BONUS, the hotel had a giant bushel of fresh Honeycrisp apples for guests, and I am unashamed to say I took home as many as my backpack would fit).

The “alt-ac” conference had A LOT of interesting conversations, but the one I chose to focus on for Slate is sort of the most basic conversation of all: Why is “alt-ac” even a thing? Why aren’t there just “jobs”? This is NOT by ANY MEANS the full extent of my feelings about “alt-ac” or my rundown of what happened at the symposium, which was far more multivalent than one short article aimed at a non-academic audience will allow. But, I think it’s an interesting glimpse, for Normals, as to why the idea of getting a job with a PhD is more complicated than they think. Anyway, here’s another taste:

The academic aversion to real-world work experience has even leaked into the professoriate itself, with stellar job candidates with years of relevant experience as adjuncts being dismissed outrightpreciselybecause of this experience, in favor of brand-spanking-new Ph.D.s with boundless “potential.” Indeed, academia is the only profession I can think of (besides, perhaps, the world’s oldest) in which experience counts against you.

And, yes, there will be a new Rate My JIL tomorrow, provided that there are any ads to rate.

Rate My JIL 2015: Carnage

Well, friends, the MLA Jobs Information List has sputtered to semi-life this year, and the grand total for beginning (OR open rank, gah) tenure-track positions in German studies is…


That wasn’t a typo-riddled ellipse, it was Morse code for how many jobs there are.

eight nine. 9. Single digits. This is utter carnage.

I’m honestly too depressed by the death of what I still believe to be a worthy and good discipline to be glad I’m not out there fighting for one of those eight nine anymore. “But lots more will be added in the coming weeks!” Uh, only if this year is a complete statistical anomaly. According to the largely-infallible Adjunct Nate, a reliable indicator of the total TT jobs at the end of the season is, give or take a few jobs, the first-day offering x 1.75. Last year’s first-day offering was eleven and the season-end offering was in the mid-20s, so sometimes (if the numbers are so small to begin with) it is closer to 2 or 2.5, but let’s say that this year is a complete statistical freakshow and we end up with — as (back me up Adjunct Nate) has never happened before — three times the initial offering, that will still be a heartbreakingly paltry 24 jobs, which is about 1/3 as many as there should be on the first day to indicate a healthy market.

The discipline of German studies is in the final throes of asphyxiation. It’s shot itself in the head from heartbreak and, being that it shot itself with an 18th-century musket, will take a few more excruciating days to die fully. It’s drowned itself in a pond. It’s sentenced itself to death and jumped off a bridge. If you get any of the allusions I just used, that means you have read Goethe and Kafka, and (as such) should be as heartbroken as I to see one of the most interesting disciplines in the world — one with a complex and at times wrenching history, but never a boring one — die in the United States. In future weeks, depending on how maudlin I feel, I may write a multi-part elegy for German Studies, wherein I explain what makes it special and why it’s so sad it’s dying. But for now, let’s look at the sad lack-of jobs. Just to have some more to talk about, I’m going to expand to the NTT jobs as well (also, to chastise them, as I said I would, for advertising on the first-day JIL like they’re somebody — YOU AIN’T SOMEBODY). Looks like Rate My JIL this year is going to be a bare-bones affair. Trust me, I wish it were not this way. Not just because I’d have more fodder, but because I want you all to get jobs. I really do.

