Philosophy Jobs at Community Colleges (updated)


[This post originally appeared on October 20, 2014, but a recent query, in the update below, suggested that it might be worth reposting.]

I’ve been asked to solicit information from readers about how to get a permanent job teaching philosophy at a community college.
Some questions:
(a) Where are community college jobs typically advertised?
(b) What makes a job candidate look good, on paper, to community colleges?
(c) How is the job search process different at community colleges?
(d) What misconceptions do philosophy grad students tend to have about community colleges and working in them?
(e) What questions should be on this list that aren’t, and what are their answers?

UPDATE (11/30/15): Further answers to the above questions are welcome, as are responses to this inquiry from a philosophy professor:

One of my undergraduate students has a career goal of becoming a philosopher who teaches in a community college. The student understands something of what that career involves (though surely not everything) and wants to pursue it because of how learning philosophy at a community college changed this student’s life. Neither me nor my student is currently at a community college.

My own background makes me ill-equipped to advise this student. I went to a program that, like most, assumes that the career goals of its students are aimed at research institutions or small, selective liberal arts colleges. Can DN readers help me advise my student? I don’t know the most basic things, for example: do most community colleges expect a Ph.D or an MA? In addition, I would love to hear from Ph.D and MA programs that have a strength of placing folks who have a career goal of teaching in community colleges in the kinds of positions they desire. Ideally, such programs would also be supportive of students with this career goal–not denigrating the choice, but lauding it.
This information would be useful to me, but I suspect it will be useful as well for programs that recognize that not everyone who seeks to study philosophy at the graduate level desires a position at a research institution or a small, selective liberal arts college. I hope that those who aim for something other than those careers are supported.
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Jay
Jay
6 years ago

As for (a) most cc’s will advertise with Jobs in Higher Ed, the CHE and in some states, post jobs on a centralized database (like CUNY or in the CA system). In terms of (b), I think the biggest mistake I’ve observed, having served on many search committees over the years, is candidates spend too much time discussing their research/research agenda. While search committees are not completely uninterested in research, as it illustrates a commitment to the field/professional development etc, the committee is foremost concerned with teaching teaching teaching. So, the cover letter might mention research/dissertation briefly, maybe towards the end, the bulk of the letter should consist in (1) showing the committee the candidate understands the mission of the college (is it a transfer institution? is it also vocationally oriented? how does Philosophy fit into the core curriculum? program assessment? etc), (2) the demographics of the student body (non-traditional students, ESL students, underprepared students, first generation college students, honors students etc), (3) how the candidate’s teaching approach/experience fits into all of this and (4) brief discussion of activity/research in the field. This is certainly not exhaustive, but it’s considerably different than writing a letter for a research university position. It’s becoming more common for cc’s to either require PhDs or at least prefer candidates with PhDs, so very often it’s teaching experience (esp at cc’s) that will single out candidates. I’ve sometime heard that the PhD is a liability, but that has not been my experience at all serving on search committees at all and I’m not sure why that would be the case. However, without substantial teaching experience it’s unlikely the candidate will land an interview.

Most cc’s have ranked faculty (or long term contracts), a peer review p&t process, a travel budget for faculty to give conference presentations, heavy teaching loads (think 4/5, 5/5) and lots of “opportunity” for service work, e.g. committees. One of the downsides is that you will be spending all your time teaching low level (Freshman and Sophomore) Philosophy courses, so give up the idea of teaching a small seminar on your dissertation topic. However, you will have considerable autonomy with regards to the content, even if there probably exists a “core” syllabus for the whole department. The bottom line, really, is that cc’s are looking for people devoted to and interested in teaching students. If your research informs your teaching and vice versa, great, but to get yourself an interview having a coherent philosophy of teaching and experience is paramount.

This article is helpful, I think: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/applying-faculty-jobs-community-colleges and this: http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2010/teaching-at-a-community-college-some-personal-observationsReport

RPForsberg
RPForsberg
Reply to  Jay
5 years ago

Aren’t you making it more complicated than it truly is? “Be yourself” covers it for me, after 35 years at CC’s, hiring committees and being chair of departments. It ain’t that hard. Maybe I am a fossil, being retired for the last 6 years, but just “do what you do and do it well” seems right. I know the climate has changed and I do appreciate your in depth advice to those on the market. Every place is different, so whatever advice one can give is gonna help. I am sure your comments will help those on the market.Report

Rob Loftis
Rob Loftis
6 years ago

I’ll just try to answer (a), (b) and (d)

Some cc’s will advertise in the usual philosophy places. I got my job through Jobs for Philosophers, and I imagine if we were hiring again we would advertise in PhilJobs. A lot of cc’s won’t actually have any philosophers on the faculty currently, and will just advertise some place the the Chronicle.

