Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adventures in advertising

People sometimes wonder why job ads in philosophy are so oddly (or badly) worded. Our ad finally appeared today and I was surprised to see that it was not what I had written. It turns out that several cooks (human resources and the Dean's Office as well as my department head and me) get to add to, and subtract from, the broth. The result is not necessarily very elegant. I hope I won't embarrass or insult anybody if I explain here some of the contents (both what is there and what is not) of what I believe to be the final version of the ad.

Here it is:
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE, LEXINGTON, VA.  Asst. Prof., five-year renewable position, beginning fall semester, 2012.  3 sections/semester.  Ph.D. prior to appointment.  AOS: Open.  Performance will be evaluated on the basis of teaching, scholarly engagement, and cadet development.  VMI is a nationally ranked, public liberal arts college run on military lines.  Prior military experience is not required. Salary commensurate with experience. Submit cover letter, CV, three letters of recommendation, and contact information for referees to: Search Committee, Department of Psychology and Philosophy, VMI, Lexington, VA 24450, or email to Deadline for applications: November 1, 2011.   VMI is an EEO employer.
The first part follows the guidelines of the American Philosophical Association. The original draft of the ad explained that the sections are usually of 10-20 students each, but this was cut in order to keep to a limit of 100 words (thereby saving money). The original then explained that the courses to be taught would mostly be introductory surveys of the history of Western philosophy and a course in the philosophy of mind. This was cut to reduce the word count and because the ideal candidate would be able to teach a broad range of courses, not just those mentioned in the original draft.

The Area of Specialization is open because I think of one's AOS as being subjects one could teach at graduate level, and we don't have graduate students. No Areas of Competence are specified because the original ad had already said by this point what courses a qualified candidate would be able to teach.

I think it was someone in the Dean's Office who wanted the areas in which faculty members at VMI are evaluated to be specified. In fact there are four of these: teaching (most important), scholarly engagement (aka research), cadet development (advising, working with students outside the classroom), and professional citizenship (committee work, reviewing for journals, etc.). Why professional citizenship was left out I don't know.

Next we try to explain briefly in what ways VMI is and is not a military school. It isn't like West Point, where every student is an Army officer, but it probably has a similar look and feel to it. (I say 'probably' because I've never been to West Point.) It isn't a boarding school for troubled teens either. It's a real college. But the students and most of the faculty wear military uniforms. This takes some getting used to, and anyone we interview is likely to be asked how they feel about it.

"Salary commensurate with experience." Don't ask me what this means: it's an entry-level job. I'm sure the statement is true, of course.

I don't know why we specified that the letters of recommendation should include the contact information of their authors. Just in case, I suppose. Why no writing sample requested? Because few if any of us will have the time and inclination to read them. Why no evidence of teaching excellence requested? Because we wanted to keep to that 100-word limit.

As long as I don't get overwhelmed by them I'll be happy to answer questions about the job.


  1. i think this is completely intelligible, as far as philosophy-job-ad conventions go. nothing that would make someone say, 'what could they possibly have in mind when they said x?'

  2. That's a relief. Thanks. This version involved some hasty, late editing, so I'm glad it worked.

  3. So, it's not a tenure-track job, or does VMI not do tenure? (And does renewable mean: *could* be renewed, or *will* be renewed if you're doing a good job?)

    (I have a friend going on the market this year, so I'm trying to help him and to be an advocate for him...)

  4. VMI does do tenure, but lately many (maybe most) of our positions have started out as 5-year renewable positions. They can be converted into tenure-track jobs, though, and I have been told by the Dean that the plan is for this position to be converted in that way. My understanding is that it will probably become a tenure-track job. We'll certainly try to hire someone who could get tenure.

    Renewable (again, as I understand it) means will be renewed unless something unforeseen happens or it becomes a tenure-track position before the 5 years are up. The kind of unforeseen circumstance I have in mind is an economic disaster or a surprising, and dramatic, decline in the number of our students who sign up for philosophy courses. There is a plan (not yet in action) to require all our psychology majors to take three philosophy courses instead of the current two. So if anything the demand for philosophy course is likely to increase. As long as we don't hire someone the students hate, I suppose.

  5. Just to add some clarification to my first comment above: I don't think this ad is particularly oddly or badly written. But it isn't the ad as I originally wrote it, and it only got to be this non-odd and non-bad as a result of some hasty editing, after a different version had already been sent out. I know everyone is bashing the APA these days, but I'm very grateful that they let me replace the odd version with this.