What Happens After 9 Years as a Visiting Assistant Professor?

bowenI appreciate that Mike Bowen will be writing for us from Denver this week as part of our coverage of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association.  Bowen is adjunct instructor in history at John Carroll University and the former assistant director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida.  He is the author of The Roots of Modern Conservatism: Dewey, Taft, and the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).  -JF

Here is the first of his #aha17 posts:

I consider myself a veteran of the AHA annual meetings. My first was the 120th, held in January 2006 in Philadelphia. I was just a pup then…one semester away from defending with three chapters left to write. Like many, my goal was the elusive tenure-track line. I didn’t succeed in Philly, but that spring I worked something out in the secondary market, finished those chapters, and defended.

My AHA attendance has been sporadic since Philly, usually dependent on the prospects for a job interview. Those prospects have declined dramatically in recent years and became non-existent at the end of the 2014-15 academic year when, after nine consecutive one-year VAP/administrative appointments scattered across three states, my VAP line was terminated early. I was collateral damage to the administrative fallout from an accreditation decision. I remain an adjunct in good standing at that same institution and remain hopeful that there will be a full-time opportunity of some sort for me there. Even though I continue to apply to everything I can, there doesn’t seem to be much left for me as a working historian.

Barring a miracle of some sort, then, this will be my last trip to an AHA annual meeting. I don’t know what to expect, really. I am presenting what I imagine will be my last academic paper (Friday at 3:30, for those of you who are interested in moderate Republicans in the 1970s. I’ll be the one with the Southern accent). It is the fourth conference paper on the broad topic that I had planned to cover in my second book. Also, one of my former undergrads who is now a political organizer in Denver is going to meet up with me. That’s all I know. I plan to watch, observe, and ruminate on the job environment, the state of my field as I see it, and how the annual meeting has changed in my eleven years on the job market.

I will be writing from a position of tacit acceptance. Unfortunately, we have been beseeched in recent years with what scholars have come to call QuitLit. My posts will not be QuitLit because I do not want to quit, even though I likely will not be continuing as a historian. I am also not looking to trash the academy or the profession, because, even though I disagree with a number of their standards and practices, I would love to remain a member in good standing. I hope any criticisms I make will be taken in the constructive spirit in which they are offered. If my posts from the AHA can make people examine how they act when they are on search committees or can dispel some notions and biases that have worked against me, then I will have done a service.

Above all, I recognize that I am far luckier than most to have lasted almost a decade as a full-timer in this business. I do not want sympathy from the profession…I learned long ago that there the profession generally has little sympathy for those not on tenure track. If anyone wants to offer up an opportunity, though, I would gladly listen.

One thought on “What Happens After 9 Years as a Visiting Assistant Professor?

  1. It occurs to me that HUMs have barriers to acceptance (or what we might call minimum standards) that are much higher than other fields to the detriment of academics in that area. The book as a unit of currency is so time-consuming and must represent significant free labour for precarious academics trying to get that full-time position – simply at the level of getting a contract. A unit of currency that absolutely nobody expects me as an (management) academic to have.

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