Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

The Professor Is In: Let Us Never Speak of the Campus Strategic Plan Again

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I saw the campus strategic plan on the website of a job I want to apply for, and now I wonder if I should refer to it in my cover letter. My work kind of relates to it, especially the part about prioritizing interdisciplinarity. Worth mentioning?

Clients refer to campus strategic plans in their job letters with some regularity, and this has alerted me to one of those areas of unspoken knowledge that indisputably separates insiders from outsiders. Insiders---i.e., tenure-line faculty—all know that the campus strategic plan is nothing but a repellent and disgusting exercise in corporate-speak BS foisted on the faculty and students by idiotic administrators marching in lockstep toward neoliberal oblivion under their new corporate overlords on the Board of Trustees.

Envisioning excellence through strategically opportunistic partnerships that leverage resources to dynamically intervene in multiple modalities of scholarship and innovation metrics! Faculty loathe this genre of verbiage with an intensity that almost defies expression, except in snide comment streams on their personal Facebook pages.

There is no single thing that encapsulates the wholesale transfer of influence from the faculty to the administration on our university campuses more perfectly than the campus strategic plan, and therefore there is no single thing on campus that draws a greater concentration of faculty ire, contempt, and resentment.

Therefore, job seeker, do not refer to the campus strategic plan in your job documents. If there is anything in the strategic plan that the department does support, they will support it without reference to, and independently of, the strategic plan. So, if interdisciplinarity is a priority for the department, that will be reflected in the job ad that prompted you to apply, or in language on the department’s own website. But interdisciplinarity as a theme highlighted in the strategic plan is something else entirely, and is most likely infuriating code for faculty downsizing and the goal of making single lines do double duty.

As a job candidate, you want to look as much as possible like a plausible potential “insider”—someone who speaks the language, understands the unspoken codes, and shares the common biases and judgments of the hiring department. The campus strategic plan is a lightning rod for judgments that are profoundly felt and yet rarely aired in the open. Know this document to know the corporate overlords under whom you wish to one day work. But do not refer to this document in speaking to your would-be faculty colleagues who currently serve and resent them.

Dear Readers: Have a question about the academic job market and/or professionalization? Send it to me! I welcome any and all questions related to the job market, preparing for the job market while in graduate school, coping with the adjunct struggle, and assistant professorhood. Send questions to me at gettenure@gmail.com.

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