December
24th 2013
Peace on Earth! Or, the Christmas that job wiki rage went viral.

Posted under: American history, conferences, happy endings, jobs

Read thisThen this.  Then read this, and finally, this post.  This last post is like a personalized rant from the job wikis, in which everyone with a job is a defender of the oppressive status quo, no one with tenure deserved it, and everyone on a search committee is making decisions with the specific intent to hassle, rip off, or shame the job candidates.

As to the original topic of this flamewar:  I think most of us here can agree that it’s pretty abusive to give people less than a month’s notice, let alone less than a week’s notice that they’ll need to buy a plane ticket etc. for a mere first-round interview.  Regular readers will remember that I am in principle against the convention interview, and urge committees either to use Skype or to dispense with the semifinalist interviews all together and just bring people straight to campus.  It seems to work in other nations and in other fields, but historians and lit perfessers tend to resort to the “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!” excuse.

This is irritating, if unsurprising.  Our professional customs and hiring procedures deserve the kind of scrutiny we apply to historical systems of credentialing professionals and managing labor.  I should know–I started a blog because I was dissatisfied with the rules and traditions of academia, which seemed to me to work against intellectual diversity and innovation.  Tenured Radical also started her blog to do just that, and has over the years offered lots of advice and ideas for graduate students and junior scholars to help them on their intellectual and professional journeys.

Take a look at her archives–it’s all there.  You don’t have to like or take her advice, but her blog has served as a constructive space in which people might work out their frustrations with and/or share some of the joys of intellectual life in the modern university.

Who is Tenured Radical?  Some of us–many of us–know her in person.  Most of us really like and respect her, because she is the gold standard for collegiality, fair play, and intellectual engagement, not to mention her service as a public intellectual and radical feminist.  Furthermore, she doesn’t just play this role online, but in real life too.  She has been an academic fairy godmother to me over the past twenty years.  I first met her as a graduate student when she taught at Penn in a one-year position.  I met her again when we (totally randomly) shared a cab from the Atlanta airport to the AHA in January of 1996, when I was a grad student giving the job market my second (and ultimately unsuccessful) try.  She paid the entire cab fare, plus tip, because I was an underemployed graduate student who didn’t have institutional funding for my travel, whereas she did as an Assistant Professor.  The next time I communicated with her was six years ago this winter, immediately after starting this blog.  I wanted to let her know that I shared her blogging ethic and some of her ideas about academia, and she very generously linked to my blog and recommended it to her readers.

“What a smarmy defense of a friend,” some of you might say.  I like TR personally and consider her a good friend now, but she wasn’t when she generously shared her cab and her readers with me.  Who was I in 1996 or 2007?  Nobody much.  I didn’t (and don’t) have a prestigious job at a name-brand rich university, so I couldn’t invite her to give a talk or pay her back in any way that would matter to her.  I’m not an heir to a fortune.  I’m not even in her period or field.  I was just another grad student, another junior colleague that she helped out because she’s a stand-up guy and a thoroughly decent person who cares to cultivate the kind of work environment and collegial connections that we’d all like to work in.

And I know I’m not alone.  Peace on Earth, goodwill to all.

 

65 Comments »

65 Responses to “Peace on Earth! Or, the Christmas that job wiki rage went viral.”

  1. Loren on 24 Dec 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Per above: “I started a blog because I was dissatisfied with the rules and traditions of academia, which seemed to me to work against intellectual diversity and innovation.”

    Have you REALLY sought “intellectual diversity” in academia?

    In my years as a student and in my years since then as a reader, it is clear that academia is distinctly, and strongly, left-of-center and that the only “diversity” is in the various shades of Leftward thinking. Academia is a “hostile work environment” for anyone in the Humanities that holds right-of-center political views.

  2. swordfish on 24 Dec 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    I have never met you or TR in person although we have exchanged some emails under our real names. I’m writing to say thank you to both of you for the civility in your blog posts and your willing to look at multiple viewpoints as you discuss various issues. The rage exhibited in the job wiki discussion (and in TR’s ASA discussion) is distressing. It is a sign, of course, of a larger problem. The world of online comments has become riddled with anger and attacks that probably reflect the larger situation and also adds fuel to the political fires that are burning so hot right now. That is why your modeling of civility matters and why, in addition to your valuable writings, you (both) deserve to be read. All best for 2014.

  3. Indyanna on 24 Dec 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    I (perversely, I’m sure, in view of my own staggeringly negative experience with the job market) *somewhat* value the face-to-facedness of the convention situation, including its ability to test for creativity and resilience in the human swarm that is more representative of academic life than the quietude of the research library and the archive. But no one could justify the basic economics of the structure, as has been abundantly documented here again and again, much less the condescension and rudeness toward unwaged supplicants of a lot of already-waged recruiters. So, as a possible partial solution–given the way many if not most graduate programs brag about how they’ve right-sized their doctoral cohorts in order to be able to provide “full rides” to their candidates–maybe the AHA itself could make it a “best practice” amounting to a rule, that when candidates are invited to come interview, “full ride” is defined as full fare. The moans and groans would arise in department-land about mean deans, parsimonious legislators, journal cuts at the library, and the whole array of constraints. But the second someone does get a job, the preparing department crows about its “placement rate,” and the receiving department begins to draft the “welcome” ads that appear in the next year’s _Perspectives_. So maybe all of this self-congratulation and credit-taking should come at the expense of institutional commitments (which could well be cost-shared between hiring and training departments in question) that everyone promising enough to be summoned to the Big Meeting will be held-harmless with respect to their personal fiscal situations. And the AHA (or MLA) could make this a rule, as in, “nobody has the right to use our convention as a personnel resource, only the privilege, subject to compliance with best practices as we define them.” (After all, that got people out of being interviewed on half-made beds in cheap hotel rooms, after about a half-century of earnest suasion). But, with respect to the hiring function, the national professional organizations really are more constellations of hiring-side institutions, not application-side individuals who may be “members.”

  4. quixote on 24 Dec 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Loren, the problem isn’t bias in academe but the overall leftward bias of reality. And since following the evidence is supposed to be non-optional for academics, we’ll be pretty much stuck with a leftward bias there. That is, we’ll be stuck until people’s politics catch up with the ground truth. Then academe will no longer stand out against a general evidence-based background.

  5. Feminist Avatar on 24 Dec 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I deeply suspicious when anger gets placed opposite civility in the emotion spectrum. There is a legitimate place for anger in social discourse and expressing it is not necessarily ‘uncivil’ or ‘anti-social’, especially when it comes from oppressed groups. I especially worry when ‘civility’ moves towards silencing groups who have legitimate concerns to express.

    Whether this was an appropriate context to express anger, whether the targets were the right was ones for it to be directed at, and whether the vitriol in comments on pages in this case (or more generally) are helpful, if of course a topic of debate. But, I’m not sure that anger is always the problem.

    FWIW, I don’t think the academic committee in this case deliberately tried to screw their job candidates. I do think that those job candidates had every right to be angry that there is an expectation that they be given five days notice to travel across the country on their own dime for a long list interview. It does show a disregard of the financial realities of job seekers lives.

