Hiring A Tenured Associate Professor As An Untenured Assistant Professor


A philosophy professor writes in with a job market question:

I’m wondering whether associate professors with tenure are ever hired for non-tenured, tenure-track assistant professor positions, and if so, what such candidates should do to increase their chances of getting hired for such jobs? 

This has been done, though I don’t know how common it is.

There are considerations about the expense of a higher salary for a more experienced candidate and about “early” tenure that will vary from institution to institution, and perhaps worries that the move indicates that you’re a “flight risk” (i.e., that you won’t stick around, and then the department will have to run a new search—if they even get the approval to do so). On the other hand, such candidates have a longer track record which may make them more attractive as well as make it easier to judge what kind of philosopher and colleague they’ll be. The types of schools and departments involved will also be a factor.

One’s success at such a venture will likely be influenced by the reasons for doing so (and how one pitches those reasons to the hiring department). I would imagine that if a tenured associate professor is applying for an untenured assistant professorship in order to move to an institution at which one’s partner has a position—that is, to solve the “two body problem”—that may help make the move more explicable to a search committee, though I’d be interested in hearing from those who have been involved in such hires (either applying or hiring) to see if that is the case.

Readers?

M.C. Escher – “Relativity”

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Jon Light
Jon Light
3 years ago

I’ve been told from several search committees that they won’t even consider this. So far as I can tell, the reasons include:

1. The the Dean wouldn’t really believe a tenured associate would give up tenure (and salary). And so the whole “I’d really consider untenured assistant” is code for “I’m saying that now, but if you give me an offer, I’ll actually ask for honoring my current tenure.” In other words, proceeding with the candidacy now leads to a cluster-eff later and threatens to derail the search, cause exorbitant delays while stuff gets sorted, etc.
2. Even if the Dean would believe it, s/he doesn’t believe such a candidate would stay in-rank for the normative period. So if you’re a tenured associate giving up tenure to be an untenured assistant, would you really wait six years to apply for tenure? And, if not, the Dean loses, e.g., $10k/year for every year early you go up, as against someone who would wait a full six years.
3. It’s “not fair” for someone with ~10 years of publication to compete against recent Ph.D.’s. If mid-level people could apply for entry-level jobs, that just destroys the competitiveness of junior people and harms the profession overall.
4. Why bother? There are 200 awesome applicants, including myriad ones from t10 programs. So having some complicated discussion with a mid-level candidate is just bad value for (search committee’s) time.

None of these strike me as particularly good answers, but I suspect they’re fairly representative of the climate.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

“3. It’s “not fair” for someone with ~10 years of publication to compete against recent Ph.D.’s. If mid-level people could apply for entry-level jobs, that just destroys the competitiveness of junior people and harms the profession overall.”

This doesn’t strike you as a particularly good answer? Someone with, not only a job, but tenure, competing against junior folks at risk of becoming perpetual adjuncts or leaving the profession, that may not be decisive, but that strikes me as a serious reason not to consider applications from tenured folks, unless the job is explicitly open rank. Are open rank jobs really fair in this economy? It’s debatable. But then the market just isn’t fair anyway, so I guess, no, it’s not a particularly good answer.Report

Kareem
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

Of course, this depends mightily on whether the associate professor’s leaving leads to a replacement TT line at her previous place of employment.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

This seems to imply that an institution’s primary consideration in hiring ought to be fairness to junior philosophers, not getting the best teacher and researcher they can.

And, as Kareem says, in steady state this doesn’t affect the number of jobs available anyway.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

That’s why I recalled the market isn’t fair. But honestly, don’t pretend a department can’t hire the best teacher and researcher they can—along a different time-scale—among all the junior philosophers. We all know there are way too many over-qualified applicants.

As a sidenote I wonder why fairness should apply to hiring conservatives if, for whatever reason, SCs prefer liberals. Aren’t you saying now this is their prerogative to hire who the heck they want?

