Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guest Post: VAP Trap

Here's Cinderella, with a highly depressing tale from the trenches. -- PGOAT

The VAP Trap has been thoroughly unpacked and elucidated here before. But I don't recall seeing the one in which the Department Chair, desperate for a real, live Ph.D. to teach four back-to-back sections of a required class as a VAP, dangles the possibility of a tenure-track hire in the next couple of years, "for which you'd be warmly encouraged to apply (wink, wink)." Then when the position is finally advertised, the Chair passes on the app without even a glance because "we don't have any interest in offering tenure-track to anyone who's ever taught this class; it doesn't fit our self-conception as a department."

I seem to recall there's some formal fallacy in which the negation of the sufficient condition is the necessary condition. But perhaps I'm wrong about that; teaching as a VAP apparently causes irreversible brain rot.

-- Cinderella

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

If this is the case, then the dept. should be revealed.

Anonymous said...

What "self-conception" would that be?

Anonymous said...

I would totally agree with anon 4:14 - but only if the VAP has a safe position somewhere else. Otherwise, just a very good warning story for all of us.

Anonymous said...

What a fucking bastard!

Anonymous said...

This is something of a jerky thing to say, so all apologies for that, but without all the information, and with people calling for the name of the department, it is worth mentioning.

A plausible explanation is that, after having plenty of time to evaluate Cinderella, the department thought she was no good. I'm not saying that this is the right explanation, but it is compatible with all of the information offered.

Anonymous said...

Look, there is no need to name departments because almost every department has done this from time to time citing a variety of reasons.

Everyone please heed this warning: Being told or thinking that you are the "inside" candidate or the position is a "grooming" position means Sweet Fuck All, Folks. Everyone falls for it, so don't feel bad. Empty promises are employed by Deans and Chairs alike to get suckers like you and me into the VAPship, only to find lines promised non-existent or for a field other than yours. It sucks but the best you can do is get a better job then tell the Dean to eat shit.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the VAPs almost never get on the track where they are at. You just don't get your foot in the door in academia this way. I'm afraid that it probably hurts you at your home department. You were someone that didn't get a job elsewhere and was hired to fill in for an absence, that's not considered faculty proper or at least without meaningful privileges, whose novelty has warn off, and someone who the dean won't extend a line to unless you have an outside offer . . .

VAPing should simply be seen as an opportunity to get some teaching experience and some publications, if you can manage. This can make you a significantly better candidate. I'm a far better candidate now than I was before the VAP.

And, it let's you remain a philosopher for a bit longer, before you finally have to give up the dream.

Is anyone else out there setting a personal VAP term-limit?

Anonymous said...

this is always the same story, and it probably has nothing to do with how good poor Cinderella really is. once they paid you for it, they won't marry you; right?

Anonymous said...

One thing you have to do as a VAP is treat it that way and always apply out. If they see you are trying to go, that will make them respect you more. Odds are you won't get the job where you are VAP-ing, but at least you leave with respect and don't make people lie to you about possibly getting "the new TT" job.

Anonymous said...

Better than being hired on the tenure track, buy a house, etc. and then find out several years later that they don't really want you after all?

Anonymous said...

I want to get to the bottom of something here, though. Is it that doing a VAP makes you less likely to get a job at the university in question, no matter what? So, for example, suppose that, while a VAP at a university, I get two articles published in top-tier journals (say, JPhil and Phil. Review). Am I now, in virtue of VAPing at that institution, less likely to be hired there than I would have been if I had stayed around in grad school another year and published the two articles at the same places? If so, please explain the reasoning behind that.

A-158 said...

All of this seems right. However, a few years ago I had an interview for a TT position with Midwestern Regional State U. MRSU ended up hiring the person they'd used as a VAP for the last several years. This doesn't mean his VAP'ing helped, necessarily, but my guess is that it did. They liked him. But, in any event, his VAP'ing for them didn't keep them from taking his candidacy seriously.

Anonymous said...

A few years back, we offered a VAP a TT position, because he impressed us enormously during his first year here. In fact, we had to compete with other offers that he had in hand. So it does happen, but in my experience these are very rare.

Having a VAP position on the cv sure looks better than adjuncting.

Anonymous said...

If you have an article in JP and PR you don't have anything to worry about.

Anonymous said...