  6. Contingent Cassandra on 24 Dec 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Oh, my. I’m generally of the mind that anger is a useful emotion (most useful if one sits with it long enough to figure out what one is really angry about, and then tries to figure out what part of the situation that is making one mad one is in a situation to control/change, and acts accordingly), and I even think a bit of public shaming (or at least complaining/questioning) by someone with little to lose isn’t a bad addition to the discussion, either. But this has gotten more than a bit out of hand. Among other things, in Schuman’s haste to set up an us vs. them generational war, she seems to have missed that TR recently conducted a successful job search herself (aided, I’m sure, by some of the advantages of already being tenured elsewhere, but the fact that she was recently hired to a tenure-level job does sort of undermine the “she couldn’t get hired today” argument).

    I fear Schuman has taken her complaints to such an extreme that she may actually undermine some worthy suggestions for reform, including, yes, please, a switch to Skype interviews, or a straight-to-campus-interview approach, as the default. The MLA-interview process (and, frankly, the MLA conference itself) is outdated in all kinds of ways, and ripe for reform, but I doubt that telling the people who are in a position to make things move in that direction that they’re all a bunch of scholarly lightweights who had it easy when they were on the market, have it easy now, and couldn’t get hired again today if they tried is going to help.

    Finally, I wonder whether some differences between Literature and History are playing a role here. As tends to be the case with these things, I don’t really know exactly how things in History work, but my sense is that there is a few more obvious non-academic options for historians (e.g. public history of various sorts) than for Literature Ph.D.s, and that Literature Ph.D.s are even more likely than historians to be in the position of finding that there is way more than enough teaching work out there for them, but only if they’re willing to work as adjuncts (this, of course, is because many of us, regardless of whether we have any formal rhet/comp training, teach writing as well as literature, and there’s always a demand for writing courses. There’s also almost always demand for foreign language courses, though that seems to be shrinking somewhat). I don’t want to introduce any more us/them dichotomies in a situation that already has more than enough, but I do wonder whether the frustration level among English/lit Ph.D.s is even higher than that among history Ph.D.s (and I’m sure it’s high enough among the latter).

  7. Nicoleandmaggie on 25 Dec 2013 at 8:18 am #

    What contingent Cassandra said. We also do conference interviews in Econ, but there’s none of this angst. Different angst, but pretty much everybody is going to end up with a job and those who don’t get academic jobs soon drown their sorrows in their six figure+ salaries and greater geographic mobility. But there’s a lot more jobs out there for econ PhDs, even ones from lousy programs, and I suspect a lot fewer people getting Econ PhDs though I haven’t looked at the numbers. The math scares a lot of people away from Econ. Humanities don’t seem to be as intimidating. More fun for many people.

    The econ market has nice timing… Apps in November, conference in January, if you don’t have a job by March or April, it is time to get an industry job or postdoc. You know where you stand. You also don’t have to pay for the conference if you’re just interviewing and it tends to be in big cities with good airports and lots of hotels. We used to always be right after the Mla but since they changed times we overlap. People usually book before they get an academic interview, and many companies do first round interviews as well.

    It seems to me that riverside’s mistake was letting people know they were behind schedule (and not noting why). If they’d said nothing, 12 ppl would just have been delighted to get conference interviews they weren’t expecting. It’s not like hiring committees like being behind schedule either, and the UCs like many state schools are no doubt bound by huge amounts of red tape before they can even offer interviews. Lists have to be approved.

    And yes, I don’t always agree with TR on everything but she is a mensch. Nice tribute!

  8. J. Otto Pohl on 25 Dec 2013 at 9:55 am #

    I am going to have to say that my personal experience completely jives with Dr. Schuman’s “rants” here. US academia is composed of some of the worst human beings on the planet. People that if they had real power would be like Mengistu in Ethiopia during the “Red Terror” ordering that their political opponents be shot in the street like dogs. See the statements by Professor Guth not too long ago on desiring the children of his political opponents dead. Loren is absolutely right about the political intolerance in American academia. And no left wing politics did not work out real well for Ethiopia or anywhere else Quixote. It turns out in reality that farmers can grow food better than communist revolutionaries. So reality does not have a left-wing bias.

  9. Flavia on 25 Dec 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Amen. Sometimes we all need to blow off steam and say angry, irresponsible things among friends; I’ve been trying to read Schuman’s blog in that light, but its comments, in particular, have shown me otherwise: it’s pure blood sport in there, where even well-intentioned attempts to provide alternate perspectives and explanations get shouted down and shamed. The anger there is based on fear and an unwillingness to take on board new information — and the encouragement and mutual “support” there reminds me of nothing so much as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and their fans.

    TR is the opposite of that: open, thoughtful, unafraid, and willing to change her mind. Whether I always agree with her isn’t the point; I admire and aspire to her habits of mind.

  10. Susan on 25 Dec 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I have to say, as someone who moved relatively recently from a marginal (as in one year contract) position to a tenured one, and who tries when doing searches to treat people with respect, I find myself irritated by accusations of lack of scholarly heft, selfishness and irresponsibility. I’ve seen some, but my sense is that fallible people do their best.

    That said, while I share the general distaste for convention interviews, I am on a search committee where the chair is deeply committed to the convention interview, so I will be at the MLA this year. We let everyone know by December 18 (many earlier), but our applications closed on November 15. So we worked pretty quickly.

  11. Tony Grafton on 25 Dec 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    What Flavian said.

  12. nicoleandmaggie on 25 Dec 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Is it horrible for me to say that I wouldn’t *want* those folks as colleagues? Academia really is just a job. All the negative emotions, attacking, fixed mindsets, and hate and so on make for really tiresome colleagues.

    Usually I don’t say such things though because there’s no point in arguing and deep down I feel sorry for these folks. Many of them didn’t internalize the market when they made the choice to go into grad school in their early 20s. I guess they feel like some of the kids finding out Santa isn’t real and their parents had lied to them all this time.

    Did I mention that my husband’s salary DOUBLED when he left academia? Literally doubled. (I’m pretty sure I did, but I’m still in shock about it. He should have left YEARS ago.) There’s a lot to be said for the world outside of academia.

    Of course, haters and drama seekers don’t make very good co-workers in the private sector either.

  13. truffula on 25 Dec 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I agree with nicoleandmaggie. Anybody whose dream job is being able to say “whatever the f*ck I want” (as Schuman claims) might not be well suited for jobs that require working well with others.

    Self-righteous indignation can be a money maker, but only for an elite few. Limbaugh (as Flavia noted) has made a good living on anger (real or acted, I don’t know) but I can’t imagine it is a successful long term strategy for very many people.

  14. Feminist Avatar on 25 Dec 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    I suspect that Schuman et al’s anger is not so much because they were lied to about the job market, but that they were lied to about the American dream. You work hard and you get your reward, except you don’t.

  15. Historiann on 26 Dec 2013 at 7:09 am #

    Hi everyone–thanks for weighing in over the holiday.

    On Feminist Avatar’s point about anger, and being “deeply suspicious when anger gets placed opposite civility in the emotion spectrum.” I am too. Let’s face it: I’ve expressed a lot of anger on this blog!

