Saturday, September 16, 2006

Why the Faculty Recruitment Conference is like my favorite Mary Tyler Moore episode.

There was an episode of MTM in which Mary was very depressed, and Ted told her, in his most solemn and sad voice, "I know how you feel. You wake up . . . , have some breakfast . . . , go to work . . . , work a little . . . , have lunch . . . , work a little more . . . , go home . . . , have dinner . . . , and go to bed. What you need to do is [said by Ted with the utmost enthusiasm]: Wake up! Have some breakfast! Go to work! Work a little! Have lunch! Work a little more! Go home! Have dinner! Go to bed!" In other words: do the same thing that you did before, but with a better attitude.

Mary Tyler Moore

Good life lesson, but it also reminded me of interviewing for faculty positions at the recruitment conference. One of the best things that the AALS does (I hope it still does this) is open the conference w/some dos and don'ts for interviewing. In essence, candidates who aren't familiar with what appointment committees are expecting to hear get a little mentoring beforehand. One message that was clear is that the modal answer to the question, "why do you want to change careers?" was supposed to be "I find myself hiding out in the library thinking about issues that I want to research, and I can't do that kind of scholarship in my current job." So I had an image of everyone who was looking for a job that year saying the exact same thing to each committee, with the difference between getting invited back or not being the level of enthusiasm (believability?) with which a candidate said the right thing.

There's nothing wrong with having the need to write be the reason for seeking an academic post, but I think that those who start their answer with talking about teaching run a risk that they won't be considered "serious" candidates at some schools. I've heard some people say that candidates who lead with wanting to teach won't be productive scholars (a hoary old saw if ever I heard one). Part of the problem is, again, the discomfort created by different types of candidates. My POV is that the very best professors do both research and teaching well and take both very, very seriously. Answering the question of why someone wants to become an academic by leading with a desire to teach shouldn't be the kiss of death for a candidate.


Blogger Ann Bartow said...

Hi Nancy, nice to see you blogging here!

9/17/2006 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that the post's not REALLY about MTM so much as it's about faculty recruitment, but nonetheless I thought I'd offer another great bit of interviewing dialogue from another MTM episode -- this is from the series' first episode, from a scene in which Mary interviewed with Lou Grant for a job:

Lou: What's your religion?
Mary: Um, Mr. Grant, I don't quite know how to tell you this, but, well, you're not allowed to ask me that ...
Lou: Are you married?
Mary: Presbyterian.

9/18/2006 11:34 AM  
Blogger William Henderson said...

Hi Nancy,

If professors don't care about teaching (and by extension, students), that ethos will undermine a school's ability to raise funds to pay the salaries to get (or keep) the best and the brightest at t+10 or t+20. In the long run, long school faculty culture vis-a-vis students and alumni matters. In Moneylaw analysis, scholarship-first appointments committees are using a strategy that weakens the institution in the long-term.

That said, if appointments committees want to identify the best future scholars (quantity and quality by placement), then they should use a numbers-driven approach--a topic I blogged about last year at Conglomerate. But none do (or admit to it).

Instead of a institutionally coherent strategy, or a misguided strategy executed coherently, the hiring market tends to be ruled by a peculiar strain of elitist folk wisdom. No wonder no one--faculty or candidates--enjoys the experience.

9/19/2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great to hear from you on this issue! What's your link to the Conglomerate blog, so that folks can read it as part of this thread, too?

9/19/2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

BTW, Heidi--loved your quote on MTM, and (from the same episode), another gem:

Lou: You have spunk. I hate spunk.

9/19/2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger William Henderson said...

Nancy, Here is the link to a "Numbers-Driven Appointments Committee":

9/19/2006 8:08 PM  

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