To get the job, you need to demonstrate that you are a first rate teacher. This means a lot more than being an engaging and funny lecturer. You need to excellence in the pedagogical techniques that those of us on the front line are immersed in. You need to show that you will have a structured activity that goes beyond open discussion in virtually every class session. You need to be able to talk about how you handle outcomes assessment. You need to be able to answer questions about how you handle the full array of problem situations that can come up in a classroom.

Not only do you need to demonstrate that you are an excellent teacher, you need to show that it is your number one priority. People at community colleges like to stay active in research, but it is not really what we are paid to do.

As far as what misconceptions grad students might have about teaching in a cc, don’t think of teaching at a cc as a step down from the job you were actually training for. This work is philosophical and important for philosophy. It is also incredibly rewarding. It is a very good job to have.Report

RPForsberg
RPForsberg
Reply to  Rob Loftis
5 years ago

Agree, it is not “teaching down”. If teaching is your priority, then whether or not you are at a CC or University, you can teach and benefit your students. If our own publishing career, and so forth, is your priority, then choose carefully – at most CCs class loads do not allow a lot of free ime for research and writing.

Good comments, hope they help those out there on the market.Report

HL
HL
6 years ago

(a) As Jay says above, CCs aren’t posting (always) in the JFP; best to look at other sites like the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed, plus the website of the CC itself.

(b) I’m in my second year teaching at a CC and haven’t been on a hiring committee yet (for a full-time position). But based on my own experience, it really is all about the teaching. Does the candidate have a depth of teaching experience? Have they taught intro courses (and do they seem excited about that)? Do they have experience with diverse and non-traditional student populations (i.e. something other than a four-year college or university)? Do they have other teaching experience that’s valuable, such as teaching writing classes? Your research is really irrelevant; even bringing it up unasked might be seen as a sign that you don’t quite know what you’re in for and might not be the best fit. That could depend on the CC; it’s helpful to look at bios of other full-time instructors in your discipline (if you can find them) and see if they’re publishing. Mine didn’t appear to be, or at least it wasn’t listed. I never talked about research at all, and I don’t think anyone asked (other than to find out what my dissertation was on, and that was more making conversation than anything).

(c) My experience in the CC search process was far different than my first experience on the market when I landed a TT job at a four-year college several years ago. For starters, the process included more rounds: there was an initial document submission including a letter about teaching, a second-round submission with more writing, a third-round teaching demonstration, and a fourth-round interview with two high-level administrators. When I got my first job, it was just the initial round of document submission, the APA interview, and the on-campus visit.

Another major difference is that most people you interact with at any stage in the process are not in your discipline. My hiring committee was drawn from my CC’s department (Humanities, which houses philosophy) and division (Humanities and Social Sciences). (I’m actually the only full-time philosophy instructor on my campus, which is probably not uncommon.) Your teaching and the rest of your conversation really has to be directed to a diverse and non-expert audience – something grad programs do a miserable job of preparing students for.

(d) I’d always wanted to teach at a CC, but even I had misconceptions! A main one for me was that students would be less academically prepared than students at a four-year school. There are some students for whom that’s the case, but I still have a cluster of excellent students in each class. While I don’t get to teach anything upper-level, we still have fantastic discussions and – as long as you do the work to prove that philosophy’s relevant – a high level of student engagement.

Many people outside of the CC world have no idea how fun it is to teach in it. The diversity of perspectives my students bring into the classroom makes me work hard to be a better teacher. I’m always surprised at how many students at my previous four-year college expected an explanation of how philosophy was going to help them earn money in their future career; I don’t get that question at my CC. Sure, I have to explain more about just what philosophy is, what philosophers do, and why it’s important. However, so many of my students have lived out big questions already; our discussions are richer for it.

