Monday, October 4, 2010

Jumping from the Adjunct Track to Tenure Track - can it be done?

Given that many anthropology ABD's and newly-minted PhD's will be hired as adjuncts and visiting assistant professors (some even at their PhD institution) but have a tenure track position set as their primary goal, it seems worth exploring whether/how this transition occurs. This recent thread in the Chronicle of Higher Ed forum is a good place to start since it is largely first-person. A great variety of experiences and opinions abound, but there seems to be general agreement that those adjuncts hoping or assuming that at some point they will be offered a tenure-track position in their current department (or hell, even just an interview!) may be hoping in vain:

"I fear that a lot of adjuncts think that there is some sort of implicit understanding that they are on the track to get on the tenure track at the institution where they are teaching. Fairly or not, the opposite is more often the case."

"Community colleges, I understand, are more flexible. We're simply not. At our R-1, there is a handbook clause forbidding "inbreeding," i. e., hiring (tenure track) our own graduates. We can't do it. Further, since we're a research uni, we can't hire on the tenure track anyone who won't get tenure--i. e., anyone who hasn't published. We hire with nationwide ads, and we sometimes hire on the TT people who already have published books (yes, the humanities job market is horrendous)."

"By the way, we shouldn't just blame adjuncts about this. All too often, they get vague suggestions and hints that there is the possibility they'd get hired to TT jobs. Sometimes "promises," which are subsequently broken. So deans, chairs, and TT faculty share some of the blame. I actually had a higher level admin say something like, "Wouldn't it be nice to hire some of our own doctoral grads?" I disappointed that admin when I suggested it would be scandalous. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if said admin had dropped a few vague hints to a past grad or two."

What is considered one of the biggest obstacles (barring not yet finishing the PhD) is that the job requirements for adjuncting are quite different from those for TT faculty. The service and research requirements, even at teaching-focused colleges, are significantly greater for TT faculty than for adjuncts. And departments hire folks for TT jobs because they've decided the odds for tenure are high enough to take the risk. They make that determination on the basis of a number of things, including research productivity, grants, and publications, areas that are tough - though absolutely not impossible - to beef up as an adjunct. And even if you are able to do this as an adjunct, it may not make it easier for you to lobby for a pay increase as long as you remain an adjunct. I think this sums that calculus up well:

"While it makes sense for adjuncts to continue research and publishing in order to remain competitive for tenure-track positions, it is important to remember that research is not part of the expectations or responsibilities of an adjunct, and as such they will not be paid for such activities while they remain adjuncts...
In the same way, simply being overqualified for your current job is not an adequate reason to advocate for more pay, it simply provides you with the opportunity to move into a job with a higher rate of pay for which you are qualified.
In other words, it doesn't matter one bit to your university if you do research and are capable of performing service while an adjunct if that is not part of the job description, since the university is not asking you to do this as a condition for your continued employment."

Several posters on the thread have made that transition from adjunct to TT in their current department, so it's not something that NEVER happens, but it seems reasonable to temper expectations by focusing on productivity outside the classroom as much as is humanly possible to beef up the CV as though you were only applying to external positions. Perhaps if you can demonstrate to your current institution that in addition to being the stellar instructor you've been as an adjunct, you have published, organized symposia, published, achieved external funding, acted as mentor for a PhD candidate elsewhere, um, published - all the things they look for as hallmarks of tenureability - you can be that person who makes the transition. The reality is that for most R1 and liberal arts programs (even the ones who seem happy with your adjuncting self), those criteria will matter more than simply having great teaching evaluations and an impressive roster of classes you can teach.*

*I do not intend to trivialize excellence in teaching - we all know how much work and passion and time go into that. This is about what is valued by the programs looking to add to their tenure track rosters.

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