    I think there’s definitely a place for anger, but it was the personalized nature of all of the anger (or rage, as Tenured Radical called it) being expressed that struck me as counterproductive. Instead of speculating on the motives of a search chair and assuming that they are all out to screw you, the job applicant, over, TR suggested a few structural reasons the UCR search may have had some problems. Schuman’s response was to say that Tenured Radical is a bad person, a clueless privileged person, and a toady for the status quo who could never cut it in today’s job market because she’s not a very accomplished scholar.

    I think that Schuman and a lot of her commenters raise perfectly good questions amidst all of the personal attacks: how “radical” can a tenured proffie really be? Do people in TT or tenured positions understand the realities of our job market experiences? How should we manage our relationship to the profession we love and the universities that systematically exploit us as graduate student teachers and adjunct professors? Where do we go now that we’re over-educated and over-credentialed for jobs that no longer exist? I understand the anger, believe me. I also agree with them that those of us who made the leap from VAP/adjunct to the TT are more fortunate than deserving.

    However: there are more as well as less productive uses of rage. If one’s goal is to expose academia for the sham that it is, then that’s one way to go. If the goal is to mobilize one’s education and find productive employment, that’s another way to go. The job market crisis in history is nothing new since 1970. Quite frankly, it’s that generation of recent Ph.D.s (1970-1985 or so) who really got raked, but lots of them invented the field called “public history” in spite of themselves, and brought Ph.D.-level analytical and research skills to fields that had largely relied on the labor and efforts of clever amateurs.

    This generation of un- or underemployed Ph.D.s unfortunately has the “benefit” that the 1970s generation didn’t have–getting caught in the adjunct trap. I don’t think this is a benefit at all, and I’ve used my blog lately to warn people against the trap. This led to some calling me a toady for the neoliberal university, when I was merely diagnosing reality, hardly recommending or approving of it.

    (The adjunct trap conversation reminds me of those stupid debates about Sheryl Sandberg’s book earlier this year: is she really a feminist because she advises women how to succeed now in the reality they work in as mortals with limited life spans, or is she a horrible apologist for the status quo because she doesn’t address the things businesses can or should do to help their workers? The point is that businesses exist to make money, not to help their workers succeed, and the universities are not your friends or allies if they’re not opening up sufficient tenure-stream jobs but will instead happily exploit you indefinitely.)

  16. Nicoleandmaggie on 26 Dec 2013 at 7:26 am #

    http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/i-am-so-glad-i-love-math/

  17. Historiann on 26 Dec 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Excellent post, N&M. I edited my (already-long) response above to add a bunch more stuff while you threw in that link, when I could have just let you make these points with that post!

    Per the old adaage that “the unexamined life is not worth living:” That’s true, but it’s also true that the endlessly examined life is also not worth living unless you move beyond analysis and into action.

  18. Indyanna on 26 Dec 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Checking-in from the cohort that “got raked” and then “invented…public history” (and grateful for the acknowledgment of that chronology, Historiann, which may get lost in the dust now that public history has been adopted, best-practiced, and brought into the academy). I don’t know that I had any sense of inventing anything then, but rather stumbling in across one of the at-best vaguely marked borders of the field, and then out over another one a few years later. It was very much like adjuncting, minus the “trap” part: employment at will, a series of renewable short-term appointments, and in some degree the implied promise of at least potential “conversion” to “permanent” status, in an agency that was *designed* to be bureaucratic, not in institutions that inadvertently became sclerotic with bureaucracy like the academy has. And it ended with a degree of turf battle/crash-and-burn, though ameliorated by time itself. But in reflection, I experienced as much if not more creative autonomy there than I have before or since, hitched to the resource wellsprings of the federal budget for travel and research purposes. I’m sure I was making about the same as a newly-hired entry level faculty member did, without the degree in hand or anywhere near to hand. We snarked a lot, to be sure, about the suits and the stooges who held our fates in their hands. But thankfully, electricity was still in its beta stage then, so “social media” was a scarred and overcrowded table at a nearby bar after work, and it didn’t get recorded, much less re-tweeted. The circumstances that produced that weird matrix of project characteristics was idiosyncratic and literally not reproducible. It turned out to be a lifeboat back into the academy for me, but that was a matter of luck as much as talent, and certainly as much or more than virtue. A lot of smart people went down with the titanic, and the academy didn’t go looking for any survivors bobbing on the water when things began to pick back up even a little a few years latr, let’s say.

  19. Tenured Radical on 26 Dec 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Thanks guys, and particularly you Historiann, for restoring my sense of bloggy community. One issue that I am puzzling out is that when these things happen, it’s usually only a few *very* active people, but it feels like a tsunami. There are also a series of pre-existing narratives in play that faculty get slotted into — whether it is me or the Riverside Committee — which then take off as facts. One tweet popped up from a person who heard a recent interview I did on NPR, who seemed genuinely puzzled that a person who was the evil b!tch from hell on Schuman’s blog had also given that interview.

    Schuman has also suggested that people scan their butts and send them as part of their job applications: apparently one person did.

    There are just massive acts of projection that both reflect people’s real feelings about how they are treated *and* often have nothing to do with the person who is getting mobbed.

    What is of greater concern to me is that there are real reforms that could occur in the job search process. I was shocked when I saw the MLA guidelines, which warn candidates that not coming to the annual meeting could get them dropped from the long list. But this kind guerrilla action masking as politics is not going to make those changes, or any others. Schuman and her gang also seem to have had little thought to how it will affect the people who *do* meet with the Riverside committee to have had this swirling around them. I doubt they will feel empowered by it.

  20. Historiann on 26 Dec 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Oy. I just looked at your Twitter feed, TR: https://twitter.com/TenuredRadical. This is why I don’t do it!

    (Aside: You made this point in one of your conversations, but I’m kind of shocked at the things people say on Twitter under their own names–like picking a fight in your Twitter feed and then calling you an a$$hole. I’m giving a talk at UC Merced next month about using social media to build an online professional profile, and this whole fracas seems to me to be an excellent example of how NOT to do it effectively.)

    The MLA seems like a conference for lumbering behemoths who haven’t heard that we’re at the KT line. But the opposition, as it were, is getting more juvenile and puerile than ever (i.e. the Butt xerox, etc.) Mostly fake outrage becomes entirely pointless and ultimately apolitical action.

  21. Click (Dis)Like: Why Social Media Use Is Now A Professional Issue - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 26 Dec 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    […] Whether you are initiating a social media exchange or responding to one, these are key questions for academics to be thinking about over the next year in whatever groups, large and small, where we assemble. This is particularly the case, in my view, because when it works, social media holds open the possibility for cross-institutional communities that would never arise; continuing discussions begun at conferences; linking people to each other at academic meetings; and jumpstarting public conversations about the racial, gender and class dynamics of academic life. It creates the possibility for real friendships, and collaborations, between people who might otherwise see each other too infrequently to have those bonds form (see blogpal Historiann on our friendship.) […]

  22. rachel on 26 Dec 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    It seems to me that anger can — and often ought — to be expressed civilly. I’m on the job market, and I share some of Schuman’s frustrations as well as take some of TR’s points. My experience thus far is of a lot of people trying to do their jobs well, but often lacking the support to do so effectively. Frankly, I find the cost of Interfolio letters and inane requests for multiple syllabi and random-length writing samples far more aggravating, time-consuming, and money-wasting than a last-minute interview request.

