Campus Visit Horror Stories II


In 2015 I asked readers to share bad experiences they had while visiting campuses during their job searches. I would bet, alas, that the past four years did not go by without such incidents. 

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Triumph of Death”

They might be amusing, they might be depressing, but they may also be instructive—both to prospective job candidates and to hiring departments. So please share your experiences in the comments.

(Those who don’t usually use pseudonyms to comment here are welcome to do so on this post; I just ask that you create some handle and refrain from using “anonymous”, “anon” and the like.)


Related posts: Campus Visit Horror StoriesOn Campus Visits: A Job Candidate’s Critique


guest
32 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Miss America
Miss America
2 years ago

At a dinner, a faculty member made horrifically racist and classist comments about the neighborhood I grew up in, and kept marveling at how it was possible that I had gotten a PhD.Report

Chris Sistare
Chris Sistare
Reply to  Miss America
2 years ago

Oh, my, god[s]. What did you do??Report

Miss America
Miss America
Reply to  Chris Sistare
2 years ago

Kept quiet and got the job.Report

Solo
Solo
2 years ago

The return flight of the previous candidate to visit the campus had been delayed, and so he basically hung around the department for most of my first day of interviewing there for the same position. I know some places bring all the candidates out at once but I found this distracting and unnerving.Report

DD
DD
2 years ago

I had a flyout, coming from the west coast, with a department in the central time zone. What I knew coming in: it was a four-day-three-night visit, arriving late the first day, with a teaching demo the second day, a job talk the third day, I’d fly out the fourth. Keep in mind, in what follows, that this was my first ever flyout.

I was acquainted with one of the faculty members in the department, who picked me up at the airport at roughly dinner time, took me to a nice enough pub in my hotel. As we were parting, he says: “see you at 7:30!”. My reply: “wha – what?” “Yeah, you know, the interview.” “There’s an interview?” “Didn’t you know? Over breakfast at 7:30 in the hotel restaurant. The entire faculty will be there. See you then!” Keep in mind that, given the time, 7:30 CST felt like 5:30 am to me.

So I drag myself up and go to the interview. It went not particularly well but I felt I acquitted myself as well as could have been reasonably expected. Following the interview, another faculty member said: “I’m looking forward to your presentation to the undergraduate philosophy club.” My reply: “wha – what?” “Yeah, you know, the presentation to the undergrads, before your teaching demonstration.” “Um, OK. I’ll have to prepare something.” “Weren’t you given an itinerary?” “Um, no.” “Oh, sorry about that. Well, see you there!” In the interim, I was shown around town and campus, not paying attention, desperately trying to come up with something to say to the undergraduate philosophy club. (I did, eventually.)

Teaching demo goes fine, next day the lunch with the honors undergrads (which I also didn’t know about) goes fine, job talk goes fine. Now, typically after a job talk a department will invite you out to dinner. Instead, I was invited to a “pot luck” at the department chair’s house. Fine by me, but of course I didn’t have access to meal preparation equipment, so we thought it right and proper that instead of bringing a dish, my host and I (my acquaintance) would stop at a liquor store and bring a six pack of local beer.

Now, the chair lived in an enormous house, which he shared with several groups of undergraduate men, who he apparently rented out the upper floors to. We are the first to arrive at the house. We enter through the kitchen, put the beer in the fridge, and venture into the living room. The first thing that anyone would notice about this living room is that there is a life-size photograph of a fully nude woman in a rather suggestive pose hung on the wall. We venture back into the kitchen.

Faculty members and their partners gradually stream in. One by one they bring in: beer. Every one of them. None of them bring in any food whatsoever. Now, I’m not generally a person with a huge appetite, but I happen to be a type-1 diabetic, and nursing a beer without the opportunity to take any insulin, after having just given a job talk was starting to make me a little nervous (which of course I tried to cover up while making jovial conversation with the department members, as one does during a flyout). Eventually someone notices that there is not any actual food, and they decide to go out to the grocery store to pick up something to eat. The return with: *one rotisserie chicken*. So I eat a couple of bites of chicken, which doesn’t really do much to calm my nervous temper.

Meanwhile, some of the undergraduates who inhabit the upper floors are milling around the kitchen, attracted by the copious amounts of beer that have arrived. Apparently they are the only ones who seem to notice what’s going on: an out-of-town visitor who has been run through the campus visit ringer and not fed adequately. So they start milling around in the cupboards for something to make, and eventually come across a box of falafel mix, which they gamely prepare on the stove. So that was nice.