(e) One good question might be about how to tailor a teaching demonstration. I’ve watched a few with my department chair (for hiring part-time instructors), and the sense I’ve gotten is that you are truly expected to teach something. At a CC there’s so much more emphasis on various student learning styles, so making your teaching demo as engaging and direct is key.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Based on second-hand observations on the candidate side, I’ll point out a challenge I’m not sure how to overcome:

No matter how well you craft your cover-letter, it may not be read very closely, and it may not be read by someone with a background in philosophy at all (either because there is no one who does philosophy, or because all hiring is done by HR or an associate dean). I know a candidate who went to great pains to explain why the student population at the state school on his cv was directly comparable to that of a community college. But in his interview the first question he was asked was a skeptical, “So I see that you don’t have any community college teaching experience…” indicating pretty clearly that the interviewer had not read, or paid much attention to, his cover letter.Report

Gabriel
Gabriel
Reply to  Derek Bowman
6 years ago

I don’t think that the first interview question necessarily means that the cover letter was not read. Just because the student populations are comparable does not mean that the job itself is comparable. The requirements of a community college position, i.e. one’s duties on a daily basis, are distinct from those experienced at a university. So the lack of experience at a community college could still be an issue.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Gabriel
6 years ago

It doesn’t necessarily mean it, but it did actually mean it in this case, given the context of the question and the fact that the answer from the cover letter was deemed sufficient to satisfy the worry. I have no way of knowing how representative this experience is, but it fits with other experiences that suggest that those who have worked primarily in community colleges often harbor as many misconceptions about schools with ‘university’ in the name as university faculty have about community colleges.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Gabriel
6 years ago

P.S. How is one supposed to get experience to qualify for community college work if prior community college work is the only appropriate experience?

The answer, of course, is adjunct positions. But of course adjunct positions at a community college aren’t really sufficient qualification either, since they often don’t involve the same kind of duty on a daily basis. (How else can CCs continue to justify denying full-time positions to experienced members of their teaching staff?)Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
6 years ago

A lot of good information. I’ll add a bit from my perspective.

It’s very hard to generalize about CCs, as the situation varies widely from state to state, with CC size, and wealth. But . . .

The number one place you should look for CC jobs is the college’s website. Many postings will be late, as in the summer before the appointment starts. Many searches are local.

The number one desideratum will probably be CC teaching experience. There will be some worry on the committee as to whether you’re able to handle underprepared students. Many schools count adjuncting at the school as a big plus for this reason. Some (like mine) guarantee an interview to adjuncts that meet the minimum requirements.

Online teaching ability is a plus.

In your interview, you will want to turn every answer towards students, teaching, and how you can be involved with student-related activities (club advising, etc.), because this will be your job focus. Many state CC systems (like NC) have 6/6 loads. Some Florida CCs have 5/5/2 loads. As mentioned, lots of intro and ethics. Bigger systems allow more teaching variety, but some states don’t allow the teaching of 300 level courses at CCs.

The above comment about varied committees is spot on. When I got hired, there were no philosophers involved in the process. Your teaching demo should be geared to people who’ve no familiarity with philosophy.

As above, some places value a PhD, and some worry that “she won’t be happy here”. Some value research, some couldn’t care less. Rich schools have travel budgets, poor ones not at all. A lot of CCs are highly bureaucratic. Some have no faculty senates, others highly unionized. And so on.

An unexpected plus can be the compensation. Some CCs start assistant profs at salaries above the national average at 4 year schools. I believe some NY CCs have mid career salaries in the 6 figures. Where tenure can be had, it’s often very easy to get and fairly quickly. However, many CCs have nothing like tenure, and many states are trying to eliminate it.

