Thursday, January 28, 2016

Campus Visit Horror Story Season.

As Megan Kate Nelson says, it's that time of the year. She has a few from her private collection, including a "pit or pendulum" pair of candidates and unlicensed medications dispensing. [Though she's being deliberately vague on what point of view she had on the proceedings, presumably to protect identities, at least a little.]

My own history is suprisingly free of such calamities: I've been on a few campus visits that weren't great successes, but as far as I know I've never said blazingly offensive or inappropriate or even trollish things, never picked my nose at dinner, and never been treated particularly absurdly. Though I don't know, obviously, what kind of stories they tell about me now, since most of those places decided I wasn't the best choice...

I've seen lots of campus visits, too, almost all of which were disaster-free (unless you count over-reactions by older white male colleagues to "dead white male curriculum" comments from younger women candidates).

But the stories are ... instructive. Nelson is right that they're a kind of living reality show, and it's kind of surprising that the campus visit hasn't been the subject of more mainstream comedy. You could do a great ensemble movie of three candidates coming to campus in series, or perhaps three candidates in different departments coming simultaneously. It's kind of a perfect 'fish out of water' / 'stranger comes to town' scenario.

There's a humbling rejoinder to my "didn't notice any problems":

"If you're an academic, and you don't have a campus visit horror story, then chances are you were the horror."

It's possible...


  1. For the record, I'm the boring person without interesting stories to share who sent in this as a way of living vicariously. (I did have weather-related interference, and one minor wardrobe malfunction, but that's not really the sort of thing we're talking about)

    1. Yes. Sorry. Somehow I wiped your name when I was trying to add the addendum and fix the links.

    2. Thanks for getting that postscript in! And the graphic is... just fine, really!

  2. Ooh, I have a great one! Yes, this all happened at one school. It's funny now, but only because it was eight years ago and I got a job at a different school a few weeks later.

    Act One, the week before the interview:

    The Search Committee Chair Chair: You'll be doing your teaching demo in Dr. A's World Lit class. We thought you could offer them some tips on writing in-class essays.

    Me: OK. [E-mails Dr. A to find out the details.]

    Dr. A: Oh, good, you'll be doing your teaching demo in my class. We are reading some excerpts from [Holocaust Memoir] in [Hard-to-Find World Lit Anthology]. Maybe you could start by going over some of the historical context in the introductory section of the anthology.

    Me: [Nervously, as I am a Shakespeare scholar with no background in Holocaust lit, and no experience teaching about traumatic twentieth-century events.] What about the in-class essays?

    Dr. A: Oh yes, I'll give you their in-class essay question before the teaching demo. You can help them get started by brainstorming some ways to answer it.

    [I spend some time scouring VAP City for a copy of Hard-To-Find World Lit Anthology. It's not in any of the libraries. Mercifully, one of my colleagues at VAP School has one that I can borrow. I've already been rejected for a tenure-track job at VAP school by this point, so I guess it's the least they can do. I read the introductory section, and the excerpts from Holocaust Memoir, and then get some advice on teaching Holocaust memoirs from someone online. OK. I can do this.]

    Act Two, at the interview:

    Dr. A: How old are you? You look about twelve. Right, well, as I said, we're reading Holocaust Memoir. Next week we'll be reading A Streetcar Named Desire and then watching the movie. I figure, at the end of the semester, I deserve a few days of looking at Marlon Brando in shirtsleeves. You can sit in my office if you'd like a little time to prep for your teaching demo.

    Me: What about the in-class essay question I'm supposed to be teaching them how to answer?

    Dr. A: Oh, I didn't get a chance to write one, so why don't you just make up your own?

    [Somehow, I manage to get through the demo class.]

    The President: Tell me about yourself.

    Me: Well, I did my graduate work at --

    The President: No, tell me about YOURSELF.

    The Provost: You're female. You're not very big. How are you going to handle a class full of football players?


    1. Even though it is insane, I recognize everyone in it and their actions! What a world.

    2. I've had to do some slightly off-topic demos, but nothing like that. Yikes.

  3. Ooh, ooh, pick me!

    School 1 (my first, while still a doc student): Plane very delayed. Get to city where interview is at 4 a.m. It's a courtesy meeting for adjunct teaching, as Mr. Dr. Amelia is already hired there and we are visiting to look for a house. Talking to chair lady, who says "You know, I have a class that starts in a few minutes in Hamster Massage. Why don't you come in and tell them a few things about it?" No clue this was going to happen.