I did not get the job.Report

Julia
Julia
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

I will tell this story to my students to emphasize the importance of following my advice to always pack emergency snacks for campus visits. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  DD
2 years ago

At least there’s a pleasant twist ending – we think we know where things are going with a houseful of undergrads and too much beer, but our expectations are subverted by the one thoughtful act of the visit!Report

C.A.R.
C.A.R.
2 years ago

Many years ago now, I interviewed for a visiting position and it was a nightmare. It was my first ever campus visit. Admittedly, I was terrible. I bombed the teaching demo. But it was odd from start to finish.

I was to be picked up at the airport, and when I arrived I didn’t notice anyone in the waiting area, so called the number of the person scheduled to pick me up and before I could say anything, she began to admonish me about not being where I should be. I told her I was at the baggage claim because I was forced to check my bag and not at arrivals, but instead, downstairs. I took this to be no big difficulty primarily because it was solved with a 30 second phone call, but she went on and on about how bad it was that I wasn’t where she expected me to be for the entire 1 hour drive from the airport to the school. I shouldn’t have even left the airport as I knew I wouldn’t get the job after the initial phone call and how upset she was at me about something so trivial.

Before informing me when someone would be back to pick me up for dinner, she let me know that the bed and breakfast they put me up in was haunted. I brushed it off as her being silly, but she kept mentioning to her colleagues at dinner how concerned she was that the ghosts might spook me. She then proceeded to tell us all how her house was haunted, and she thinks the ghost must be jealous of her new boyfriend because it had been acting up ever since she started to bring him around. I kept looking around at others at the table to get a sense of how to respond, and no one said anything to lead me to believe they thought this was normal or abnormal behavior.

The next day at lunch, 3 of the people interviewing me fought, at the table, over who would pay for my 4 dollar meatball sandwich. One thought another should pay because they had to be reimbursed anyway, while the other thought he shouldn’t have to get reimbursed for 2 meals, and another should take a turn. I offered to pay my own meal and they acted as if I was insulting for attempting to resolve this clearly unresolvable dilemma.

During the interview process with the chair, I was asked how I would teach a class on American Philosophy. There was absolutely no mention of American Philosophy in the job ad and no way anyone could have interpreted it as such. I had and have no interest in teaching that material and quite frankly, couldn’t even offer a partial response about how I would teach such a class. I told him I didn’t know the position required these teaching responsibilities, and instead, reiterated my AOS and AOC and attempted to sell myself on the basis of the things they presumably brought me to campus for. He audibly gasped in a dismissive manner about my inability to teach American Philosophy, but to this day, I take his question to be as far from left field as if he had asked me how I would teach a class on podiatry.

The one savings grace was that the faculty member who dropped me off at the airport to go home seemed like a really reasonable person who all but apologized for his colleagues behavior.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get offered the job (I would have refused it even if I had no other offers). But I didn’t even get an email or phone call informing me that I didn’t get the job. I found out because of philjobs and an announcement about someone else getting it.

I have now published at least 3-4 times what every faculty member combined in that department has done and I’m at a teaching intensive SLAC.
Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  C.A.R.
2 years ago

So did you see the ghosts or not?Report

C.A.R.
C.A.R.
Reply to  Philodemus
2 years ago

It is safe to save there was no spectre haunting the B&B (or me).Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  C.A.R.
2 years ago

Aw shucksReport

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
2 years ago

My laptop died a couple days before I had a flyout at Cornell. Luckily Generous Party X offered to loan me a spare, and even FedEx it to me overnight. Twist: when it arrived I found it covered in… stickers.
Generous Party X had two loves in their life at the time: hand guns and pornography. There were four stickers advertising Salacious Website Y in the corners, and a huge Glock sticker in the center.

As the laptop booted, I found the desktop wallpaper was a closeup of a pearl handled Colt 45. Tons of files started to load onto the desktop, partly obscuring it, but twist again: they were all porn as the the filenames made very plain.

So I got some duct tape to cover the stickers. I created a fresh user account with a blank desktop. And I headed off to Cornell.

