Campus Visit Horror Stories


It’s that time of the year when the interview season for tenure-track jobs is drawing to a close, most of the campus visits are done, and offers are being made (don’t forget to post hires at Appointments in Philosophy), so there should be a fresh crop of amusing or awful or cringe-worthy stories for candidates to share about their experiences visiting campuses, along with what I’m sure is a backlog of such stories from years past. Dish, people.

 

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Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

During this year’s visits:

– Had a committee member tell me that they were “pretty set” on another candidate.
– Had a dean tell me that “You don’t really fit the needs of the school, but your research is very interesting”
– A department member drank 6.5 glasses of wine during the dinner (nothing bad happened, but… jeez.)Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
6 years ago

From many years ago:

No one from the interviewing department was at the airport to pick me up. Made my own way to the hotel, checked in, and had a nice dinner at their expense at the hotel restaurant. Received a chagrinned call the next morning when they realized what had happened (was back in the days when you had to stay over Saturday night to get a decent rate on flights so the interview wasn’t scheduled until Monday). Got the job.Report

Sherri Irvin
6 years ago

My favorite (from about 10 years ago) was the department where I had to ask a male faculty member for the key every time I wanted to use the restroom.Report

M
M
6 years ago

At an on-campus visit I was taken to the beach by a prospective colleague. I found myself having to change into a swimsuit in an open locker room in front of my host. I was offered the job. Make of that what you will.Report

Schnee
Schnee
6 years ago

A few years ago, I had a 36-hr on campus visit for which I had to leave very early in the morning. I am not good at mornings, so the night before, I diligently packed and triple checked that I had everything I needed. I arrived at the hotel about 30 minutes before the chairperson was supposed to pick me up to begin the interview. As I was changing into my suit, I realized I had forgotten my shirt. All I had was the ratty blue sweater I was wearing during my travels. I called my partner and asked her if I could wear the sweater with the suit. The answer was, as I feared, no. Luckily, my hotel was downtown, so I sprinted to a nearby department store, bought the first white shirt I could find in my size, and sprinted back to the hotel. I was not in shape, so this was quite…strenuous. I made it to the lobby in time and got the job.Report

TTanon
TTanon
6 years ago

Fresh off the plane, the first question I was asked (by the wife of the chair) was whether I was married. Follow up: if you get this job, what is s/he going to do? I was also asked whether I planned to have kids by another faculty member. I stayed in a motel and the first night I was there (before the job talk in the morning) I was up half the night listening to a horrible drunken fight right outside my window in which a couple was discovering exactly when, and exactly how, they cheated on each other. New facts were coming to light every few minutes…I got the job.Report

Prima
Prima
6 years ago

I was invited to a campus interview, but told I would have to drive the 8 hours to get there. I took my partner so I wouldn’t have to drive in my very unreliable car in a snow storm alone. Once we arrived, we stayed in the dorms, and we were invited to a faculty person’s house for dinner with the rest of the department. It was very awkward, though kind. The next day, the main interview day, at my teaching demo I was heckled by a faculty member “pretending to be an obnoxious student,” told by the dept chair that his son was another candidate for the position, sent to walk 4 blocks in a snow storm alone to find lunch “in town,” and then met with a group of students who ignored me and discussed having spent the previous night in jail. The next day, my partner and I drove home in my car with a broken heater. I didn’t get the job, thankfully.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

Search committee chair asked me how old my twin brother is.Report

Renee
Renee
6 years ago

My now-old story: The airline lost my luggage and it looked like I might have to wear my winter clothes for an on-campus interview in 80 degree weather. Luckily, my clothes arrived. The morning before my day of interviewing, I was quite nervous and after tidying up my room, including dumping the ashtrays (former chain smoker here), I headed down to the lobby 20 minutes before my scheduled pick up. Realizing I was too early and there was no good place to wait, I returned to my room only to find that one of the trash cans was on fire! I frantically extinguished the fire by putting the trash can in the shower, and then I opened the doors and windows to air out all of the smoke. The shower was now a mess of burnt garbage and water and I couldn’t leave it; so I was frantically trying to clean it up as the clocked ticked before my pick up. Drenched with sweat, I tried to make myself presentable as I ran back to the lobby imagining what would have happened if the fire department had been summoned. The campus interview went well, and I got the job.Report

