Ph.D.s from the previous decade need not apply? We ain’t got the do-re-mi!

Via friend and commenter ej, I learned that a job ad run by the English department at Baa Ram U. has raised some questions among job seekers and other academics.  Sisyphus has a post about this, and so does Parezco y Digo, who industriously wrote to the Chair of the English Department Search Committee to ask why they’re limiting their candidate pool to those with 2010-2013 Ph.D.s.  (To his credit, the Chair wrote back and gave permission to print his reply in full.)

When we ran a search in the History department last year, we were instructed that we could not consider applicants who were either tenured or those who had the equivalent experience of a tenured Associate Professor, but we were not instructed to limit our applications pool otherwise.  And indeed, our four campus finalists were people whose Ph.D.s ranged from 2006 to 2011, and they ranged in age from perhaps their mid-30s to their mid-50s.  I don’t think English is interested in age discrimination.  My guess is that English is looking to hire people with less experience instead of more experience, mostly because our salaries are so low and the pre-existing faculty had zero raises–we never get cost-of-living increases, so it was merely a suspension of our merit increases–from 2008 to our paltry raise in 2012.

(That said, I agree with Dr. Crazy’s point that the English department is being lazy and short-sighted here.  If you don’t want to read 400 job applications, find another way of limiting the job pool.  Maybe your ideal #1 candidate has a 2008 or 2009 Ph.D., but you’ll never know because you already pre-screened her out of the pool!)

Here’s a fun fact that will clue you in on the austerity now! Austerity forevah! feel of things around here:  the Dean’s office is giving us just $1,000 for our search this year.  A thousand bucks for everything!  So unless we interview only Ph.Ds. who already live in the Metro Denver area and take them out to Hardees for their lunch and dinner, each department will have to spend a lot of its own money on the advertising, travel, local transportation, and hospitality costs inherent in any responsible international job search.  (You know:  the only kind of job searches we’re allowed to do if we want to remain AA/EEO compliant?  Yeah.)

Friends, this is what you get if you try to run a research university like it’s a community college or the University of Phoenix.  That’s right:  we’re officially a Carnegie-1 institution!  What a joke.  But at least we’re not misrepresenting ourselves to our job candidates by pretending that their lives as faculty at Baa Ram U. will be anything like working for a real research university.

Speaking of which:  maybe it’s time for a sit-down strike on the Tenure and Promotion Committee.  Why should we enforce tenure and promotion standards like an R-1 when we’re staffed and funded like a community college?



45 thoughts on “Ph.D.s from the previous decade need not apply? We ain’t got the do-re-mi!

  1. A discussion about this has already hit Inside Higher Ed:

    The first comment on that article brings up an issue that interests me–perhaps this is just the first job ad to admit what most of them may be doing anyway. I have heard professors admit that they’ve deliberately (when reading applications) screened out those who are obviously applying because they’re going up for tenure that year, and others who–because of failed job searches when they make offers to people in that position–wish they’d done so. I don’t know how you’d word it to screen out “No folks who’ve had tt jobs before need apply,” but–if I’m going to think generously–that may be part of their motivation–yet it’s the anti-adjuncts prejudice that comes across.

    Another oddity leaps out at me when I read the ad itself–who hires generally for “pre-1900” American literature, ignoring the distinction between, at minimum, the 19th century and earlier? I’ve seen people lump “Early American” in with “18th century,” but that seems an odd conflation with the entire large field of 19th-century American literature.

    Also, since when are tenure-track appointments for 9 months initially, not 3 years?


  2. CDS, the 9-month contract is what we’re all on, because that’s all we get paid for (unless we teach in the summer.) All probational faculty in the CLA at CSU are on one-year contracts, not a three-year contract. In my department, our “third year review” is not as big a deal as it’s made out to be at other universities. We review every pre-tenure faculty member annually and must recommend reappointment (or non-reappointment). We’ve never fired anyone before they came up for tenure, however.


  3. That said, to your other point about the committee just being honest about their prejudices: I think that’s it’s wrong to have prejudices about something as arbitrary as a degree date at all, so I don’t think it’s particularly productive or admirable to admit to them. I think the English department is being stupid and lazy, and instead I wish they would work harder to review the applications as they come in the door rather than try to pre-screen them.

    That’s the honest truth about academic job searches. You only get the best results when you remain open to all of the applications that come your way. There are rational and reasonable things that will make some apps. rise to the top, and others sink to the bottom, but they have to do with training, field/s of expertise, and overall “fit” with the department (as in, does this person bring something totally new and interesting to our curriculum, or will ze be limited in the numbers of new courses ze would add or directions in which ze might support our grad students.)