    School 2: Research presentation was during a lunch, wherein I was supposed to present while eating my own lunch of crusty sandwiches in front of 20 faculty. Needless to say, I didn't eat. Then, when it was time for teaching presentation, search chair sticks her head in the class I am supposed to demo in, and gets waved off. Tells me to just wait in the hall until prof was ready. And leaves. And I stand in the hall by myself for 25 minutes, afraid to leave or eat the granola bar out of my bag, lest the magic moment arrive and I have my mouth full.

    1. Food is a whole category of interview misery. Made the mistake of ordering a portobello burger at lunch: barely got to eat, and it involved both eating with my hands and a drippy food. Learned to order strategically: something that comes in chunks, without a lot of sauce, preferably.

  4. Oh, my. Well, there was the interview where they housed me in a dorm the night that students returned from a vacation, and the party was right against my room door. The job was for early European hamster studies, the teaching demo for African-American history.
    The interview where they also housed me in student housing, also the night students returned from a vacation and the party was next door. "We thought you;d enjoy staying with the students, so you can get to now them," they cheerfully remarked, as they went off to their quiet off-campus homes. The next day they bragged that Pulitzer-prize winner Peter Taylor had also been housed in student dorms when he was a visiting artist, and had departed the morning following having heard shouts outside his window and seeing a naked freshman duct taped to the middle of a tree.
    AND -- taa daa! The interview for which 1) an ice storm delayed my flights, and somehow the department decided that was my fault. 2) As I got dropped off for the night at their Alumni House at midnight I was informed that the topic for my teaching demo in 10 hours had been changed. 3) My interview with the college president was delayed because a patient in the psychiatric wing of the local hospital had (duct, probably) taped 6 sticks of dynamite to his chest and had run down the street to said college president's office, holding him hostage for several hours. 4) During the delayed interview with said president, he said, "I see from your dissertation abstract that your approach to this material is feminist -- can you get along with MEN?? This is a very serious question, because we have MEN working here." 5) 3 hours later, at the Dinner of Dread, I was asked what else I did besides early hamster studies, and I said, well, I collect graphic novels, and I have some very rare ones: "OOOH! then you can teach a course with them and lend them to your students!" 6) Returning from dinner in 15 below zero temperatures, we found that the street for the Alumni House where I was being kept was cordoned off due to a fire at the next-door theater. The department chair leaned across me and opened the passenger-side door and said, "well, I guess you'll have to wait until they clear you to enter," and drove off, leaving me standing ankle-deep in slowly freezing firehose water for 90 minutes. 7) A blizzard rushed in over that night right before my flight out. The department chair left me at the local airport with no contact numbers at all. Airport personnel kicked me off my overbooked flight and announced that the airport was closing for at least 24 hours, and that everyone had to leave. The nearest motel was 10 miles away back in town. There were no taxis. With the thought of at least 24 hours out in a blinding below-zero blizzard with only my interview coat, I began to sob and beg to be put back on the flight, "I have nowhere to go," I pleaded. It is possible that my voice raised to an unpleasant level. Somehow, they found room on that last flight. Blizzard and all I was safely home in 14 hours.
    Happy ending? 6 years later I got a TT job. Angels, heard on high.

    1. Oh, wow. I... had to take a bus instead of a connecting flight once. Missed dinner, and everything.

      Like I said, not much to tell. Glad your angels came through!

    2. The dynamite thing was surreal. Gosh. The whole thing was surreal. Great story now, though!

    3. My wife drove me overnight about to a postdoc interview after a flight was canceled at the last minute. This seems like a reasonable thing to us because I'm in big science and if you sign up to stand shit on the experiment you damn well show up to stand shift.

      The potential boss seemed impressed, but none of the other members of the committee did. Later I learned they were all theorists.

      Didn't get that job, but the wife and I did take our time going home including stopping at a couple of allegedly romantic tourists site. It was a good trip aside from the interview.

  5. I was hired by the same school where I adjuncted, and I had been there longer than half the hiring committee, so the "campus visit" was kind of funny. Half the students in my teaching demo already knew me, and I picked the restaurant for my dinner because I knew the local places better than the committee. (I live in the area, the committee members live farther away.) When they asked if I had any questions about the campus or students the interviewer actually laughed.

    1. More interviews like that would be good.

      (Not so much the 'knew the area better than the committee' thing. I'm kind of old-fashioned about thinking that people should live near/know something about the community you serve. I guess if it's not a public/regional, that's different, though.)

  6. A colleague of mine was never told that there was a teaching demo. She found out on the campus tour with one of the search committee members, who said, "I'll be quiet now, and let you think about what you are going to teach." (she had about 10 minutes to prepare). She got the job!