Anonymous Female
Anonymous Female
6 years ago

This story is from many years ago, in the era when APA interviews were usually conducted in hotel rooms, with female candidates sitting in a chair and mostly male interviewers sitting on hotel beds. I was invited to an on campus interview for a one year job. I had to make difficult flight connections, and arrived late in the evening before the interview. I discovered to my horror that the department had chosen to put me up in the home of a male faculty member. A single male faculty member. I had to spend the nights of the interview alone in his home, sharing a bathroom with him. Although nothing overt happened, I was extremely uncomfortable with this arrangement and with his presence.
I was offered the job, but turned it down and accepted a longer limited term job elsewhere.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I arrived at the airport and there was nobody to pick me up. I inquired about a cab but was told I would have to wait 45 minutes. So I got a cab at my own expense, and was never reimbursed. I heard nothing at the Hotel, and was forced to call the Chair of the Search Committee (a buffoon) to let him know I was in town. The Search Committee was comprised of faculty from different disciplines, including one from my discipline. This faculty member did not talk to me directly once for the whole trip, except to read a prepared question to me from a notebook. The Chair left my paper presentation early to go to a doctor appointment. The Department I would be a member of had 12 faculty, but only three turned up for the interview. I did not get the job, nor did any of the other candidates, I heard later. The place reeked of dysfunction, ideology and mediocrity, and although the position was a plum one, I couldn’t imagine working there.Report

Alan White
Alan White
6 years ago

I have had exactly one interview in my 34-year career. Here it is.

On the regional airline to my little interview city I looked across the aisle and saw another chap writing “Kant” on a legal pad. I asked–“Are you by chance interviewing for the half-time TT position at Manitowoc?” “Why yes!? Are you?”

And so we shared a ride to the campus with the business manager-driver, where we were introduced to a third candidate (years later I found out, an internal candidate). Two interviews–no talks or such–before lunch, and as it turned out I was last on the list afterwards.

The campus is on Lake Michigan, and while waiting out the first two interviews, I in my 3-piece suit walked down to the beach in late July, taking in that beautiful 65 degree breeze after having left (UT) Knoxville’s 90/90 temp/humidity. I picked up a smooth rock and slipped it in my pocket. I still have it–my philosopher’s stone.

We went to lunch at the local awful Chinese restaurant. (It’s still there!) And I mean WE–all three candidates sat interspersed among committee members. I thought what the hell and ordered a beer with lunch (just one). I talked with one guy in particular, who ordered the same Amstel as I, who turned out to be the last Wisconsin football player who played both on offense and defense (so he said) and went to the Rose Bowl (quite true).

We returned to campus, and that Rose Bowler took me aside and said “I have to leave–but I just want you to know you have my vote.”

The interview is a blur in my mind. The Dean afterward drove us around the area to see the Lake–doing 20 mph all the way and pissing off everyone else inside and outside the car. Caught the plane to get my transfer at Chicago. Pressed for time, I pushed through a huge press–of what I then realized was the Press–to literally run into John and Bo Derek, who were in town to promote their Tarzan flick.

Two days later, I got the call and offer. As I found out much later, the Rose Bowler’s vote gave me the nod over the Dean’s concern about my abilities for serious scholarship.