When it came time for my talk I plugged my laptop into the projector, but this was the olden days when you often had to reboot to get the projector and computer to find one another. I rebooted, and… didn’t account for Generous Party X’s account being the default one. Up came the Colt 45 on the seminar room wall, and the OS busied itself frantically trying to cover it with hundreds of offensively named files.

I stammered something about it not being my laptop and stumbled through my talk red-faced. Afterward the grad students took me out for lunch and, rightly, teased me mercilessly. I did not get the job.

I’ve been at a conference where somebody tells the story about the guns-and-porn guy who tanked his Cornell job talk. I just raise my hand and take the L.Report

Nathan
Nathan
Reply to  Jonathan Weisberg
2 years ago

This, my friends, this is a story.Report

Smith&Jones
Smith&Jones
Reply to  Jonathan Weisberg
2 years ago

Well, that’s one reason to prefer handouts.Report

NoHorrorStories
NoHorrorStories
2 years ago

I’m terrified by the thought that some of the guilty parties mentioned in these comments might read this post and either might not recognize themselves or might not recognize why their behavior warrants the description “horror story.”Report

Julia
Julia
2 years ago

Not so horrible for me, but super embarrassing: I interviewed at a small college for a non-TT renewable teaching position. Campus visit went fine, everyone was nice. On the way to the airport, the faculty member driving me starts talking shit about some of the other people they interviewed. He didn’t say their names, but since I knew most of them, I could figure out who they were from the little information he was giving me. I had to stop him eventually by gently pointing out that I knew who he was talking about. Ouch. He really seemed to have no clue that I might know some people in the profession, and that people talk to each other. I am not sure if I got the job, got a different one soon after the visit, and called them to let them know I was no longer interested. Report

David
David
2 years ago

I was being interviewed by a small department of six faculty members. They took me out to dinner the night before my job talk and every one of them got staggeringly drunk and very rowdy. We were dining in a nearby and largely French-speaking town and at one point a patron, appalled by the bad behavior of these professors, shouted, in French, “We don’t need to listen to English in here!” I just kept my head down. Dinner was over and everyone shambled into the streets, yelling and cavorting like drunken college students. One colleague managed to kick a glass door in just a block away from the restaurant. I thought, my god, we’re all going to be charged with “drunk and disorderly conduct.” We all headed over to the home of one of the colleagues where yet more alcohol was consumed and where at least one person passed out. Next morning, I of course showed up for my talk as did all my bleary-eyed hosts. The Chair was in especially bad shape and managed only to mumble a few words of introduction before sitting down in the front row. He had the most peculiar look on his face, as if being beckoned from some far away place. I started my talk and about ten minutes in I could see he was not quite right. Then he suddenly stood up and dashed behind me where, it turns out, the closest bathroom was. And as I waxed beautifully about late 18th century paintings and engravings, the sound of the Chair loudly and repeatedly vomiting filled the air. I didn’t get the job. Report

C. A. R.
C. A. R.
2 years ago

The best part of this thread has been people saying “I didn’t get the job”. It adds such an amazing element to the stories.Report

jj
jj
2 years ago

I had a flyout to a venerable UK institution.Report

Fa
Fa
2 years ago

Visit one: person escorting me around campus is drink at 8am telling me his colleagues are “semi-literate,” other lady tells me she has a gun her purse, junior faculty person starts crying when i ask what the students are like, department chair sits me on the stoop and says “honey, do you really wanna come here”? I was offered the job and would still have considered it if the cab driver to the airport hadn’t told me what utter spoilt brats the students are. Report

Fa
Fa
2 years ago

Visit two. Guy showing me around campus shows me the secret places where (according to him) the kids have sex and then says “do you have kids? Take my advise. Don’t have kids. I have three, and each of them could have been a book.”Report

Bill
Bill
Reply to  Fa
2 years ago

That’s a very eccentric view about trans-world identity.
Report

Shellfish Error
Shellfish Error
2 years ago

I flew out to one coast immediately after another fly out on the opposite coast. By the time I got in, around 2am, the only food available was hotel bar snacks. I ordered shrimp cocktail. This was a fatal error. Somewhere around 4am I woke up with food poisoning, vomiting violently, shaking, cold sweats, the real deal. By 8am, when department member 1 picked me up at the hotel, I had managed to stop vomiting long enough to put on my suit, but I had not been able to keep food or liquid down since the fatal shellfish error. He very kindly took me to a coffee shop, but the smell of coffee made me sick. I threw up in the coffee shop bathroom and bought a bottle of water, which I promptly threw up as soon as we arrived on campus.

