Saturday, January 26, 2019

An Inside Look At Faculty Job Interviews

By Professor Doom

     I’ve had a few jobs in “the real world,” though I admit my experience is very limited, dated, and restricted to entry level positions. That said, the “job interview” process mostly involved showing up, talking to the owner for a few minutes, and then it was usually a “go.”

     There are no “owners” in higher ed, and the Poo-Bah is way too important a person to involve himself in the hiring of such lowlifes as faculty. Instead, a committee is formed, usually of faculty, and they pick from a restricted list of applicants. Often, but not always, this restricted list is stacked by admin, so that, say, the committee will look at the top five candidates, four females (i.e., every female who applied) and a male. There has to be some thinning out of applicants, I admit, since open positions can easily attract hundreds of applications, even at a small school.

     I used to serve on hiring committees, so I know a thing or two, but a recent article on Inside Higher Ed reveals that the weirdness I saw as a committee member only touched the surface of what applicants see.

So let’s just get to it:

Weak if not inept use of email systems to transmit job search invitations. Erroneous invitations.

     For all the money our leaders in higher ed are paid, they have remarkably poor online and organizational skills (the latter masked by the sheer numbers of administrators, so that there’s so little for each of them to do).

     Yes, I’ve had a few “fake” candidates to interview, people who should not have been called in…but somehow were. We just politely pretended to do the interview and moved on.

Frequent questions and glaring hints of inquiry about marital status, pregnancies, children, personal identity (that often start with "I'm not supposed to ask you about this but..."). These questions and hints are overwhelmingly targeted at female candidates.

     To clarify, the “I’m not supposed to ask you this, but…” question comes from admin, who can get away it—the same question asked by faculty would cost that member his/her job. But the Dean can do whatever she wants, even if she isn’t on the hiring committee.

Unrealistic sample class lectures where professors or the search committee pretend to be students.

      At my own CC, prospective faculty almost always had to give a “sample lecture” of their own devising to the committee where the committee would pretend to be students. Such lectures were often revealing, as you could easily get someone with great credentials…but obviously didn’t have a clue about even material of his own choosing. The other way around, with weak credentials but a capable teacher, was sometimes true.

      And so begins my long anecdote about the worst I’ve experienced on a hiring committee (and that’s saying something). Admin had narrowed it down to 5 members. Two were wildly incompetent, one was skilled, one should not have been invited, and this one guy had magnificent credentials, credentials admin wanted. As above, each had to give a talk; one guy was so awful that his talk on the subject he picked, polynomials, was a train wreck…the poor guy couldn’t even define what a polynomial was, among many other issues in the things he said.

       Although this was a community college, the guy with credentials gave his 10 minute talk on a fairly advanced topic, one I doubt half the committee (most of whom weren’t even math teachers) understood.

     The guy lost his temper during his own talk, to the point that he visibly had to calm down afterward. We all agreed he was terrible, easily the worst possible choice for teaching at the community college.

Awkward if not unethical management of "diversity" dimensions of searches and candidate visits.

     Yeah, no kidding. I’ve certainly seen a few loaded candidate options, where we clearly were being steered into, well, “choosing” diversity or a certain gender.

       But at least it was steering. In my anecdote, this very angry guy managed to get hired, even though the committee ranked him dead last—even the incompetent people were better choices (the material at the community college is so simple you can teach an interested 12 year old to master it easily enough, so we could help them learn what they needed to know). Admin shoved it in our faces that our time on the committee was a waste, that they, and they alone, were choosing the faculty.

Erroneous offer and rejection communications. Extremely late and sometimes non-existent updates, with some candidates still waiting for updates years later.

      Admin assured us that all 4 of the other candidates got positions elsewhere…this lie was quickly revealed when several of these candidates e-mailed me to ask about the position—admin didn’t even have the decency to tell them they weren’t selected.

      So much money is spent on so many administrators, and the only skill they seem to be sort-of good at is lying, and then only because they practice so much.

      Back to my anecdote. The whole year, the guy kept getting into shouting matches with students. One time, he told a student who was refusing to do homework, “You’re acting like a little boy…”

     “WHO YOU CALLING BOY!?” replied the student, leading to a shouting match which attracted many faculty. I was late to the event, but I got to watch the angry kid tornado down the hallway, tossing books and papers everywhere in feral rage.

      Maybe that one wasn’t the guy’s fault, but there were plenty of others, and admin had to get rid of him after a year.

       The next hiring committee got to see many of the same candidates “passed over” but supposedly hired elsewhere the year before…

Squabbling over meal budgets in front of the candidates, as well as under-resourced searches.

      Indeed, I’ve seen some lean budgets. $60 doesn’t go far for a dinner when you’ve five members on the committee and an applicant. We complained about it, so the Dean changed it so it would just be a private meal between her and the applicant.

      Same budget, of course. I sure don’t begrudge the applicant for eating well, at least.

Interview in hotel room with two men, with unmade bed and room service from the night before just lying there. Blech.

     The “hotel room interview” is unfortunate, but this typically happens at a conference…all the conference rooms are taken, prices to rent anything are very high, and there’s no budget anyway.

     That said, you probably should make your bed and maybe slide the room service tray to the hall, one room over, if faculty were worth that kind of respect.

     Is this roughly how hiring interviews go “in the real world” nowadays?


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