  4. I do think they perhaps underestimate how high salaries might be elsewhere. I know CSU is on the lower end of the pay scale, but there are so many institutions that pay less. And Baa-Ram U city is still way more affordable than a lot of places on the coasts, so money goes further.

    I had an AHA interview once where the chair of the search committee was baffled by my desire to leave the t/t job I had for one at his institution, where the pay was low, the teaching level high, and support for research insufficient. I was unable to convince him that at my current institution, the pay was even lower, the teaching load higher, and support for research was pretty much non-existant.

    I guess what I’m saying is trust candidates to know what they are applying for, instead of making the decision for them in advance.


  5. ” trust candidates to know what they are applying for, instead of making the decision for them in advance.”


    This is why I get so frustrated too by the conversations among the faculty–which sometimes start even BEFORE we have a first-round of interviews!–about “Will she come? Will he stay?” I always point out that the candidate applied for the job and wrote a successful enough bid for it that we’re considering an interview or a job offer–so why not talk to him or her and let the candidate figure it out?

    (Even at my crappy, underfunded CC with R-1 research and productivity expectations.)


  6. Thanks for the clarification on the contract length, Historiann–I’m not on the job market yet myself, so I’m not all that knowledgeable about this stuff yet.

    Though I’m totally with you about that the prejudice against older PhDs is a huge problem, I do wish they’d clarify the field. Last year there was a open call–any field of literature, supposedly, to teach in a humanities program at one of the New York universities. A friend of mine, an early modernist, applied and later got a response that actually admitted that what they really wanted was 20th-century American literature, and whoops, the ad was clearly too broad, as they got over 500 applications–apparently the search committee was astonished that applicants took them at their word rather than reading their mind about what field they actually wanted. I figure this ad is doing a similar thing–that is, they probably actually want a 19th-century specialist (because that’s the bigger field) who can also teach the occasional course on Quaker literature and Cotton Mather. In that case, why don’t they just say so??? It’s not as big a problem as the “No old PhDs” bit, but it does add to the impression of an overall poorly thought-out ad–which I hope applicants will consider when they’re thinking about applying.


  7. I agree. History is very careful about the kinds of ads we run, because we are very strict about following the language and precise details of the ad when sorting through our applicant pool. This means that there are a number of fantastic people we can’t shortlist because they don’t present a required field/subfield/qualification, but we don’t limit our pool of applicants otherwise.

    BTW, the article at IHE was very rich & full of facts and details. The comments? Once again, not so much!


  8. In a way I’m sort of glad this has happened, because CDS is quite right, this largely codifies a wide range of questionable practices that have been going on for ages, and it hopefully brings the thing beyond the realm of endless Chronicle discussions and feelgood but toothless AHA resolutions into a courtroom somewhere. Academia has pretty much operated with a self-dispensed exemption from a vast range of employment law requirements for decades, and probably generations. Age (or its proxy, stage) discrimination if far from the only and perhaps far from the worst example, but it has been a core practice. Pulling out a few app files from second-career late-life changers who happen to meet the 2010 or later degree barrier will not disguise the underlying practices at the discovery stage. It’s not clear to me why hiring authorities in any context think they have the right to operate on assumptions about what any given candidate “probably” “will” or “would” do under a given set of institutional constraints. People are agents and can make whatever trade-off decisions they want or need to make to function in any kind of marketplace. An independently wealthy, pedagogically-experienced and widely-published scholar who wants to move and can work for the proverbial $1 a year with or without tenure has as many (but no more) civil rights in the complex terrain of employment law as any other differently-situated potential candidate with similar or other professional qualifications. At the level of a committee saying “oh, we read *every* application carefully” but not meaning it, there’s probably no way of proving anything. But codifying it as brutally as this advertisement does is almost painting an EEOC bulls-eye over the thing, and we’ll see what happens.


  9. Thanks for this post. I’m with you…it sucks, but it’s giving prospective applicants a useful, if also offensive, message. I’m an “older” Phd thrust back into the job market, and though I’d probably not apply for many jobs in my field for other reasons at this point, I’d be grateful to have such a clear window into an institution from the universities I’d be interested in apply to. Last year I applied for one that specified “New PhD Preferred.” I wasn’t surprised when I wasn’t chosen, though still disappointed of course. But at least going into it I knew my money and time could be wasted and was glad to have known and to have made a decision about whether either would be well spent.

