A few weeks from now, I'll be traveling for a flyout interview to a SLAC (small liberal arts college) in the eastern United States. The college is very small, less than 1,500 students. If hired, I would be teaching philosophy and other topics in a traditional liberal arts and humanities curriculum.
In many ways this is a perfect job for me. The teaching load is 4/4 (that is, 4 courses per semester, no summer teaching required), but I have long wanted to be at a teaching-focused institution. The college is in a small, quiet town in a beautiful area of the country with affordable living. The colleagues I've spoken to so far have been friendly and helpful, and the students seem good. I foresee being able to get tenure fairly easily. For me, all of these features form a very attractive combination. I know it's impossible to predict the future, but at the very least I could see myself spending many years working at this college, assuming there were no major surprises.
My big concern--and I don't know any way other to frame this--is the long-term viability and stability of the college. It has a very small endowment, and as far as I can tell, does not regularly receive donations of any meaningful size. The college weathered the most recent economic challenges here in the US, and has more students enrolled now than at any other point in its history. But my worry is simply that, one day, in response to economic or other issues, it's just going to fold. Then I ask myself whether I could get a job applying out of there, what I would do if I had to leave academia, and so on.
I have no evidence to indicate that anything like this might happen in the near future; in fact, the little information I do have suggests that the college is doing well. But I still worry. I've thought about the possibility of taking a prospective offer with an exit plan: going in ready to publish all of my dissertation research to fill out my CV, in order to make myself competitive should I need to apply out down the road. But that's the best I have so far.
I'd like to ask for your help. My questions are:
- What questions can I tactfully and respectfully ask while on my visit to probe for information about my concern? (Keep in mind that I won't have received an actual job offer while visiting; I assume I could ask more direct questions later, were they to make an offer.)
- What else should I be looking for on the visit that might help me better understand the college's long-term viability, if anything?