Helping Philosophy Job-Seekers

There’s been a lot of talk (Other than FP, here and here, for example) about the problems of APA interviews, one of the most significant being the huge financial cost to job-seekers of attending the APA. I’ve suggested that we should consider ditching the APA interviews. But, as many on the SWIP mailing list have pointed out, we should also do something to help job-seekers as long as so many of them are forced to attend the APA. As a result, Eastern SWIP (US) is setting up a fund to help philosophy job seekers attend the APA.  Here is a description:

ESWIP is now accepting donations to help defray travel costs for graduate students attending the Eastern APA’s December conferences. Eligible graduate students will be able to show they will be interviewing at the APA. Procedures for fielding applications and distributing the funds are to be determined.  

If you’d like to donate, go here.

20 thoughts on “Helping Philosophy Job-Seekers

  1. It’s a great idea. I’m wondering whether UK and other non-US students can be helped. I also hope they’ll make it available to those who’ve finished their degrees within the past year or two.

  2. Given that so many women work for years as underpaid (and exploited) parttime faculty in philosophy departments, and moreover given that (in Canada at least) graduate students earn more as teaching assistants for a single course than the parttime instructors many of them work for, it is very unfortunate that this fund can be accessed only by graduate students. Graduate students are not the only ones who experience hardship under the current hiring regime. Although this fund was set up on the SWIP list in repsonse to a post I made there drawing attention to the economic hardships of parttime faculty, it seems to miss the point almost entirely.

  3. I agree that the funds shouldn’t be limited to just current grad students. I suspect that the current wording is provisional– the initiative is just beginning. I know how hard it can be to formulate this sort of thing just right, and I’m sure they’ll be grateful for some input. This is a very well-intentioned and important endeavour, and I know they will want to get it right. If others spot additional issues, please do post a comment here. I’ll collect them and pass them on. One that strikes me is the apparent limitation to those able to show in advance that they have interviews.

  4. Jender, thanks for taking the lead on collating suggestions.

    I suppose another consideration is whether grad students who are helped by their departments will qualify for help from this fund.

    Given how late some interviews are set up, the criterion might be something else, such as a form signed by a dept chair, or some such.

  5. I agree with Shelley. While the attention to graduate student needs is very thoughtful, the severe hardships and struggles of underpaid and exploited part-time faculty remain unaddressed. Shelley mentions posting a message on the SWIP-List about the economic challenges of part-time faculty that went basically ignored. I have posted similar messages on the SWIP-List and felt similarly frustruated and pained in my voice. This is one reason why I have quit that list-serv. Why do the needs of part-time faculty continually get neglected?

    1. Because departments rely on cheap labour and feel guilty about this and so avoid admitting that part-time faculty are abused. ?

    2. Because academic philosophers have trouble rejecting a belief in meritocrasy (because of cultural pressure), even if this conflicts with feminist values.

    The idea is that part-time faculty have personal problems (re: ability, talent, personality), rather than it being the case that there is something wrong with the full-time faculty, who may be unsupportive and mean toward the part-time faculty, making the latter feel terrible and affecting their morale and depriving them of a teaching support system.

    I had a part-time position recently which I exited from with much relief and elation. The full-time faculty members would regularly talk derogatively about their “part-time help.” I was shocked by the insulting talk, directed at even an absolutely inoffensive person and talented teacher; several people made comments about his large body size !

    This abuse is a form of bullying and silence about it contributes to it.

  6. An, I’m trying to understand your worry. Are you arguing that adjuncts should also fall under this program? I’m not the decider (at all) on this, but it certainly seems to me to be something we should propose at least.

    Another issue is the institutional treatment of adjuncts. That’s such a complex problem, I’m afraid of looking dismissive if I try to say much just now. It needs a lot of thought, and perhaps the APA should take on some of the issues. Is there any relevant APA committee, do you know. (I’m betting not, but don’t know.)

  7. JJ,
    why do you resort to the APA as the big daddy who can resolve these “issues”? Why not feminists thinking critically and self-reflectively about their own beliefs, attitudes, approaches, and behaviour? For instance, in your first message in response to this post, you suggest that the monies from the fund be available to those who finished their degrees a year or two before. When I read those remarks, I thought for a moment that I was on the Leiter blog where everyone is believed to get jobs within 10 minutes of completing. In your next post, after I had drawn attention to the situation of women who don’t have “fulltime” positions, you completely ignored the matter of these women and drew attention again to graduate students. I have put the term ‘fulltime’ in quotes because to suggest that adjuncts (who usually do more teaching and usually teach bigger classes than tenure track and tenured faculty) are not “fulltime” is a remarkable falsehood whose perpetuation many if not most academic feminists are currently supporting. In answer to An’s question regarding why the needs of “parttime” faculty continue to be ignored, I suggest that we should consider whose teaching is making the research leaves of tenured faculty possible.

