Task Force on Assistant Professorship

Assistant professors teach in a wide variety of areas: music theory, education, composition, and performance. Their places of employment range from research universities to small liberal arts colleges.

A common trend for assistant professors is the increasing breadth of requirements found in job descriptions. Assistant professors today need to be prepared to teach subjects outside of their primary area. Examples abound: an assistant professor teaches theory, composition, electronic music, and jazz studies; another teaches high and low brass lessons, brass ensemble, wind ensemble, jazz band, and percussion ensemble; still another teaches music appreciation and second-year music theory in addition to high brass lessons, brass ensemble, and jazz ensemble. This may be a result of faculty downsizing in order to save money whenever possible. Whatever the reason, teaching outside of ones major discipline, especially in early career, often makes it difficult to maintain focus on research or other scholarly activities.

A review of the hiring process reveals that search committees often seek to hire assistant professors who are battle tested. In other words, departments are looking for an applicant with a proven track record who can immediately handle a full teaching load. Clearly, employment expectations have changed from past practices, where a tenure-track job was usually assumed upon completion of a terminal degree. This trend will likely continue in the next decade since accountability and tenure have become political issues.

These increased expectations for assistant professors may be partially attributed to the deep application pools seen in recent years. Competition is fierce. When looking for a new faculty member, it is now a buyers market. Given this current climate, it has become more and more difficult for even a PhD or a DMA recipient to get that important first job.

A profile of assistant professors seems to have two common characteristics: they are extremely busy with their class load and are trying to build the necessary résumés to obtain tenure. Assistant professors spend much time preparing for each lecture (and wish for even more time), try to be on as many committees as possible (university service), and fret about what is required for tenure. As one member of our task force stated, Were always researching, writing, or composingor submitting papers for conferences and to journals. Eventually, well worry about what is required for promotion to full professor should we get that far!

Regardless of this never-ending cycle of activity, tenure remains a rather slippery goal, as it is often difficult to pin down what is precisely needed to achieve it. All institutions should have clearly written guidelines of what is expected for tenure to be granted. Since assistant professors are often teaching in several areas of music, administrators should be clear about professional expectations for each of these areas. It would be beneficial to know how universities of varying size and focus help facilitate the research and scholarly activities of new hires in order to get them on the right path to tenure.

Another topic of importance for assistant professors is faculty mentoring. There is so much to grasp the first year of teaching that having an experienced, wise voice to help with direction is beneficial. Since mentoring may involve a close personal relationship, care needs to be taken with the selection of a mentor. Assistant professors should choose their own mentor and take it upon themselves to establish this relationship.

Generally, all members of the task force held very positive attitudes towards their teaching positions. They found their colleagues to be very warm and welcoming in the early stages of their employment. Additionally, the members found their interactions with students to be positive and their students highly motivated. One wonders if part of this position is derived from a realization of how difficult it is today to find a job, especially given the number of qualified applicants in the job market. As one member stated, Although there are always challenges in the university environment, all in all, its a pretty good life!