I still shake my head about that gloriously insane day.Report

Minh Nguyen
Minh Nguyen
6 years ago

So happy to have been invited to a school in northern Illinois in 2003 for a campus visit. During the campus visit, one guy asked me if I wore a red tie (a gift from my wife during a trip to our home country) because I wanted to look powerful, and another guy questioned my eligibility for having won a 2002 Rockefeller Essay Prize from the American Philosophical Association.Report

Felonius Screwtape
Felonius Screwtape
6 years ago

a very small regional campus in the middle of nowhere, accessible by plane, but only the kind with propellers. two nice people from the multidisciplinary department picked me up, which created a false sense of acceptance; the rest of the department was openly hostile to me, both during the talk and during the door-knock. one particularly hostile professor told me that the principal reason they brought me there was to make the other guy look good. a half hour later then dean said that i was not the droid they were looking for. So, i began the job talk by saying “I’ve been told by both senior faculty and the dean that i have zero chance of getting this job because i’m here as a foil. But not a fool. Thank you for wasting all of our time and your money.” Then i got up and left. I didn’t get the job.Report

Dept Chair
Dept Chair
6 years ago

Here’s one from the other side. We hired a driver– the spouse of a college staff member– to pick up a candidate from a city about three hours away. The night before the pickup, I ran into a colleague from another department at a bar, and we started talking about hiring. He says, “you ever hear about the time one of our candidates got picked up at the airport by [that driver], and he has his monkey with him? And the driver says, ‘hope you don’t mind, I brought my monkey, but don’t worry, he’s wearing his diaper’?” Only a chance encounter and a frantic phone call to the driver saved our candidate– our very accomplished, professional, and businesslike candidate– from a three hour ride with an incontinent monkey.Report

DS
DS
6 years ago

These stories are interesting, but I’d like to also see a thread on horror stories that occur in departments *after* people are hired.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

During a one on one meeting with a member of the hiring department, in his office, was told: “when you step into the classroom at (this school) you have to pretend that you are John Locke and you are teaching a group of people for whom the enlightenment has not yet happened.” Was offered the job, but, thankfully, also offered a more attractive position elsewhere.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Over lunch with the hiring committee, one of the members casually posed the question: “If you could travel back in time and strangle any of the great philosophers at birth, who would it be?” I was aghast, and momentarily silent. The questioner took advantage of this silence to suggest several potential candidates for strangulation.Report

sb
sb
6 years ago

“I was also asked whether I planned to have kids by another faculty member.” Love the ambiguity.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I was flown out to a SLAC where excellence in teaching is emphasized. Before I was flown out, I was asked to prepare a teaching demonstration that would take place in one of the professor’s regularly scheduled Political Philosophy courses. I was given some options (after my offers to teach on Rawls OR Nozick were rejected), and I chose to present on a long chapter from Mill’s On Liberty (that I hadn’t read in years, incidentally). I figured the committee would want to see how I was at generating and managing discussions, so I spent hours preparing a series of questions that would challenge the students to think about Mill’s claims in light of contemporary issues and things relating to their own lives. I went into the class pretty confident. I asked my first (softball question): “What is Mill’s thesis?” The students sat there with blank stares. I waited awhile, then asked: “Alright… Let’s take a step back. What is the issue that Mill is discussing in this chapter?” Crickets. “Hint… it’s right in the title…” Silence. Needless to say, no one had read and I ended up having to spend most of the lecture bringing the students up to speed on the basic claims of the chapter. I think I got to ask one of my excellent, discussion generating questions before time was up. I was not offered the job.Report

Poot
Poot
6 years ago

I was interviewed by my undergraduate alma mater. I was a VAP at a university about forty minutes away and it was a first-round interview despite the fact it was conducted on their campus. It had been nine years since I graduated and the interviewers had been hired since I left, so they only knew me by former faculty who taught me and hired them. One of those former faculty, it turns out, was the chair of my department and a mentor.

After teaching four classes that day, I left two hours early and arrived forty minutes late due to unexpected traffic. During the interview, it was obvious that neither of the two interviewers had not read my materials. One of the two fell asleep.