    I’ve had interviews scheduled less than a week in advance, which is frustrating. But as Historiann points out, I was quite pleased to get the interviews, fully expecting that I had not by the time the email invite rolled around. Would more notice be nice? Absolutely. Could and did I make it work on the (last-minute) cheap? Yep, thanks mostly to a cheap destination and the presence and kindness of friends there (yep, scattered-friend-privilege at work). And I have yet to face a committee that refused to do skype interviews when asked (personally, I prefer in-person when possible because I like to read and respond to body-language cues but skype works too).

    I also assume, perhaps naively, that should this process fail, I will find myself a job outside academe. Going into the process, as bat-sh*t crazy as it is, with this assumption has helped keep my emotions in check. I don’t see my degree as a failure or a waste of time even if I don’t land a faculty job. It’s been a good ride, and its value does not rest with the job outcome.

  23. Historiann on 26 Dec 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Thanks, rachel, and good luck on the market.

    RE: the call for “civility:” Quite often this can be used as a bludgeon by those in power (who get to decide what civility looks and sounds like.) It is also a standard that is rarely applied equally (i.e. sexual harassment/unwanted touching is “just someone being friendly,” whereas anger about the harassment–however reasonably and calmly expressed–can be cast outside the bounds of civility.

    I understood the thrust of the objections at Schuman’s blog to the “tone-shaming” they saw in Tenured Radical’s post, even though I didn’t think it was a fair charge in this case. But what’s appropriate, and what’s over the line? Is it OK to write a blog post calling out someone’s email or behavior specifically and personally? Is it OK post a snarky answer to someone’s Tweet, and then to call her an “a$$hole” when she replies? I am starting to realize that I am uncomfortable when things get personal, but is that because I’m essentially a conflict-avoiding person (very possible), or because of my “privilege” as a tenured Associate Professor who has been rewarded by some measures by conforming to the academic status quo (also very possible)? How can we identify uses of social media that advance conversations and prod people to action, and when is it just online bitching and name-calling? (There is quite frequently profanity and foul language in both kinds of social media posts, so that’s probably not a useful line to draw.)

    Tenured Radical has a new blog post about our professional identities in social media, and how they can be more or less effective. She thinks that academics and their professional organizations should host more of these conversations. There’s a link to the post immediately above rachel’s comment–check it out.

  24. Ann Burlingham on 26 Dec 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Not too impressed with the “civility” of TR, hose first assumes “rage” on others’ part, then talks about “the embrace of victimhood” in the comments, while forgoing finding out, as she criticises Schuman for failing to do, why the committee offered its opportunity at such short notice (although there was time to list many possible reasons, also with no basis in fact), and spending the bulk of her time criticizing people the hiring practices objectionable, rather than than acknowledging that the appropriate response to what seems to be a systematic failure might actually be, you know, anger.

  25. Historiann on 26 Dec 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Ann, I think TR did acknowledge that the email from the UCR search chair was irritating, if not infuriating, when she wrote that Schuman was “utterly correct in questioning the casual attitude towards job applicants.” But you’re right in the main: the point of TR’s post was to question Schuman’s personalized attack on the UCR search Chair by name with its presumption of her motives, rather than to pile onto the shamewagon.

    As for the “embrace of victimhood”: the only time I found that phrase in the entire thread was in a comment by TR, which reads in its entirety:

    “Well some of you best not count on your social media profiles for jobs. But that aside, these are old traditions. No doubt. And I personally find the MLA hiring guidelines particularly stuffy as I indicated somewhere on this thread. But it seems like the embrace of victimhood is so total here that guerilla attacks on a single department that will interview what — 12 people? — are being seen as “agency,” whereas actually attending the conference, meeting with each other and working with the MLA to change its practices — an act of solidarity and cooperation — is inconceivable. No wonder things do not change if that is the case. It’s like you are all little aspiring individualists at heart, with no investment in the system, but you are enraged at the system for not investing in you.

    There’s no reason to support academia as it is. But hiding behind pseudonyms and berating other people because they haven’t changed the system is part of what I am talking about here.”

    You may not agree with the degree of victimhood being embraced by TR’s interlocutors, but there is a larger context. Several times over the past few years, TR has been besieged by angry commenters when she dares to write posts offering advice to grad students and junior colleagues. (Examples here and here.) These discussion threads generally devolve into complaints that TR can’t possibly understand the plight of junior scholars, etc. because of her “privilege” as a tenured full professor. And in those threads, she is frequently lectured by these interlocutors who explain why they can’t possibly take her advice (i.e. move to where a full-time job is; apply to jobs outside of New York City or Boston; consider an alt-ac career, etc.) Many of these complaints have a victim-y feel to them. YMMV, but that’s the context I see that may have informed her comment.

  26. truffula on 26 Dec 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    There is an odd juxtaposition here.

    On the one hand, the vocal young scholars are in the radical tradition of “we don’t trust anybody over 30″ (tenured folk can’t possibly understand our situation or be radical themselves). On the other, the young scholars sound like reactionaries who think that everything was better in the olden days (tenured folk couldn’t possibly compete for jobs in the current market, etc.).

  27. Nicoleandmaggie on 26 Dec 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Could it be the cognitive dissonance of the self esteem movement when reality catches up to folks? Or is this how every generation of new hum PhDs is? Cohort effect or age? Or just the way the internet amplifies a small unprofessional minority that was always there?

  28. Z on 27 Dec 2013 at 12:11 am #

    I am in literature and I have been on the market a lot and also hired a lot. I am generally sympathetic to Schuman. My current department interviews by Skype, not at the MLA.

    The thing about the UCR late interview notice, though, is this: the nature of the hiring process is such that I would not go to a conference I had not planned to go to for just one interview. Getting a conference interview is good, but it is very far from getting an offer and if I got an interview but had not planned to attend the conference I would ask to Skype, or something, or just say look, I cannot make it but I hope I am still under consideration.

    I did actually once get a campus interview after saying I could not make the convention interview, because they really did keep me on the list.

    I also once got an interview invitation with a time attached to it, a time I already had something scheduled. So I turned it down. They were really surprised I would turn THEM down, but got back to me a few hours later with another time.

    Meaning: people will work with you, actually, at least some of the time.

    What concerns me about this upset over UCR is the idea that one can control this beast: if only UCR did things on time, the market would be manageable, etc. It seems like barking up the wrong tree; the problem is the economy and the adjunctification, not UCR’s timing.

    I say these things as a person with a lot of anger over how many things are in academia. But I guess I am lucky to have come in before full-on “professionalization” took hold: I was never told that if I did x, y, and z I would get a job for sure.

  29. Historiann on 27 Dec 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Z, I’ve seen your efforts to bring nuance and other perspectives into Schuman’s discussion threads, which I really appreciate. And it seems to me that they’ve treated you respectfully even as you seem to agree in the main with TR’s point of view (yes, the UCR email was bad, but let’s not leap to conclusions and let’s stay focused on the bigger picture rather than make assumptions about the evil motives of the search chair, etc.)

    Upthread, Ann Burlingham objected to TR’s diagnosis of an “embrace of victimhood,” when the reality is that for the most part as you say, “people will work with you, actually, at least some of the time.” If you take the initiative rather than take what you’re offered, you can usually get something that suits both of you. But if you remain passive and uncommunicative except to write angry blog posts and Tweets about how obnoxious and horrible a particular search committee is, that’s not agency, that’s just bitching.

