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University Location and Academic Hiring Committees

I never seem to be able to stick to a hiatus.

Anyway, this has been sticking in my craw for the past couple of days. A friend recently asked me when I thought was the appropriate time (if at all) for a job candidate to express to a search committee that s/he is interested in working at that particular university for reasons having to do with location: "I want to live in a metropolitan area," "I'm from the south, and I want to stay/go back there," or the extremely important "I have/my spouse has family in the area."

Usually, a search committee will ask during an interview, "Why do you want to come to our university?" Please correct me if I'm wrong -- I would actually like to be wrong on this point -- but I've always gotten the idea that "because I have family in the area" or "because I'm from the south, and that's where I'd like to settle down" is NOT what they want to hear. Pretty much what they seem to want to hear is, "because I've always seen myself fitting in best at a(n)..."

[insert mission here:

* teaching institution with a commitment to outreach
* small liberal arts college
* HBCU
* faith-based institution
* land-grant university with support for research]

Hiring committees, in my admittedly limited experience only as a candidate, generally seem to want candidates for whom location is almost interchangeable or coincidental. I actually have answered the "why do you want to come here" question honestly before and have gotten the distinct impression that I'd said the wrong thing.

I think that not recognizing geography as a perfectly legitimate, sound reason to be interested in a job is utterly messed up for several reasons:

1. Common practice. Many applicants base their job searches on location, at least to a certain extent, and it's impractical and counterintuitive not to acknowledge that fact.

2. Getting the best information. If you have a geographical advantage when it comes to recruiting candidate X, don't you want to know that?

3. Institutional change. As we know, universities shift priorities and resources all the time. Programs are created, built up, dismantled; strategic planning initiatives are implemented; teaching universities become research universities, etc. Location is the ONE thing that, in fact, DOESN'T change. Isn't it good to know that a candidate is committed to that location and will adapt to whatever changes the university makes?

4. Retention. When professors leave positions, how often is location the only reason or one of the main reasons? How often do professors relocate to be closer to family? How often do professors leave small towns to go to cities because they're happier there? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say quite often. If you really want to live in a certain place, you're not going to be as likely to leave, especially if there aren't many universities close by. Even if there are, I'd still bet that retention rates would be higher over the long term among professors who love their locations.

That is all -- but I'd like to know what you think, particularly if you've been on a search committee. Is it okay to be up-front about the importance of location in a job search? I realize that, as a member of a SC, you don't want a marriage of convenience type of situation, but I don't think it has to be this way; moreover, I think it rarely, if ever, works out that way in practice. I'd hypothesize that if you love living where you live, you're going to be more positively predisposed toward your job, no matter what kind of institution it is.

More bullets, if you can stand them

Even more random bullets of crap -- what a disgrace. Perhaps I should go ahead and tell you that what with my new administrative position, these may be the only kinds of posts I have time to write from now on.

  • My blog reading habits have changed a bit lately. I've especially been reading a lot of good DIY/money-saving/consumption-cutting blogs such as Lifehacker and the blogs on the LifeRemix network:

    Behance

    Cranking Widgets Blog

    Dumb Little Man

    Freelance Switch

    Happiness Project

    Ikea Hacker

    LifeClever

    LifeDev

    No Impact Man

    Pick the Brain

    Success From the Nest

    Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Workweek Blog

    Unclutterer

    WiseBread

    Zen Habits

  • I've learned a lot about placement in the last week, as 95% of my time has been devoted to analyzing various cases. We use a system which places students in writing courses (basic, intro, or honors) according to their test scores, but we also have teachers assign a diagnostic essay on the first day of class, which we use as triangulation to make adjustments to the placement decisions if appropriate. To be sure, I'm no embracer of high-stakes testing and teaching to the test; however, I haven't been able to help but notice that the quality of the writing samples has been consistent with ACT and SAT verbal scores in most cases I have reviewed. The exceptions are the cases in which the test scores are okay, but the writing reveals problems; I suppose these cases demonstrate the need for writing-to-learn approaches over drill-and-test approaches.
  • Next up on the administrative agenda: syllabus review. This check is going to be pretty basic; I and other members of the first-year writing committee are going to look for the following:

    1. Is there a breakdown of how the grade will be calculated?
    2. Is there a brief description of each assignment? (Note: something like, "Essay 1, personal narrative, 3-4 pages")
    3. Is the attendance policy clear and in accordance with university policy?
    4. Is the plagiarism policy clear and in accordance with university policy?
    5. Are the appropriate textbooks in the "required materials" section?
    6. Does the instructor provide contact information and office hours?
    7. Is there a course description?
    8. Are emergency evacuation procedures listed?
    9. Is the disability policy clear and in accordance with university policy?