I had received no itinerary. All I knew is that I would give a job talk and a teaching demo. Somehow I made it through the teaching demo without puking, although I did literally run to the bathroom afterwards to throw up yet again. My next stop was meeting with undergraduate philosophy majors. No one showed up. I sat in the room, alone, for 20 minutes. Finally, department member 2 showed up, apologized, and said there must have been a miscommunication. So instead, they sat me down in an abandoned office, shut the door, and left me there for an hour and a half. By myself. With my sad little bottle of water.

The job talk went fine, I guess. Afterwards, we went to dinner. It lasted for 4 hours. 4 hours of strong smelling food, bottles of wine, and a fish course that made me want to die. I tried my best to eat something so I wouldn’t offend anyone, but could only manage a couple bites of lettuce. At dinner, department member 3 asked me if my spouse would want to move to [city name] to follow me. I’m not married. Department member 4 then accused me of indoctrinating students, because everyone knows that people with View X just preach at their students rather than teaching them anything useful. I mumbled something about respect for student autonomy. Then I went back to the hotel and cried.

I did not get the job.Report

Mark Silcox
Mark Silcox
2 years ago

The last step of an interview I did at a scruffy, but prosperous suburban CC just outside of Chicago was an interview with the Dean. I was escorted into his office and told we had 45 minutes. The Dean was holding a piece of paper with eight questions types on it in large font, but when he found where I did my BA, he got extremely excited – apparently, his favorite Christian philosopher had once taught there there. I’d never read the guy and had zero interest in Christian philosophy, but I managed to come up with a few amusing, not-entirely-fabricated anecdotes about this famously pious local legend, and the Dean seems to be enjoying the conversation.

We passed about forth minutes in this manner, then one of the search committee poker her head around the door and reminded us that I had to be taken to the airport. The Dean glanced down at his list of unasked questions, then leaped out of his chair and shouted “Jesus Fuck!”

Didn’t get the job.Report

NoGot
NoGot
2 years ago

I was once given a fly out for a TT position at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest (I won’t say where because I don’t want it identified). The AOS said open, and so I gave my job talk on a topic I’d been working on lately–metalinguistic negotiation. No one had any questions after the talk itself, except the chair raised his hand and said, “So you’re here to tell us we can all agree to disagree, is that the gist of it?” Some of the other faculty members chuckled. I wasn’t sure whether he was being serious but I tried to answer the question properly by saying that the argument I was advancing was actually not best captured by that slogan. When I tried to explain further, I was then told to “lighten up” (!?)

Not feeling that the job talk went well (at all, actually), I was hoping that the dinner would be reasonably short so that I could return to the hotel and get away from these people who seemed utterly uninterested in my talk or me. But at this point, things began to get very strange quickly. One of the faculty members told me that they thought my chances of getting the job “were very good” and that the Chair liked me because “I’m funny” (I wasn’t trying to be funny. At all. And I thought the Chair was awful.) And for this reason, I was told, I should keep positive, which I tried to.

The dinner was held at a Mexican restaurant, which I had no problem with in principle. What I was less positive about is that it was “Tequila Wednesday” at that particular restaurant (which I thought was odd–why not Tequila Tuesday, e.g. for alliteration?), which means that at 8:00 p.m. karaoke begins at the front of the restaurant. We ordered around 7pm and during dinner, most of the faculty were talking to each other about people I’d never heard of, and all of them were drinking some strong drink called a “Tres Amigos” which smelled foul. (I had a single Corona). One of the grad students who came along asked me what metalinguistic “appreciation” was (?) and I was relieved to at least be able to have someone to talk to.

Anyway, to my horror, one of the faculty (we’ll call him Dr. X–a real problem) who had consumed several of the “Tres Amigos” told me that it is customary for job candidates to sing “at least one” song of karaoke at Tequila Wednesday. I said that I didn’t know any songs. Dr. X then proceeded to tell the Chair that I “don’t’ know any songs!” The Chair (who reeked of the Tres Amigos) then walked up behind me and said very loudly that nobody that works in HIS philosophy department can’t “know a single song”. Others laughed. I clarified that I *did* know some songs but that I would prefer not to sing any of them presently.

