There’s been a discussion going on in the comments of my post from a couple of days ago where I was discussing our search for a new colleague in the Mondoville English department. I mentioned in the original post that many of the candidates have truly impressive publication records, but that very few of them seem interested in who we are and what we actually do. (See also Withywindle’s take.)
As I was reading all this stuff, I was reminded of a moment in the novel my freshpeeps are reading this term, Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place. A raven in the novel mentions an encounter he had in Iowa with a seriously misguided seagull. The seagull was certain that every pond, lake, creek or river must be the ocean. He was wrong, of course, but it was reasonable to the seagull — he had spent his entire life (prior to getting lost) at the ocean, so all he knew of water was the ocean. Ergo, all water is the ocean. (This is related, by the way, to what FLG calls The Big Assumption — the idea that our experiences must be true of everyone else as well.)
Likewise, Ph.D. programs are often populated by people (both students and faculty) who are in, of, and from big, research-oriented institutions. Consequently, like the seagull, they seem convinced that all of higher ed — from Mondoville to the Sorbonne — follows that model. Not so much. As I said in the comments:
[D]uring my one serious run at the market — and remember, I was coming from Ball State U (which no one mistakes for the Sorbonne, reputationally — and I’m the only Ph.D. medievalist the school has produced. Ever.), with a dissertation that was coming from a decidedly unfashionable perspective (I’ve been called “the last of the New Critics” by some, although I consider myself a Frygean), I had four campus interviews and three offers (I later learned that the position I lost was indeed because they saw my research approach as being old-school/unhip.) None of the three schools that wanted me were terribly concerned about my research plans. All three were schools that are focused primarily (and in two cases, exclusively) on undergrad education. What they wanted to know was how I worked in the classroom, so instead of the research-focused “job talk”, I was asked to teach classes (or to teach mock classes) — in my case, on a topic (King Lear) outside my dissertation area. Schools like Mondoville are hiring generalists in many respects.
Yeah, we care about your research, but really, only insofar as it demonstrates that you’re intellectually alive. If you work at Mondoville, you may present at a conference or two a year (or make an annual contribution to the Chaucer bibliography), and we’ll actually be more excited if you got some of your kids to present at an undergrad conference. What we want to know is how you approach a composition class — in my case, a lot of workshopping and one-on-one interaction. We want to know if you can deliver a talk on Lear or In Memoriam A.H.H. that will keep kids away from their facebook pages. We want to know if you’ll show up at plays, recitals, and ball games — to be part of our community beyond the classroom. We want to know if you’re willing to serve on innumerable committees and go to meeting after meeting; we want to know if you’re willing to advise students and help them figure out what they want to do with their lives. If you find this stuff to be a distraction or a nuisance, then Mondoville is going to be a miserable gig for you, and you’ll also probably make your students and colleagues miserable. We’re not really in the knowledge production business — although we’ll be happy if you can do some of that in your spare time. We’re transmitters and mentors and folks who eat in the cafeteria at the same table as the students.
I don’t know if that matches your idea of what the professoriate is about, but it’s what our professoriate is about, here and at lots of other Mondovilles. And if the only thing that drives an applicant is his or her research, we have to wonder if that applicant is really interested in our gig.