Surviving the Gauntlet

In days of yore, I used this blog to detail my frustrations with the trials and tribulations of the academic job market. I tracked my frustrations with the application process, from the thorny practice of asking for letter writers to the staggering inaccessibility of some university HR sites. I explored what it meant to frame myself as a hotshot young researcher worth investing in for a tenure-track job in one application, before pivoting hard to pitching myself as a passionate teacher committed to fostering student development and growth in another. I read The Professor Is In blog and recoiled at the fundamental erasure of individuality that it demanded, and dabbled hopelessly in alt-ac alternatives where it seemed my PhD was a millstone around my neck rather than a keystone in the soaring arc of my career. In general, I wrote these posts for me and avoided advertising them too widely. They were a way for me to vent and were carefully hidden from potential employers who might have discovered this site through my SEO.

As a result, this post is somewhat atypical for this blog because it contains both good news about my academic job search and is intended to be public. I wanted to write it as a substitute for the “Pleased to announce” genre of tweet that usually accompanies this kind of good news but which can often be grating to read for contingent faculty who remain outside of full-time academic employment. I myself once muted every variation of “pleased to announce” on Twitter for about six months because although in my heart of hearts I wanted to celebrate the success of brilliant and deserving colleagues, I found it too hard to process their good news while I juggled five classes across two campuses, with double the logins, emails, and LMS problems, for less pay than I earned as a VAP in my previous role.

My news is that after two years as an Adjunct Lecturer at New England College, I found out yesterday that I am officially being promoted to full-time Assistant Professor of History. A few years ago when I accepted the offer to teach at NEC, I did so because those I spoke with about the position (including my indefatigable Associate Dean) promised that adjuncting at NEC could be a path to full-time status. I turned down a more secure, one year position in Maine because I was told there was no real expectation that it would be renewed and chose instead to gamble on the weaker position with the better long term payoff. I cashed out yesterday in part because of the incredible support of my students, who inundated the Provost (without my direct knowledge) to nominate me for Adjunct Faculty of the Year for the 2020-21 semester, an award I found out I had received to my great delight and surprise at Commencement in May.

To tell you the truth, I am still processing what this means and how it will change my life. After submitting nearly 300 applications (and soliciting almost nine hundred letters) for full-time academic jobs since the Fall of 2015, it remains astonishing to me that it was my teaching, rather than the research agenda we are all told we must relentlessly advance or pay the price, that made the difference. I cannot credit the senior leadership at New England College enough for being willing to invest in and promote their adjunct professors. Most of you reading this know how that it is rare indeed for a university administration to value its contingent faculty in this way.

But I am also acutely aware that my path, like the path of almost everyone who finds themselves securing a full-time academic position, was largely a product of luck and timing. When my wife and I decided to move to New Hampshire in the summer of 2019, we did so because I believe my academic career was over after I had failed to land the last outstanding job I had interviewed for. Some of you may recall that I pulled out of what would have been my first ever SHEAR conference that year because I had to confront the reality that I simply could not afford to go, even to a conference within driving distance from my new home, because I was unemployed. Once we were in NH, I sent out a few speculative applications to local colleges for adjunct positions that were advertised. The position I applied to at New England College had only just become vacant very late in the year due to the previous occupant accepting another job. The cascading effect was that I took the role and quickly devoted myself to trying to turn the role into a full-time one, albeit with no real clarity as to how that might happen, especially with the onset of COVID-19.

Right place, right time is my story. By acknowledging this, I want to try to give back in my new role by advocating for other adjuncts on my campus as my Associate Dean advocated for me. It seems to me that the process by which I have secured this full-time role is one we should want to be replicated elsewhere in our industry, which is by any reasonable standard enduring a recruitment crisis. We should want to commit to contingent faculty who (I flatter myself) create engaging and safe and stimulating learning environments for our students, and whose ability to do often flashes in spite of expecting them to do more for less. Academia in general needs to dramatically rethink our commitment to the prestige economy, which persuades us that an outside candidate who might write an award-winning book is a superior option to the brilliant and inexhaustible contingent faculty we already have in situ. It remains a problem that the concept of the “inside candidate” for a position is regarded as A Bad Thing.

All I can feasibly control in the near future is the future of hiring in my own department, which as things stand is a department of two people. I have to pass my annual review at the end of this academic year before I can truly start to think long-term about the future of the History program at NEC, but my promise to myself and my future colleagues is never to hold contingency against an applicant in service to a prestige economy in the job market that we all know is unfit for the dire realities of academic recruitment across the country.

I am not sure how replicable my path from adjunct to Assistant Professor really is for other contingent faculty looking to mirror my path, but I am also prepared to offer advice and support to anyone trying to make the same transition. And remember, I did it without following a single suggestion from The Professor Is In. You can too.

One thought on “Surviving the Gauntlet

  1. James Gallagher

    Congratulations Craig great to hear your good news . Never had any doubts of your capabilities. Didn’t realise it was so difficult too advance in your field. Gran and I are so happy for Kait and you. And wish you all the best for the future 🙏 ❤

    Like

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