This horrifying story comes from philosopher Darren Hudson Hick, now a VAP at Texas Tech:
I started at Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA) as a tenure-track assistant professor of philosophy specializing in aesthetics in the fall of 2011, having done three years of prior teaching elsewhere as a VAP. In June of last year, I met with the Dean of my college to discuss the possibility of going up for early tenure, taking three years off my tenure-track. She informed me that this had never been done successfully at Susquehanna, but given the strength of my research, teaching, and service, she advocated this move. So, I went ahead with the requisite administrative hoop-jumping,
which involved moving my mid-tenure review up to this past year with the presumption that I would be up for tenure the following year.
A month later, I got a call for a meeting from the Dean. I arrived at the meeting the next day also attended (to my surprise) by my department chair and the CFO for the university. In a nutshell, I was told that somebody in Human Resources had screwed up and missed the deadline for filing my green card application. At this point, it’s worth pointing out that I’m Canadian, and so would ultimately need a green card for my job. Susquehanna took on the task of the green card application. If you’re not familiar with this whole system, the applicant needs to apply for the green card within 18 months of the date of hire (being when I signed the contract—December of 2010), where the HR employee had been working towards an imaginary deadline of 18 months from the date I actually started the job (August, 2011). Nobody in HR, nor in their outside immigration firm, seemed to have noticed the error until it was too late to do anything about it.
The Dean and CFO apologized profusely for all of this, but I was told that what this ultimately, legally, meant was that the university had to go back to square one and re-advertise the job I had already had for a year, meaning (unless I wanted to be supremely confident) I had to go back on the market again. And so this is what I did. (In the meantime, the HR employee was let go.)
(Side-note: I was informed by a colleague at another school—who had been through an eerily similar situation—that there was another route to the green card which got around this issue. I brought this up with the administration at Susquehanna, and I was informed that they would pay for an initial consult with their immigration firm on the matter, but that if I wanted to go that route, I’d ultimately have to pay for it myself. The price tag was $7000—too rich for my blood.)
I did get an interview for my job—two in a series, actually—and it was all very casual. Everyone essentially said, well, we already know you, so what shall we talk about? I went out for dinner with the department, and a grand time was had by all. In the meantime, my mid-tenure review was still underway (these being two distinct processes).
In early December, I was informed by the Dean that the job had been offered to another candidate (actually, I had to e-mail her because nobody was telling me anything, and it took her three days to get back to me). I was not told why. The next week (again, after e-mailing her and waiting three days), I was informed by the Dean that the other candidate had accepted the job. (My mid-tenure review, as you might expect, had been cancelled.) I received an official letter that same week from the President of the university, stating that I was not being retained.
I appealed to the university’s Faculty Affairs Committee—whose job is to deal with faculty grievances that fall outside the ordinary lines of complaint—who replied within hours to say that this was not their jurisdiction, case closed. I also appealed to the professional ethics committee of the American Philosophical Association, who investigated the case (declaring the matter “outrageously immoral”), though they ultimately felt that the administration’s actions did not fall within their grounds for censure. And I had been dealing with the Pennsylvania branch of the AAUP, who felt that there were definite legal grounds for grievance here. (PA employment law is complicated, and an employer can effectively fire an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, unless it amounts to discrimination within the bounds of the law, or violates contract. The AAUP legal counsel argues that my case constitutes a violation of contract as a result of negligence.) However, their legal counsel isn’t exactly the best at communication, and I haven’t heard from him in months, and rather than spending several more months chasing him down, I decided it was in my better interest to simply let it go and get on with my life. My year, as you might imagine, had already been stressful enough.
In the end, bottom line, because someone in HR missed a deadline, my job was taken away. I was—and have been—given no further explanations, by anyone. From December (when it became clear that I wouldn’t be staying at Susquehanna), up until I left this summer, no one in the department said so much as “hello” to me. The Dean apologized again several times and that was about it. As it turns out, this wasn’t a good year for the market it aesthetics (is it ever?), and so I count myself very lucky that I was able to secure a VAP position at Texas Tech University, where I taught before taking the job at Susquehanna.
I wanted to write this little missive as something of an object lesson to non-American academics on the tenure-track (and those going on the market) here in the U.S. Almost without exception, everyone I have told this story to has responded either by saying that it is one of the worst academic horror stories they have heard, or by telling me about someone else that the same thing has happened to. I’m hoping that, in some small way, this will help to reduce the number of the latter.