Sunday, June 7, 2009

Moral Question for Untenured Faculty

The tortured souls over at The Philosophy Smoker have posted some crushing news about the economic condition of some institutions of higher learning. It's clear that this year's job market is going to be horrific. Maybe we'll even get another "Dear John, You'll never get a job" letter from the APA?

Anyway, here's a question:

Might there be a moral obligation for those who have jobs, are untenured, feel underplaced, and want to upgrade to not go on the job market this year? Vacated untenured lines are likely to simply dissolve (viz., untenured prof goes, the tt line goes as well), and the number of open untenured positions is already very low. So those who vacate untenured positions for untenured positions elsewhere are helping to shrink the overall number of jobs in philosophy.


w said...


Anonymous said...

Two questions. Do you then think that graduate students should only apply to positions in departments where they think they would like to retire? Do you think that untenured faculty who are unhappy with their current jobs should stick it out for the good of the field? Neither, of course, would be good for the field.

Spiros said...

Anon 9:15:

Two answers: No and no. Read the post again. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

First, what evidence do you have that "Vacated untenured lines are likely to simply dissolve"? Your argument rests on this claim, and I don't know if it is true or not.

Secondly, you seem to omit some people with much more serious moral obligations. Like the ones who were handed jobs on silver platters during the boom in the 60s and now might be reaching the point of retirement. I had to work hard for the job I'm at now, and I'm working even harder to get a better job, to build a better future for myself (better colleagues, students, funding, etc.) and my family (free education for the kids at a better school, a better part of the country, and so on). Trust me when I say that no one ever gave me anything. Why are you picking on me again?

I'm definitely going on the market this year. I'll put my departmental experience, my forthcoming publications, my maturity, and the fact that someone has already thought enough of me to give me a tenure-track position, against any grad student. May the best candidate win!

Spiros said...

Anon 10:16:

First: the claim about vacated TT-lines dissolving rather than being filled relies on some pretty good inductive evidence about how universities behave in financially difficult times: dpts. that don't bring in their own funding get frozen, and if there's a way to shrink them, they get shrunk. This is already happening-- note the number of canceled searches last year. So I don't see this as a surprising premise. Hopefully it's not true. But it seems likely that it is true.

Second: not every case of not mentioning something is a case of "omitting" it. Perhaps the old timers who were handed their jobs should take (early) retirement. If you think so, make a case. But it's a separate question from the one I raised.

Good luck with the job search. But maybe there's something wrong with your going on the market. Maybe that wrong is overridden by other moral considerations (duties to one's family, etc.), but maybe not. Nothing you've said in your comment addresses that question.

As for the "Why are you picking on me again?," let me remind you that I have no idea who you are.

grad student said...

Another question: should search committees favor candidates who already have TT jobs over those who don't? Maybe at least SCs at PhD-granting institutions? If the answer to this is no, and the answer to the original question is yes (which fits my intuitions, I think), why the difference? I'm not sure I can think of a good reason why job seekers should be more self-sacrificing-for-the-benefit-of-the-profession than departments.

To answer the original question: yes! And the un(der)employed who aren't me have a similar obligation.

Anonymous said...

10:16 again. Thanks for your responses. So first, let's assume there's a good chance my line will be cancelled if I leave this place. Would there still be something wrong with my going on the market this year?

I argue no. I don't feel any particular duty to maximize the number of jobs in philosophy. Supposing I do have a duty to philosophy, it would be just to maximize the amount of good philosophy on the planet--something I feel I can do at a better institution with better students, better funding, etc. (Most of my work at the current place is spent teaching the students how to read and write!) And even this duty is, as you suggest, outweighed by the duty I feel to create better educational opportunities for my kids.

I know you're not picking on me specifically. I was referring to anyone who is under-placed, non-tenured, and working as hard as possible to improve their lot in life. Thanks for your consideration.

Anonymous said...

A meta question: Is there any reason, at this point, to bother considering questions of morality independent of laws, regulations, or other coercive scenarios? I've read a bunch of these sorts of threads, and it always seems as though the group identified as the one that has the potential obligation comes up with reasons why they're exempt. Anon 10:16, for example, seems to rely on the assumption that he/she is hot shit, and therefore the good he/she will do at a better school will outweigh the bad of any eliminated position. (Presumably the evidence that Anon 10:16 is hot shit will be provided by a job acceptance itself.) But who doesn't think they're hot shit in this business?

The only people who are going to make any difference with these sorts of issues are the ones aiming the streetcars.

Anonymous said...

More inductive evidence. Our department used 4 lecturers this semester and 4 adjuncts. Our dean said that we all had jobs if we needed them but when I landed a TT job they did not do a search for a new lecturer and the chair says that they will not hire a new lecturer (or any other position) in the near future.

Spiros said...

Anon 7:05:

A duty to maximize x is different from a duty to not cause a reduction in x. Surely no one has a duty to maximize the number of jobs in philosophy. But might one have a duty to not act so as to *lower* the number of jobs in philosophy?

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student who'll be on the job market next year, and I would love it if these people did not try to find better jobs when I am on the job market, because that would certainly improve my chances.

However, I'm kind of confused on where the morality enters into the equation. Certainly I would not say that an untenured faculty member has an obligation to stay in his job to ensure that the university does not simply cut his position. Would a Wal-mart employee have the same obligation if he knew that his job would be cut if he left? If not, then why do philosophers have this moral obligation? If so, well I guess I really don't understand what morality entails

Anonymous said...

A moral obligation?? C'mon. I can see a good argument for not spending money on various luxury goods (cable TV etc.) in order to prevent suffering overseas through donating to Oxfam instead.

But I have an obligation to remain in a job that's lot less satisfying to me for various reasons--e.g., less money, less desirable location, higher teaching load, fewer career opportunities for my partner--because taking another job may cause a reduction in the total number of TT philosophy jobs? Give me a break. What general ethical principle is that supposed to follow from?

Anonymous said...

The era when it was "easy" to get a TT job in philosophy ended in about 1970/71. One of the comments here hinted that they have a moral obligation to retire, but almost all the people hired in the sixties already have retired. Most of the remaining senior faculty slipped in more recently, when the market was less horrible than in other years.

The remaining senior faculty now are facing their own problems. Their retirement funds are in the cellar. They can't sell their houses to downsize or move to a retirement community. So they hang on in their jobs. But when they do finally retire, don't assume departments will get to hire someone new.

California (where 1/8 of all Americans live) is facing massive reductions in enrollment in all segments of public higher eduction (the community colleges, CSU, UC) because of the state budget crisis. Cutting enrollment means reducing the size of the faculty, through lay-offs of adjuncts and part-timers, golden handshakes, hiring freezes, etc. So don't look for California to be a source for faculty jobs for many years to come.

rosary said...

I always thought being a Philosopher was a state of mind, or being.

Geez, ya want a job? Go fuckin' work at waffle house!