No Interviews, No Offers, No Problem

July 23, 2003

Zero. Nada. Nothing. That's how much interest there was in me on the job market this past academic year. It was my worst showing in the three years that I've been quietly applying for other tenure-track jobs.

As you may recall from my previous columns, I already have a tenure-track job in history at a regional state university, but I have been looking for a better one -- one that wouldn't involve teaching eight courses a year. When I started writing these columns last summer, I never expected that May would roll around, classes would end, and I would be left without even a nibble.

It's really not that surprising, however, since the history market was incredibly competitive this year and I was pretty picky. I applied for only six or seven positions that seemed likely to offer better pay and a lighter teaching load. As it turned out, I didn't even land a conference interview at the American Historical Association's annual meeting last January.

Even at this late date, I still have a few job applications out with late deadlines, but I'm not very hopeful. The closest I've come to landing a new tenure-track job was last summer. It was a rather frustrating experience because, while I tend to believe that having a lot of information is a good thing, there is such a thing as knowing too much.

The job was in my home state near my parents and my in-laws. It seemed an awful lot like my current position. It was at a regional teaching university just a little larger than my own. The salary would have been about the same, but, I reasoned, the cost of living there was lower. I have always wanted to live near my parents and return to my home state to teach. I also have many lifelong friends in the area whom I would love to see more often. For all of those reasons, I decided it was worth a try.

A few weeks later I was told by one of my friends at the institution that I was at the top of a shortlist of candidates that had just been sent to the dean, who was supposed to choose three to bring to campus for interviews. I thought that my chances were very good; I had published a book and could reasonably say that I understood the university's students because I had grown up near there. Surely, I'd get a campus interview, right? I was even beginning to think about the best time to schedule it.

Unfortunately, the expected call never came. For whatever reason, the dean cut me from the list right away. My chance to return home had been ended by one person's baffling decision. My friend at the institution tried to console me, telling me that I shouldn't take it personally and that it was just an arbitrary decision that didn't make much sense to the members of the department either. By having so much information, I had gotten my hopes up and set myself up for quite a fall.

Inside information is truly a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be great if it helps you get the job or if it prevents you from getting fixated about a particular position that isn't going to work out. On the other hand, it can be a a big letdown if you come close but don't get the job or, in my case, even an interview.

You may have the impression that I'm sorely disappointed. But as it turns out, I'm not that upset about striking out on the market yet again. Aside from my job search, this year has been good; a year in which I have become very active in my church and community as well as more comfortable in my faculty job. I've made many good friendships just this year. My kids are in good schools. And after living here for six years, the more I think about it, I'm not sure I could put up with a commute that took more than five minutes.

In short, as this academic year has progressed, it has become more and more difficult to imagine leaving this department, this university, and, oddly enough, this job. Just the other day at the dinner table, my 8-year-old son said, "I'm very happy. I have a good life." I pretty much feel the same way.

Of course, there still are no raises in sight at my university, but there's simply not much I can do about that other than hope the health-insurance premiums don't go up too much again.

What makes it even harder to think about leaving is that it now appears that my university is moving toward changing its focus in the next few years. The sort of job that I've been pursuing may very well, through absolute dumb luck, be the type of job I'll already have.

Now, this doesn't mean I won't apply for tenure-track jobs in the fall. I will be coming up for tenure this year, and I'm told it's a good idea to apply for jobs just in case your promotion is rejected. I'll be doing that and, to be honest, I still won't be able to stop myself from applying for the truly good openings that I would love to have.

But I have come to realize that there are no perfect tenure-track jobs out there, and I'm just glad I've got one. I'm actually beginning to look forward to preparing my application for promotion and tenure here. A year ago I didn't think I would ever say that.

Lewis Harper is a pseudonym for an assistant professor of history at a regional state university. He has been chronicling his search for another tenure-track job this year.