Thursday, August 20, 2009


Over in the Underwater Basketweaving department:

One of the folks (Joe) hired fifteen or more years ago to teach reed preparation (back when it was a field in its infancy, before many people actually got phuds in reed preparation) always really wanted to teach brackish water weaving, and hasn't kept up in reed preparation at all. All his publications are in brackish weaving, as are his projects. And he's well-qualified to teach brackish weaving.

But, that means the current person teaching brackish weaving isn't getting the upper level courses in brackish weaving she likes to teach, and she does't have tenure, so is getting pushed into more introductory weaving courses. What happens with that line if Joe really does claim that field (Joe has 5-10 more years before retirement, probably). UB can't afford two brackish weaving people, especially if they also need to hire another reed preparation person.

The newer folks in reed preparation, though, the folks who did phuds in reed preparation and are really into it, want to hire more reed preparation specialists, since Joe really isn't qualified any more and doesn't want to teach those courses anyway. We need more reed preparation classes taught all around because it's a growing and important field.

What to do?

Then there's the newish hire, Alice, whose spouse Guy was hired a few more years ago on the tenure track. Alice was hired for the patterned weaving position, and while she did patterned weaving in the past, she's turned all her attention to non-patterned weaving, and really isn't interested in patterned weaving at all.

She's teaching patterned weaving, not very happily, but what's going to happen in three or four years when she comes up for tenure? Assuming Guy gets tenure, is there really any possibility that she won't? And will she totally toss aside the patterned weaving stuff if she does? Need I mention that Guy is one of the men who hangs out drinking with the dean on the back porch, and has for years? (Yes, the very dean who (in an earlier position) appointed the hiring committee that drew up the job description for the patterned weaving job, back when folks thought she was really into patterned weaving?

What to do?

How do we balance people's desires to do whatever it is they want to do with our needs to offer courses and keep within our budget? How do we keep the young brackish weaving scholar happy without upper level courses? What do we do with the tenured person who wants to move into other territory? What do we do with the non-tenured person who wants to move into other territory?


  1. I don't have any answers, but this is both an elegant and a funny statement of the problem!

    And I'm teaching a class next semester that is a real reach for me, simply because I can (barely) and the other person in my field can't, or says ze can't, so I feel this one in my bones.

  2. You know, people may move from reed preparation to brackish weaving in their research, but maybe they need to keep up enough with reeds to teach it.
    Harumph. I'm *the* European historian. So I can teach anything. I have to teach the surveys from time to time... but I don't research medieval history. I can teach it, though ,at least at the intro level.

  3. I'm with Susan about teaching fields - particularly at teaching-intensive university - not having to mirror one's research fields. In other words, just because one morphs as a scholar does not mean that one gets to stop teaching the classes that one was hired to teach.

    The biggest problem I see is with the junior faculty member who is actively being blocked from doing what she needs to do to get tenure by not being able to teach upper-level courses in the field in which she was hired. I don't care about Tenured Guy who Likes Brackish Weaving. His job is secure. Until the junior colleague gets tenure, he needs to suck it up and teach the lower-level stuff while giving her the chance to develop upper-level courses. Or he could return to Reed Preparation and teach upper-level courses there. Or he could take this as an opportunity to pursue some other area of interest in an upper-level course. But to deny a junior colleague the chance to teach upper-level courses is pretty much saying you don't care whether that person gets tenure, and if I were that junior colleague, I would hate my department and have very low morale indeed. (This is one of the axes that I have ground in my own department and university. I think it stinks when people don't advocate for junior faculty when it comes to their course schedules.)

    As for the colleagues who are married.... I don't know. I don't have anything productive to add. I just despise situations like the one you describe.

  4. Hm... the interesting thing is that this is almost the opposite of the situation in teaching institutions. With everybody doing the medicine they want to do (presumably nobody would go into nanomicroneurosurgery if they didnt like it), they usually get asked to do lectures or take residents within their scope of practice. Then the problem arises that not all are capable teachers....

    Anyway, it is an interesting problem, but I do think that you can't be faulted for holding people to their job descriptions that they recieved when hired.

    Hah! word verification today is restful !