MERRY JOB MARKET MISERY-SPIRAL SEASON! Now interview some adjuncts.

Today I have a new article on Vitae, in which I give a gentle, balanced, citation-packed critical eye to some of the longest-standing reasons for snubbing long-term contingent faculty on the job search. Just kidding, I rip them to shreds (with a bonus AbFab reference, sweetie darling). Here’s a taste:

Myth No. 2: Someone in a long-term contingent position has a dissertation, research topic, or methods that are “stale.”

Hmm. But what about that senior faculty member—lets call him O RLY—who defended his dissertation in 1985, published his first and only monograph for tenure in 1991, and has written but a smattering of book reviews since? Why do departments feel the need to base of their few tenure-track openings on the abject need for some voguish “turn” that will be ancient history in three years? “Fresh,” by definition, goes “stale.” Quickly.

Every single person on a search committee is also by definition “stale,” simply because they have been working for an institution long enough to be on a search committee. Having this kind of double standard for job candidates is not only counter to the department’s best interests, it is also fashion victimhood at its most ridiculous (all right, second-most ridiculous).


19 thoughts on “MERRY JOB MARKET MISERY-SPIRAL SEASON! Now interview some adjuncts.

  1. Thanks for driving some traffic my way with the link to the lifeboater post. I also think you do a good job of pointing out in your piece how giving adjuncts more consideration is in the best interests of a search committee, since they’ll be hiring someone who already knows what they’re doing.


  2. I think also that when adjuncts have scholarship it’s likely to be very good because they’re self-motivated md not burdened by the often inappropriate expectations of what tenure committees are looking for. I know a guy who, while working as an adjunct for 10+ years, published a terrific art history book with a university press. Fortunately he did end up in a TT job. I also know a woman right out of graduate school who, to please a tenure committee that scoffed at her real work, presented at and published with a predatory conference and journal run by a woman out of a strip mall in the rural Midwest. She had to pay $hundreds to present and publish. Her colleagues (sic) didnt know any better, just wanted her to get more stuff on her vitae faster.


  3. Here here! I’m not posting under my name (although I imagine you can see my email) but the shiny ABD syndrome gets under my skin. A certain Ivy has a search running in my field, for the second year in a row because they rejected all their finalists last year. They sent an email at the start of the job season telling everyone who applied last year not to apply this year. So, yeah. fuck them.


    • Feel free to email me privately (from a burner if you’re worried) with the name of the program, and/or a copy of the email. Don’t worry; I’m a vault (you would not BELIEVE the shit I now know from two-ish years of people telling me things. And you’ll never know, because I’m a vault!).


  4. I understand why you won’t air some of the stuff that’s come your way ala UC Riverside ( your mental health and wellbeing above all)–but I can’t say it wouldn’t be delightful to watch a department get a public reprimand (umm, smacking) for unethical/illegal behavior.


  5. I’m curious to know, as a person on the market for the first time this year, how many years you have to go before being considered “stale.” In my program, we were recently told finding a tenure-track job was a three-year process. I believe this is utter bullshit, but I can’t argue with the “experts” in my program. I have an exit plan if I don’t find a TT job this year because I don’t plan to adjunct for low wages in hopes of being one of the 40% of us who get TT jobs, but people have told me that I’m foolish to jump ship so quickly, and that it does usually take at least two years. Do you have any thoughts to offer on this, O Wise Schuman? It won’t change my exit plans because I kind of doubt I even want to be involved in academia anymore, but I like to know exactly how wrong the people who are arguing against me are.


    • I actually don’t think three years is a bad timeframe — NOT because you’ll “probably” get a job in that amount of time (and I think your dept’s 40% figure is probably greatly inflated), but because that is an acceptable amount of time to give something the “college try” while still being able to walk away without your life completely over in the end. You can demonstrate to people that you DID try, so fuck off to them, but you can also move on whilst still (relatively) young. What I would recommend during those 3 years however is to do some non-academic or alt-academic side-work (even in secret) to build up your resume: editing, proofreading, translation, grantwriting; check the Versatile PhD listings and Idealist for freelance gigs and then take whatever you can; don’t tell anyone in academia though because they will be aghast. Of course, your exit plan might be even better than this and if it is, then GO FOR IT. You can also apply for academic jobs whilst working on the outside, but once you leave you might not want anything to do with it anymore!


      • Thanks for the insight. To clarify, it’s not my department who gave me the 40% figure – it’s MLA’s figure for the number of new English PhDs (my field, which I realize I neglected to mention) who get tenure track jobs as their first placement ( Based on everything else I know about the MLA, I would not at all be surprised if the number is actually lower, but the 40% is the lowest I’ve seen anywhere, so it’s the one I quote (and no one ever believes me when I quote it – they think I’m being pessimistic!). My department has never actually attempted to provide a number of people who get jobs, though based on my own calculations in the past two years, it’s been much higher than 40%. I think that’s a fluke, though, because we’re not a well-known program, and there have been other years in which we only placed one person. I might give it one more year if nothing happens this year, but I’m not sure. My backup plan is one I can jump right into, and it’s difficult to calculate whether I want to put my life on hold for another year when it’s such a long shot that I’ll get a TT job.


      • That MLA figure is 100% bogus–for why, just check out Adjunct Nate’s breakdown at the end of my angry Report on their Report. What they compare is the # of open TT jobs versus the # of new PhDs, which is the stupidest metric ever, because it doesn’t take into account the huge, multi-year bottleneck of “older” PhDs, the people already on the TT (who get up to HALF, yes HALF, of the jobs out there by moving laterally in some fields), or the people from outside the US. If you’re in English your chances are between 1 in 100 (for the VERY shittiest jobs with few applicants) and 1 in 2000 (for the open-discipline big ones). Each job is its own crap-shoot full of intrigue and insiders and search committee internal politics you can and will never know anything about. Even if you aggregate your statistics (as I did in “Thesis Hatement” and was then excoriated) that still leaves you about, oh I don’t know, 4-12%, depending on how many jobs you apply for. So that’s your BEST case scenario. Good luck.


    • I think it depends on the field. If you have a STEM degree, you’d have to be either a real masochist or a total fuckup to adjunct for three years while looking for a real job, but being a postdoc for three to five years before looking for a TT job is normal.


      • I seriously question that 40% statistic. Will someone explain to me how that 40% statistic is mathematically possible when there are literally ten PhDs, if not more, per TT opening in many fields? Seriously…maybe I’m Bad At Math but I do not see how it is possible….


  6. I’m not sure who chose the image that accompanies the piece at Vitae, but the inclusion of a photograph of interned Japanese Americans at the Manzanar Relocation Center, without any contextualizing information whatsoever, suggests we should consider the forced imprisonment of thousands of people who were snatched from their homes because of their ethnicity as somehow comparable to the miserable state of academic job hiring. Which is bad, and the reasons for not hiring long-term adjuncts are all ridiculous. But please consider asking your editor to find a better image for the piece.


    • I have nothing to do with that and I don’t see the images until they’re published, and I barely glanced at that pic when it came out because I assumed it was a stock photo! Eep! I imagine the editors are getting tons of complaints. I don’t think anything ever should be compared to Japanese internment. I’ll definitely make it clear that I would prefer a different illo. Also I hope my editors make it clear that writers do not choose their illustrations!


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