Posts Tagged ‘Huck Finn’

Continuing my medicalization kick (and because I haven’t talked about Huck Finn in a while), a recent post at Slate highlights the way that the behaviors that we have medicalized in children today, such as ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, likely existed long before our labels.  While this is not a surprise, the conclusion brings up an interesting point:

But if the children and the parents are familiar, the society surrounding them is not. In fact, Tom Sawyer turns out fine in the end. In 19th-century Missouri, there were still many opportunities for impulsive kids who were bored and fidgety in school. The very qualities that made him so tiresome—curiosity, hyperactivity, recklessness—are precisely the ones that get him the girl, win him the treasure, and make him a hero. Even Huck Finn is all right at the end of his story. Although he never learns to tolerate “sivilization,” he knows he can head out to “Indian territory,” to the empty West where even the loose rules of Missouri life won’t have to be followed.

Nothing like that is available to children who don’t fit in today. Instead of striking out into the wilderness like Huck Finn, they get sent to psychologists and prescribed medication—if they are lucky enough to have parents who can afford that sort of thing. Every effort will be made to help them pay attention, listen to the teacher, stop picking fights in the playground, and rightly so. Nowadays, there aren’t any other options.

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Unlike Candide or The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not an allegory for academe.  (This is a good thing, since most people would not want to be strung along during hiring or tenure like Jim is in the end of the book.)  Rather, Teresa Magnum at Inside Higher Ed uses an excerpt to convey that, to a candidate, communication is everything.  She has a number of suggestions for search committees that most, if not all, candidates would welcome given the mysterious nature of the market:

First, departments should think carefully about the materials they request in their advertisements. Initial decisions require a letter and a resume. Trees and postage saved. In the early stages of a search, applicants need to know two things. Did materials arrive? What next? A quick e-mail acknowledgment and a timeline surveying the next steps in the search are deeply reassuring. When an ad attracts 400 candidates, notification requires real effort, but so did applying.

All of the candidates with whom I’ve spoken along with those on the wiki sincerely wish departments would let them know when they are no longer being considered. My warmest memory from my own job search is, ironically, a rejection letter. A faculty member from the University of Pennsylvania wrote an unusually compassionate letter, including one sentence that complimented my writing sample with enough detail to suggest she had actually read it. I kept that letter for years and to this day I send out a bless-your-heart whenever it comes to mind. Timely response is all the more important now that those who do get invited for interviews are likely to post that information on one of the wikis. A quick appreciative e-mail to those who didn’t make the first cut ought to be manageable, and if you have the resources to insert even one personal comment, you will have done a very, very good thing. If the next step in your search is a conference interview, you might also help an unsuccessful candidate avoid wasting a fortune on a plane ticket and hotel.

Whether the first personal contact with candidates will be by phone, at a conference, or on campus, the interview will be more productive and less stressful for everyone involved if candidates know what to anticipate and how to prepare. Who will be present and what are their areas of expertise? (Yes, I know that should be on the Web, but it often isn’t.) What cell phone number can the candidate call in case of disaster? What can you tell candidates about the interview? Will any committee member need to arrive late or leave early?

An interview shouldn’t feel like a round of whack-a-mole. What can you tell candidates about the interview in advance? Will it last 30 minutes, 45 minutes? If you want candidates to speak thoughtfully about their ability to meet a specific need in your department, why not ask them to ponder the topic in advance?

It’s well worth a small loss of time to be sure appointments are scheduled at intervals that will neither leave candidates waiting in the hall nor force them to meet face to face. Think about the interview space, too. Try sitting where you plan to place the candidate. A large, deep chair puts a short person at a disadvantage. You simply can’t sit in such a chair wearing certain kinds of skirts. Three committee members once sat facing me with their backs to a bright window. All I could see were silhouettes. To this day, I have no idea who they were.

No one should have to say so, but committee members should introduce themselves and provide water. They should not eat, doze, complain about exhaustion, check e-mail on a Blackberry, or leave a cell phone ringer in action. They should be welcoming even if this is the 15th candidate in two days. Apparently the question — “Why would anyone want to work on this topic?” — is a frequent opening gambit at interviews. Surely rigorous doesn’t have to be rude.

For those who interview at conferences, I can’t resist sharing a pet peeve. What would possess a department to invite all the people they’ve interviewed to the same party? Misery really doesn’t love company (and probably the last thing Misery needs is a free drink). Candidates wryly glad-handing strangers — faculty members? competitors? alumni? — at such parties must assume they’ve been lured to some dreadful version of an academic reality show just before being voted off to oblivion.

Finally, at the end of the interview, offer an updated timeline. Why subject someone to slow torture when you can explain that no decision will be made about the next stage of the search for two weeks or a month? Once you do decide whom to bring to campus, the other candidates would appreciate being told they are no longer being considered so that they can move on to other hopes and dreams.

To this list, I would add that faculty should not make offers that candidates will be reluctant to refuse.  On one of my campus visits I had an hour or so between my meetings and dinner that I was going to spend trying to regain my sense of time and place until the faculty member who was dropping me off at my hotel said that he was going to spend the intervening time getting coffee and asked if I would like to join him.  Because I was in “please everybody” mode, I accepted although I was really looking forward to some time that I didn’t have to spend being “on.”  After I accepted he said that if he were a candidate he would have chosen to spend the time alone!  While I’m sure his intentions were good, I wish he would have recognized this fact beforehand and resisted the invitation.

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