    You are also right about this: “What concerns me about this upset over UCR is the idea that one can control this beast: if only UCR did things on time, the market would be manageable, etc. It seems like barking up the wrong tree; the problem is the economy and the adjunctification, not UCR’s timing.” This relates to truffula’s point about the juxtaposition of these enfants terribles who believe that the job market in 1991 or 1997 or 2002 was so much easier to succeed in than any year since 2008.

    Schuman’s argument that Tenured Radical (or anyone of her generation) could never get an entry-level job in 2013 with the CV she had in 1991 is utterly wrong. We have hired people who have only published one article and we have NOT hired people who have books out as well as more articles. Just because someone has published a lot of stuff doesn’t mean that it’s interesting or speaks well of the author.

    We make distinctions for quality as well as quantity of publication, and we also make distinctions about whose research is the most interesting, rich, and innovative in our judgment. Someone who is writing a dissertation (for example) that brings together 4 or 5 different subfields and puts those ideas in dialogue with one another as well as with some fresh archival research–well, that’s going to be more interesting to us than a lot of other dissertations that may not be as imaginative or ambitious in their approach. But we’re human as well as humane, so we don’t expect candidates for Assistant Professor jobs to have already published four articles IF they’re ALSO writing/have written an innovative dissertation.

    The problem with employment in the humanities is that there are so few jobs relative to the production of Ph.D.s. There is no shortage of talent out there, just a shortage of stable, TT jobs. However, this has been an issue since 1970, so anyone who completed a Ph.D. in the past decade or two who claims that they were promised a TT job or that they have never heard of the 43-year old jobs crisis is either lying or is willfully ignorant. In short, ze doesn’t possess the kind of intellect or social awareness to lead an effective protest movement against anything.

  30. Historiann on 27 Dec 2013 at 9:25 am #

    p.s. Go see Undine at Not of General Interest. She’s got some interesting data on the number of jobs advertised in MLA from the mid-1970s to the present. In sum: the number of jobs advertised rose in the 1980s, fell in the late 1980s through the 1990s, rose again in the late 1990s, and then stayed pretty good until 2008. These are just numbers of jobs advertised, not relative to the number of Ph.D.s produced; however, she also has some interesting MLA data from the 2001-02 season that calculates the number of job candidates based on Ph.D.s from that year plus the previous five years. It looks like in that year–a pretty flush year, admittedly–job candidates had on average a better than 1 in 2 chances of landing a TT job at a four-year institution.

    She also claims to have left a comment for me in this thread (I think), but it looks like it may have been caught in my Spam filter & canned. (Sorry, Undine!)

  31. Doctor Cleveland on 27 Dec 2013 at 10:45 am #

    I think the important distinction here is not between anger and rage on one hand and “civility” on the other. The important difference is between anger and rage.

    By “rage” I mean not simply anger, but anger that overmasters the person feeling it. Anger is a necessary part of human survival; we were born with the capacity for anger so that we could protect ourselves. Anger can, if used very carefully, be properly focused and harnessed to productive ends.

    Rage refuses focus. It erodes distinctions between proper and improper objects. It clouds your judgment, just when you most need anger to sharpen it. It harnesses you to its ends, rather than being harnessed to yours, and its only end is itself. What rage wants is the drunken feeling of being enraged; it puts the “toxic” in “intoxicating.” Rage moves you to destroy any easy target at hand, and you yourself will always be the easiest target.

    I’ve seen a lot of rage in my time. It wasn’t an expression of feminist or leftist principle. Oh, no.

    There are a lot of reasons for anger about the academic job market. But what’s been in evidence has been rage: corrosively personal attacks, a fixation on proximate or tangential targets, failure to identify the actual sources of the problem, and intemperate attacks on anyone who suggests tempering the attacks.

    As Z points out above, UC Riverside behaving slightly better is not going to fix the real problem. Search committees are not the reason that there are too few jobs. Attacking faculty on search committees will not employ even one more PhD. And switching to Skype interviews is not a bad idea, but it is a marginal one. The expenses of the job search are a real problem, but dwarfed by the problems of adjunctification and faculty downsizing.

  32. Contingent Cassandra on 27 Dec 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Very useful data from Undine/the MLA. It’s also worth noting that the slump that began in the late ’80s/early ’90s (just as I was entering grad school and being pushed, quite early and very over-optimistically, as it turned out, into the market) accompanied the dot.com boom/growth of the world wide web, which meant that there were “industry” jobs for English Ph.D.s (and, really, anybody with good analytical/writing skills). As an Ivy-league Ph.D. candidate, I also received at least one letter, completely unsolicited, from a Wall Street firm inviting me to train to be an investment banker (apparently they thought they could train people with good analytical minds to turn them toward mathematical/money matters). I wasn’t really tempted by that offer, but I did wonder at times whether it was smart to remain in academia. That’s obviously a very different picture from the present moment, where pretty much everybody looking for a job is having difficulty.

  33. Flavia on 27 Dec 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    The other problem with the claim that TR or anyone else with a similar 1991-era C.V. could never get hired today is that it ignores the effect of the shrinking job market (and changing professional norms) on productivity. Someone who had one or no publications in 1991 (but who got a good job and went on to amass a successful publishing track record) would most likely have 2+ articles now, because in addition to whatever native skills and intelligence she or he had, s/he’d have been ruthlessly professionalized from the beginning.

    When I got my TT job, I had three peer-reviewed articles in print or under contract, two in good or excellent venues. I was also seven years past matriculation. This does not make me a better scholar than someone who, decades earlier, finished his degree in five years, had two job offers, and no publications. The situations just aren’t comparable enough to allow for easy assumptions.

  34. Ellie on 27 Dec 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    I’m very struck by this part of Z’s comment above: “I say these things as a person with a lot of anger over how many things are in academia. But I guess I am lucky to have come in before full-on “professionalization” took hold: I was never told that if I did x, y, and z I would get a job for sure.” This seems like an important piece of the anger and disillusionment of job candidates, the link with the professionalization of graduate education. Students in conscientious departments departments are bombarded with professional development workshops on publishing, writing CVs and cover letters, interviewing, and all manner of other aspects of “how to succeed in the profession,” while those in less conscientious or resourceful ones have the Chronicle advice columns, blogs like TR’s and others offering up similar advice. Is it any wonder, then, that candidates begin to see academic hiring as a “game” or “system” whose rules one has to learn inorder to succeed, and then are that much more disillusioned when they do learn and follow the rules but don’t succeed?

    This seems to me a key part of the current crisis of confidence, at least in the humanities. I have heard more than a few frustrated rants about searches in very quantitative terms–”they hired X, even though s/he only has one article, whereas I (or some other candidate) have three”; “how am I ever going to get an interview/job if I don’t have at least a contract for my book?,” etc. And I have been suprised to meet/hear graduate students, even very early in their careers, worrying about getting publications on their CVs, choosing dissertation topics based on perceptions of the publishing prospects, and making sure they’re “doing all the right things to prepare for the job market.”

