Imaginary problems department: faculty "freeloaders" for using e-mail and letterhead?

Call me a freeloader, but this seems totally ridiculous.  Since when is it inappropriate to use a university e-mail account and letterhead to apply for another job?  Over at the Chronicle blog “On Hiring,” Gene C. Fant, Jr., writes,

When I see applications coming in, I really like to see people using their own private e-mail accounts, home or cellphone numbers, and “From the Desk of” letterhead. The use of campus e-mail and phone numbers doesn’t spoil me on a candidate, but I have to say that, for the sake of both stewardship of resources and confidentiality, I like to see personal materials used.

Good grief!  Tom Benton had a good reply in the comments to the post above:  “There is no generally accepted rule that graduate students and faculty should not use university letterhead and email addresses for job searches, and in fact some encourage graduate students to do just that. In my view it is unethical to start setting ad hoc ethical traps for people at other institutions who are acting in good faith.”  In my first non-tenure track job, I was urged by the Chair of that department to send out applications on department letterhead–so long as I was using it for professional purposes and not my grocery list, I was told that it was not only acceptable but one of the perks of employment.  Many fellowships include an e-mail address and the use of fancy letterhead, which is a big bonus for otherwise unemployed graduate students and recent Ph.D.s–why shouldn’t an actual employer offer the same? 

Furthermore, applying for other jobs is very much a part of professional life and development in modern academia, whether or not one has tenure or a tenure-track job.  Please advise me if it’s different where you work, but at Baa Ram U., the only way to get a substantial raise is to attract an outside job offer, so the university’s own incentives clearly encourage us to apply for other jobs.

I’d also like to note something that Fant overlooks:  affiliations don’t just work one way.  I’m not just affiliated with an institution, Baa Ram U., Baa Ram U. (Sheep be true!) is also affiliated with me.  The university gets to list me and all of my colleagues on its website and use our names, publications, grants won, and areas of specialization to attract interest from students and impress the taxpayers, so I fail to see why faculty should hide their affiliations in the name of not “misusing campus resources.”  I’ve chaired a search committee and served on several others–if someone claimed to be affiliated with an institution but didn’t use their campus e-mail, contact information, and letterhead, that would suggest to me that they’ve got a good reason to seek employment elsewhere if they feel that unsafe from spies and retaliation.  It would strike me as eccentric in the extreme to see an application on blank paper with only home or private contact information from someone with a job and an affiliation.

But, let’s pretend this is just a bean-counting exercise.  Imagine, if you will, that you’re a department Chair or a Dean.  How many job applications would your faculty have to send out every year, year after year, that it would make a serious dent in your stationery budget or server space?  (Psst:  if your faculty are sending out that many job applications, wouldn’t that suggest that you’ve got bigger problems?)  Duh.

15 thoughts on “Imaginary problems department: faculty "freeloaders" for using e-mail and letterhead?

  1. Welcome back, Historiann!! Thanks for returning to be the straw that stirs the drink! It’s been a dullard’s paradise here on the old blog, er, block, this week–except for the nut outside my back window who’s jack-hammering a concrete patio to smithereens. I guess maybe I’ll have to stroll over to the SHEAR Conference, afterall!

    So who’s this Gene C. Fant, Jr., guy, anyway? One of the more crazifying things about the academic trades is the realization that when applying for anything, whatever medium you inscribe your plea on, you’re steering your wagon into traffic–into the path of anywhere from three to multi-dozen overempowered amateurs for whom this or that does or doesn’t thrill them. For whom that or this does or doesn’t “spoil” them (aren’t they/we spoiled already?). Who “like to see this” but “don’t like to see that,” all before you even get to the substantive part of the qualifications part. Who thinks such a system can last? It emerged coextensively with the big job crisis of the 1970s and thrived on the fail-safe environment of 400+ applications for the same job. (Gene C. Fant, III, all of three years old and still using crayons, could have chaired a search committee in that kind of a world and probably come back with a credible enough hire, if not necessarily the mythical “best qualified” one). Will we live long enough to see the end of that systeme of academic personnel practice itself, as the market slowly continues to rebalance and the potential stakes, or costs, or consequences of narcissistic, self-infatuated “spoilage” become more apparent to institutions?

