The Argus pulls back the curtain on the faculty hiring process.

c/o Wesleyan University

This is the first of a three-part series on teacher tenure and the hiring process at Wesleyan. Pt. 2 was published here and Pt. 3 was published here.

Wesleyan at the moment boasts some 369 faculty members. There are currently 131 professors, 62 associate professors, 81 assistant professors, 39 visiting assistant professors, 1 visiting associate professor, 9 adjunct associate professors, 8 adjunct assistant professors, 21 adjunct professors (mostly employed as coaches or music instructors), 7 visiting instructors, 2 adjunct instructors, an adjunct lecturer, a research professor, a research assistant professor, a visiting researcher, a visiting writer, a post-doctoral teaching fellow, a conductor, and a curator listed in the faculty registry.

This bewildering array of titles denotes a variety of things about the faculty’s attachment to and expectations at the University. While tenured professors and so called “tenure-track” assistant and associate professors constitute a more permanent majority of the staff, a great many new professors arrive throughout an average student’s four years here. But how exactly do these faculty members come to teach at Wesleyan, and what is the hiring process like?

For a scholar first coming to Wes, the hiring process is an intimate but exhaustive affair, carefully managed by the departments and the deans, who represent three denominations of academic programs at Wesleyan and oversee the hiring process.

“Usually we have discussed the position with the department to get a better sense of their needs in terms of teaching and research/scholarship when the departments are making their recommendations,” said Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Ishita Mukerji.

Deans meet with all the candidates and give comments about them to the appropriate department. The departments then weigh all the information provided, and choose their top candidates, submitting a report on their process and the strengths of the candidate. The deans have to balance the interests of the department with others in the division and make a recommendation to the provost, who ultimately makes the decision.

“We all are interested in finding candidates who look like they will be strong in both research and teaching,” said Dean of the Social Sciences and Director of Global Initiatives and Andrews Professor of Economics Joyce Jacobsen. “The number of visitors also varies from year to year depending on leaves and other situations. We hire some visitors on a full-time basis and others on a per-course basis depending on different department and program needs and requests.”

The deans and departments must also consider professors’ teaching loads, salary structure, and academic resources. While these may sound like high stakes, the University has a standardized way of dealing with these issues when they arise.

“We offer a standard contract structure,” Jacobsen said. “If someone has already been on the tenure track for one or more years somewhere else, I discuss with them whether they want to come in with time towards tenure, in which case they get a shorter contract but also are paid more…where we have a standard rate for adjusting for time on the tenure track.”

Mukerji added that salary structure follows a formula.

“Generally, my goal is to provide incoming faculty members with the tools and resources they need to be successful at Wesleyan,” Mukerji said.

The expectations of success, however, can differ greatly among departments. While some departments spend most of their resources on teaching appointments, others will bring in scholars entirely for research purposes, with the majority of departments falling somewhere in between.

Many of the more research-oriented science departments contribute the lesser-seen professorial titles to that aforementioned list, including scholars who visit exclusively for research purposes and who receive varying degrees of resources from the department.

“The titles ‘visiting scholar’ and ‘research professor’ are for courtesy appointments that don’t carry any salary or much commitment of resources from the department,” said Professor of Chemistry Michael Calter. “In other words, they do not prevent us in any way from hiring full-time faculty who teach and do research. Usually these appointments are made to allow an eminent scholar in the area to access the library or databases, or to serve on the committee of certain graduate students. The research professors tend to be more senior colleagues, while the visiting scholars are usually mid-career scientists.”

Beyond these temporary appointments, the University has a much more vested interest in the process of hiring professors for tenure track positions, which are rarer and more coveted for their job prospects and security.

“The number of tenure-track searches varies from year to year depending on retirements and departures opening up lines,” Jacobsen said. “The number of promotions also varies from year to year. I think next year there will be about 10 tenure-track hires and about the same number of tenure cases, but those numbers can end up changing at various points as well…. I would say that in general we hire more individuals as visitors in a given year than tenure-track faculty…particularly given the per-course people.”

“Our faculty is promoted from within and therefore it’s really important to ensure that they’re going to be successful when they come here and that it’s going to be a good experience and that they’re going to want to stay,” said Professor of Government and Environmental Studies and Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Professor in the College of Social Studies J. Donald Moon. “So what we have to offer when we’re competing for new faculty is terrific students, an interesting environment to teach in, a serious institutional commitment to research and scholarship, sabbatical policies that support that, and a very reasonable prospect for tenure because of our commitments to promotion from within.”

Indeed, this institutional commitment to faculty forms a powerful incentive to teach at schools like Wesleyan, which can lead to significant crowding, with hundreds of qualified applicants seeking a handful of positions.

“In some years the applicants are desperate because there’s only one good job and that’s [at] Wesleyan,” said Professor of History Richard Elphick. “In other cases, such as this year, we were hiring in Chinese history and there were a dozen good jobs.”

For visiting faculty in particular, this process can be a strenuous one, and getting a position at one institution often provides short-term security at best. Jeff Batis, currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Indiana at Kokomo, taught several courses in the Wesleyan Psychology department in 2013.

“I can’t really say that I went through much of a process at Wesleyan,” Batis wrote in an email to The Argus. “I’d been teaching at another university, and I wanted to try to make more money, so I emailed the department chair at Wesleyan… In any event, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor, which is basically a contractor. I taught at Wesleyan for one year, and the next year, they didn’t have funding for my position, so I was not invited to teach any additional courses.”