The Arts and Sciences dean at my alma mater (Penn) was apparently a lecturer there for two years before getting on the tenure track. So it does happen. But that's also irrelevant from the potential candidate's perspective. Here's the way to look at it:

a) Don't take a job at a school because of the possibility that maybe they'll have a TT job and maybe you'll have the inside line on it. Even one 'if' is too many.

b) Don't reject a VAP job at a school because you believe they'll have a job in future years and you don't want to fuck up your chances then. Even one 'if' is too many.

c) Do take a VAP, c.p., if it's your best opportunity, or if there are significant advantages to it and it seems worth the risk.

d) Don't stay too long in a VAP unless you're willing to leave academic just when they don't renew your contract. I'd suggest 3 years should be the outside limit, or maybe 4 if it's a great location etc. for you. My limit when I did a VAP was one year: I treated it like a vacation, and felt that starting in the second year I'd become a second-class citizen. But that's just my approach; yours may differ.

e) That said, multi-year, guaranteed offers are better than one-year offers, c.p.

Anonymous said...

Being a VAP can definitely help land a TT job, and I've met plenty of people who are currently tenured at institutions where they started as a VAPs, indeed, I started that way myself.

That said, the fact that it increases your chance of getting job doesn't mean that its going to make it likely that you'll get the TT job when it comes up. I'm guessing that VAP's may have a 5-10% chance of landing any particular TT job, while 'outside' candidates typically have only a 1% chance.

Still, a 5-10% chance is a pretty small one, and I wouldn't take on an unappealing VAP just to give yourself a 4-9% boost in getting a TT job that probably isn't that great in the first place.

I should also add that this applies less to contract faculty who are hired on a course-by-course basis, who, I believe, are much less likely than VAPs to be hired into a TT job.

Prof. J. said...

It's a good question, and I doubt anybody has enough data points to know the answer.

My hunch is that being a VAP will mean you're judged on very different criteria from other candidates for an eventual TT position -- not necessarily deliberately so. It's just hard to believe that a department wouldn't be positively influenced by an exceptionally charming colleague; and if you're more like an ordinary philosopher in your personality (that is, a bit dull and mildly unappealing) that would hurt your chances.

But this is just a hunch.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Anon at September 22, 2008 1:43 PM:

I don't think any generalizations can be made. If you seem like a decent person who would be a good colleague--assuming that you interact with the TT folks at all--and you get on the with students well, conceivably it could help. but for many places, you'll be just the VAP, and they'll fantasize about the brilliance of the unknown person with glowing letters who must be oh so brilliant.

Either way, your chances of landing a TT gig at the place you're VAPping are tiny, so I wouldn't sweat it. The advice above about how to approach a VAP tour seems sound to me.

P.G.O.A.T. said...

"A bit dull and mildly unappealing" ... ha! I think we should have tshirts made up.

Anonymous said...

I know of a school that did a TT search and "flew" back 3 finalists. Of those 3, two had done VAPs at the school, one of whom was doing a VAP there in the same year as the search. Both candidates had pedigrees and CVs that were of lower quality than what would be typical for candidates on the shortlist at this particular school, and both candidates would not have made the shortlist if it weren't for the fact that they had demonstrated exceptional teaching when they were VAPs and the students really liked them. One of them got the job. Sometimes schools go with known quantities.

Anonymous said...

Ahem, like, "philosophers do it ponderously"?

Though I do enjoy that one.

Prof. J. said...

m.a. program faculty member:

but for many places, you'll be just the VAP, and they'll fantasize about the brilliance of the unknown person with glowing letters who must be oh so brilliant.

Excellent point. There really is a powerful Potential of the Unknown effect when philosophers evaluate job candidates who have those radiant recommendations -- your flesh and blood self can hardly live up to the story your teachers told the search committee (even if you are considerably less dull than most of us).

Anonymous said...

M.A. Faculty Member is right: the chances of getting interviewed for any given TT position are so slim, it's not worth banking on a VAP, even if it does give you an ever-so-slight advantage or disadvantage in some cases. The same is true of any other target position. The only strategy that works is to apply widely and apply often.

Anonymous said...

My school definitely goes for "known quantities." It's hired three VAPs to TT lines in the past few years. They see the VAP position as a testing ground for future colleagues-- like an extended interview process. They also tend to keep their VAPs around for more than a year, so this decreases stress for the VAP and gives them time to impress or find work elsewhere.

I will say that, in my experience, there's a huge gap in the perceived potential of VAPs (full-time) versus adjuncts (part-time, course by course). We have a million adjuncts, but I don't think they're considered worthy of full-time positions. It mostly seems like a prejudice, but it might be true in many cases...