    I use too many sports analogies, but when the old Boss of the Yankees used to say things like “that decision will be made by my baseball people…” he wasn’t referring the guys who hit, catch, pitch, and run. No one would have thought they would know the first thing about where or how to find the most qualified colleagues. That’s what they had scouts and general managers for. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate it, but is the day coming when somehing like that becomes the new conventional wisdom of academic personnel practice? The current system is a much more recent innovation than many academics probably think, and it came in the form of a free grant from on high. If it were to be withdrawn from the same source, there’s no ancient constitution we could find to defend it with. We’d better watch out.

    And off to SHEAR, I guess. I’d rather write, but gosh, what a racket!!!


  2. Considering its failure to compensate me appropriately in terms of my salary, I feel that it is only just that my University subsidize any and all job searches by providing the stationary and footing the bill for the postage!

    Enjoy SHEAR Indyanna. If you see any folks I might know, send them greetings from Colorado!


  3. Will do, ej. Meant to have said several weeks ago it was good to meet you at the Berks. The construction noise mysteriously stopped, so I’m waiting until a bit closer to the time for tonight’s reception to head over to SHEAR!


  4. Wow. How petty and tiny. Well, I for one will make sure that all email correspondence in this year’s job hunt will be sent using 100% personal electrons.

    All my letters, however, are going out on Union University stationary (Gene’s department’s).



  5. Bing–I can’t tell if you’re joking or not (except about the UU stationery, natch), but I’d use the institutional address your new employer gives you. Especially if your personal e-mail address is linked in any way to your blog! 😉

    Honestly, like we don’t make grad student and recent Ph.D. job-seekers paranoid enough…


  6. I am always amazed when people say one shouldn´t use departmental stationery and e-mail in job searches. (It´s ridiculous not to, and most people do, as I know from having read many application files.) Saying one shouldn´t is just one step from saying one shouldn´t even apply for jobs, because that would be disloyal … another amazing thing I have also heard more than once.


  7. I had never heard this particular piece of “wisdom” until I read the Chronicle blog this morning! It just seems so craven and corporate, and not to mention punitive and mingy to faculty.


  8. Letterhead, I was told in grad school, is legitimacy. But perhaps we are discussing a practice already receding into the past. More and more, universities are requiring online applications through human resource offices–removing departments’ direct oversight of the hiring process and making it more difficult to respond to applicants during searches. Posters on the academic job wiki rail against search committees, but those committees face more internal roadblocks when it comes merely to having access to files in a timely manner.


  9. Good point, History Maven. Since search committees now happily accept letters of recommendation via e-mail, I think the days of applications via e-mail only are probably shortly on their way. In both cases–whether writing a letter of recommendation or applying for a job–it would seem crucial to use an institutional e-mail address rather than jakeishott@hotmail., or fugeesfan734@gmail.


  10. By Fant’s logic we should also encourage writers of letters of recommendation–especially those who write in support of their already-employed colleagues–to avoid letterhead out of a concern for (did I read that correctly?) “stewardship of resources and confidentiality”? Or is their use of departmental letterhead in support of a faculty member’s job search somehow more justified? If it’s appropriate for the recommenders (and I don’t see how it can’t be), it would seem to be appropriate for the applicants themselves.

    Anyway, how is confidentiality supposedly compromised if I use letterhead in my job application? Presumably I will mention my affiliation in my letter or vita, so that’s not at issue. Or maybe Fant is trying to protect me from nosy people who see me grabbing some letterhead in the main office and who then leap to the conclusion that I am on the market?


  11. Tom–you’re right. Taken to its logical conclusion, no university should make letterhead available to anyone! Or, they should (as in 1765) require us to buy only stamped paper certifying that we’re not using the stationery to apply for another job. It’s totally baked, and it surprised me that more people in the comments on the original post didn’t say that, but instead talked about how wise and prudent that policy was! (And then it descended into rants about how good tenure-track people have it and shouldn’t complain about anything, etc., in the disturbing fashion of many of the comments threads over at the Chronicle.)

    I guess I should start charging Baa Ram U. for the electricity, heat, and water that I use, and telephone calls I make while, working from home, so as to respect the principle of “good stewardship of resources.”


  12. If I remember, this Fant guy is the same one whose *previous* inane post I blogged about over at my place. This is the one that saw faculty who took outside jobs as not only disloyal, but possibly damaging the honor and reputation of the university.

    He’s a dean at UU.



  13. Talk about an outsized sense of entitlement! Faculty are supposed to do everything all the time for their university employer, but they can’t even use letterhead for official correspondance? Glad he’s not my dean…!


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