    Cannuck, by 9-month they mean that the job is a 9mo./year job. As in you aren’t forced to teach in summer terms, and your salary is for 9/12 months. that is, you don’t get paid for whatever you do in the summer, but you also aren’t on campus unless you opt for that.


  10. The thing I always remind my trainees about faculty job ads is that they are written by committees and approved by an entire department (this is how it works in medical schools). So this means that the ad represents some undissolvable amalgam of compromise, power, and faction within the search committee and the department at large. And once applications have been received and reviewed, applicants invited for interviews, and the decision whom to offer the job to engaged, the balance among these elements of the amalgam can change, even quite dramatically.

    Based on this, I advise my trainees of two important things:

    (1) Don’t get too giddy with excitement thinking that the ad was written “just for you”, because you perceive yourself as perfectly suiting what it claims is the research area they are looking for.

    (2) Don’t not apply thinking that your research interests couldn’t possibly satisfy what the claim they are looking for.


  11. Thanks for the contextual information, Historiann; I was hoping you’d weigh in on this. I was actually not surprised by the requirement, since a friend in another humanities discipline told me years ago that her department regularly starts the weeding process by throwing out all applications from people with Ph.D.s more than c. 3-5 years old (the criterion varies year by year, I think). I was a bit discouraged that her friendship with a number of able scholars from our grad school cohort who haven’t made it onto the tenure track as quickly as she did didn’t lead her to question this practice, but apparently it’s well-entrenched, at least in her department. Having such requirements out in the open, where they can be examined and discussed, is probably just as well.

    I do wonder what advice Baa Ram U English Ph.D. candidates/recent graduates are receiving from their advisors. I hope it’s consistent with the department’s own practice (i.e. they’re putting significant time and effort — since they don’t have money — into helping Ph.D. candidates and recent grads explore alternative careers).

    I also wonder what the department is saying to its own lecturers and adjuncts, and/or if it’s even aware that it’s sending a message to them, too. I think this quotation from the chair of the department in the IHE piece gets to the heart of the matter:

    “While lecturers and adjuncts who earned their doctorates before 2010 would not be part of the pool, neither would tenure-track professors who earned their degree before 2010,” Reid said.

    My guess is that they didn’t think about the effect on applications from mid-to-long-term lecturers and adjuncts because they weren’t really planning to interview anyone who fit that description anyway. Not to wish ill on anyone caught in the middle of a fiscal crisis, but I’d really, really like to see them have trouble staffing their classes next year because a significant number of their lecturers, adjuncts, and grad students have decided it’s time to leave academia.


  12. Dr. Crazy says (in the comment you cited) that “it doesn’t ensure them hiring the best possible person”; actually, it makes hiring the best possible person less likely. That is the crucial issue.

    I find the responses of the search committee chair, Paul Trembath, and the department chair, Louann Reid, smug and patronizing. Only when you think you are addressing a novice do you write that the Colorado State English Department is working to protect “the true ‘entry-level’ applicant” ( Professor Trembath’s rationale here is perverse, regardless of whether or not it is sincere. Who is “entry-level”? Whoever is willing to apply for your assistant professorship with the understanding that it will probably pay an entry-level salary. Trembath is using “entry-level” to mean “the candidates that would be applying for this job in a better job market.”

    Historiann, you comment that more experienced candidates may want more money, but doesn’t that apply only to the candidates who have some bargaining power? And if someone negotiates a slightly higher salary, they don’t get much after that: Colorado State does not have much in the way of raises, and associates there don’t cost much more than assistants. If the candidate can bargain, the only threat would be the threat to the morale of the associate professors if an assistant’s starting salary were to encroach on associate territory (and associates should be sensitive if they are making only $60,000-$64,000). Some people have speculated that the Colorado State English department doesn’t want people coming up for tenure too quickly, but, if so, they have no financial motive for taking this position: as we agree, associates don’t cost much.

    I’m not disinterested here: I had spent nine years on the job market and published six articles and a Cambridge UP book before I received my first tenure-track job offer (oh, and I’m a full professor now—guess I truly was damaged goods!).


  13. RE searching on the cheap: we have a search this year, and we have to fund the search process out of the department’s budget. Luckily, we have the money in the department’s budget to do that.