All right. First of all, the You Should Not Have Advertised Your NTT Job Here crowd:

  • Amherst. Lecturer. Seems like a perfectly nice job — sort of what we want adjunct jobs turned into (full-time, multi-year, benefits, etc). A perfectly nice job, that is, to be advertising in February and interviewing over Skype. “The Search Committee will conduct Skype interviews of select applicants in December, before interviewing top candidates at the MLA convention in Vancouver in January.” Thumbs down. This job will, by the way, go to a native speaker of German. You think the parents of Amherst students will stand for anything else for little Ashysson Glouchester Brixton?
  • Baylor. “Regular Lecturer in German.” This being Baylor, I assume by “regular” they mean heterosexual. In their defense, they’re not interviewing at MLA. However, this might be because they believe that crossing the border into Canada will infect them with Satan.
  • Dartmouth. “German Language Program Director (Senior Lecturer/Research Assistant Professor).” In their defense, I don’t even know what the fuck kind of job this is. Maybe this is how you fudge an almost-tenure line when the admin won’t give you one? I don’t know. I just hope the faculty initiation process at Dartmouth is a little less invasive (and a little less bodily-fluid centered) than the frat initiation process.
  • Duke. “Thompson Writing Program Lecturing Fellow.” Oh, you lacrosse-playing motherfuckers get the serious booby prize for having the cojones to list, on the FIRST DAY of the JIL, in a discipline that is far and wide from composition, a freshman fucking composition glamour-adjuncting job. You have GOT to be fucking kidding me. To be fair, this year’s Germanists won’t be too terribly busy, what with so few applications to send out, so why not spend 35 extra hours putting together an entirely new course just for them based solely on their precious little guidelines? The best part of this ad is that Duke “anticipates” several “postdoctoral” positions — even these non-tenure-line glamour-adjuncting piece-of-shit jobs might be killed by the admin. Priceless.
  • Penn State. Lecturer. AGAIN. I applied for this job like three years ago and I was a finalist for it! And the search was cancelled! AND I’m going to see all the people who interviewed me for it in like two days when I give a talk at Penn State’s “Alt-Ac” conference — at which point I can chastise them TO THEIR FACES for advertising their NTT job on the first day of the JIL. To be fair to them, they aren’t going to drag anyone to Canada to interview for it. But still. Come on, guys — you can’t wait until at least the October list for this?

Now, the moment you’ve all been not at all waiting for. Here are the first TT assistant professor jobs in German this year. I excluded comparatists (because PLEASE), other extradisciplinary stuff and Medievalists — oh wait THER ARE ZERO JOBS FOR MEDIEVALISTS THIS YEAR, so I didn’t even have to. *Sob* All right, here goes. So, general thoughts. The “good news” is that all eight nine of these jobs are in primo locations where a whole family can move really happily. The bad news is “all eight nine.”

