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12 April 2024

In the Market: Being on an Academic Hiring Committee

Every year since I landed in my current position, my department has hired at least one new assistant teaching professor of academic writing; every year we take in more students, so every year we need more faculty to deliver those course. The year I was hired, the committee was entirely tenure-track faculty but over the years, the role of ATPs has grown, from a token one to being the entirety of the committee. Things seemed to work their way down the department in terms of seniority. Last year my friend Cari asked me if I was going to do it, as I was the most senior ATP who hadn't, but she would do it for a second time if I wouldn't. I dithered, and so she not only ended up on the search, but chairing it! So I was definitely on the hook this year, and I was even made search committee chair.

giving a job talk is stressful
If you want to buy me a beer, I am happy to tell you all kinds of things about the hiring process, but for here I want to restrict myself to three things that I learned.

A Strong Cover Letter Is Important. Obviously I knew this intellectually, but going through the pile of applications made me incredibly grateful for the strong mentoring I got in graduate school. For me personally, what I was looking for was a clear specific articulation of how the candidate approached the teaching of writing. I wanted two things: a sense of an overall approach or philosophy, and a sense of a concrete applications of this, like an assignment or a classroom activity. This is a teaching-focused job, so though knowing about your scholarship/service is good, it's not the main thing we care about... but anyone can say they love teaching, and lots of people have lots of experience, so seeing your approach to it in a meaningful way is hugely important.

You Really Want the Finalists to Succeed. Obviously candidates are emotionally invested in their own success, but I didn't realize how much I would be rooting for every candidate. In previous searches, I have seen candidates bomb a talk, and intellectually, I knew that they must have done well up until that point, but this time, I felt how much I wanted these people to succeed. You had a hundred applicants, you brought in two or three or four—you brought in these people because they were the best, because they impressed you the most, and you want the rest of your department to see how good they are, what a good job you and your committee did on the search. Though in some ways it would make your life easier if one candidate came in and said something racist (now the choice is obvious!), you really do want to be in the bind of having multiple really good candidates. (If any of my candidates are reading this: none of you bombed the job talk. I mean it.)

It Feels Very Satisfying to Be on a Search. You can do a lot of "service" in higher ed that ultimately feels pointless, committees that accomplish nothing by incompetence, apathy, or design. So a search committee is a very satisfying undertaking! By the end of the process, there is someone in your department who was not going to be there without you, and that person is very good at what they do and will make a noticeable difference. Your department is demonstrably better than it was before you did what you did! How often does that happen? And if nothing else, there's a person who without you wouldn't have gotten a job.

A lot of people complain about searches, and I can definitely imagine ways in which they might be terrible (bad politics, bad colleagues, bad candidates), but none of them applied to us. I very much enjoyed the process, and though I don't know that I would do it again next year, and nor would I be in a rush to chair again, I would happily do it again in the future, knowing there's a positive addition I could make.

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