Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What about that Visiting Position?

Over in the department of Basketweaving, they're advertising for a Visiting Assistant Professor of Basketry.  Then one of my students asked what it means, a visiting assistant professor.

So, I thought I'd test the waters and ask about your experiences with VAP sorts of stuff.

Here's what I've seen myself.

Some are rotating positions, where the school has decided it doesn't have adequate funding for tenure line positions, but it's pretty sure it can fund a position for a couple years, and probably a couple years after that, and then they'll see, based on demand and such, and maybe continue.  For the administrators, this means a smaller paycheck, and probably smaller benefits.  (The health insurance will be the same, but there will be a lower cost for retirement benefits, if they're included, based on the VAP's salary being lower than a TT salary.  And so on.)  By doing a VAP thing, the school can bring someone on board with a terminal degree, who might not otherwise be available nearby.  (This is important for more rural schools, for sure.)

Some are sabbatical replacements, perhaps.  Those are usually advertised up front for one year.

Some are planned leave replacements.  For example, if a member of a small department has found a different job, but isn't sure they really want it, they might arrange a leave of absence for a year.  They go off to the new job, and if they don't like it, they return, and if they like it, they tell the department they won't be back.  If they come back, the VAP was a one year position.  If they don't come back, then it might be too late to do a full search by the time they inform the department, and the department might use a VAP for a second year.

Some are unplanned leave replacements.  NWU did this with a position for a year, when someone here got really sick.  The person was well liked and greatly respected, so no one wanted to hire a new person permanently for the position (even if they could have, legally).  But no one knew whether the person would have really successful medical treatment, or not.  Similarly, if someone who wouldn't be expected to leave takes a leave of absence because there's a family difficulty, a school might use a VAP to fill in.

What other situations do you see VAPs advertised to cover?


  1. We had a multiple sabbatical leave VAP for three years - that was back when we got sabbatical leave replacements. No more! Also having someone seconded to administration for a year used to get us a full-time position. These days, we're fortunate to get money to hire sessionals to teach the missing credits. *sigh*

  2. Visiting Scholars here were of three types. They are now of two types. First, there was the now no longer existing practice (it only lasted a couple of years) of hiring foreigners with PhDs, but no institutional position elsewhere for a year as a trial run. Then if both the Visiting Scholar and department agreed, the foreigner could apply for a long term contract. This is how I got my job and two Europeans followed me in this path in the History Department before the university changed the criteria. Now to get a Visiting Scholar position at the University of Ghana you need to have a permanent position elsewhere. In practice this means no more hiring of foreigners permanently since nobody is going to leave $100,000-$200,000 a year job in the US or Europe for a $20,000 a year one in Africa.

    The other two types of Visiting Scholars here are people on sabbatical, particularly teaching sabbaticals and people chaperoning foreign exchange programs. The first type come by themselves or with their families and are usually here for a year. A lot of the ones from the US come with Fulbright funding. The second type come with a group of students and are almost always from the US. They only stay for a semester before returning back home.

  3. Our VAPs get paid the same as a starting TT prof, but they teach 4/4 rather than 3/3. They're not expected to do any service, advise theses, etc.--though sometimes they'll ask to sit on a departmental committee or want to attend something like the Women's Studies board--either for their own pedagogical benefit, or to add a line to their CV.

    Generally, we've gotten VAPs either when there's an emergency departure/leave and it's a line we absolutely can't leave unstaffed or have covered by adjunct (think: someone who directs a program within the major), or when we've asked for multiple TT lines and the administration kicks back one of our lesser priorities as a VAP instead. Usually a VAP is a three-year position, unless we know we'll have authorization for a TT line the next year.

    We don't have many. In my eight years at RU, we've only had two or three. But we've always tried to envision the position as being as mutually beneficial as possible: we usually do a limited national search (spring listing) and hire someone right out of PhD program--whereas our TT hires tend to have at least a year or two as a lecturer or in another TT line--who gets a lot of teaching experience in their immediate area of expertise (as they might not have done in grad school), as well as exposure to faculty life: we include them in departmental meetings and functions, and we assign them a mentor for job and research matters.

    We don't expect to keep our VAPs, but we expect they'll go on to equally good or better jobs.

  4. Anonymous9:13 AM

    Spousal hires who are too highly qualified (in terms of research) to become permanent lecturers (something that generally requires a higher teaching load), but we don't have a TT slot for them. (Though I think after 8 years they have to be converted to something else.)

  5. Our VAP was used (for me) as a trial period, morphing into a permanent t-t position, with that year counting towards tenure. We're using it this year as a temporary position while we do a national search for a full time, t-t person. Compensation is a bit above what we'd pay full time t-t, with higher teaching loads and no service commitment. We suffer badly from salary compression, so our VAP is getting a decent salary w/benefits that embarrass people like me (chair, full, tenured and not quite 8K more in annual salary than the VAP).

  6. We used a VAP when a colleague announced his retirement at the end of January. A VAP has a slightly higher teaching load, but a lower one than a lecturer. Our VAP was hired into the permanent position after a national search. Sometimes we do Lecturer appointments, instead of VAPs. (Lecturers teach 3-3.) Both lecturers and VAPs get benefits, but they are undoubtedly cheaper than TT lines.