As for spots, it may not affect the number of jobs, although that’s far from obvious, but it does affect the junior candidates any given year. And if seniors keep getting the spots in their stead, how many jobs there are over time doesn’t make a difference to those juniors.

But then what do I know, I’m a junior.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

” But honestly, don’t pretend a department can’t hire the best teacher and researcher they can—along a different time-scale—among all the junior philosophers.”
I’m confused: if the senior applicant isn’t better than the junior ones, they wouldn’t get the job anyway. It can’t be true both that senior people have an unfair advantage and that junior people are as good. (I suspect you mean that the junior person is as good *when you allow for their lesser experience*. But a university might not be interested in making that allowance; they might want the best person for their students, right away.)

“As a sidenote I wonder why fairness should apply to hiring conservatives if, for whatever reason, SCs prefer liberals. Aren’t you saying now this is their prerogative to hire who the heck they want?”

I didn’t say any such thing. I said that an institution’s primary responsibility is to get the best teacher and researcher they can. (A direct corollary of that would be that political views shouldn’t play any role in hiring unless you’ve got some reason to think that political views affect how well the hire will perform their role.)

“As for spots, it may not affect the number of jobs, although that’s far from obvious, but it does affect the junior candidates any given year. And if seniors keep getting the spots in their stead, how many jobs there are over time doesn’t make a difference to those juniors.”

That doesn’t work mathematically. Suppose in each year N senior people get TT places and their old institution readvertises. That increases the supply of TT jobs advertised in the next year by N, exactly compensating for the N TT jobs taken that year by senior people.
Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

I’m not going to argue with you further – you’ve conceded all the points:

-seniors have an unfair advantage precisely because they’re more advanced, not because they’re better or hold more promsie.

-you did say commenting on other posts that conservatives were unfairly being discriminated against; unless you can come up with a single measure of competence that all departments could or should agree on, then whether they hire liberals or conservatives may be based on a ton of factors that they think are relevant to their department. For one thing, political affiliation is a proxy to a number of things. But again, I’m not going to argue this.

-I understood this; I never denied the number of TT jobs couldn’t stay constant. I said if the hiring seniors on TT jobs policy expands, given the advantages they have over juniors, the fact that the number of jobs stays constant doesn’t help juniors. Who’s going to get the renewed TT line? According to you, the most qualified applicant and that may well be a senior by your standard. But then again, I’m no mathematician.

Take care, Professor WallaceReport

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

“seniors have an unfair advantage precisely because they’re more advanced, not because they’re better or hold more promsie.”

I still don’t see how “fairness” applies here. Students aren’t grading on a curve: they want the actually-best person teaching them. (An institution might decide that it wants to make an appointment that’s best for them in the long term even if the person takes a while to reach their full potential, but again that’s a strategic decision that doesn’t have anything to do with fairness.

“you did say commenting on other posts that conservatives were unfairly being discriminated against; unless you can come up with a single measure of competence that all departments could or should agree on, then whether they hire liberals or conservatives may be based on a ton of factors that they think are relevant to their department. For one thing, political affiliation is a proxy to a number of things.”

I don’t think I said anything that blunt; I’m pretty certain I didn’t say that the actual hiring process discriminates against conservatives, and I don’t have strong feelings as to whether it does or not. (Consider the parallel case: it’s entirely possible to think that the structure of academic philosophy discourages women even if the actual hiring process is scrupulously fair and non-discriminatory.)
But in any case, there are good general reasons in employment not to use statistical proxies (race, gender, age) even if they correlate with the thing you’re actually looking for; presumably they apply here too. (I’m not actually sure why we’re talking about hiring of conservative academics, though; as I say, I don’t have strong feelings about it either way.)