  1. Boston College. There is no specialization listed in this ad. Reading through the ad, in fact, I see several indicators as to why, the clearest being this: “build our growing business German offerings.” There’s no specialization listed because the person who wrote said ad probably doesn’t even know what people who teach German might specialize in. Ye, it is my hunch that this ad was written damn near 100% by some sort of Executive Vice Dean, and that this search is being highly micromanaged by a “business-friendly” (i.e. humanities-averse) administration. Just a hunch. Don’t yell at me. Also, if a search committee wrote this ad, I commend you people on your corporate-speak because that is just classic. Grade: “A” — for Administration.
  2. MIT, “contemporary German studies.” Again, this appears to be 100% written by an administrator or HR person, as that’s not usually the parlance one would use to describe any sort of scholarship a Germanist actually does. An almost-pro to this ad is “Preference will be given to candidates with two years of academic teaching experience at the college or university level.” If they’d only said “five,” then that would send a clear message that they will not be discriminating against adjuncts and VAPs. But at least they seem to care about experience at all. I’ll give it a solid B+, though it might be quite a thing to teach in one of the few humanities programs in the most powerful tech school in the world. You will get bragging rights over Harvard, though — and still be allowed in to their precious fortress of a library.
  3. Portland State, no specialization. In fact, this person should show expertise in “film, language, literature, culture and language pedagogy,” i.e. be anyone who has a PhD in German. If I were still on the market I’d be collapsing into tears of pre-disappointment anguish and desire, as this is the first such job in Portland that has appeared on the JIL in the entire time I have been in the discipline (or out of it) — that’s eleven years. If the person who gets this job complains about the weather in Oregon for even a fucking minute, that should be immediate grounds for termination. [UPDATE: I forgot about that job at Reed a few years back. Reed had this one dean that everyone hated and it made it the worst place to interview for AND work for, so I must have blocked it out. Second. The second such job in eleven years. There might have been something at Lewis & Clark recently too, so, third? My trauma blocks, they are strong.]
  4. Saint Olaf College, no specialization (again!). Even this job, in frigid-ass Northfield, MN, is close enough to the Twin Cities that someone’s spouse could manage something. Howevs. This is a repeat of a search from a few years ago, so something’s up at Saint Olaf. Not sure what. A huge Germanics boom in rural Minnesota? Someone left? A search got cancelled? Only Rose from the Golden Girls knows for sure. This ad still looks like it was written by a dean. I haven’t seen, like, any evidence of actual German scholars being involved on the German JIL yet. What gives?
  5. CU-Boulder. Post 1750. This is definitely one of the most perplexing programs in the country. They have a Kafka specialist who only publishes in Italian.They just started a new PhD program a few years ago. For graduates to do what, I might ask? This is also their second TT hire in three years, and their last one did hire someone (a friend of mine, actually! Nice guy!), so either someone left or died, or some admin is actually letting their program grow. Way to be, Colorado. Of course, whoever gets this job needs to stay the everloving fuck away from the philosophy department, and watch out for Title IX and Clery violations up the wazoo. Also, insider’s tip: Last time they listed a bunch of “preferred” specialties in their ad (just like now) and then went and hired a guy who did none of those things, so just go for it. I actually have an insider I’m rooting for in this sitch TBH, because I know everyone and everyone knows me.
  6. University of Michigan, “cross-cultural inquiries such as migration and diaspora studies, ethnic and minority studies, or transnational and comparative studies.” The sole marquis R-1 job in this crop. They will aim very high and since the pickins are so plentiful, they will get it. Elitism will reign. Princeton or nobody. [UPDATE: This has been pegged as an obvious inside hire sham search. Waste your time applying at your own risk. DOUBLE UPDATE: I have some conflicting info on this now that insists it's a "real job," but again, it's really the only marquis job this year so far, so if you aren't the elitist of the elite, I still wouldn't bother. Plus these days R1 admins all think they're Ivies, and deny everyone tenure anyway (ABOVE the desires of departments, just so we're clear), so it could be a bloodbath, too. I don't know. You might as well apply just because you have so few jobs to apply to anyway. Sigh.]
  7. U of New Hampshire, no specialization (AGAIN!). This is just the sort of job I really would have wanted back in the day. Not a super cutthroat top-tier super R-1 grad-program bloodlust department, but researchy enough that I wouldn’t be stuck teaching 101 for the rest of my life. Plus, it’s in a goddamned idyll. No complaints here — I just wish this JIL had about 30 more jobs listed exactly like this one, so that anyone out there had even half a fighting chance. This job’s going to be overrun with like 400 applications and they’ll end up doing what I used to do when I lived in New York and went into bodegas hungry and was just so overwhelmed by choices that I’d freeze up and just walk out with some Combos and a Mr. Pibb.
  8. University of Washington, “late Eighteenth-, Nineteenth-, or Early Twentieth-Century German Literature and Culture.” Another PacNW job. 2011 me just had a full aneurysm. Slightly lower profile than Michigan but still one of the very few marquis jobs this year. Princeton or nobody.
  9. UPDATE: Williams, 18th C to present, “significant language teaching experience.” Nice, Williams! This means that Williams is not completely averse to hiring an adjunct. Hire an adjunct, Williams! Be the only one on this list to do it! You can do it!

All right–so, there you have it. If you can even read it through the cloying pall, the veritable funeral shroud for an entire discipline. RIP German. We hardly knew ye.