Hope this is helpful.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

One other (second-hand) cautionary tale:

Community colleges often don’t have budgets to fly candidates out, so if you’re applying somewhere that’s not local, you may have to be willing to fly out on your own dime to interview and, if so, you should state that in your cover letter. But of course because full time jobs in community colleges are highly competitive, they may well have enough local applicants that they feel like it’s not worth bothering with those who would have to travel for the interview.Report

bob
bob
6 years ago

I am recently tenured at a cc and can address (a) (c) and (d). I strongly agree with the comment about understanding the cc’s mission. Courses for transfer students differ greatly from courses for students in technical or professional programs. Very few cc’s advertise in JFP. Some state systems have system advertising but few. The Chronicle is most likely. I interviewed with several four year schools at the Eastern and Pacific APA. I don’t know of cc’s interviewing at the APA. I’d like to know if some do. The interview process at the cc was different. After submitting a dossier, I received a call from HR staff who arranged a 15 minute phone interview with the committee. I was told by the HR staff person the interview would be 15 minutes. I take this to indicate the hiring committee had a very clear idea of the sort of candidate they wanted. It is also indicative of the time pressure of teaching at a cc. When teaching 5 courses a semester, every minute for non-teaching responsibilities is carefully preserved. The follow up interview was a teaching demonstration.

Philosophers at cc’s need to communicate with, collaborate with, and understand other faculty from other disciplines to a greater degree than I recall from the one-year appointments I had before this. Philosophers at a cc need to have enthusiasm for teaching and enthusiasm for students, in addition to enthusiasm for the subject. Interviewees at cc’s need to show that enthusiasm for teaching and for students. It is not easy to both (a) show enthusiasm for students and teaching and (b) present a rigorous carefully constructed argument from a dissertation chapter. Most students can’t appreciate the dissertation arguments and the hiring committee I interviewed let me know my enthusiasm came across.Report

Anon Soon to Be Applicant
Anon Soon to Be Applicant
6 years ago

I have already spent some time adjuncting at a community college. This has already allowed me to see what working in such an institution is like, and also the qualities that are valued by institutions of this kind.

However, even with my experience teaching classes on a day-to-day basis in a community college. I have had my teaching observed and received strong and positive reviews. Nevertheless, I have no idea how I would prepare a teaching demonstration.

A lot of my teaching depends on the long-term rapport that I build up with students, but one cannot take for granted such a rapport in short teaching demonstration. Also, I do occasionally use group work in my classes and I know that many community colleges want instructors who use teaching methods besides lectures, but asking a set of faculty members to get into groups doesn’t sound like a good idea. Could anyone offer some advice about how to approach the teaching demo? Any helpful stories about what has and has not worked? Thank you!Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Anon Soon to Be Applicant
5 years ago

Are you in a position to ask your full-time colleagues, department head, or dean for advice on this? Or does the community college you teach at just treat adjuncts as warm bodies to fill out their schedule?Report

RPForsberg
RPForsberg
Reply to  Anon Soon to Be Applicant
5 years ago

Why wouldn’t you just deliver a lecture, outline a discussion group strategy, or engage the hiring committee in a Socratic dialogue? As a prof for 35 years at CC’s, I valued those candidates who just presented what they actually do in classes day after day. Let your demonstration show what you do — how hard is that??Report

RPForsberg
RPForsberg
5 years ago

I taught at two community colleges during my 35 year career in philosophy, so hope my experience can help here. Both colleges I taught at required an MA but not a PhD, though at each a PhD was respected and a plus. On the other hand, at one college that included non-philosophers on hiring committees, there were members of the committee who thought a PhD was overqualified and the person with one was likely to be unable to “relate to our students”. This was, to me, a PhD, an issue of their feelings and not reality. My students over the years were always positive that I had a PhD and many said something along the lines of, “Why wouldn’t I want my professor to have a PhD?” So, go figure. In any case, the MA is usually enough.

the key issue for those on the job market is, with your PhD or MA, are you committed to teaching students who will not be philosophy majors? Usually you will be teaching people who need business ethics, medical ethics, or the like for majors in another field. But you do get the odd student who embraces philosophy due to your teaching and that makes it even better for you.Report

Gradjunct
Gradjunct
5 years ago

W.R.T. RPForsberg’s comments: I’ve been laboring under the impression that it is the no longer the case that an MA is a sufficient qualification for most CC positions these days (despite what some job ads say), because the market is now flooded with un/under-employed Phds, which tends to choke out competition from non-Phds. Also more and more CC’s are pushing the research requirements for their humanities faculty, which makes Phds more attractive hires. as far as I can tell, in the time I have been on the market, more and more CC’s, especially in desirable (large urban) locations, are trying/having to compete with SLACs to be feeders for larger research universities, this means pushing the research credentials of their faculty as well as the traditional teaching focus. But maybe this impression of mine is wrong?Report