“I never denied the number of TT jobs couldn’t stay constant. I said if the hiring seniors on TT jobs policy expands, given the advantages they have over juniors, the fact that the number of jobs stays constant doesn’t help juniors. Who’s going to get the renewed TT line? According to you, the most qualified applicant and that may well be a senior by your standard. ”

For this to work the expansion of hiring seniors for TT jobs would have to expand exponentially. That is: literally, the numbers of seniors being hired to TT jobs would have to double every year in order that the new jobs freed up also went to seniors. That’s wildly unrealistic.Report

Christina
Christina
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

Another way to consider the situation of competitiveness (and fairness) is that at least some associate professors considering giving up tenure for a TT position have a hard time competing with people who have been post-docs for several years. Post-docs have very little (if any) teaching and service obligations, and so have all their time dedicated to publication. Very often a post-doc will have a significantly higher publication volume (and impact) than an associate professor who has been working at a teaching-focused institute. If an associate professor wants more time to dedicate to research, and this is why (s)he is considering a TT position at another institution, (s)he will have a difficult time competing in these markets with people who have not had ~10 years of teaching/service obligations to weigh against research time.Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
3 years ago

In places where there are faculty unions, such as Simon Fraser University, the union rules prevent this from even being a possibility. No candidate with more than a certain number of years of post-PhD work experience in a TT line can be considered, regardless of that person’s willingness to accept an offer as if they had fewer years of experience.Report

Homesick
Homesick
Reply to  HK Andersen
3 years ago

Okay, but if this is the case, it should be mentioned in the job advertisement, so that people do not waste their time, or the time of their letter writers.
(I did not notice this policy stated in the current SFU ‘Ethics’ advertisement.)Report

Sandra Lapointe
Sandra Lapointe
3 years ago

I applied for an untenured assistant professor position after my divorce, in order to come back to Canada and would have taken it. Even untenured, my salary was going to be substantially higher than in the USA. Turned out the Dean offered me a tenured Associate level job instead, given my track record and other considerations. But that’s something we discussed. The point is: the possibility to take untenured position is what made it possible for me to pursue a rich career in my own country after a stint abroad. If I only could have applied for open rank positions, I would still be in Kansas. In my field, there are none.Report

howdidIgethere
howdidIgethere
3 years ago

I was recently on a search committee where we hired a tenured person into a tenure-track position. In our case, we had a particular set of reasons for which we, in fact, found this desirable. Over and above this, though, we were (I believe humanely) aware that there are all sorts of life circumstances that can cause a person to be willing to give up tenure. And we did not feel that it was decent, or even reasonable, to think poorly of someone for prioritzing things like wanting to be near ageing parents, a partner, or a better school system for their kids. Report

Bill Rapaport
3 years ago

My situation was a bit different. I was a tenured associate prof of phil at SUNY Fredonia, but I switched departments and was hired as an untenured assistant professor of computer science at SUNY Buffalo. My major professor advised me that the title was less important than the benefits (in my case, moving from a 4-year college to a graduate research institution at a higher salary). To make matters worse, because of SUNY regulations, I had to come up for tenure in my new position in 2 years (rather than the normal 5 or 6), but I made it. Bottom line: If the departments allow it, and the new job is better than the old one, go for it!Report

Anna
Anna
3 years ago

Make matters worse? I think most people would consider a reduced tenure clock a huge benefit! Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
Reply to  Anna
3 years ago

It would depend on what the person had had to do to achieve tenure and what the standards for tenure were at the new school. The full clock might be needed to meet those standards. in Rapaport’s case he was moving fields, and that would have made it more likely that he wouldn’t be ready for tenure review in two years (his philosophy publications might not count).Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 years ago

In the UK, I suspect it would be illegal age discrimination not to permit this (though the concept of tenured vs non-tenured is vaguer there). I’d be interested to know how the rules work on this in the US (I assume they vary from state to state).Report

Roberta Millstein
Roberta Millstein
3 years ago

I know someone who did this because they were very unhappy at their previous position and the new position was at a better school that was more to my friend’s liking. This friend started the tenure clock all over again, if I recall correctly — a nuclear option for someone who really, really wanted to leave where they were.

But at my university, this would not be allowed. We are not allowed to offer a position to someone at a level lower than their qualifications. Report