As we're working on coming to some decisions here at NWU, "polish" finds its way into conversations. At the letter stage, there are so many really fine letters that clumsy letters make it into a maybe or probably not pile pretty quickly. People who don't know the rules of job letters for their field probably don't move further, at least not in my academic area. But at the interview and campus visit stage, we're looking at really strong candidates, and polish seems important. But not easy to define, really.
Remember when President Obama was setting out stimulus plans, and one of the criteria used was "shovel-ready," the idea being that all the permits and such were in place, and once the money was there, people would be at work digging that first shovelful to prepare whatever foundations were needed? In a way, polish is shovel-ready for a tenure track job, especially for our tenure track job, where new faculty members come in and teach 11 credit hours, sometimes of fairly large classes, with students who are often very different from what they'd have experienced in grad school. They have to be ready to step in and go. (We do try to mentor, but often our mentoring is more reactive than proactive about teaching.)
But other aspects of polish aren't necessarily about being seasoned to do the job. In some ways, polish is about social class markers, and while we recognize that, we're imbricated in our social class and it matters. (And here, let me say that I may recognize social class polish of folks who are way more sophisticated than I am, though I don't have that polish. Maybe I could acquire it given the right situation and incentive. But I'm also pretty sure that there are levels of upper class polish that I'm blind to, whose rules I'd mangle unaware were I in a situation calling for me to act.) We're pretty middle class on our faculty, and the ways we act middle class without thinking about it, the things we recognize without thinking about why or how, those read as polish in some sense. We're both aware of our biases, but also sometimes unaware.
I wonder if at some schools, there may be a different read on polish? I imagine some schools value the social polish, and recognize that the teaching can come there, perhaps with a reduced first year load or something. And there are other schools where some sorts of social behavior might be read as pretentious, while a heavy teaching load means folks strongly favor highly seasoned teachers.
Now, then, we're making offers, hoping those offers will be accepted, wondering what will happen if the first offer isn't accepted, will the second person be a good choice? Will they turn out to be way better than we'd imagined?
So for once, for the few lucky folks with offers, the power is theirs. I wish those of you in that situation good negotiating skills. And deans with the ability to meet some of those negotiations in positive ways. (I have one colleague who, zie tells me, tried to negotiate for money, and was told that it was simply impossible here. Zie took this job anyway, for other positive aspects. Zie is highly respected in the institution, but that didn't mean there was money to pay hir more when zie tried to negotiate.)
I'd appreciate hearing more thoughts on the final stages of the search, please.
Are there things you think are more negotiable than others? Things you'd suggest candidates in your field negotiate?
Are there questions or issues candidates would like to talk about?