  8. Shelley, I did a great deal of research over a couple of years on the issue of opening up hiring in universities; my research included reviewing all the data then available on the NSF Advance program to see what was working and what wasn’t. I have also dealt extensively with trying to change faculty members’ minds in various so-called faculty leadership roles I have held at my university. As far as I can see, a strong top-down component increases the chances for fairly rapid change – i.e., change that will actually affect positively the people who are suffering today. This is not to say that the APA has so far been all that terrific, but it can provide some elements that are important in effecting large scale change in a profession, if that’s indeed possible at all.

    I am concerned about appeals to self-reflection; all my experience is that strategies are needed for creating change. That’s not decisive, of course, but it isn’t bad to have a strategizer in a philosophical community.

    I take this discussion, particularly because of Jender’s comments, to be a brainstorming session wheere people can just throw out ideas. That’s extremely valuable. One things that kills brain-storming sessions is to have people scrutinizing others remarks for what they did or didn’t make AND then blasting them. (Any comparison with Leiter seems a blast to me.)

    You have an extremely valuable perspective, Shelley, but I’d prefer to let brain-storming sessions here live for a while before one starts picking people up on what is bad/inadequate/questionable about what they said. That said, I am extremely pessimistic about changing anyone.

  9. JJ,
    I don’t regard my remarks as “blasting”. I have however noticed that often when one disagrees or objects to you on this blog you are defensive and delegitimize what they have written by claiming that they have been unnecessarily and unfairly antagonistic.

  10. It is important to develop strategies which use a top-down approach but these institutional strategies seldom address the sorts of problems An has raised. As someone who has received poor responses when I complained to parties in the APA about disability discrimination directed at me by other members, I have very little confidence in the APA to resolve the issues that An is raising.

    Furthermore, if one is concerned about strategizing, I suggest that one shouldn’t focus on short-term solutions like a fund that will assist perhaps less than half a dozen people annually and may be dissolved in a a few years, but rather one should be “brainstorming” about more comprehensive measures that will effect many over the long haul.

  11. I think it’s a great idea to brainstorm both about big reforms and abut smaller incremental measures. But let’s not get into a battle about who is being nasty, as such battles themselves always seem to turn very nasty. ;)

  12. Jender,
    I am reluctant to embrace your enthusiasm about the travel fund. This is not because I oppose incremental measures per se, but because I think that too often they come to foreclose any discussion or implementation of more fundamental and farther reaching reconfigurations of relations or states of affairs. As I recall it, the suggestion of the fund was made in an email to the SWIP list which also included a remark about how the situation with respect to APA interviews and people’s/departments views and use of them would not change because of, well, “tradition.” This, to me, seems defeatist and might as well be taken as resignation to the current hiring regime. I am concerned that a fund of this sort might become a convenient justification for not discussing at any length the matter of APA interviews, the economics of women and hiring and the other issues I raised in my post to the SWIP list (“SWIP set up a fund for those women, so everything is just fine now”). Indeed, after the idea of the fund was mentioned, it became the sole topic in the SWIP thread on women and hiring practices.

  13. Jender, I agree we shouldn’t get i nto a battle about who is being nasty. I do, however, want to acknowledge what Shelley may have intended to be a criticism of me; that is, that I try to deligitimize some comments and that I do so by claiming that they are overly antagonistic.

    I note that this is an interpretation of what I was doing that I think it wrong, as I will explain. However, I also think that it is a mistake to think that all comments should be treated as legitimate; delegitimizing may be an important strategy.

    The central problem I see with the strategy is that it is so indirect and perhaps as such to be used best in situations where one has is at a disadvantage. I was trying to be much more direct, which is why I think it is a mistaken interpretation. However, my direct message was vague. (And wrongly put as about Leiter in the first instance.)

    The less vague direct message is this:

    Shelley’s was offering an interpretive suggestion; namely, that I was invoking the APA as a father figure. In a feminist context it was a particularly potent interpretation, since many of us worry a great deal about how much we subvert our own efforts and values because of the way our lives have been configured by sexism. It also resonnates with its connections to taunts in all sort of contexts, from the schoolyard to the social scene of young adults.

    This message made me extremely uncomfortable because I know it is untrue and it is hard to experience as other than a very negative and belittling characterization of a fairly sensible suggestion. It seemed to me important to convey that, since it made harder for me to be as constructive about Shelley’s views of what SWIP ought to be doing. Shelley’s views, it seems to me, are too important to be presented as bitter pills. My own view is that she should not be making it harder for people to agree with her.

  14. In fact institutions can and have developed good strategies to deal with problems of the sort that An has experienced. Some of the NSF Advance recommendations have been to try to help marginalized women.

    Thinking about what SWIP could do really should follow on a lot of brain-storming, and I don’t even want to try to make serious recommendations. But a first suggestion might be to try to address the fact that the problems are not seen by most of the people that could solve them. And in philosophy departments they are often members of the APA. So one suggestion might be to consider how to make the issues much more visible. Of course, we’d want to make them visible in a way that could lead to change, and that takes work and effort. Another thing, then, that SWIP might consider doing is to see if there would be some way to free up a member or two to take on the task. One really needs to inject some power into a situation if one want to effect change, and SWIP might be able to configure some position, get some universities to support it by allowing leave time, etc. However, even with this crudest sketch of one idea, you may correctly get the sense that a great deal of time and effort is needed.