    Is this a perverse effect of the professionalization process? In trying to help our graduate students negotiate the system as it tightens around all of us, are we creating/contributing to a terrible inflation of or paranoia about perceived expectations in which quantity is the be-all and end-all measure of candidates’ work?

  35. truffula on 27 Dec 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    Ellie’s point about the two sides of the “show me your numbers” approach is interesting, especially in light of Historiann’s reminder about how hiring decisions are actually made. Way back on Christmas eve in comment #3, Indyanna pointed out who ultimately benefits from the tabulation of the measures: the corporation. It’s part and parcel of the 21st century business model for higher ed.

    Here in my corner of the Commonwealth (as elsewhere), those compiled metrics are input as variables to the equation that governs institutional funding. Money flows in proportion to the numbers, from the university writ large right down to individual programs.

  36. Nicoleandmaggie on 27 Dec 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    I dunno, using real metrics such as publications rather than “promise” has led our department to hire women and minorities over “promising” white guys with no pubs. I wouldn’t throw out the cv in favor of what? Amiability? Rec letters? But when the market is over-saturated, even amazing people are going to have their outcomes depend a lot on luck.

  37. truffula on 27 Dec 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    I agree about work products over “promise” and I’m certainly not saying throw out the CV. (Though having served on a variety of committees, I think it is important to understand that men and women have different pressures and expectations and equally talented people may have very different CVs because of this.)

    It may be different in the humanities but here in the sciences (and outside the USofA), a heck of a lot rides on a small collection of numbers, like the impact factors of the journals where you publish, the publication rate, and the numbers of citations your most famous papers accrue. Among other things, these numbers affect the hiring and promotion process, the emphasis on PhD students (who get the work done*), and the whole publishing industry. The numbers are in some way related to the quality and relevance of the work but they are also related to privilege and networks. Everybody knows (at least I assume we all know) the numbers are overly simple but we design processes that use them anyway.

    *In the sciences at least, it is possible to see the “professionalization” Ellie describes as a deeply self-serving strategy on the part of those students’ mentors.

  38. Feminist Avatar on 27 Dec 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    I’m with Nicoleandmaggie on the metrics in many ways, as I think in the past without publications to show your ability, judgements were made on the basis of your graduating institution, which tended to prioritise certain types of scholars and exclude those who could not access those institutions for a variety of reasons. This doesn’t mean quantity is better than quality, of course.

  39. Historiann on 27 Dec 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Ellie’s point about professionalization is excellent. I’m astonished that I didn’t think of it myself! ;)

    Maybe the benefit of being “raised by wolves” (as I have described my grad school experience) is that I had very low expectations for what came next. Whereas it’s possible that the professionalization these kids receive assures that there’s a formula for success, and that they can follow it out & control the process.

    The comments in that last post of Schuman’s about Tenured Radical (so far, anyway) was striking in the free-floating paranoia about how the job market “really works.” It’s all about status and elitism, see, and if you have an Ivy League degree, you’re in! No, it’s all about your publications, which are linked to the shadowy “connections” you have, see? It’s not about the objective merit of your work or how hard you worked on a dissertation–there’s always a hidden angle, another gambit that you didn’t figure on this year but you’ll be able to work it next year. . . like did you know that Ivy League degrees are actually a *disadvantage*, and can be held against you? Didn’t see that coming now, did you?

    Ugh.

  40. Z on 28 Dec 2013 at 12:43 am #

    Also, the idea that there is a “system” to this is highly misleading. There are some practices, but it’s not a system.

    And I object to the idea that it is so much more difficult / so much more competitive now. More people make sure to publish more in graduate school now, yes. But the market has been really rough since 1970 or so, and lots of people I went to graduate school with did not get jobs, and they were good candidates, etc.

    And this idea that people on tenure track or tenured are enemies of new hires is really pernicious and uninformed.

  41. truffula on 28 Dec 2013 at 2:14 am #

    And this idea that people on tenure track or tenured are enemies of new hires is really pernicious and uninformed.

    Also, it makes no sense. If those eminent old scholars who trained you are such villainous lightweights, what does it say about you, their trainees?

  42. Nicoleandmaggie on 28 Dec 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Well, connections ARE important and they do help you get feedback and tips and recommendations and potentially even pubs or grants. Networking is important in virtually every field. Yes, coming from a strong program gives you a boost much of the time. Luck is also important. There’s a big combination of things and when we’re disadvantaged in one area or another we have to work harder to get to the same place as someone else and still might not make it. It’s an odds game and we can only change some things.

    Networking, of course, is one of those changeable things. One’s online presence is part of that. Even in a tight job market it is probably not a good idea to say you hate all of your potential future colleagues if you want them as future colleagues. It sends a bad signal about all sorts of things, including judgment.

  43. Historiann on 28 Dec 2013 at 8:31 am #

    “Even in a tight job market it is probably not a good idea to say you hate all of your potential future colleagues if you want them as future colleagues. It sends a bad signal about all sorts of things, including judgment.”

    HA-ha. I think you mean not “even in a tight job market,” but rather “ESPECIALLY in a tight job market?”

    It took me .035 seconds to google some of the haters in TR’s twitter feed, and about the same length of time to come to a judgment about their value as future potential colleagues. As I said in the comments over in TR’s current post, I’m astonished at the things people say on Twitter under their own names to complete strangers.

  44. nicoleandmaggie on 28 Dec 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Oops, yes, I think it was actually supposed to say “even when not in a tight market”… but your correction flows better.

  45. Z on 28 Dec 2013 at 9:57 am #

    It’s also just — the problems are so much greater. The idea that just shrugging over the UCR lateness, which is what I do, amounts to support of gatekeeping and elitist weeding-out is silly. Some people go to fancy prep schools and elite private colleges, etc., we are in a class society, etc., my department does not place its PhDs at Yale-vard except as tutors or something, etc., there are so many elements in this whole thing.

    I’m also worried about what happens to people once they’re hired, not just on the job market.

    I keep coming back to this idea of false control … if the associate and newly full professors upon whom Schuman looks down were removed, and UCR announced its short list sooner, and small schools stopped looking for people who could teach not one but two foreign languages, everything would be fine … OMG!!!! They ain’t seen nothing yet!!!!

  46. Historiann on 28 Dec 2013 at 10:01 am #

    N&M: glad to know I guessed your true meaning.

    And Z: yes, exactly! I’m sure they would say that we’re blinded to true suffering by our “privilege,” so they clearly don’t read your blog or my blog (or TR’s blog, for that matter.)

    There’s a presumption that those of us with tenure were born here and never suffered un- or underemployment, adjunct or VAP positions, and had no problems at all whatsoever on our glide paths to professional success. I don’t write about the time that I was 28 and my boyfriend came home from the laundromat without our good bath towels b/c they had been stolen out of the dryer while he sat there reading. I don’t write about how we were living in a 750-sq. ft. apartment, a 4th floor walkup, and how I burst into tears thinking that this was my life for the rest of my life, living in a crappy apartment surrounded by laundry theives, because I had finished a dissertation and had two articles accepted for publication but was on the job market yet again for a third time.

    Things turned up after that. We got new bath towels, got married, got jobs, got second jobs, etc. I guess I’m just glad there was no such thing as ubiquitous social media in 1996, because today I might be remembered only for that post-towel theft meltdown had I taken to Twitter and blogs to vent my sorrows.

