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Posts by Gene C. Fant Jr.


May 2, 2013, 03:13 PM ET

The Next Step in the Two-Body Problem

Academic couples know all too well the problem of having two bodies involved in the academic search. Let's suppose for a moment that a couple has located two very good positions at the same institution, in two different departments. One person, however, has administrative aspirations and moves into departmental leadership with significant success. An opening comes up at the next level of leadership, the deanship or even a vice presidency, but then comes the trailing next step of the two-body problem: nepotism in leadership. Many institutions have rules against couples being involved in a supervisory relationship; while this role can be sidestepped at lower levels of administration, the higher the level, the more complicated this becomes. In the case of an institutional move, the complications become even greater. At smaller institutions, in particular, it is difficult to create a... Read More

February 11, 2013, 11:35 AM ET

Lost in Transition

One of the most difficult things about the job search is the monkey wrench that appears out of nowhere, upending what had been a smooth process. There is no bigger monkey wrench than the unexpected resignation of a campus leader. When I was on the market for the first time, a phone interview turned into an invitation for an on-campus interview. I could not believe my good fortune and was very excited about the opportunity. Three days before the interview, however, the search-committee chair called and told me that the president and the board of trustees had become entangled in some sort of fight and that the president had resigned. The campus was in an uproar, he further offered, and he felt like it would be wrong for them to interview me in the midst of such turmoil. While I was sad about the lost opportunity to land a job, I was grateful for his forthrightness. I know an...

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November 20, 2012, 01:46 PM ET

Conferences as Crossroads

Early in my career, I thought of academic conferences as being primarily about scholarship. I was so proud to have that first paper accepted for presentation, as I felt like a genuine member of my professional guild for the first time. Very quickly, however, I came to understand that conferences are important crossroads for job searches too. A few anecdotes from over the years:
  • A search-committee member heard my presentation. I had made the committee's short list the previous week, and after the session, he asked me to do a first interview that evening over dinner. I didn't get the job, but it was an invaluable learning experience.
  • A search-committee member caught me at a reception and gave me behind-the-scenes insight into the impact of a budget change that had intruded into their deliberations. It was the first time I ever understood that sometimes searches butt against fiscal...
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October 23, 2012, 02:41 PM ET

The Problem With Pay Parity

With academe suffering from a number of disruptive forces these days, the pressure is on to find innovative ways to handle budgets, including new strategies for faculty compensation. I heard a senior administrator recently say that his institution had moved to embrace full pay parity. In this paradigm, faculty members of equal qualifications and years of experience are paid the same wages, regardless of academic specialty. An accounting professor is paid the same as a nursing faculty member as an English faculty member as a chemistry faculty member. He said that this plan reflected his campus's commitment to fairness and community. This topic has come up frequently lately in online discussions and at conference-table chats. As a chief academic officer, I cannot imagine how hard it is to recruit for high-demand fields when the salaries are necessarily compressed relative to other... Read More

October 8, 2012, 12:11 PM ET

Give a Little Bit … More

During my first year as a faculty member, the university began a fund-raising campaign and made it clear that all faculty and staff were expected to give. Knowing that this was very common and that faculty donations would go into agency accounts controlled by the departments themselves, I was more than happy to have my family participate in the plan. Payroll deduction made it easy. I knew that the donations went to very good uses: helping students in need, providing additional travel money for conferences, and even helping student organizations have a little extra money for their meetings. Most people outside academe have little idea just how much on-campus giving typically occurs; it is, perhaps, more common at private institutions, but it is a particular expectation as you move up the administrative ladder. Based on anecdotal evidence from conferences and conversations, here are a few...

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September 20, 2012, 02:53 PM ET

On Discrimination and Deliberation

My previous post about continuing to be productive as one's career moves forward brought to mind another challenge that faces some folks on the market: the later-in-life search. Not everyone has the opportunity to attend—nor an interest in attending—graduate school straight out of an undergraduate program. Some folks spend time on other careers, on other lives, or even in other academic disciplines before returning to school and pursuing a terminal degree. A dean once related this story to me: He had a habit of reviewing all applicants for positions with the search-committee chair, both of them looking at the paperwork together. While reviewing a pool of applicants for an entry-level, tenure-track position, the chair started to put an application aside. The dean asked, "Why are you pulling that application? I thought she looked promising." The chair said, "Based on the graduation ... Read More

August 31, 2012, 11:44 AM ET

On Age and Scholarship

During my final year of doctoral work, a mentor and I landed on the topic of the pressure to produce scholarship very early in one's career. As a literary scholar, I was feeling the pressure to hit the market with not only a completed dissertation but with at least a handful of articles in print and, ideally, the initial stages of a book contract. The mentor, a traditionalist with little taste for chronological snobbery, pish-poshed my concerns and said, "If I had my way, we wouldn't allow humanities scholars to publish anything until they are at least 40. Everything they produce prior to that reflects shallow reading, callow ambition, or the need to fill the pages of useless and redundant journals." This was, of course, contrary to the advice I had been given in most quarters. On the other hand, I have since heard others say that professors are somewhat past their peaks by 40, both in ... Read More

June 19, 2012, 01:23 PM ET

Just Call Me Frank

Some of the most awkward questions we get are those that ask for our frank estimation of something related to a job opening, especially when the questioner is not a trusted personal friend. A former classmate calls and says, "I'm up for a position in a department at your institution. What can you tell me about the colleagues in the department?" That question is easy enough to answer in the best of circumstances, but what if you know that the department is entirely dysfunctional? A former colleague knows that you have connections at a university where she is a finalist for an administrative position and asks, "Would the provost and I work together well?" Again, that's an easy-enough question to field most of the time, but what if you know the senior officer is a megalomaniac and the reason there is an opening is because of that very factor? Or perhaps, most awkward of all, a professional ... Read More

April 20, 2012, 02:15 PM ET

A Few Thoughts on a Graceful Exit

Every academic leader dreads the next few weeks: resignation season. Contracts are out, but so are offers to job applicants. Nothing creates fear in administrators during these final weeks of the semester quite like the request for a meeting with no explanation or obvious reason. Late-semester resignations mean either quick searches or one-year appointments, or worse yet, overloads for existing personnel. As a dean, I've always appreciated resignations that have been handled well. The person has been upfront and has tried to give us as much lead time as possible. In some cases, there has been an offer of assistance in jump-starting a search or even in teaching a course over the summer to smooth the transition. Nothing is quite as discouraging as an ill-conceived departure, especially when colleagues are being left behind at a troubled unit or institution. No need to brag about higher... Read More

January 12, 2012, 02:14 PM ET

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

In my first full-time position, I dropped by to see a senior colleague in another department. I saw that his door was cracked open, so I knocked and called out his name as I opened the door slowly. I was shocked to see him coming out of what I had thought was a janitor's closet but now saw was a bathroom! He had his own private bathroom in what I then began to think of as an office suite. I mentioned this to my department chair later that day, and he smiled and said, "Seniority has its privileges." I am mindful of how some celebrity contracts will specify perks that must be offered, things like a particular color of M & M's or a particular brand of beverage. I'm wondering, during this insanely tight budget cycle, what kinds of dream perks faculty and staff would like to include in their contracts if funds were no consideration? What kinds of unique perks have you actually heard of folks... Read More