My friend and colleague Kathleen Cawsey has written a response to my post from yesterday on avoiding the empathy trap / on moving. Thank you Kathy!!
Erin Wunker recently wrote about the personal costs of the peripatetic academic life – the emotional and psychological, as well as financial and practical, costs of moving that most grad students and new-career academics face. But there is a flip side to this taken-for-granted culture of ‘go-where-the-job-is’ that is academia. Constant moving has costs not only for the individuals moving, but, I believe, the institutions and communities who host those individuals.
I am blessed to be in a department that often hires internal candidates, and which has three (count them – three!) spousal pairs; but I think this department is probably unusual. Certainly most other departments I have been in, both as a student and a professor, have been less caring about their own.
I have seen, again and again, the phenomenon of ‘hiring from away.’ Usually – even in the days of regular replacement of TT jobs – there is at least a one-year gap between someone leaving and the job being filled, and a sessional or limited term contract employee is hired to teach during that time. Yet rather than hiring that person to the full-time position, search committees almost always choose someone else.
It’s unclear to me why someone unknown would be chosen over a candidate who has already proven he/she could do the job, but it happens all the time. My theory is that we alllook better on paper, before the bumps and knobs of our day-to-day real personality become evident. I think too, especially for us Canadians, there is something appealing about the ‘exotic,’ the ‘far away,’ – that if we could get an American from a big American university to come work at our little ol’ Canuck university we would be proving we can play in the big leagues. Or maybe there’s just the hope that someone new will be on our side in all the petty department factions and struggles (we already know where the old person stands).
But this attitude and practice has major problems. I have seen, again and again, the ‘away’ person come in with little or no commitment to the university hiring him or her. Many of them want to get out of backwater small-town Canada as quickly as they can – so either we end up doing a whole expensive search again in two or three years, or we end up with someone discontented, frustrated, and alienated. Or they live in Toronto and only show up on campus for the two afternoons they teach, contributing nothing to the atmosphere of the department or the collegiality of the faculty.
There are other, more subtle costs. Bringing up kids is hard – bringing up kids with no family or social support nearby must be brutal. Although I am far from my family, I am lucky enough to have inlaws nearby who can be here by 8:00 a.m. when I have a kid puking on me and an 8:30 class to teach. I can take a night away with my partner, sans kids, for a blessed recharging and revival. My department benefits hugely, though it doesn’t know it, from the fact that I have a support system nearby.
And because my partner’s family is here, and we have no thought of moving, I can put down real roots and make a real commitment to this community – both to my departmental and university community, but also to the larger community of neighbourhood, church, community groups, local politics, school boards, and local charities.
Departments need to think about more than just what a person looks like on paper before hiring. Of course the person from ‘away’ has twenty publications – the person from ‘here’ has been teaching your classes instead of writing! Departments should choose to hire individuals who might even be second-choice in terms of on-paper qualifications, but who will stay, be good citizens, contribute meaningfully and long-term to the university and community, and who themselves might be better-adjusted because they have better support systems.
A lot has been written recently on the hardships sessionals, adjuncts, and the precariously-employed of academia face, and Erin’s post details yet another. I’m not sure, though, that universities have thought enough about the toll an ever-moving workforce has on departments and the university as a whole.