Publication Date

October 31, 2019

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Regarding “Townhouse Notes: Meritocracy and the Job Application Arms Race” (March 2019): The job market for traditional academic positions is shrinking and ever more competitive. More than half of all college courses nationwide are taught by adjuncts, which is a shameful and corroding choice that institutions make. For those fortunate enough to have tenure-track jobs to apply for, however, and especially for applicants who make it onto short lists, I don’t think it is too much to ask to demonstrate depth of expertise in all three areas of professorial life—research, teaching, and service—so that schools can find the best candidate from the hundreds of applications they receive for each job.

At the institutions where I have taught, candidates from state universities often are the most competitive for job openings because their excellent research nicely supplements their demonstrated teaching ability across a number of fields. Candidates from elite programs have been generally far too specialized in their research and have too little teaching experience. PhD students in specialized programs should be knocking down the doors of nearby community colleges or teaching-focused universities, asking to teach a wide range of survey classes.

At Manhattan College, the hiring and tenure criteria are generally teaching first, then evidence of scholarship (which almost everyone can demonstrate adequately for our purposes) and then meaningful service to the department and the school. But many applications go on and on about scholarship and ignore what I need to see: syllabi for a broad range of courses, including surveys; a teaching philosophy that contains more than just platitudes; evidence of innovative assignments, engaged students, and clear grading feedback; and memorable teaching evaluations from professors and students.

We have even contemplated asking candidates to submit a recording of themselves teaching a class, as that is often the most important factor in who gets hired. Are they interactive? How do they get beyond lecturing and PowerPoint? Can they handle a class of 20 students instead of a large lecture hall? How do they gauge student understanding? What broad points are they making, and what close reading of evidence are they bringing?

Given that the vast majority of tenure-track jobs are not at research-intensive schools, PhD programs should train candidates to excel in teaching the broad surveys that many schools need. Evidence of this broad expertise is often the deciding factor—and one that works against the impressive but narrow training of most elite schools.

Adam Arenson
Manhattan College

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