The interview was apparently a horribly executed favor.Report

Owen Goldin
Owen Goldin
6 years ago

I was once asked by the dean “you ARE a conservative, aren’t you?”Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I was asked to prepare a teaching demonstration, and when I arrived at the interview room was surprised to see no students. I was interviewed by the faculty, and then they told me to stand up in front of the group and teach my class, telling me that “we are your students.”!Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

While traveling to the airport after an interview, the shuttle van hit black ice and went off the highway. The van rolled and was “totaled”. My glasses were smashed but, luckily, we landed in deep snow. The driver and I (the only people in the van) were bleeding but not seriously injured. After a brief stay in an emergency room, I was put up in the home of an old friend (an inside candidate who had also been interviewed for the job). He and the other members of the interviewing department were very nice to me. The next day I had to while away some time on campus before the next shuttle van departed. I remember sitting in a faculty lounge and overhearing professors from other departments talking about that philosophy job candidate who was injured in a highway accident. “The weather wasn’t that bad, was it?” “But it doesn’t have to be for there to be black ice.” I sat there wondering about the potential, unconscious influence that this ordeal would have on the committee’s opinions about me. I concluded it would be negative. I didn’t get the job (and neither did my old friend).

At another interview, the Dean asked me what my “network” was and to whom I was “connected”.

At another interview, the Dean spoke enthusiastically about the many new campus buildings. Looking out the window, he pointed at a quaint little building and explained that some nuns lived there but many of them had died in recent years. “There aren’t many of them left,” he said and added that when they were gone, he imagined that their former home would be demolished and replaced with a larger building for lecture halls and offices.Report

Nathaniel Goldberg
Nathaniel Goldberg
6 years ago

— After getting off to a bad start with a faculty member during a one-on-one interview (itself a long story), and fearful that he was one of my two dinner companions, I was pleased to learn that he, like I, was a Tolkien fan. Unfortunately, most of our dinner conversation consisted of his telling me that he had published an article arguing that Tom Bombadil represented Socrates, and my asking him how many different refutations he’d like me to give him. Didn’t get the job.
— Elsewhere, some years later, I was chatting with a search-committee member about Scott Soames’s (then) recent book, _Beyond Rigidity_. She asked whether Soames was a porn star. Withdrew because I got a job elsewhere.
— That elsewhere was here. I told the head of the search committee that my partner had seen his photo online and thought he was hot. Indeed, got the job.Report

Philo
Philo
6 years ago

Interviewed for a job at a SLAC where I would be the only philosophy professor. At an interview with the campus P&T committee, whose practice it was to interview all job candidates for any faculty job, I was asked if I thought it was my role, as the only philosopher at the school, to be “the campus atheist”. Got the job.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

1. Faculty canceled their classes and invited their students to my job talk, so the room they had booked turned out to be too small. They moved the talk into the chapel and I spoke from the pulpit. Didn’t get the job.
2. Faculty member/clergyman asked what I thought the worst supreme court decision was. Let him answer his own question and was surprised to find he thought it was Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona. Got the job.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
6 years ago

Why aghast? It’s surely a rather interesting question!Report

FashionPolice
FashionPolice
6 years ago

“So which do I wear with my suit, the hiking boots or the mismatched black shoes? I opted for the latter.” Spectacularly bad choice! What were you thinking? That you are not living in the world of sights and sounds? Compare the boots explanation (“If I get this job then I suppose I will need to get sensible winter shoes, huh?”) to…what?…”Oh, you know that trendy unmatching sock thing…Same with shoes…”?)Report

Booo-ooo-ooring
Booo-ooo-ooring
6 years ago

I gave a job talk, which I thought wasn’t all that bad. Not the best talk I ever gave, either in content or delivery, but not a train wreck. Anyhow, one guy was looking at his phone through the ENTIRE talk. Needless to say, he didn’t have anything to ask in the Q and A! Didn’t get the job, but was wondering if I was allowed to request if his vote wouldn’t count! 🙂Report