    At my previous institution, departments had to fund searches out of the department’s budget (no extra $$ from the College or elsewhere), and my department did NOT have nearly enough money to do so. What did that mean? Yep, faculty members paid out of pocket. We had to pay for our own travel to the MLA (if one was also giving a paper, one got a few hundred bucks in travel money, but one also ended up spending the whole MLA interviewing candidates). We also had to pay out of pocket for meals with the candidate (the candidate’s meal got covered by the department, but the search committee members and executive committee members had to pony up).

    But it does get even worse that this. When I was a job candidate, I was taken to dinner at a pizza joint and told what I had to order, because the hosts had a coupon for a particular pizza!


  14. So let me defend the ad.

    The academic hiring process is broken. Dr. Crazy said, “let them read 500 applications.” But no search committee can. At least not if the members want to teach their classes or do their research between now and MLA. So they have to reduce the number. They either do it surreptitiously, by simply not reading a bunch of applications, or they do it upfront by declaring they’re not interested in some particular subset of potential applicants. Transparency is preferable to opacity.

    EngLitProf above talked about “hiring the best possible person.” That’s a fallacy. There ain’t no such critter. (I don’t mean to pick on EngLitProf; lots of other people have talked as though there really was a best possible hire.) Out of 500 applicants, 50 will be able to teach most anything in pre-1900 American Lit that CU asks them to teach, will have the potential, given a tt job with the resources of a halfway decent R1 available to them, to publish good stuff often and will be able to fit into the department’s organizational culture. Their teaching preferences will be incommensurable; their research programs will be incommensurable and the ways in which they’d fit into the department will be incommensurable. They don’t lie on a nice linear scale at the end of which sits the best. It won’t matter (except to the other 49) which of the 50 CU hires. So excluding some of them upfront has no cost.

    The exclusion isn’t stupid and it’s not lazy. The search committee will still have a very large number of applications to read. It is arbitrary (and the efforts of Trembath and Reid to deny this are embarrassing) , but exigency sometimes demands arbitrariness.


  15. EngLitProf describes the situation well, I think (and I find hir story encouraging, though maybe that’s counterproductive when I should instead be taking warning from the ad to give up on the idea of a TT academic career, and put more energy into other options). My numbers match hir description of who might happily apply for an “entry-level” job, despite a long-held degree: after 12 years in a full-time contingent post (10 with the Ph.D.), I make in the low 40s for 9 months’ work, and c. $50,000 with non-guaranteed but necessary summer teaching(and yes, the “non-guaranteed” part makes me nervous. It’s in my nature to live well within my means, but housing costs in my area make that very difficult). You mentioned starting salaries of $50,000-$60,000 over at Sisyphus’ place, Historiann, and I’m pretty sure the cost of living is at least a bit cheaper where you are than where I am, so, yes, I’d be better off, at least financially, in Baa Ram U’s “entry-level” job. Given the fact that I’m actually fairly privileged as contingents go, I’d guess there’s a pretty large pool of similar candidates out there. And, as EngLitProf alludes to, we’re also more likely to be tenurable, perhaps even in less than 6 years, because we’ve got more teaching experience, and more experience jugggling teaching and research (and, at least in my case, a lot of research/writing ideas that have had a significant period to mature while I plug along at getting them into writing/print). I’m not sure why a department would want to discourage that sort of mid-career but new to the TT candidate if the applicants are willing to accept the offered salaries, but I could see why an administration (which might like the idea of turning down tenure applications, for cause and/or because of “financial exigency,” five years from now), might.


  16. It also strikes me that they are *not* excluding ABDs from the applicant pool. That may be hard to do legally (because the job starts nearly a year after the ad was placed), but it seems to me to be a far more justifiable sorting/exclusion criterion. And it would send a far more appropriate message to current grad students.


  17. @jim,

    The legal system as it respects employment–including academic employment–doesn’t exist to accomodate anyone’s sense of “exigency,” or for the convenience of course scheduling, research deadlines, or any analogue of those elements in other industries. Under the right factual and other circumstances, courts would not tremble or blink for a second to remove faculty hiring from the sphere of faculties themselves if necessary to realign the process with the legalities. (That’s just my guess, and I’m not a lawyer). Requiring otherwise qualified applicants to have received degrees in a limited number of recent years would create a classic disparate impact situation, and politically it’s simply insane. [And any defense of it on the basis of “trends in the literature,” “department culture,” or other subjective criteria around questions of “fit” doesn’t say much about the quality–shelf life, if you will–of graduate eductation]. Human Resources would be only too willing to cross the quadrangle and take over the whole hiring function, to the point where a department would learn who its new Elizabethanist was when ze walked in the door and asked for an office. That’s probably the trend line anyway in the intermediate future, I think, but throwing it away now to save wear and tear on a search committee doesn’t seem like a very good calculation. Acknowledging that the system is “broken” will invite very heavy-handed external intervention.


