As many of my colleagues in academia are gearing up for a fresh round of campus visits, I want to share the story of the worst campus visit I ever had. I'm hoping that whatever you have to go through in the coming months, dear colleague, will not be quite as bad. Keep this story in mind and no matter what befalls you on the road to academic employment, tell yourself: it could have been even worse.
The week I came back from what I thought had been an exceptionally successful campus visit, I was contacted by a Chair of one of many departments who had interviewed me at the MLA.
"We want to offer you a campus visit but it has to be right now," she said. "Can you get on the plane the day after tomorrow?"
I don't like to say no to any opportunity to get a job in this tough economic climate, so I cancelled my classes and bought an airplane ticket. The department faxed me some pages from the textbook I was asked to cover in the class I had to teach as part of the job interview, and I stayed up all night before the trip preparing some really fun activities for the class.
The flight lasted 6 hours longer than we'd expected. Campus visits are only offered in February and March, which means that the chances of you getting snowed in somewhere along the way are high. The schedule of my 3-day-long campus visit was extremely tight, so every time my flight was delayed I could practically feel the chances of getting anything useful out of the visit slipping out of my reach.
After a sleepless night and a 14-hour flight, I arrived at my destination and was immediately taken to a restaurant for a meal. Only the most naive and inexperienced job seekers expect to eat or drink anything at such gatherings. Every sip you take is scrutinized, and your job is to make a good impression. If you think that academic hiring is about how good your CV is, how rich your research agenda might be, or how great your teaching skills are, then you are in for a huge surprise. It's all about making a nice impression. That is, if it's even a good faith search and not one of those sham searches that are only conducted to save face in a situation where the job has already been promised to somebody's relative or an internal candidate.
From my MLA interviews with the members of this particular department I knew they were a pretty spacey bunch prone to long silences. During that first dinner they seemed even more out of it than at the MLA interview. I summoned all the chirpiness I possess to fill in the long bleak silences. The main topic of conversation at the table was about the high prices of food at that particular restaurant, which made me feel horrible about every bite I tried to take. It might have been my imagination, but it felt like everybody was looking at me with resentment whenever I tried to swallow anything.
Next morning, I was told that because of the delay of my flight several activities had to be taken off the agenda.
"So you aren't going to get to see the campus. Or the library," a member of the search committee announced. "But not to worry, you are still going on your excursion with the real estate agent."
I made a couple of timid attempts to suggest that a real estate agent was of no interest to me but to no avail. The agent arrived, I was packed into her car, and sent off to explore available properties. At that time, I had exactly $112 in my checking account and $32 in savings, so the agent's spiel about the really cheap properties that were available "just for $325,000, imagine that!" left me cold. I was scheduled to give my trial class right after the real estate excursion. It is very tough to teach a class where there are more people observing and judging you than actual students. All I wanted at that point was to get some alone time to have a cup of coffee, go over my class plan, relax, and get into the teaching mode. I teach in Spanish, so it's necessary to take a moment to tune into the Spanish-speaking side of my brain. The real estate agent, though, was relentless.
"Oh, there is plenty more time left before your class," she said as she finally let me out of her minivan 3 minutes before the trial class was scheduled to begin.
I was expecting somebody from the department to be there to take me to the classroom where I was going to teach the class. Imagine my horror when 10 minutes into the class I was supposed to be teaching nobody arrived to lead me to the classroom. The visit had been planned in such a hurry that nobody put the actual classroom number on my visit schedule.
(To be continued. . .)