  47. Ellie on 28 Dec 2013 at 11:45 am #

    I don’t object to the idea of considering metrics in hiring, but I do object to the idea that one can simply quantify publication records, for instance, in the way that the UK REF system does. For one, all publications are not equal—some journals and presses are more selective than others, some have better referees and editors, etc.. But neither are departments’ criteria for valuing them—some might rely entirely on the almighty “impact factor,” while others might recognize that some applicants weren’t savvy enough/well-enough advised/what have you to send a kick-a$$ piece of work to the “top” journal in the field and that even the “top” journals publish some duds from time to time. Or that the editorial policies at “top” journals can be methodologically, thematically, or otherwise conservative in ways that actually exclude the most exciting, innovative scholarship.

    Yes, as Nicoleandmaggie point out, “objective” metrics can help counterbalance the old boys’ network, but at least in the humanities—maybe less so in the social sciences?—they can also reinforce systems of privilege. Especially for grad students and junior scholars, the acquisition of fellowships, publications, conference presentations, and many of the other quantifiable line items on a CV can depend, often heavily, on an advisor’s prominence (the weight their recommendation carries with a fellowship committee), connections (friends organizing conferences), or even just basic competence/conscientiousness in advising (when to publish a dissertation chapter and where, what fellowships to apply for, etc.), or on the name recognition of an applicant’s institution (some fellowship competitions in my field are notorious for having cast-iron geographical and institutional biases). In such cases, how much of the metrical measure reflects the individual applicant’s merit? And, more importantly for this conversation, how much should the *absence* of such quantifiable achievements be held against applicants, especially those coming from less prestigious institutions with less prominent mentors?

  48. loumac on 28 Dec 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    I’ve been mystified and saddened by the flame wars in the comment sections of both TR’s and Schuman’s posts, especially the frankly anti-intellectual us-versus-them mentality that quickly took over. Most of us are privileged in some ways, and disadvantaged in others. Many job candidates and adjuncts don’t have my privilege of tenure, true, but they do have privileges such as coming from the middle class and expecting to continue to belong to it. I’d be willing to bet that most of the angrier Schuman-boosters had parents and/or spouses who helped pay for their cars, rent, and education, who will leave them houses in their wills, etc. All their rage about institutional privilege (which certainly exists) needs to be inflected with some examination of the class privilege on which the very possibility of education in the US exists. And I’ve seen almost no engagement, in all the rage, with other systemic forms of discrimination such as racism (you probably all remember this amazing and moving “I quit” essay, a much more meaningful meditation on systems of oppression in academia than the UCR kerfuffle: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/on-quitting/)

    Historiann, regarding the “free floating paranoia” you rightly identify (the absurd idea that we’re all gatekeeping for a few Ivies while quaffing sherry in oak-paneled libraries) – I’ve noticed that a more recent addition to this meme is the idea that any search committee that doesn’t interview a particular candidate must be hiding an “inside hire”. This comes up all the time on the jobs wiki. In the 7 search committees I’ve been on in the last 10 years, we have neither hired a single Ivy candidate nor made an inside hire, despite having plenty of applications from both. We don’t look at the number of publications as a primary index either. By far the most important first impression is made by the candidate’s own letter. I don’t deny that elitism and old-boy-networkism are at work in some search committees, and that if we work in the system we’ve probably internalized some of that despite ourselves. But most of us are genuinely looking for something else too. Perhaps this is the advantage of working in an non-prestigious department in a struggling state institution (which the UC system certainly isn’t. Even after budget cuts they still look amazingly flush compared to us.) We’re forced to constantly rethink our programmes and make hires based on who we think will help us move in new directions. We also take teaching as seriously as it should be taken, and in this sense the Ivy candidates often fall short. During a recent interview, we asked a pedigree Ivy candidate, a white male with multiple publications and supported by every bigwig in the field, about how he would help us reinvent our language and literature curriculum in the face of extreme budgetary pressures. He responded by saying that their language classes had recently increased their cap from 20 to 22, so he could relate to our department’s issues. Since we are now regularly teaching 100+ students per class, in English, this person did not impress us as someone who was going to think outside the box and help our unit stay alive.

    None of this is to excuse the UCR committee’s lateness (which to me smells more of a couple of deadbeat colleagues than “technical issues”). But the speed with which this became a vector for reductive rage-fueled claims about “the profession” makes any situated consideration of real injustice much harder.

  49. Historiann on 28 Dec 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    “. . . the UCR committee’s lateness (which to me smells more of a couple of deadbeat colleagues than ‘technical issues’”

    WORD.

    Even the current thread at Tenured Radical has quite a generational split.

    This thread here seems to have become an old-timers rant, so I should probably stop here. I’ll just note that faculties hire new colleagues not because most of us want to discipline and shame them, but because we want to learn from them and we’re eager to have them bring something new, fresh, and innovative to our curricula and to our departments. In TR’s current post (12/26/2013), many of the junior folk seem to think that all of their more senior colleagues don’t think that way at all. Of course there are some holdouts, but many of us were hired in the present century and are very open to incorporating digital media etc. into our curricula. Then again, junior people who really believe that “ZOMG digital technology changes EVERYTHING!!!1111!!” might also admit that they could use a little historical perspective from their seniors.

  50. Historiann on 28 Dec 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Oh, and if any grad student or underemployed Ph.D. on the market believes that stuff about an “inside candidate” having a huge advantage, I’ve got a bridge to sell them.

    In my experience, so-called “inside candidates” are adjuncts themselves who were likely hired at the last minute & who might be offering a slate of courses that fit with the job description, but who will also most likely be held to an even higher standard if they apply for the position in their field in the department they’re working in presently. Unless one of them is already married or partnered with someone in that very department–and sometimes not even then!–they’ll have to be damned good (or even better) to get an interview than most of the “outside candidates” who score interviews.

  51. Matt_L on 28 Dec 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    While I think that UCR has behaved badly in terms of how it is treating their potential conference interviewees, it might not entirely be their fault. It might be some deadbeat colleagues, or it might be a dean or academic VP or the affirmative action officer holding things up because they were not satisfied with the interview questions, the candidate list, or some other aspect of the application process.

    When I was a grad student and on fixed term contracts going to the AHA interviews with hat in hand, I would have felt more sympathy with the rant and rage. I had this sense that the hiring committee was all powerful

    Now that I have been on several hiring committees, I realize that the committee is usually pretty constrained by how it writes the notice of vacancy, the screening forms and interview questions. The administrative process in getting the search approved by the Dean, Academic VP and President add another set of constraints. They can hold up the search for any reason until you make the changes they want to see. Or they can just sit on the paperwork because they have another beef with the department and want to make you wait.

    We do phone interviews and then bring three finalists to campus. We didn’t always interview or hire the people with the most publications or the most prestigious degrees. We had to stick to our mandate as laid out by the NOV, the screening form and the interview questions. By the time that is all done, you end up with a pool of candidates, most of them really great, and you can only hire one person. And at our school the committee does not make the offer, its in the hands of the dean! They can either take the suggestion of the committee or pick their own from the list of finalists.

