Essay questions on faculty job applications

*Update, 11/22/08:  If you’ve stumbled into this post,  you’re probably looking for advice like what you’ll find here: http://philosophyfacotry.blogspot.com/2008/11/philosophy-jobs-part-two-writing-cover.html. What follows below is mostly commiseration.

I spent most of the day today filling out virtually identical job application forms for community college teaching positions. Not only were they redundant in terms of my data entry, but are redundant next to the C.V. I’m required to send in with them. ALL community colleges require them. To my knowledge, no universities do. There is no nationally standard form even though the information requested certainly follows common standards.

Then, I can’t not mention the community college that requires applicants to type out their ENTIRE undergraduate and graduate transcripts in the provided form, with dates, course numbers, course titles, and grades. Oh, and then attach your unofficial transcript…

Are they trying to warn us about how much of our time they’ll waste after we’re hired?

What I’m left wondering now is: what is the real purpose of asking faculty candidates to write short essays about diversity? Really? No one worth his salt as faculty would think of writing that they don’t have ANY experience or sympathy with diverse groups of students. Anyone with a graduate degree should be able to turn some personal history into a compelling “not to exceed one page”. Nearly everyone with post-secondary teaching experience has taught students of different backgrounds. And, everyone who has had a full-time position in the last decade knows enough key terms about “meeting the needs of the changing population”, learning styles, and culturally sensitive instruction. Wheat will not be separated from chaff here.

Is the question really just to get a writing sample? To see if we can make convincing arguments for when grant writing rolls around – all the while subtly reaffirming the college’s philosophy before the first round interview? If so, why not just ask us to write a grant proposal for them? Maybe then, at least if we get the grant there’s the chance they’ll have to hire us to administer it…

Here are some questions I’ve faced over the past few days:

“On a separate sheet of paper, or in the space below, provide a statement about yourself that specifically demonstrates sensitivity to the needs of the diverse academic, socioeconomic, cultural, disability, and ethnic backgrounds of community college students and the community at large. Your response is limited to one (1) page.”

“Please also discuss significant contributions you have made to promote diversity in previous positions you have held.”

Also from that college, “State briefly how you specifically fit the Faculty Profile of Personal and Professional Qualities and demonstrate how you have employed these qualities in the past. If necessary, attach additional pages (not to exceed three (3) pages total in length). “

“How does your work as an art teacher support social justice?”

“Please attach a response (maximum of two pages) which addresses your experience working with other cultures and communities and how you have applied your experience to a learning/working environment.”

“Provide any experience and training you posses which demonstrates your sensitivity to and understanding of the diverse socio-economic, cultural, disability and ethnic backgrounds of community college students.” (looks like they’ve seen the first one too.)

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4 Responses

  1. Hey;

    I’m starting to apply to some CC’s in CA, and know what your talking about. I had to do a web search to find the document that tells me what is the “Faculty Profile of Personal and Professional Qualities”. I probably should include my ability to find the profile into my essay…

  2. What do you say to the diversity question, anyway? I was asked it in an interview, and tried to say something about learning styles of ethnic groups, and left labeled a racist.

    I guess the question is really mostly a formality, eh? Just say some politically-correct jargon with little content seems the strategy.

  3. Yes, sounds racist. Learning styles have little to do with ethnicity and more to do with individual people and our delicate little individual psychologies. On the other hand, there are social and economic facts tied to the ongoing legacy of racial segregation in America that can influence people’s attitudes toward study. But, I’d steer clear of that discussion – unless, of course, you’re interviewing for sociology jobs.

    The thing about race is that there are as many people who are unable to listen to people talk about it as there are people who aren’t good at talking about it. Even if you discuss race well, other people’s fear of the subject could get you tossed out of a candidate pool.

    Maybe it’s just a matter of writing out your response and practicing it – just so your words are careful.

    I think mentioning learning styles is good. It’s a good way to address diversity while actually steering the discussion clear of race. Talking about diverse economic backgrounds is also good. You can explain your sensitivity to the pressures students face outside of the classroom and find a way to look both compassionate and demanding at the same time, however that’s possible.

    Before I finally landed a full-time faculty job (which I’ve since lost to budget cuts and left academia to middle-manage a public art center), I was the program director for a very small nonprofit that offered free and participant-paid arts programs for teens on Chicago’s west side. Just to say it, by virtue of pre-gentrified zip code, teens in those communities are “at risk.” As far as this discussion goes, it was a trump card to what a shameful lot of college faculty really only ever address in theory.

    If you haven’t done something like that, maybe just think of the two or three most different students you’ve had, then explain how you’d teach them within the same class. Just don’t say anything about how you can’t help the bad students and the good ones are fine on their own so you focus on the ones in the middle. Faculty are only allowed to say that after they’ve been on the job a year or two.

  4. Thank you meteechart,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your discourse I fully agree with.

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