October 28, 2009
Questions FAR Candidates Would Like to Ask
Posted by Christine Hurt

Friend of the Glom Danny Sokol has a few posts at Faculty Lounge about his hiring conference pet peeves.  He asked me to comment on how to know if schools are untruthful when they say they are "into interdisciplinary scholarship."  The last two times I've been interviewing in D.C., a common question was "How does Illinois perceive interdisciplinary scholarship," so I have no doubt that this is a question that is answered many times over.  That being said, I'll prefer to comment instead on the underlying concerns that are really at the bottom of the standard questions that will be asked next week.

1.  Do people like me get tenure at your school?  This could mean people who have co-authors, people who do empirical work, people who publish in peer-reviewed journals, people who publish at my pace, people who invest a lot of time in teaching, people who take pro bono cases, people who like to teach experiential classes.  But instead of asking this question, we ask "How does your school feel about interdisciplinary scholarship/teaching/public service/clinics/legal writing/etc."  I think the best way to get an answer to this question is to look and see who has gotten tenure in the past ten years.  How many people are doing your kind of work?  Have recent hires been doing work like yours?  Everyone is going to say that they value what you do, or they wouldn't be interviewing you.  Revealed preferences are more helpful.

2.  Are you going to make it hard for me to write?  Publishing and writing is not easy.  Even though it is usually an enjoyable exercise, chunks of time are hard to find and keep.  Often this question comes out as "How do you support juniors?"  What you really need to know is whether the school understands and acknowledges that your scholarship comes first over a lot of things.  So, what is your courseload?  Do you get a pre-tenure leave?  Are juniors shielded from burdensome committee work?  Also, will they let you choose the courses you teach?  Juniors who teach in the areas in which they write are at an advantage.  If they hem and haw about your package and it looks like even though you write in "X," you can't teach in "X" on a regular basis because a senior person who doesn't write in "X" doesn't want to change his/her teaching package, then this is a bad sign.

3.  Will I make friends at your school?  No one says this out loud, but it's important, and that's why schools try to make sure you meet people with similar interests in the same phase of life.

4.  If I need money/time/resources for a project, will I get it?  This concern also underlies the "How does your school feel about X," How does your school support juniors" line of questions.  See what sorts of projects others work on and ask how they are funded.  Ask  people how many research assistants they have.  Ask if anyone has outside grants/funding.  Ask how much development/travel accounts are.  Ask people sort of casually if they went to AALS or Law and Society or other conferences that professors have to pay for even if they are speaking.  If the faculty has any historians/psychologists/economists/empiricists that seem to have big projects going, ask them about the projects.

Not every school is going to be perfect and often we have to make choices between two inperfect options.  I hope this helps!

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