    Finally, no matter how well the committee does its job, only one person will be happy and everyone else in the pool will be upset. Its easy to understand where that rage comes from, but its also important to remember, that both inside and outside academia, most of the time, we won’t get hired for every job we applied for. We only get lucky once in a while. The good news is once is all it takes.

  52. Z on 29 Dec 2013 at 1:25 am #

    Old-timer ranting: luck has a lot to do with what happens on the job market, yes, and search committees really are swayed most by good letters from candidate, yes.

    Also: in my experience only about 20% of applications really fit the job description completely. The long short list is always easy to make for that reason, and then some of those turn out not to be right for quite objective reasons, and then after that it’s a crap shoot. There’s a lot of luck and irrationality at play in that crap shoot, but otherwise search committees are really quite logical, I’ve found.

  53. History Maven on 29 Dec 2013 at 11:14 am #

    What Z said.

    Late to the discussion here, but I have been troubled, for many years, by a sort of “consumerist” wish-fulfillment attitude of my graduate students on the academic market. I’ve experienced countless conversations with and messages from students in which the first sentence is some version of “This is the perfect job for me.” It’s as if wishing and desire have trumped the reality of the job search, including the important realization that the search committee holds much, if not all, the power. My first questions to these students usually are “How do you know this job is perfect? Do you know anyone in the department? What is the teaching load? What is expected of your research? What are the students like? Does the institution have a good record of supporting and tenuring faculty members, etc.?”

    I’m also amazed at how much time job seekers will spend not on their applications but on seemingly gaming the system: working networks to find out competitors, for example, or feverishly researching a topic beyond his/her field(s) because maybe, maybe it’s what the search committee IS REALLY LOOKING FOR. False control, indeed. I stopped reading the academic job wiki after the second year of its existence: I found the messages of folks complaining (and, in some cases, raging)about NEVER having been told about the bad job market too much to take. And it reminded me too, too much of what I, as an advisor, could and could not do to be heard by some of my students.

  54. Historiann on 29 Dec 2013 at 11:25 am #

    History Maven: thanks for your thoughts here. You’ve really seen it from both sides these last several years, I am sure.

  55. Z on 29 Dec 2013 at 11:36 am #

    “I’m also amazed at how much time job seekers will spend not on their applications but on seemingly gaming the system: working networks to find out competitors, for example, or feverishly researching a topic beyond his/her field(s) because maybe, maybe it’s what the search committee IS REALLY LOOKING FOR.”

    Yes. I have students who do this, and who try to engage me in helping them do it. At the same time, I read applications with grammatical errors in them or other basic oversights.

  56. Flavia on 29 Dec 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Re: the persistent “inside hire” paranoia: I wrote about this earlier this fall, and a great conversation/sharing of personal experiences developed in the comments (all agreeing, basically, that this just isn’t something worth worrying about).

  57. sophylou on 29 Dec 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Casualty of the early 2000s market speaking here. I can’t help wondering what a friend of mine, a veteran journalist of 20+ years who lost his job in the recession and has had to turn to freelance work, would think about statements about journalism allowing you to say “whatever the f*ck you want.” Academia isn’t the only field experiencing employment/legitimacy crises.

  58. A guiding set of principles for the professional use of social media : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 29 Dec 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    […] the flamewar over rage at the current academic job market, in which the rage was redirected onto Tenured Radical for daring to question the long-term […]

  59. C on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:49 am #

    After getting my PhD I had a one year VAP, but I’m now halfway through my 2nd year in a TT position (and served on a (failed) search committee my first year) – so I don’t know which group I’m supposed to “fit” into. I empathize with those who are hurting but I too (like someone upthread) went into my job-market years with a plan for how long I was willing to give it a go before I got out, and I had some fairly detailed plans for steps to take at certain points were that to happen. I love what I do and I love my job, but it’s not the only thing that I could have possibly done in my working life. Maybe this attitude also came from growing up in a family that moved a lot because my parents had to change jobs frequently (not necessarily between industries but we were moving every 3-4 years), so the idea of picking up and trying something new is pretty familiar to me.

    I’ll also echo what Z said about the qualifications of applicants – we really struggled with our pool because we’re in a not-immediately-desirable location (though we love it) with a low cost of living which also translates into salaries that look low compared to other regions – even though they’re within the norm where we live (which doesn’t mean we as a faculty don’t work to get all of us – tenure-stream, instructor, lecturer, adjunct – paid more!). We also have some pretty unique institutional qualities that may have scared off a number of qualified candidates. From conversations with my more senior colleagues the pool we got for the search I was on was pretty typical for our institution – we get a lot of people who don’t come anywhere close to meeting the minimum qualifications (like people applying for a required-PhD position with only a BA or MA, not even ABD). 20% meeting the requirements would be optimistic for us.

    We *want* to hire a new colleague – and selfishly I’d love to not be the only junior faculty member in my department!

  60. Year’s End | Worthless Drivel on 30 Dec 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    […] has erupted over the holidays in the pages of my favorite academic blogs, Tenured Radical and Historiann. In brief, it seems that a number of pseudonymous discussants projected upon a […]

  61. How the Tenured are to the Job Market as White People are to Racism | The Professor Is In on 01 Jan 2014 at 4:48 am #

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  62. anonymous grad on 01 Jan 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    This comment thread may actually have the only glints of positivity in this whole kerfuffle.

    First of all, thanks to Loumac for saying that the candidate’s letter matters so much in hiring. Also being “raised by wolves,” I get most of my info on the job market from the internet, which is indeed full of speculation. Hearing that something so simple, straightforward, and in the candidate’s control actually is important is pretty encouraging.

    Also, thanks to Historiann for saying that things do get better! I’m 28, in a cheap top floor apartment, and wistfully dreaming of jobs and an end to laundromat trips myself, so it’s really nice to hear someone say they too felt stuck at the same point but moved on. Not everyone’s paths are the same, of course, but it’s nice nevertheless.

  63. Historiann on 01 Jan 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Hey, a.g.: I should also have added my agreement about loumac’s point about the letter of application. I would say don’t worry about length (within reason; more than three pages is maybe a problem). What I look for is a convincing narrative explaining your choices and intellectual interests to date, and why taking at job at my university is clearly the most logical next step in your career because you can bring us X and Y, and we can offer you Z and Q, etc. It’s always disconcerting when a person’s advisor appears to have a better and clearer articulation of the applicant’s research and its significance than the applicant herself!

    If you have a senior friend or colleague you can consult, ask him or her to look at your CV and letter. I do this for my adjunct and VAP colleagues all of the time, and I think it’s been helpful to them.

    That said: who knows what will happen to you. Academia may not work out for you, but have confidence that you have picked up some knowledge and skills that will be more generously rewarded if you’re willing to think about alternatives to academic work.

  64. anonymous grad on 02 Jan 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Free advice and perspectives from the hiring end are always appreciated! Thank you.

    I’m not sure what the path will be, but it is clear that seeking alternatives is really important. I’ve recently seen several friends who’d aimed for non-academic employment post-PhD jump back into the academic job market, stressing the need to be open to everything. I think linear, predictable white collar careers are becoming a thing of the past in general, not just in academia.

  65. On Rage, Smarm, and the Great Academic Labor Debates | The Seminar Table on 05 Jan 2014 at 9:23 am #

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