by Linda Martín Alcoff
I have two departments–Hunter College and the Graduate School, CUNY–and they are quite distinct. Hunter College is a four-year urban college with a highly diverse, economically strapped student population and a strong philosophy department with a very successful, very large, and very demanding, major and minor program. In this college, we demand that applicants have both the capacity and the motivation to teach our students well, but we also require evidence of top rate scholarship, staying informed of developments in one’s sub-fields, and we look at the applicants’ ongoing project of scholarly work.
We do look quite carefully at an applicant’s record of teaching accomplishments, and scour their materials for indications of their motivation to teach students such as ours, as well as their promise in being able to carry it off. In the on-campus interview, we require them to teach a class, and often the entire department watches. We also read their scholarship with care and at least half of our in-person (or Skype) interviews discuss their ideas. Generally our hires are junior and we look for signs of potential growth and development.
When we hire teaching assistants, instructors, and adjuncts, we are almost exclusively looking at their teaching capacity, skills, motivation, and what kinds of courses they might cover for our department requirements. However, we are also concerned with their lives as philosophical scholars, in the sense of keeping up with developments in their sub-fields, and the progress of their own publications or dissertations.
This department is like many excellent four-year liberal arts colleges that have many majors. The difference is that we have a particular constituency of students who are, as stated, highly diverse and generally quite economically strapped. They are also inordinately smart and motivated, but they do not come from prep schools, and English is not always their first language, and most of them work and/or have family responsibilities. We need teachers who have the ability and the whole-hearted desire to teach these students well. Elitism and racism do not play well in our college.
Teaching and scholarship cannot be disentangled, in this department’s view. An excellent teacher is not one who teaches the same course with the same content in the same way for thirty years. Being interested in what is happening in the scholarly areas that one teaches keeps the mind lively and challenged.
The considerations listed above indicate what we look for in a dossier: excellence in teaching and scholarship, and a capacity to juggle the usual kind of workload in such colleges. Evidence of such capacity often comes in the form of administrative tasks the applicant has taken up, leading a Philosophy Club perhaps or overseeing a department survey, or some sort of public engagement related to their philosophical interests.
We also look carefully at the claims of AOCs and AOSs. An intense level of specialization in a sub-field of a sub-field is a hard sell for a college that needs a broad array of basic courses regularly taught. If we really need a particular teaching area covered, we look very carefully to see if the applicant’s record indicates the relevant expertise, or if the CV has been stretched. This is a common faux pas.
The teaching demonstration we require is absolutely crucial. We look for teachers who are well-organized, engaging, who know how to handle a discussion or create one. We look for someone who will set up a class, and design a syllabus, at the appropriate level for the students who are likely taking the class, whether freshmen or seniors, philosophy majors or not. And we consider with care the philosophical quality of what is being presented to the students.
What makes for a good interview is an applicant who addresses our questions forthrightly, and who can clarify and amplify both their teaching and scholarship materials for us. We look for a person who is prepared but who is also going to engage in a real conversation rather than giving pat answers. We often get into philosophical debates, just because we can’t help it, but this gives us a chance to gauge the applicants’ style of philosophical engagement.
In hiring at four-year colleges such as this one my experience is that committee members also try to discern candidates who view our college as a stepping-stone to elsewhere. This can diminish their motivation to teach our students well, or to be a good citizen of the department.
My second department–The Graduate Center, CUNY–consists in a very large, highly rated PhD program. We only hire senior people with extensive publication records and teaching experience. Here our focus is on what an applicant can contribute to our graduate curricula, and the quality and influence of their scholarship. We also consider their professional standing and their record of work with graduate students.
This department also considers whether a candidate will be likely to be a good citizen of the department, willing to take up the necessary tasks, and work well with our particular students and also work well with us, as our colleagues. If there is any sense that an applicant will not respect the rights of our students, or be motivated to do the utmost for them, this is a reason to eliminate them from the list of potential hires.
In regard to other kinds of advice for job-seekers, it is a good idea to research the departments and colleges that ask you for an interview. Find out what their department requirements are like, who the students are, and what the faculty work on. This is not so you can drop flattering comments into your interview, but so you can make the interview process more efficient, and so you can gauge their concerns and interests and interpret their questions better, and also so that you can indicate an interest in working there–or discover that you don’t want to, in which case you should really withdraw.
Linda Martín Alcoff is Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and the Graduate School, CUNY, and a Professorial Fellow at the Institute for Social Justice at Australian Catholic University. She is a past President of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. Her books include Real Knowing: New Versions of the Coherence Theory, Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self, and The Future of Whiteness. She has served on several hiring committees, and participated as a regular faculty member in hiring decisions, from hiring adjuncts and teaching assistants to hiring Distinguished Professors.