Thursday, February 14, 2008

Voices, Another Sound, Can You Hear Me Now? This is Planet Earth

I found two interesting things in my mailbox at school yesterday, along with all the usual academic junk mail. One was a burnt copy of the Drive By Truckers' new album. I have no idea who left it for me, but some kind-hearted mystery person must have known this is the time in the job market cycle for alt-country, and also that if I kept listening to Calexico's "Garden Ruin" my slide into alcoholism would pretty much be a done deal. Thanks mystery person! My liver thanks you too!

The other thing I found was a PFO from a school I interviewed with at the APA. Obviously PFOs aren't normally interesting. But this was wasn't a form letter. Or at least, it wasn't completely a form letter. It had a single dependent clause that was directed specifically at me.

It was still a PFO, and it was still telling me I wasn't going to get a job I really, badly wanted. So it still hurt. But apart from the rejection, there's something deeply dehumanizing about having nothing but a wash of crappily-written form letters to show for the work you put in to your applications. You spend months putting together an application package that says who you are as a philosopher, and when you're done you've got no sign any of it registered with anyone. It's like you're shouting out into the darkness, and you never hear any response but echoes of your own voice.

Well, this PFO was like a voice calling back, letting me know someone heard me shouting.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, personalized PFOs are nice.

It's only mid-February and I've already had several PFOs telling me that I was one of many fine applicants, that several candidates were interviewed, and the no one is being is hired and the position may/will be readvertised next year. I just don't get this: your top three or four candidates don't work out (for whatever reason), and yet you don't want to try out the next in line? It seems like a huge effort for the SC to go through, only to give up at a fairly early stage.

At this point, I'd fly myself out to give a job talk.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether it's better to have nothing to show for your efforts, or to have nothing but a pile of PFOs. At least the latter might be amusing in 20 years, when we're all full professors.

But I'd also like to retract something I said here a few weeks ago, about higher ed being counter-cyclical and all. Turns out that the subprime mess has now spred over into the auction-rate securities market, though I can't figure out why other than the general repricing of risk that's been hitting the market for a while now. Students in Michigan, and perhaps other states shortly, might have trouble getting guaranteed loans, which would mean they could have to pay higher rates for private loans, and some lenders are now means-testing students in a way they hadn't before.

Upshot: enrollments might start dropping next year, most likely in the spring, and certainly will a year from this fall, if things don't improve before then. This would directly affect jobs at tuition-dependent institutions, and basically, if you're still on the market like I am, those are probably your best choices at this point. Best case, it will mean fewer TT jobs but maybe more adjunct jobs in the JFP a year from now. I'll bet it will mean fewer adjunct jobs getting hired out of the February JFP though.

This might be very temporary, but for now I'm willing to retract my optimistic views of a few weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

so i shouted, "this is me! this is who i really am!"

and at first it was so silent you could hear the termites cough

then i heard a distant answer:
"is that you? then please fuck off!"

Anonymous said...

Loving it, Anon 11:37! An oddly appropriate Valentine's rhyme.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

Mr. Zero said...

This just in, from Marist College:

Dear [Mr. Zero]:

Thank you for your interest in teaching as an adjunct instructor at Marist College.

You should know that the remuneration for each course taught is unfortunately only about $2,250. Moreover, an adjunct instructor may teach no more than five courses during the academic year, three during one semester and two during the other. Teaching during winter intercession and the summer is also possible, although only a limited number of courses are offered then. That is the most an adjunct instructor could teach in the time-period indicated, but it is very rare for anyone to teach that many. For adjunct positions, there is unfortunately no guarantee that even one course in a semester will be available.

If you are still interested in teaching at Marist given these conditions, please let me know.



Uh, no. I'm not interested. What kind of an offer is that? I'm supposed to move to Poughkeepsie for maybe $2,500 a year? WTF?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

If you are in a major city and you need adjunct work just get in contact with every CC, SLAC, etc. in the area. I really don't understand why anyone would advertise adjunct positions at all. There are openings every semester because people have to shift around their schedules because they are teaching 10 classes at 4 different universities.

Fly said...

To Anon 11:19 and others,
Departments have to convince deans to allow them to make offers. Once a department has made an offer or two in order to complete a search, with no one accepting, it is not unusual for deans to get cold feet about authorizing a department to hire someone who was ranked further down the list. Deans suspect that the departments will do anything to keep the "line" they've been authorized to fill on the fear that if they fail to do so, they will forever lose the line. This suspicion keeps deans from allowing departments to simpy interview and make offers until the position is filled. In a market in which the supply of PhDs well outsrips demand, this may not "make sense," as there are plenty of good hires, but that is the way it is, and I'm sure other lurking professors could chime in about how things are similar at their schools.

