Friday, January 23, 2009

Fritz From Fizzy Wine State Examines His Department's 2008 Hires.

All this talk about boon or bust candidates makes me think a bit about my department's own situation. We hired 2 terrific on-paper collegiate stars last April, and they are now just a bit more than 1/2 way through their first years with us. They couldn't have worked out much differently.

I teach at a massive Great Lakes uni, in one of the largest departments on campus. We have more than 100 faculty members - if you count everybody - and it's a little easy to get lost in the shuffle here. But, those who want collegiality get it. There's, in fact, a very active "core" group of proffies who advertise "coffee seminars" weekly to catch up on what's going on in the department. It's possible to stay on the outside of things, but it's also very easy to work closely with others as if you were at a small school.

Get-Involved Greta and Leave-Me-Alone Lisa both came from top 20 R1s from the northeast. They were among our top 4 picks last year, and we were very pleased to get them. Their interviews had been similar. Both were very smart, sharp, and spoke easily of their work. They're in different sub disciplines, but they fit our job ads beautifully. Both expressed a real interest in our city, and both had family members within a half day's drive. Both were single.

When they arrived, it was remarkable how different things were. Greta got involved. She asked about committees. She wondered if there was a list of majors she could look over. She asked about the history of the department. She kept office hours during the day, and when she was overwhelmed with our large survey course, she asked for help.

Lisa, on the other hand, well, nobody ever saw her. In about week 4 I remember our chair coming to my office (as I was officed nearby) and asking whe I'd seen her last. "At the interview," I said.

Lisa taught during the day, like most of us, but kept office hours after 5 pm. She didn't come to the first "all department" faculty meeting, but when she came to the second she said her name during our new faculty introduction, but nothing else.

It bugged our chair so much that I was asked to make an attempt to check in with Lisa to see if she needed anything. I stayed after hours on a Wednesday until her 5:30 pm hours started and I think she was startled to see me. Another colleague was chatting with me in the hall and when Lisa saw us she walked past us into her office and closed the door. I knocked and waited and when she opened it I told her our chair had wanted me to follow up with her. Everything okay? Did she need any help? Did she have any questions? Had she spotted any parts of the department she wanted to be more involved in?

All of this took place with me in the hallway, and Lisa peering out at me.

"I can't think of any questions," she said. "I have some work to do," she said next.

I went home, told the chair the next day she didn't have any questions.

Greta, meanwhile, well I see her at lunch and at the coffee seminars. I see her before and after her class. I see her talking to students. We don't require first years to do any committee work, but she asked to be an ad hoc member of the survey class's committee on textbooks. We haven't had any substantive conversations about her adjustment, but I get the sense she'd ask me or others if she had them.

When we got back from holiday break, it was not a huge surprise to hear from the chair that Leave-Me-Alone Lisa was on the job market, and had already had 3 campus visits planned. It was clear she was leaving.

Now I don't know what happened. Of course there are a terrific number of things that influence our career paths, but I'll always think of these two job candidates together: one who made the position and the job work, and one who seemed determined to avoid it all costs.