  18. On the flipside, and I suspect this will be deeply unpopular: there is something demoralizing about being a post-2010 PhD grad and believing yourself to being sucked into a backlog while schools clear out the buildup. For years now, I have prepared myself to fall off in marketability once the three year mark arises, while at the same time many of the jobs in my subfield have been taken by scholars with published books. I don’t have five years to sit around adjuncting while I accrue an enormous amount of credit card debt, make no progress towards personal, career, or financial stability, etc. So while this ad doesn’t give me hope exactly, I think it does tap into certain anxieties of the post-2010 crowd.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve always been a vocal fan of voting with my feet. The only way any institution will feel remotely compelled to address the growing adjunct problem is if that adjunct supply line shuts off completely.


  19. What I don’t understand is that if this is a money saving exercise, then why on earth don’t they just publish the salary range for the position. I know there were places I didn’t even apply because there was no way I was going to be able to afford to live in say, Sonoma, on the posted salary.


  20. I have to disagree, jim. You would be right to say that 50 of the candidates for most English positions will be “qualified” (for what that’s worth). You would be right to say that maybe 20 to 40 of them, given the opportunity and resources, will “publish good stuff often” and “fit into the department’s organizational culture” (again, for what that’s worth). But you are wrong to suggest that the top 50 or 30 or 20 candidates will be so comparable—looking at their promise, looking at the advantages they offer to the school—that ranking them must be arbitrary. I’m curious as to what principle of hiring you would advocate. A department, after all, is obliged to rank and obliged to choose, and it needs to base its decisions on the most rational principles. They must aim to identify the best candidate no matter how difficult doing so is. They owe this to themselves and their students; they owe it to the job candidates out there, including the ones they don’t even interview.

    If a department wishes to design an ad so as not to be buried in applicants, it makes far more sense to restrict candidacy upward, by requiring (for example) publications in prominent venues or extensive teaching experience. It would help a little if some of the “Desired Qualifications” in the Colorado State ad were moved over to the “Required Qualifications.” The ad strikes me as unambitious, actually.


  21. First, to Cassandra’s last comment:

    It’s definitely not impossible to screen out ABDs: we often hire only for “PhD in hand” or “PhD by July [of the coming year].” We have a STRONG preference for degree in hand, and if we’re interested in people who claim they’ll be done in the spring, we really check with advisors, etc., to make sure the candidate’s promises are realistic.

    And to the larger problem with this ad:

    Perhaps someone somewhere has already made this point, but I don’t understand why the job can’t be worded as “entry-level assistant professor.” That screens out people who are in their 5th or 6th year on the TT, while leaving open the possibility of hiring EITHER a recent PhD or someone who’s been adjuncting or doing VAPs for a while.

    Because, look: some people do have cushy VAPs, or phenomenal work ethics. But plenty of adjuncts are just scraping by, and it’s ridiculous to equate someone who’s been adjuncting for five years with someone who’s been in a TT position for five years–as if both had the same “unfair” advantage over recent PhDs.


  22. This has been happening in the UK now since the age discrimination act came it and limited employers restricting jobs by age. So, most postdocs now require you to be within x years of PhD. It used to be 5 years, but all the big funders have recently dropped it to three, and Oxbridge’s Junior Research Fellowships have dropped to only one year (which effectively makes it pointless for anyone outside of Oxbridge to apply)! This is because they were dealing with literally thousands of applicants per advertising run (they often tell you and I’ve been one applicant in 1085 and several times in pools of over three hundred). In the past, these jobs were restricted to under 35s, so it’s a massive improvement in that it at least recognises people who have non-traditional career paths. But, the reduction does simply appear to have been the result of trying to make the numbers of applicants more manageable after all the ‘permanent jobs’ dried up post 2007.

    However, I’ve never seen this on a ‘permanent’ post (we don’t do tenure track), generally as permanent posts are looking for people who are ‘REF submitable’, so they need to have a certain level of publications (you usually need at least 3 years out of PhD to have published enough). So, at least us older folks haven’t had to give up hope in the same way. At the same time, the need for timely publications in the British system means that if you take too long on your PhD, then we will doubt your ability to publish with regularity, so you’re pretty much unemployable if you take longer than four years (fulltime) to finish a PhD (without some sort of career break, like maternity), so this system hasn’t resulted in people delaying their PhDs unnecessarily.