G
G
6 years ago

Indeed. My answer is Heidegger.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I was late to my job talk because my two hosts couldn’t find the room that was reserved. The department chair wasn’t pleased, but people hadn’t started leaving just yet because it was only about 5-10 minutes after the scheduled start. As I issue my apology and kick off, I’m stopped by a member of staff who says, “I need to run to give a lecture , but I wanted to ask a question”. Everyone looks a little bit uncomfortable. “Suppose that you are in an open air market. You look across the vegetable stalls and see a man. How many pieces of evidence do you need to believe he is your uncle?” There’s nothing in my paper about evidence or vegetable stalls. Or uncles. “How many?” I ask as I try to figure out what this could be about. “Don’t answer that”, the department chair says. “It’s an impossible question, there’s no answer to that. Keep going. You, you go teach your class”. I wouldn’t say it was a nightmare, but it was the beginning of two days of hilarity as three wonderful future colleagues did their best to stop the fourth colleague from derailing everything at every possible turn with a series of bizarre interruptions and impossible questions.

A few years later I was invited for one interview at the Eastern APA. I was looking to move to a new department and landed an interview at a dream school. (For me it was a dream school.) Seemed to be going well. Everyone seemed quite friendly in the hotel interview. I thought I was doing a nice job answering questions about teaching, my future plans, etc. It seemed that we were working our way around the circle and each member of the department had been assigned a particular kind of question. We get to the guy who is going to ask about my writing sample. “You say blah blah blah on pp. 2, but I wondered what you’d say to yadda yadda yadda?”
“Good question”, I say. “On pp. 5, I offer an argument that..”
He interrupts me, “I didn’t read that far”.
Awkward silence. Didn’t read through to the end of pp. 5 of my writing sample and I’ve been invited to NYC to talk about my work with a hiring committee. Everyone looks uncomfortable. It’s suddenly very obvious that they had no desire to conduct a real interview. I’m just there to be meat in the room so they can say that they interviewed n candidates. Nearly two grand down the crapper because I had to fly back from a short stay in Europe to the states for this one stupid interview.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

I was a VAP at a little school some years back, and I applied for the permanent position at the end of my year there. They asked me to do a teaching demo. But they specified that I was to teach Aquinas on some virtue (I forget which one). Now I don’t know any Aquinas or really much about this topic. I do contemporary metaphysics. But they insisted, and I really needed a job. So I took some time out of my schedule preparing for interviews, feverishly trying to publish papers, teaching, grading, and so on, and I spent some of my extra free time learning a little bit about Aquinas on the virtues and planning a lecture. Then I realized that they intended to administer a questionnaire to the students to get their opinion on how I did. OK, that’s lame, but whatever. *Then* I realized that one of the students who will be in the audience and who will fill out a questionnaire is a student who hates me because I caught her cheating with her boyfriend on an assignment in one of my classes during the year (remember I’d been a VAP there for a year at that point). I told the chair, and he said it would be fine. I went ahead with it. Who knows what she said about me. To this day, I really regret not refusing to do the demo. I didn’t get the job anyway. I think it is easy to get a little more desperate than you should be in the final stages. Keep your head up, job seekers. Don’t let them humiliate you.Report

ioia
ioia
2 years ago

I once interviewed at both Oxford and Cambridge within two weeks of each other. They both put the candidates up in students rooms. At Oxford it was a shared room with two small bed rooms off a central space. It didn’t occur to me that I would be sharing it with another candidate and as I had arrived first, I used the (solitary) tea cup provided and went out into town. The other candidate who arrived later went out and evidently wanting to be able to make tea in the morning, bought themself a tea cup. This was my second ever interview and I found it pretty awkward to be sharing with another candidate. In Cambridge we were put up in student rooms with a communal bathroom at the end of a long brightly neon lit corridor, so if you wanted to use the bathroom in the night you might want to get fully dressed first, and you would then be wide awake from the neon light, and you had to awkwardly hang your clothing in a badly designed shared shower space while showering. Awkward and uncomfortable. The
College also point blank refused to give the candidates access to the college WiFi network. I have no idea way.Report