Wednesday, October 31, 2007

THE MAIL IS BLOWING UP - The Debate Over "Junior Faculty On The Move."

We've never had a flood of mail like this so soon after a post has appeared. The folks who want to lynch Professor Mushy Brain are not quite as plentiful as those who wish to throw him a parade, but it is close.

We will likely post some longer pieces tomorrow, but here is a sampling (ping pong style) of what we have already:

  • Your brains are not mushy, my brother! What you say is exactly what I've been feeling for a very long time at my own college. I mentor countless junior faculty, opening up home and hearth to one and all, showing them that this fine college in a lovely town is a place where you can have a great life. But nearly everyone we hire is secretively running up our copier bill every September and October dying to find the "next" job. It has gotten to the point when a new hire comes in, almost nobody wants to mentor him or her. What always gives me such a bad feeling is when we hear that the same person who left last year is already looking again. How many reference letters am I expected to write for these colleagues who stay here a year, then somewhere else for a year, then somewhere else again?

  • Being a junior faculty member means the university has made no long-term commitment to you, instead -- depending on the university -- you are on a series of 2-3 year, generally renewed, but not always, contracts until tenure time. I would argue that its worse if a junior faculty member isn't working hard to be attractive to another university. First, if they aren't attractive to another place, they probably won't be attractive enough for promotion and tenure. Second, tenure isn't guaranteed, so at some level you need to think about options.

  • OMG! I know the blog you're talking about. I nearly spit my coffee out when I read your description of the "gumdrop unicorns." The blog in question is a hilarious look at the inner workings of a professor in some Midwest university. She's always talking about the damn cat, and her so-far fruitless search for a REAL LIVE BOY to share space with her and her feline counterpart. And, there are others, endless yammering bloggers who are every bit as selfish and as entitled as our worst students. "What about MY needs?" "If it's selfish to put my needs above the needs of students, then color me selfish." Indeed, honey, with a fucking glitter pen.

  • If your junior faculty don't feel loyalty, blame yourself, not them. If you don't have enough resources to retain your talent, it's not the talent's fault.

  • I fear I must side with the NOT-MUSHY-BRAINED poster from this morning. I probably wouldn't admit it, but I've had conversations on this very issue with a number of my colleagues, all of us sick of the transient junior faculty who speed through a year with us never taking a moment to recognize that for some of us, this "job" is a calling, and this college is indeed a place that we cherish and love. If any of them stayed anywhere long enough, they'd recognize the immense pleasure that comes from really being a part of a college, the life of its students, the faculty, the administrators. Just walking past these buildings every day makes me realize that what I do actually matters. Could I do it somewhere where it didn't rain so much? Sure. But the "one year and out" professors never learn the real beauty of any job. At least until they grow up.

  • You are demanding a level of commitment and loyalty from your junior colleagues that they are not receiving from you in return. To put it in simple language: until you give your junior colleagues tenure, they get no loyalty from you--at least none that counts--so why should they swear undying fealty to you like some medieval serf?

  • Today's "Gumdrop Unicorns" post won't be a very popular post, I predict, but it is a brave one and one that is right on the money. I was a "striver," a searcher, and I bounced around to 4 different t-t jobs before I finally realized that my career wouldn't be right until my mind was. I was a kid - that's the unadulterated truth of it. I never gave my college a chance. I stayed 1 year, 2 years, 1 year, and 1 year before ending up where I am now. Some health issues made me nervous about moving again, so I stayed in a position for 3 years. It made a world of difference. I began to think of the college is MY college, and I began to stop thinking of teaching as some "job," and started thinking of it as what I did, what I am. I know that I would have been happy in those other positions had I only given them a chance. But I watched my grad school friends always scrambling for greener grass, and so I did, too. I am so thankful I realized that I was running for no reason. I tell this story to every new faculty member, letting them know that I was like them, looking at the yearly job lists as if they were an FAO Schwarz catalog. And I tell them that when I got invested in my career, my college, my students, and my college family, my whole life came into focus.

  • If you want junior faculty to be loyal (and since when did loyalty become a virtue operative in employee-employer relationships independent of contextual factors?), pay them more, or adopt preventive retention policies. If you don't like junior faculty getting counter-offers (because seeking and getting counter-offers are very different things), don't set the tenure bar so high that junior faculty become marketable. People respond to incentives; if they respond to an incentive (publication count, for instance) and find that they are now marketable because they have been productive, why wouldn't you expect them to go on the market?