It is July 14th.
I just received an email from the chair of a social science department at a regional university approximately 3 hours away from where I live right now. This email was addressed to about 15 people (presumably all ABDs or adjuncts) from universities ranging around the Midwest, based on what I can see. (I am very glad that the sender did not understand the BCC function of his/her email so that I could see exactly who gets these emails.). In this email, he is "inviting us to apply for this exciting opportunity at Regional Public U's Department of Social Science this fall!"
This "exciting opportunity" is a VAP position to replace two faculty members going on sabbatical. The teaching load is 4/4, and it is a one year, non-renewable contract.
The job starts August 15th, with classes commencing August 29th.
This is not the first email of this type I've gotten, but it's definitely the one that has come latest in the year. And it has left me equally rolling my eyes, laughing at my desk, and lamenting the state of higher education staffing that has caused this kind of position to be described as a "exciting opportunity!"
Okay, I get it. They need this position filled, possibly at the last minute, and they want to place it in the best possible light. I don't blame them for that. But calling this an "exciting opportunity" for anyone, or a contract that any of us living several hours away should be chomping at the bit to take? That's crazy.
First, let's look at what any of us would have to do if we took this position but were still planning to try to get a tenure-track academic job in the future.
They're just now soliciting applications ... and asking for CVs from multiple candidates. Therefore, you're going to have to give them at least a couple of weeks to review applications, select candidates, do interviews, and make an official offer. Realistically, whoever gets this "exciting opportunity" isn't going to know they got it until the end of this month. That then gives them approximately four weeks to hammer out the details and sign the contract, find an apartment (or make arrangements to commute several hours one-way every day), make moving arrangements, actually move and get settled, get acclimated to the new campus, prep four new classes, and begin teaching those four new classes. All in four weeks.
I'm not saying it can't be done, but ... wow. And all for a one year contract? In an academic job?
A one-year contract for an academic position means that the VAP, in addition to interviewing and moving and prepping and teaching, would also need to begin sending out job applications for the following academic year within the first few weeks of the fall semester starting ... a process that would continue into the spring. So while this person would be in a new city, prepping and teaching four classes to entirely new students ... he or she would also need to spend hours each week filling out job applications for positions for the following year. You can't skip an application you're qualified for ... there are too few jobs, and the season is too short.
And trust me - academic job applications are not just a matter of filling out a generic CV and cover letter. It wasn't at all unusual for me to spend at least 4-6 hours doing just one application. But of course, I had no teaching obligations to attend to.
Now, back to our mythical candidate. Keep in mind, they're going to be back on the market immediately. So in addition to doing all of the prep work, teaching, and job applications for next year, the candidate will also have to be working on research in order to keep their CV updated and impressive.
It's worth noting, too, that this job is not located in a major central city, where the "lucky" candidate would be able to find some adjuncting work or something similar once his or her contract was up if they failed to find a permanent position. There are two universities/colleges in this location ... so while it's certainly possible that the person would find some course-by-course teaching work for the following year, this possibility is not as likely as if this job were located in, say, DC or NYC or Chicago. So there is a distinct possibility that if the person didn't land a tenure track job in the next hiring cycle, they'd be packing up and relocating once again for another temporary position.
This doesn't even address the growing suspicion among people who pay attention to the academic job market that people who take temporary visiting or adjuncting positions may actually be less likely to be considered for tenure-track jobs than ABD students fresh out of graduate school. I am working on gathering some resources to write a longer post about this, but it's worth noting as well - if you take a temporary position like this one, it appears that your chances of landing a tenure track job may actually decrease rather than increase. This is yet another thing to think about when considering what these temporary positions will really get you.
I will finish by noting that, as a teacher, I am concerned that this department apparently thinks that staffing their classes in this manner is a good way to provide quality education to their undergraduate students. Asking an overstressed, overworked, brand-new faculty member to come prep and teach four brand new classes, all with the stress of the job market and living in a brand new city with no job security hanging over their head? Only to have them leave after a year?
I have absolutely no doubt that the person who is hired will do their absolute best to teach those students. However, I question the true dedication of the university to "high quality undergraduate education" (according to their mission statement) when they are offering positions in this manner. Why not offer two positions with a 2/2 teaching load and slightly lower pay? Why not ask two existing faculty members to take on one additional class per semester so that the VAP could have a lighter load? This would not only benefit the VAP, but also the students.
But of course, that is impossible. That would require them to actually value undergraduate education, or to actually respect graduating Ph.D. students as future colleagues rather than desperate people they can exploit and then discard when it no longer suits them.
I don't blame someone for taking this job. But I do blame a higher education system that has made this type of job offer not an unusual outlier, but one of the most common types of job offers. I've noted elsewhere that temporary and adjunct faculty now teach more than half of all higher education courses these days. It's true that most of these positions are not offered this late in the year, but it's also true that temporary positions with high teaching loads are quickly becoming the norm in this industry. This is one reason I am choosing to leave. I don't love academia so much that I'm willing to do it anywhere, under any conditions. I value my whole life, not just my work life, too much to take a position like that. I refuse to spend the next ten years relocating around the country and carrying an insane workload, just on the off chance that I will land a tenure track job sometime in the next decade.