I've been involved in a couple searches recently, from a variety of angles. For each of them, some NWU adjuncts* applied. And none of them were hired. And now a couple are really angry.
I know some adjuncts ask how it is that we're willing to keep them as adjuncts, but not hire them as tenure track faculty. The answer is that there's much more competition for tenure track jobs. Someone who applies for one of our newer adjunct positions is usually fresh out of a grad program, has some conference presentations, is abd or just finished, and has a good record of grad school teaching. They write an application letter, do a phone interview, and are hired by the chair. The job description says nothing about scholarly activity, so that's not something the chair can ask about.
In contrast, the folks who stood out in our tenure track searches generally had a publication or two, conference presentations, a good record of grad school teaching, good references, and what made them stand out to get the interview were stellar letters of application. What makes the letters stellar always includes addressing the things we put in our job description, and says meaningful things about those.
From the stellar letters, we looked at CVs, and letters of recommendation, and then writing samples to narrow down the pool further. We care about scholarly activity and teaching. But no one got an interview that I know of unless they had a stellar letter.
What makes a stellar letter?
One of the candidates who isn't mad and I talked for a good while about their letter. They sent me a letter of application for a different job, and a job description for that job. So I used different colored highlighters to highlight the things the job description said were important, and prioritized those. And then I used the same colors to highlight in the candidate's letter where they addressed those things. That made the lack of addressing the job description really visible.
For example, this job description said it valued candidates who could contribute to diversity. On first glance, a white candidate might think that means only a candidate who's a person of color. But what it means is that everyone needs to learn about diversity, and especially about working well with diverse students and colleagues, and about contributing to diversity efforts on campus. So, for example, this adjunct mentioned in their letter that they worked with a diverse student body. And that was it. But in reality, when I asked the candidate, they'd made at least some effort to learn about effective teaching for a diverse student body. But they hadn't talked about it in their letter and it didn't show on the CV, so how was the search committee to know?
I did suggest to the candidate that they could do more, start a reading group for the adjuncts across campus, maybe, to take on some leadership in contributing to diversity.
The thing is, unless a letter tells the search committee that you actually can contribute in the required and valued areas of the description, the search committee won't know. And they don't have time to go look you up on the web to learn more because someone else's letter did tell them that information, and made it sound meaningful and committed.
So, let's hear: why do your schools hire or not hire adjuncts?
*When I use "adjuncts" in this post, I mean any teaching staff who aren't on a tenure-track contract. These may be full time or part time, and may have a variety of different names, even on one campus.