A case for the internal hire

At many institutions the most common reason for hiring a Visiting Professor is for a sabbatical replacement, or perhaps as a stop-gap for someone who retires or resigns.  But, it can also be the case that this happens when there is a need for additional faculty, but a school doesn’t want to commit to a tenure-track line.  If that tenure-track line later gets approved, things can get a little sticky.

Many institutions do a semi-bogus national search, fully expecting to hire from within.  Good for the internal candidate, shitty for the people who apply thinking that there is a real job being advertised.  Many institutions automatically do a national search fully expecting to not upgrade the person who is currently doing the job.  Shitty for the person who has been doing the job and is going to get non-renewed.  While some places have weird rules or even just dysfunctional sociology, in many cases the best option is to upgrade the current person to the tenure-track position.

One of the problems is that even at a non-elite undergraduate institution, we get plenty of applications with strong research qualifications and agendas.  We do need people who can maintain a research program and get occasional grant funding.  But, anybody who is seriously looking at jobs at research-intensive institutions really shouldn’t be applying at institutions like ours.  I don’t blame them; even a loser like me applied at a few research-intensive places although most of my applications were for undergraduate institutions.

This problem is made worse because we have a couple of faculty members in our department who have slight delusions of grandeur with respect to their research, thus they are overly impressed by candidates with strong research potential.  This is sort of inevitable, because especially in the sciences it is nearly impossible to maintain a major research program with a 3/3 or more course load, even if you are still research-minded.  Essentially nobody goes to grad school in the sciences to just be a teacher, but that’s a lot closer to the reality of the majority of us in academia who don’t work at a research-intensive institution.

The good news is that a lot of the research studs don’t come off particularly well in the on-campus interview.  They often have no concept of undergraduate research, nor do they do particularly well in their teaching demo.  Of course, most of those folks don’t have much teaching experience and that doesn’t mean that they won’t be good teachers.  But, we’ve certainly had candidates with strong research backgrounds do well in their teaching demo even without much teaching experience.

Given the heavy impact the Great Recession had on our campus, administrators are reluctant to create new positions to replace the ones lost due to the financial difficulties, or new positions needed because of strong enrollments in particular programs.  So, there have been situations where a temporary position has been created with the possibility of becoming a tenure-track position contingent on stable enrollments in the relevant programs.  We strongly prefer to choose wisely in the first place and promote that person from within rather than do a new search.

Could we possibly get a “better” person with a new national search?  Sure, especially since the original search wasn’t for a guaranteed tenure-track position.  However, the same could be said for virtually any faculty member at any school.  That’s the point that people seem to ignore; look in the mirror, you are replaceable.  There’s always some hot young thang with more potential than you unless you are working on Nobel-worthy research (highly unlikely even at a research-intensive institution), or you are a teaching superstar (which doesn’t really objectively exist).

Prissy schools with unions might stop it from happening, but for the rest of us, there’s really nothing to stop the administration from non-renewing pre-tenure people on a regular basis.  This happens de facto at some of the very top schools where tenure rates are below 50%, but people understand that going in and know that working at one of those institutions for 6 years is a ticket to a position where one can still do significant research.  It doesn’t work that way at “normal” institutions like mine.

People who can do a good job at a place where there is a challenging balance between teaching, research, and service (in our case, a lot of teaching and service, but still the expectation of legitimate research activity), are not a dime a dozen.  Obviously, the person we upgrade has to have done a good job, but as long as that’s true, what’s the point in fucking with something that’s working?  Anybody who insists on always doing a search to replace the temp should at least have the integrity to offer up themselves against two or three external candidates to prove that they deserve to stay, right?  Bueller?  Bueller?


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