In general, my sense is that some of the commentators on this blog don't quite grasp how a university operates, with the various levels of approval required for any major decision, the scarcity and allocation of funds, the clamoring of and competition amongst the multiple departments that answer to a common administrator, like a dean. This ignorance is not blameworthy; as graduate students you have more pressing and more salient concerns. However, it may leave job applicants fresh out of grad school with an overly rationalistic or otherwise naive view of what must happen for an interview to take place.

Anonymous said...

Why in the world did Marist go to the trouble of advertising this job? Why didn't they just call whatever the nearest big university is? The ad in JFP can't possibly have been worth however much they spent to publish it.

Anonymous said...

PFO's are a fact of life, get used to it.

When you land a job, you will forget all about it.

Anonymous said...

$2,250 - for a grad course ; as an adjt ? That's slave labor at it's finest.

I tell my students this - if you are going down the dark road of adjuncting - 5 grand per course - any less, you might as well teach for free.

Shame on you Marist !!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I bet the department at Marist is simply in a bind. They obviously need to add a tenure track line if they need to advertise nationally to try to find another 10 adjunct teachers, but if the administration won't authorize another hire there's nothing the department can do. And if there isn't a Ph.D. granting institution nearby, they may simply not have qualified adjuncts in the area willing to fill the courses.

Who knows? My theory is that they are trying to make a 'point' to the administration. Something like "We ran a national ad for up to ten adjuncts in a market with tons of unemployed Ph.Ds and all we got were 30 inquiries... and of those 30 only 2 were still interested after they were told the details of the arrangment.... maybe we should just hire another TT professor."

Seriously, look at the tone of the response posted by Mr. Zero... the tone is 'you don't want this job and can't possibly live on what it pays'. I bet this is part of their 'chess game' with the administration.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen an adjunct rate of $5000. Hovering around mid- to low- $2000+ range seems to be the norm. There's too many of us to bother raising that number. And if we all simply refuse to work for that amount, I'm sure the colleges in question will simply not offer philosophy courses any more. They're probably glad to do so since they were never sure WTF we were doing in there anyway.

Anonymous said...

To fly: Thanks for your insights. Sadly, I suspect that in part it may be the oversupply of Ph.D.'s that makes the (seemingly) irrational decision-making of universities "make sense". If universities weren't able to meet short-term teaching needs through stop-gap measures like temporary hires and adjuncts, they might value qualified and interested applicants for tenure-line positions a bit more. To adapt a line, "How careless you are with job applicants. Someday they may be scarce."

Anonymous said...

If you're interested in the Marist situation, go over to Leiter's blog and look for the thread about the number of jobs in the JFP (its from back in Oct or Nov). In that thread, I called attention to the Marist ads (with some scorn) and someone from Marist chimed in to try to explain.

Anonymous said...

What does PFO stand for?...

Anonymous said...

"Man, if you gotta ask that, you'll never know." -Dizzy Gillespie, on being asked what Jazz is.

Anonymous said...

or, you could type it into google and find out. I believe that strategy will work OK with both "jazz" and "PFO".

Anonymous said...

the acronym is also expanded in the last line of 11:37's ditty up above.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at February 15, 2008 9:18 AM:

PFO is a polite way of saying FO.

Anonymous said...

So PFO = "Please fuck off", eh? Cute. But sounds like someone's taking rejection a little too personally, perhaps originating from a misguided sense of entitlement.

But to each her/his own. Do whatever you need to soothe your battered ego...

Justin said...

But sounds like someone's taking rejection a little too personally, perhaps originating from a misguided sense of entitlement.

Or, that's just a name for that kind of letter, since that's kind of what that kind of letter says.

8:37a again said...

Justin said: Or, that's just a name for that kind of letter, since that's kind of what that kind of letter says.

I've worked on SC for a few years, and I've never heard my colleagues refer to rejection letters as PFOs. So the only people calling it that may be applicants, so it's their name for that kind of letter.

Further, that's not at all what any of those letters say, though it may be how you're interpreting them (which is understandable, given the insecurities and fear shown in this blog).

It's this kind of adversarial attitude between candidates and departments that's unproductive to anyone's situation. If you view the relationship as such, of course you won't get hired. We aren't looking for glorified grad students to push around or haze; we're looking for good colleagues, our equals.

And given that it's a relatively small philosophy world, and that studying philosophy should be encouraged of everyone, why would SCs tell anyone to PFO (unless the candidates have somehow acted rudely, etc.)?

Anonymous said...


It's slang. Lots of people talk this way. Did you ever get rejected for anything? Was it fun? No; rejection sucks. That's why we call them that. You shouldn't take it too personally.

Seriously, what's with all the uptight crybabies complaining about swearing? There are lots of things wrong with the hiring process in philosophy, but the fact that unsuccessful applicants have adopted the widespread practice of referring to rejection letters--which even a wildly successful applicant will probably get at least 60 of--as "PFO"s is not one of them.