SURVIVING A YEAR AS A VISITING PROFESSOR

From Carol Horwitz, visiting professor in Women's Studies, 1996/97

Surviving the one year position at Knox is a good news/bad news proposition. The bad news is that you have a position for only one year, which means that you are still actively (painfully?) involved in the job search and are probably not sure what you are going to use to pay your bills when the year has ended. As new kid on the block, unknown by faculty, staff and students, you may feel invisible. You may find that just as you figure out the nature of the student body, the hidden agendas, and general campus protocols, the year is over and your efforts have been for naught. The good news is that teaching here provides a wonderful way to develop skills, to network with other academics, to explore new topics. If you make a mistake, accidentally step on a toe or miss a meeting it is not the end of the world. Tenure is not resting on your perfect adherence to ritual and roles. My advice: love 'em and leave 'em. Pretend you will be here forever and give everything you have, but keep your eyes on the horizon. I think you will find your year at Knox challenging and rewarding.

Sometimes a person is hired here in a visiting position, but then the college does a search in that year for a permanent position within the same or similar subject area. (This often happens if a resignation came late in the academic year and there is not sufficient time for a full national search.) Here are some reflections from people who began here as visitors and then endured a search for a permanent position. We have only solicited comments from people still at Knox, but obviously not all who are candidates in such a search end up being offered the job. Our rough estimate is that in recent years about half the visitors in such searches have gotten an offer here and about half haven't. (Note the years described, and know that search procedures are not handled the same way now. For example, chairs are currently instructed to ask on-campus candidates not to attend the talks of other candidates.)

From Andrew Mehl, Chemistry; began at Knox in 1993

The visiting professor position at Knox was the perfect situation for me; it enabled me to gain some valuable teaching experience in an environment that I was seeking to become part of: a small liberal arts college. It allowed me to find out directly what it was like to work at a small college. The fact that it was a one-year position was not such a concern to me because working at an academic institution was completely new and foreign to me. I think that I had many of the same questions that any new person would have at a new work place. A benefit of being a visiting assistant professor means that you're not asked to serve on any committees outside the department, so if this is your first experience teaching, you can focus on this responsibility.

I knew that a search would be conducted to fill the permanent position during the year I was in the visiting position. I was applying for the permanent position, and since I was here my colleagues had an added advantage of observing me in action. I viewed this as an advantage because it gave me the opportunity to show my skills as a teacher and researcher. I fortunately was offered an interview for the permanent position. As the search was being conducted I chose not to interact with the other candidates when they came to campus (I was given the choice), because I felt that normally in a search candidates do not get to observe each other during the interview process. As things turned out I was offered the position and felt that having been at Knox for the visiting one-year position did indeed help me to land the permanent position.

Notes from a conversation with Bill Young, Philosophy; began at Knox in 1992

Bill came to Knox as a one-year leave replacement in Philosophy. His position was extended for a second year before the college opened the search for the tenure-track position he currently occupies. (The faculty member on leave moved to another institution.) Bill confirms that you may have many uncomfortable feelings and there may be many awkward moments while the college undertakes the search for "your" position. You may feel that you are constantly being evaluated and that you, in response, are evaluating others' perceptions of you. His advice is neither to ask about the search nor allow members of the search committee to tell you about their impressions of other candidates. Don't attend the talks given by other candidates. Keep up with your teaching and college responsibilities. Finally, recognize that some things may not work out, and that it is O.K. to ask about it afterwards. On the other hand, many things DO work out and it is acceptable to ask about them as well. Drink coffee. Keep a professional distance, keep your cool, and above all, keep your sense of humor.

Notes from a conversation with Frank McAndrew, Psychology; began at Knox in 1979

Frank's first experiences with Knox were anything but inviting. After interviewing seven candidates and offering the position to six of them, the Psychology Department was burned out on the hiring process. ("They had taken the other candidates out for a nice meal. I got cold macaroni and cheese in the cafeteria.") During his interview with the then Dean of the College, Frank discovered that the tenure-track position for which he thought he was applying had been rewritten as a one-year position, according to the Dean, to allow the college more time to hire a really "good" candidate. He was also informed that his teaching load would consist of seven courses [the normal load at the time], including the First-Year Preceptorial. He was also supposed to direct student research. In his spare time he was to complete his dissertation.

In spite of this inauspicious beginning, Frank accepted the position at Knox, arranged to rent college housing, hired a moving company, and he and his wife, with only the clothes on their backs, arrived in Galesburg. Two days before classes were to begin, the moving van had still not arrived, and Frank found himself facing a new school, new courses, and new students without textbooks, clothes, or household goods. Undaunted, and believing that he would be at Knox for only one year, he launched himself into the first term.

Having contracted with Frank for only one year, the college began anew the candidate search. Surprisingly, Frank found himself on the search committee. He, along with his fellow faculty members, interviewed and entertained each new candidate. ("I was honest with them, told them the goods and bads about the institution. I didn't care, because I thought I would be going on to a bigger, better school.") In fact, he was offered a teaching position at another school. When he presented this information to the search committee, Knox immediately terminated the search and offered the job to Frank. ("That was eighteen years ago," Frank adds with a laugh, "and I'm still here. Draw your own conclusions.")