It’s a #TheMoreYouKnow Moment For Me Too, You Guys

If there is one thing I am bad at–like, openly abysmal–it’s dealing with criticism from mean people online. Besides my sweet caftans and my famous sandwich recipe, I’d say it’s the thing I’m BEST known for. Well, as of today, I officially promise to mend my ways. And along the way, I ask professors and celebrities to as well–for more, check out my latest for Slate‘s BrowBeat blog. Here’s an amuse bouche (sic):

…Sweet intellectual revenge. I understand the appeal, because hell, I just did it myself—in fact, even in my post-academic life I’ve made it a hobby to isolate and mock people who make mean comments about me online. But it makes me feel dirty to do so, and I’m going to try not to do it anymore. As cute as those Lehigh profs are—and I’d take every one of their classes, especially those of econ prof Frank Gunter, who, when a student lambasted his course on the political economy of Iraq, just said, “Thanks, Mom”—I suspect they might be feeling just a little dirty, too.

Read the whole thing here!

Countdown to Rate My JIL: Friends, Enemies and Frenemies Edition

I can’t believe it’s almost time for the MLA JIL to come back — largely because I haven’t been on the job market in years, will never go on the job market again, and thus, unless someone sends me a particularly egregious ad with a chuckle, forget that it exists. But, my sources tell me that this coming Friday, the 12th of September in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Fourteen, the world’s most depressing set of classified ads will return to our sphere. I am assuming they will once again be open to the public to search (although if I were Rosemary Feal, I would have rescinded that rule simply to prevent me from getting my big fat mitts on them — although, come on, I have enough friends now that I could get a logon in about four seconds, so).

So, I thought about not doing Rate My JIL this year because it does raise the ol’ blood pressure a bit and I don’t want to aggravate SchuFetus (who just, in fact, gave me a Miss Piggy-style chop in disapproval–and who, in three short weeks, will be promoted to SchuBabby once she becomes technically able to survive outside SchuWomb). BUT, it’s also my most heavily-trafficked feature, and what will SchuBabby need more: my dignity, or my money? All you parents out there know it’s my money; come on — so, capitalism wins, and Rate My JIL returns. Also, it’s fun, and every time I see some well-meaning tenured friend post a job ad on Facebook (like someone they know will actually get that job; like that job won’t either go to some Princeton snotnose halfway through his dissertation and/or be cancelled), I very badly want to subject it to the Schumometer, so, here I am.

Last year’s Rate My JIL taught me a lot about the inner workings of search committees, and the things people get most offended by when I make fun of them. Did you know that white people in the South get REALLY OFFENDED when you make fun of Ole Miss for being racist? How dare I? Pissed off about racism in your area but not yourself racist? Spend your energy fighting racism and not fighting me for calling other people (#notyou, of course) racist. If Ole Miss advertises a job again (especially a shitty one), it will get made fun of again for being full of fucking racists. We clear?

Now, on to the other thing I learned: A lot — like, most — of the most egregiously annoying, irrelevant, insulting and unpleasant aspects of academic job ads (which are multiplying in length like syllabi, and for the same reasons!) are, indeed, penned directly from the assistant to the assistant to the vice-vice provost between luxury cruises. So this year, I will never lose sight of Enemy #1: The Administration, who was so reluctant to give a tenure line to some foreign-language department that they just wrote the job ad like a business professorship anyway. Yes yes, #notalladministrators — but, on the other hand, the last time I was contacted by an administrator, it was on the Leonard Lopate show, and it was a “former college president” who called in to “explain” that the one and only reason for adjunctification is tenured professors taking leave to do their “worthless” research (in which case–MATH DOES NOT WORK LIKE WE THOUGHT IT DID YOU GUYS!). I have never had a single administrator write into me, or write in coherent prose anywhere, about faculty labor issues in a remotely compelling way, so until such time as that transpires, I will continue to place a substantial proportion of my disapproval squarely in the direction of the fanciest digs on campus.