  • After syllabus review comes faculty development workshop planning. We're already planning a diversity workshop, and there are other possibilities. Others have expressed interest in workshops on responding to student writing and on plagiarism, and of course I will take instructors' needs into consideration when deciding on topics for workshops, but those two topics have been done and done and done some more (though I have some good ideas for how to shake up a plagiarism workshop and make it new). One I'm interested in would be a workshop on monitoring students' mental health. After the tragedy at Virginia Tech, this is especially important, and I'm convinced that things are going to change for writing teachers because of it. At stake are students' privacy and freedom of speech, weighed against the safety of the student body. What should writing teachers do when they are disturbed by student writing or believe a student is mentally disturbed? Is a recommendation to talk to someone in student mental health services enough anymore?
  • Also: I HAVE TO work on research, sometime, somehow -- I'm devoting this weekend to it, actually. It's been so hard to set boundaries these first couple of weeks, when so many (very nice and collegial, mind you) people need to talk to me. Everyone in my department and on the WPA listserv has said that it gets better, that the beginning of the semester is the busiest time, and I hope they're right.
  • Oh yeah, and I'd like to exercise today. I'm thinking about going swimming in our apartment complex pool.

Second Annual Big Announcement on June 15

Why not make it an annual tradition to announce something on June 15, if I have anything to announce? It just so happens that I do.

I'm excited to say that starting in August, I will be an assistant professor and the Director of First-Year Writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. That we've been traveling to the heart of Acadiana to find housing and eat delicious food is part of the reason I haven't been blogging much.

Laissez les, etc.!

What I think of most attempts at conference presentation humor

I know it sounds harsh, but it's nothing personal:

Hugh Burns Award

I'm very happy to say that I have received the 2006 Hugh Burns Best Dissertation Award, given each year by the journal Computers and Composition. In 1979, Burns wrote the first computers and composition dissertation. Here I am with him:

Awards banquet at Wright Museum of African American History

That sheet is a facsimile of a plaque I'll receive later.

The ones who make your ears perk up

It's exciting to be here at Computers and Writing and talk to graduate students now that I'm in a tenure-track position. I don't feel in any way competitive toward them, so that affects the dynamic a little. There are several first- and second-year PhD students (and others who are ABD, of course, but right now I'm talking about relative newbies) who I definitely think are going to be serious movers and shakers in the field in the future. The idea flitted across my mind to do a The Ones to Watch-style series of profiles of these folks, but I obviously wouldn't do it. What I WILL do is, if/when they go on to rock the field of rhetoric and composition, write a post about their accomplishments, link back to this post, and say, "Yep. She is one of the people I was talking about here. I CALLED IT."

Over My Shoulder: Noise from the Writing Center

Here, if you don't remember, are the rules to Over My Shoulder. The book here is:

Boquet, Elizabeth H. Noise from the Writing Center. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2002.

The quotation is from pages 42-43, emphasis in original.

I fear, sometimes, that we are too willing to give our institutions what we think they want, whether or not it is what we want or, ultimately, even what they want. The shift from remediation to efficiency illustrates this point to me. We take great pains now to highlight in our studies, in our annual reports, the very broad appeal that most writing centers enjoy on our campuses and the cost-effective manner in which we operate. Most of us, for example, are advised to include in our annual reports hard numbers (As opposed to soft numbers? Or easy numbers?): number of students served (Do you want fries with that?), number of students from each course, from each major, from each year, from each school, always-another-from-each-that-I-seem-to-have-forgotten. Is this what we do? No. But do we do it? Yes. And we do it for "good" reasons, I suppose, though I don't feel like writing about those. What I do feel like writing about is what happens when we mistake doing it for what we do -- and when our colleagues, administrators, and occasionally our tutors and students, follow us in making the same mistake. I feel like thinking about what happens when we fetishize the numbers of students we see from every end of campus, the numbers of hours we've worked, the numbers of students we've helped to retain for so comparatively little cost, rather than what happened during those hours, between those students. It is rare that annual reports -- my own included -- tell stories of the latter.

Over My Shoulder: Composition and the Academy: A Study of Writing Program Administration

Here, if you don't remember, are the rules to Over My Shoulder. The book here is:

Hartzog, Carol P. Composition and the Academy: A Study of Writing Program Administration. New York: Modern Language Association, 1986.

and the quotation is from page 90.

[Erika Lindemann's TA training] manual sends teaching assistants a message something like this: The teaching of writing is a sophisticated practice, grounded in theory, history, and research. You can do it, and you can do it well. Those of us preparing the manual know more about teaching writing than you do right now, and we've reached consensus on how it should be done, but we trust you to carry it out and gradually to develop your own variations, your own distinctive style and practice. This work is important: it matters to your students now and throughout their careers, and it matters to you, personally and professionally. You should do it well and with dignity, and it will be a good experience for you. You begin as a novice who needs instruction and support, but you join a community; it is a sharing community, and you will make your own contributions to your students and your peers. You will be called to account, but you will be judged fairly. You will know what's expected, and you will be given direction and help. You will be treated with the same respect we want you to give your students.

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