Monday, April 24, 2006

A modest proposal

Departments should grant the chair of hiring committees at least a partial release from teaching and other duties during the term of their chairship, so that they can dedicate the requisite time to honestly and completely treat their junior colleagues (yes, I mean those of us applying for jobs) with dignity and respect. Each should be treated with the same courtesy and degree of concern that any good professor affords a bewildered and confused freshman, away from home for the first time, and testing their way through the world. We deserve it, every last one of us. If you can't spare one professor for one term, then you simply don't deserve to have one the finest's finest among you.

Is it really too much to ask that a single staffer be asked to compile notes on every application, with genuine and honest feedback, and that one professor take the time at the end of a search to spend 15-20 minutes drafting a brief note to each applicant, commenting on strengths and/or weaknesses, giving encouragement, redirecting to alternate careers, advising?

Let's calculate it out, shall we: 1 applicant receives an offer; 103 receive rejection letters. Okay, 20 min x 103 = 34.33 hours, less than a week's worth of work, full-time. Assuming the staffer is worth their salt, the letters might only take 5-10 minutes each to draft. We're talking about $1000-2000 in salary, less than a week's worth of someone's time. How much does a faculty search cost, in terms of time and energy? A hell of a lot more than that. Isn't it really a question of priorities here?

I've mentioned before that my dissertation chair, Dr. TassePlein, chaired a hiring committee a few years ago at my doctoral institution. He is a fine man, a good professor, a caring (if sometimes aloof) mentor. Following the conclusion of the search, he took the time to write a separate note to each of the applicants. It was a sign of his dignity, and his respect for the work that each of the applicants had accomplished in getting to the point of applying for a faculty post. During the search, there had been hosted lunches for graduate students to meet with the interviewees. Only later did I realize that these lunches were not hosted by the department, but paid for by Dr. TassePlein

A year or so later, he was gone, having taken a position at another school, so his family could finally be together (he had been commuting to our campus for seven years). Another search was opened. Graduate students had to organize our own lunches with the candidates. I wrote to the chair of the department to ask if there might not be any funding to support these lunches (we're talking, what $200 a pop). No, he said, the department couldn't afford to spend money on such things. I wrote back to all the grad students in the department, saying that I would pay for the lunch of anyone who could not afford it. And I meant it. With my wife working as an engineer, and me receiving a decent stipend, we lived much better than most of my colleagues. Graciously, the search committee chair (who, granted probably made about twice what we were pulling in) offered to cover the lunches.

It's all a question of priorities, dignity, respect. It really doesn't take much. But, as the song goes, it takes more than words.

1 comment:

App Crit said...

Your mentor sounds like a wonderful man, a true gentleman-scholar.

I'm junior faculty (first-year) and just went through my first experience on teh other side of search committees. I was surprised/depressed at the apathy, even resentment, of my senior colleagues. Perhaps because I am not too far removed from the applicants (and wil go back on the market next year).

But even when we got to campus visits, I was embarassed by how little the senior faculty was willing to invest of themselves or departmental resources in the process. It sent a clear message to the applicants. In fact, I'm quite sure the two we hired will be back on teh market in a year or two.

But, hey, reason and civility in the modern university? that's a good one...