I've searched many forums and websites and I am hoping to find a more direct answer to my question.

I am a tenured, associate professor of humanities at a SLAC (yes, I do appreciate this). My family is very unhappy where we are living. I would have gone on the job market before getting tenure but had a confluence of personal crises that went on for over a year. Anyway, I looked for a job last year but noticed that all except one or two in my field are for assistant professor.

Is it "not done"/completely a waste of time to apply for assistant professor positions?

Last year, I had one campus interview, and they said they would hire me as associate but not tenured. Didn't get that job, obviously. I am actually okay with moving without tenure, due to wanting to improve things for my family. I am just a humanities prof, however -- I don't bring grants, funding, all that jazz with me. I'm not a hotshot in publications, either. I don't want a different job or a different university (a move up), just a different location where my family might be happier.

Am I wasting my time?

  • 14
    What is a SLAC?
    – Mangara
    Aug 2, 2014 at 0:59
  • 2
    @Mangara: Small liberal arts college
    – Jeff
    Aug 2, 2014 at 1:32
  • 26
    Whew! For a moment I thought you were teaching humanities at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Aug 2, 2014 at 3:51
  • 16
    I'm sure he'd be a smashing success.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 2, 2014 at 7:46
  • 9
    I think offers like "we will hire you as an associate professor without tenure" are often accompanied by an understanding that you would be eligible for tenure after a short time, maybe a year or two. And by talking to the chair, reading institutional policies, learning about past tenure cases, etc, you might be able to have confidence that you would get it. So next time you have a proposal like that, it may be worth looking into it further. Aug 2, 2014 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


Senior level hires at small, liberal arts colleges (SLACs) are uncommon in the sciences, rare in the social sciences, and very rare in the humanities. Why would a small college pay the same price for an associate or full professor when an assistant costs half as much?

R1s do senior hires because we want and can pay for name-brand profs. We often have named (and well funded) professorships to entice people to switch. Big name professors also bring in big name grants and attract graduate students. These latter concerns aren't as important at SLACs.

That's not to say it doesn't happen. A SLAC might hire a senior professor in the humanities for the following reasons:

  1. It's starting up a new program and needs an experienced hand to guide it
  2. A senior faculty member died/left/was fired and all of the remaining members of the department are too junior to chair it
  3. There is so much infighting in the department that the provost wants an outside chair to step in
  4. Freak accident of nature

Since you have tenure, you can afford to be patient. Keep your CV, cover letter, and job talk polished. Go to all the right conferences. Be portable.

  • 5
    Why would the college pay the same price for an associate or full professor when an assistant costs half as much? — Presumably because tenured faculty provide the college something that assistant professors don't. Otherwise literally nobody would get tenure.
    – JeffE
    Aug 2, 2014 at 12:03
  • 3
    That's the direction we're moving in, Jeff. It's even worse, colleges realize that they can hire 4 adjuncts for the price of one assistant prof. Not only is tenure dying, professors as full-time employees are becoming more rare.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 2, 2014 at 14:55
  • 1
    That's why the OP needs to realize how lucky he or she is. I'd also suggest the OP look into "survivor's guilt" and "post-tenure depression" before making hasty decisions.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 2, 2014 at 21:29
  • 3
    I've looked into post tenure depression/let down stuff, but my family's desire to move is real. We live in an incredibly tiny, incredibly conservative area (we aren't especially political, but it's sort of like living in the US of 30 years ago). There is just a lack of opportunity here especially for my spouse.
    – user20274
    Aug 6, 2014 at 16:31
  • Sure, I totally understand. I was stuck in a midwest college myself for a while before getting fortunately picked up by an R1. I count my blessings each night. In order to get out of your college, you need to focus on your research publications and your prominence in your field, even at the possible expense of service work and teaching at your current workplace. R1s want the best scholars (well top-10) in their fields, work towards being that.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 6, 2014 at 16:36

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