Dr. X told me, once the chair walked away, that I’d “really messed things up for myself” and that if I want to get back on the Chair’s good side, I’ll need to sing something. He brought me the list of songs they had. (Even the metalinguistic “appreciation” grad student thought I should sing).

Flipping through the pages and drinking water, I remember that the only song I liked on the list they had was Heart’s “Alone.” The problem with that song, however, is Ann Wilson’s high parts which it would take a professional vocalist to sing. None of the other songs were ones I liked or knew. The Chair got up and said he was about to “scadaddle” and Mr. X said “Now or never.”

I went up and asked to sing “High Enough” by the Damn Yankees (which was one of the only ones I knew, and which I didn’t think had high parts). As anyone reading this far might well know, the song DID have high parts, particularly the line “Say you’re gonna stay forever.” I looked around the table after my performance but the Chair (who I thought was sticking around) was already gone, and strangely, so was Mr. X. I didn’t get the job.

Report

Andrew
Andrew
Reply to  NoGot
2 years ago

Tuesdays are taken by Tacos, which have priority. Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
2 years ago

I was at a fly-out in 2007, when I was finishing grad school. Did the normal 1-on-1 meeting thing with each professor. Everything seemed great. Great school with great students in a great location.

My last meeting was with an assistant professor in the department. He takes me into his office after first looking around to ensure no one could here him. He tells me that the department has lots of terrible in-fighting, and things are so bad that the administration is going to step in and fix things. He says it induced him to leave for another job. He did say that I’d be fine if I keep my head down and avoid talking to the colleagues.

Got the job. Didn’t take it, thankfully, because I had other offers. For what it’s worth, lots of people left and the department is fine now.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Years ago, I had an interview with a business school while I was already working as an assistant professor my current job. Interviews with faculty, etc., were all great. I was pissed off at GTown for doing some bad shit, and was seriously considering leaving. (They’ve since fixed the problem.)

But then I had to meet with the deputy dean of the business school. He looked over my CV (which included already a few books, a bunch of articles, etc.). He said, “Well, you have a large number of publications, but nothing in *Academy of Management* or other business journals. I think we could give you a 7-year clock and have you start over.”

I said, “Oh, no, I think there’s a misunderstanding here. I already have a much better publication record than anyone in the department that would hire me. This is not a lateral move for me. I’d have to come in with tenure and a big raise. Now, I understand that some business schools only focus on core business, though yours doesn’t. But if this is really your expectation, that’s good to know. We can just end the interview right now and I can go home early.”

He said, “No, no, you’re right, and I understand and agree. Of course you would come in tenured.”

Report

grymes
grymes
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Jason: I should resist, but my curiosity is overwhelming. What makes you think of this as a horror story?Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  grymes
2 years ago

Maybe Jason is thinking of it from the dean’s perspective. 🙂Report

Cara Nine
Cara Nine
1 year ago

A few weeks before the on-campus interview, I was told that, as part of the interview, I would guest teach a session of an Applied Ethics course. They told me I could choose the topic, and we mutually agreed on something– I think the organ lottery.
The day I flew out (to the east coast from the west), I received an email that they needed to change the topic for my guest teaching, and I would receive the reading material (already assigned to the class) when I arrived at the hotel that night. I had to teach it the following morning. I arrived at the hotel and the desk clerk gave me a big envelope that contained two essays: ‘Feminism: For’ and ‘Feminism: Against’.
Ok. I prepared for the class. I was escorted that morning by a member of staff who told me that the teacher of the course was an adjunct who was not invited for an interview. So, I greeted her, very awkwardly, and somehow went onto to have a pretty successful class. This was mainly because the ‘Feminism: Against’ article was so absolutely terrible– possibly written in the 60s?– that the students and I had a grand time laughing about it.
That evening, I was invited to dinner at the Head of Department’s home. I was the only person invited to this dinner. (I was a young woman, he was a 60’s something man.) He made me dinner. His bedroom, he happened to point out to me, was right off of the dining room. He also informed me that his ex-wife ‘turned out to be a lesbian’, and he ‘knew how to please a woman’.
At the very same time, a storm front was blowing into area, threatening that I might not be able to fly out. The department head said that they couldn’t afford another night in a hotel for me. But ‘I could stay with him’.
Luckily I was able to fly out.
I was offered the job. I did not take it!
Report