    No surprise. There are hardly going to be easy solutions to national problems that are embedded in institutions that typically strongly resist change – our institutions of higher ed.

  15. Hmm… I’m a little troubled by the idea that the best way to help adjuncts is to get leave time for someone to look into it (undoubtedly covered by an adjunct). I do think it *is* important to get national organisations taking this seriously, but I’m not sure that’s they way to do it. Maybe, however, we could all do some brainstorming here about what sorts of changes to push for– both very big, like how to ideally reform the profession; and smaller-scale, like changes that we can push for in our own departments. Does anyone know of a department/university that’s managed to do something GOOD for adjuncts? It would be useful to know about it if so.

  16. Jender, those seem like good practical ideas. I had a colleague once push for health benefits for me, and he was successful. I do think that a lot of self-reflection is in order; as yes, one person can make a difference, to use that hackneyed cliche. I have to say, whenever I worked as full-time “adjunct” I was treated by many as a marginal or fringe person, because of “my lesser talent, ability, poorer background, etc”–even though, frankly, I was a lot more talented than many of them. The students couldn’t understand why I was “adjunct” and this was a big source of embarassment and awkwardness for me. The very word “adjunct” needs to be thrown out. I remember a chair once coming into the “adjuncts” office trying to find signs of our “inferiority,” telling us to clean up our desks and straighten our pictures on the wall. I have to say, nothing right now would convince me ever to be an adjunct again. I am gainfully employed in another field. The work is less intellectually challenging, but there are some real benefits, and I am doing only a small portion of the work I was doing as a full-time “adjunct” and getting paid only a bit less!! And no one is abusing me viciously, regularly treating me as if I were an inferior human being, or making me feel disturbed and depressed too much of the time. Anyone who is working as a full-time “adjunct” should seriously look into other types of work. I know it can be difficulty to give up an identity one has for so long fought to keep, but that struggle can be a booby-trap in the end. This is my red flare of warning to others.

    An

  17. An, Here in the UK, we don’t have the term ‘adjunct’. I’m not in a position to know how much of a difference that makes to the way that those in similar positions here are treated. But it certainly seems right that none of the teaching staff, whatever they’re called, should be treated as inferior beings. That cannot possibly serve any reasonable purpose. The health benefits thing is good to know about– do you know what strategy your colleague used? It could be helpful to pass on tips to others who’d like to make similar efforts.

  18. My university has implemented a category called “instructional faculty”. These are adjuncts who have somewhat better than usual situations in the following senses: they have multi-year contracts for full-time teaching, at a salary rate that is much greater than the amount that adjuncts would make for teaching courses normally; they are eligible for merit evaluations and annual raises; they have health benefits. They are not expected to do research. One of our former adjuncts who is now in this position is much happier with it than with his previous position, which was unreliable semester-to-semester.

  19. Some departments do have enough in the way of discretionary funds to provide better conditions for adjuncts, though health benefits may be regulated by law. At my university I know you can sometimes work with job descriptions to get someone benefits – or not; if they get benefits, that does costs the employer and additional 20% of their base salary.

    My university did do a fairly wholesale change recently in classifying non-tenure track instructional and research faculty; part of that was the result of pressure put by faculty, staff and women’s groups, as I remember. It can take some time to implement.

    An’s problems seemed also to involve a pretty awful psychological environment, and I wonder if it was particularly addressed to adjuncts or whether there was a more general malaise. Hierarchical situations can bring out the worse in some faculty, but I remember vividly sometime time ago when 85% of the full time (tenure/tenure-track) faculty at my university said they felt they had little or no support from the institution. Not as bad as what An describes, but deans were told it didn’t matter what the faculty thought as long as they followed the provost, and dept chairs were told that it didn’t matter what the dept thought as long as they followed the dean. Speaking as someone who underwent a pretty systematic squashing attempt, I can say it can be pretty unpleasant, even if one has tenure. We’re talking long lectures about one’s dishonesty, for example.

  20. On a more practical note: mentoring gets mentioned a lot in the context of helping people in less than optimal positions. It’s harder in fields like philosophy where many people are competitive enough to want often to keep news about opportunities to themselves, and who don’t have much knowledge about what’s required in any case. But clearly though it is hierarchical, it can help connect members at different levels of pay, rank or whatever. Also, women and other disadvantaged groups can be outside the information loop and may need help in understanding what does count for one and what doesn’t.

    There are ways to include adjuncts who want a better and more permanent academic job along, including letting them apply for travel funds, making sure they have good library privileges, seeing to it that they meet the distinguished visitors one might have, arranging or facilitating discussions groups that include them, etc.

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