That said, search committees (your “frenemies” in this situation, since they could feasibly give you a job, but probably won’t — and even if they do, their more social-skills-devoid members might make your life difficult forever), won’t be escaping culpability entirely — especially when they’re actually culpable. If you or your committee don’t want to end up in Schuman’s Hall of Schame, here are some pitfalls, that, should you be unable to (or refuse to) avoid them, shall get you roundly made fun of by yours truly:

  1. If you have a clear — we’re talking obvious — inside hire (the ad looks for “early 21st century digital studies about 1750s postcolonial discourse” and the department has a well-liked VAP whose capstone project is an interactive website about the Bessie Mae Griggs, the world’s first postcolonialist), and you still insist on forcing your fake-interviewees (and, for that matter, your real one) all the fuck way to Canada for MLA, AND you still insist on bringing three suckers to campus with no intent of hiring them, eff. You. Rules mean you have to run a national search. You can run a free national search on Skype. Eff you.
  2. Same as above: If you’re running an obvious sham search and you ask for a bunch of unique dossier materials, eff your mom too. You are just wasting desperate people’s time because you can. “Oh, but we’re not sure! We might find someone better!” Then you might want to have been sure not to write such an overly-specific ad so obviously targeted to one individual.
  3. If you’re a teaching-intensive or service department and you expect some Harvard-level research specialization and output from your ad, you will attract precisely the wrong candidate for your department’s needs and I will make fun of you for it. Yes, we know you all graduated from prestigious R-1 departments and were conditioned there to elevate the “profile” of wherever you end up, but that. Is. Elitist. Bullshit. Your primary duty is to your students, and your ideal candidate will attack your 4/5 teaching load like an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. You want someone all about teaching. Period. Fuck your profile. Your profile is your undergraduates.
  4. If you are advertising a non-TT job on the first week of the JIL and are treating it like a TT job (in terms of MLA, and of dossier requirements), you are enabling the desperation and feeding frenzy of today’s carnage disguised as a “market.” You are just as bad as the admins who won’t give you a tenure line. Your two-year non-renewable VAP job is shitty, no matter where it is or how much it pays, because your “new hire” will have to spend every year of it on the market, and thus remain a broken-down shell of a person–and, also, s/he will remain a second-class citizen in your department and grow less “viable” for the TT market every minute.
  5. Speaking of which: If you want to be TRULY AWESOME and the total opposite of all the imaginary assholes I’ve preemptively mocked above, do the following: Specify in your ad that “5+ years of teaching experience is preferred, though not required.” Why? Because that is sending a clear message to adjuncts and VAPs that they are welcome, and their experience — rather than making them “stale” according to the elitist bullshit rules of our current bullshit system — is valued by you. By making it “preferred” but not required you are also welcoming Princeton ABD snotnoses, should any catch your fancy. Everyone wins!

All right. Just a few days now. Who wants to “make it interesting” and take the under/over on the jobs in German this year relative to last? Last year’s first-day offering was an utterly decimated eleven jobs.

My money’s on the under.

The #FergusonSyllabus: Required Reading

Here is my latest on Slate, which is about how the recent shooting by police of unarmed teen Mike Brown is affecting (and can affect) higher education, in St. Louis and across the country. Here’s a fun excerpt to get you in the mood for it:

Yes, agree the faculty, we are living history. But what their course plans endeavor to show is that we are always living history—that, in fact, to understand the events in Ferguson is to understand the complex and painful historical context of the region, one permanently stained with the legacy of white supremacy: slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, “redlining” (refusing to grant mortgages to majority-black neighborhoods).  

And it’s not just happening here. The desire among professors and students to explore the context of the Brown shooting has resulted in an informal nationwide movement, in fact, loosely gathered under the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus (begun by Georgetown professor Marcia Chatelain). Participants from a variety of disciplines have offered articles, books, blog posts, videos, and more to help teachers help their students understand what is happening here.

But don’t take my word for it! Or, rather, please take my word for it here.