Batis also taught as a visiting instructor at Quinnipiac during his time at Wesleyan and offered a comparison of the schools’ processes.

“The process at Wesleyan was much easier from my perspective,” he wrote. “At Quinnipiac, I had to visit five or six offices, and finding the people I had to meet with was rather burdensome at Quinnipiac. I also happened to like the students at Wesleyan more, although some of that probably had to do with the topics I was teaching.”

Visiting Instructor of Religion and a specialist in Buddhism, Alexandra Kaloyanides, has taught at Wesleyan for the last two years while finishing her dissertation at Yale.

“This is my first year on the job market,” Kaloyanides said. “A lot of people are on the job market for a few years because it’s just so unpredictable.”

A success story in the field of religion, Kaloyanides is set to begin a tenure-track appointment at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the coming semester.

“I feel pretty lucky,” she said. “I have a couple of other friends for whom things worked out well, others who haven’t, who’re just kind of stringing together adjunct things, which is really impossible to live on….The visiting professor gig seems to be coming a little bit more common….You get a chance to teach and it’s a job, but it’s hard because it’s harder to develop your own research and the kinds of things they’re looking for on the job market, so it’s really tricky.”

Additionally, the expectations for new faculty entering the job market seem to be ever escalating, as professors are expected to publish sooner and in greater volume.

“When you have a temporary teaching job, on one hand, it’s good because you’re able to show that you’ve developed teaching experience over those couple of years,” Kaloyanides said. “But when you go on the market as someone who’s already been out of graduate school, they expect you to have more publishing. Service standards are already higher than when you’ve first graduated, and it’s harder in a lot of ways to publish when you’re teaching four classes, and many of them for the first time ever….For people who are hired as instructors who are not, as they say here, tenure-track, or ladder shack faculty, they do a lot of teaching, don’t get sabbatical, don’t get the kind of salary that tenure-track people have.”

Kaloyanides’s position at Wesleyan was prompted by the retirement of longtime Professor of Religion Jan Willis, whose departure left the department without a specialist in Buddhism, a topic in which many students in the department intended to specialize. This prompted several students, including religion major Zia Grossman-Vendrillo ’15, to petition the department to hire a full-time professor of Buddhism.

“The Religion Department has amazing and dedicated faculty who are extremely knowledgeable and well-versed in many religions and topics,” Grossman-Vendrillo said. “Unfortunately, there has been no permanent professor focused on Buddhism since Jan Willis left.”

Grossman-Vendrillo and Andrew Heimowitz ’15 organized a petition for the University to allocate some of the annual funds it gives to departments to hire new tenure-track faculty to hire a permanent professor specializing in Buddhism. The petition racked up about one hundred signatures, but the University ultimately didn’t fund the Religion Department, in part due to the Economics Department’s growing need for new faculty.

“We wouldn’t want to take away the needs of other students, but not giving money [to the Religion Department] does leave us lacking,” Grossman-Vendrillo said. “Visiting professors fill a void but their classes are often introductory courses and lack the opportunity for increased depth in the subject. It also denies us the opportunity to build relationships with professors who stay for several years and can become mentors.”

Kaloyanides agreed with that sentiment.

“It’s great for the people coming in, but I feel like it’s unfortunate for the larger community not to have a full-time person on campus who can offer not only a range of classes…but also help arrange other kinds of events on campus,” she said. “I felt like students really wanted someone who is here, who sticks around.”

To its credit, the University seems fairly conservative in its reliance on adjunct faculty compared to its peer institutions.

“Wesleyan’s actually much better than most, because there’s a strong aversion to relying too much on…hiring adjunct to solve their hiring problems,” Elphick said.

Additionally, faculty and administrators emphasized that the University maintains a strong commitment to both involving students in the hiring process and cultivating diversity among its faculty.

“Since all professors are expected to be excellent in teaching and in scholarship, anyone who makes it to the top of the list must show evidence of being a superb teacher as well as a great researcher,” Mukerji said. “Of course, at all points in the process, we are also mindful of equity and inclusions issues.”

According to many, this is not par for the course of many other elite colleges, where the hiring process can be insular and secretive.

“The graduate student union at Yale just did a report on ladder-track faculty, and one thing that they found was that women and people of color are actually receiving fewer [tenure-track positions],” Kaloyanides said. “The numbers are crazy. A certain percent of the people teaching at Yale are women…but when you look at the [tenure] track positions most of them are white men. Those patterns of discrimination are still so strong.”

Indeed, both faculty and administrators seemed encouraged that Wesleyan does not for the most part share these issues, including University President Michael Roth, who spoke of the African American Studies Program’s recent search for a tenure-track candidate.

“I think the administration has had a strong commitment to diversifying the faculty because we know it’s so important for students from diverse backgrounds to find faculty members to whom they can relate,” Roth said. “[The provost and deans] have had a really successful year recruiting faculty who are coming from underrepresented groups. I’m following the AFAM search…. I was very hopeful we would make a strong hire, and I’m waiting to hear.”

Moon summarized Wesleyan’s institutional goals in the hiring process.

“There’s a strong commitment that the people we bring in should be successful,” Moon said. “Unlike at big research universities, we don’t bring in people at the senior level. Search procedures are much more clearly defined now, the steps that you have to go through to recruit faculty, ensuring that the process is open and that there’s no old-boy’s network operating over it, that there’s a scholarly presentation. And that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t mistakes made from time to time.”

  • Anon

    Great article! Visiting professors now teach five classes a year, while a tenure track professor teaches just four a year, and visitors get paid 20-25% less than the equivalent tenure track professor would.