    The Oz system works much the same way.


  23. Yeah, I’m still with the majority view on this, although jim gave it a good try. I agree that emphasizing “entry level” would probably have accomplished much of the English department’s goals, but the fact remains that there are non-arbitrary (and in fact much more sensible) ways of limiting an applicant pool. One could narrow the field, and/or require that candidates have expertise in X or Y subfields, and/or suggest that they not replicate the fields the department is already quite strong in.

    Of course, even if one were on a search and had a stack of 400 files, it’s highly likely that at least 30% of those files will be from people who will be pretty easily excluded because 1) they didn’t read the parameters of the job ad so they don’t realize they aren’t qualified, 2) their research is uninteresting and/or not of sufficient quality or quantity likely to lead to tenure at that institution. Out of 400 files, that could potentially dispatch as many as 325. (At least, in the searches I’ve been on, I usually want to interview no more than 25% of the original pool.)

    The people who apply to jobs for which they are not qualified really blow my mind, but there they are in every search pile. As in: clearly we don’t know what we need, but we’ll be so incredibly blown away by your credentials that it won’t matter because we’ll perceive your inherent awesomeness? Uh, I’m actually much more impressed when candidates demonstrate 1) good reading comprehension skills, and 2) make an effort to explain how they’ll fit into our existing grad and undergrad curriculum.


  24. Wow. I wonder if anyone over there in History at CSU had any idea that their ad would create such a shitestorm. Assigning a simple date is madness. Sticking to the date makes even less sense. Is the upper administration behind this? I can’t imagine a *department* pinching pennies in this way. That is, if the goal was to bring someone in at a low starting salary, and to use the full runway to tenure and promotion to slow the way to whatever bump comes with that, I find it hard to believe that this goal came from History. Sounds very Deanly. Or (and I mean this disparagingly), it sounds like something an Associate Dean read about somewhere, and forwarded to the Dean as a cost-saving measure. I hear echoes of this in H-Ann’s comment that “we were instructed.” So maybe I’m not sure the blame lies with History. Totally?


  25. We get close to a thousand application when a job(s) is advertised. We go through them. We did hire a 2006 PhD graduate a year ago; I wouldn’t have. Being out for six years without one excellent paper means that you’ll never write one.

    We don’t have austerity, but we have plenty of stupidity. (Stupidity is the only self renewed resource in existence.) The future, paraphrasing my son who teaches at a neighboring university, the tenure system is on its last legs. University contribution to our pension funds are about be decreased drastically or eliminated.

    It is impossible to understand the changes in US universities without looking at the wider society and politics.


  26. The people who apply to jobs for which they are not qualified really blow my mind, but there they are in every search pile. As in: clearly we don’t know what we need, but we’ll be so incredibly blown away by your credentials that it won’t matter because we’ll perceive your inherent awesomeness?

    Interesting. I tend to take a conservative approach to hiring ads. If it doesn’t fit what I do, then I don’t apply. There’ve been a lot of ads over the past two years in a methodology that my work shades into, but that I dislike and in some important ways don’t do, and my friends have strongly encouraged me to apply to those jobs. My resistance has always been two-fold: a) there are temporal boundaries to the methodology that my work doesn’t match and b) the department’s hiring in said methodology usually have a historian in my national field, which is my primary affiliation. So I feel like I would never teach in the subject I love and have been trained in. (A non-US history field.) But I’ve gotten a lot of flak for this, and the underlying ethos of many of my colleagues and peers is that “search committees never know what they need” so you might as well apply. (There is also a racial component to this, in that I don’t study African American history but am African American and there’s a fairly strong perception among my colleagues—but not me—that some of the ads for AfAm history/studies would be interested in my work. My perception is that being black might be a disadvantage in that my field is not one typically viewed as the diversity hire, but that there are expectations about teaching competencies and I can’t pretend to teach a field that I’m not trained in.)


  27. H’Ann, just as you would have pointed to my post, I’d have pointed to yours, had I not written about $4K suits instead 🙂 EngLitProf is exactly right that it’s not about ensuring the best candidate but rather that it’s about making it less likely to get the best (or, I’d add, the most excellent) candidate. I disagree with Jim, mainly because there are better ways to narrow than this, ways that are not discriminatory but which are about trying to find the best candidate (you only need this scheme if you’re unwilling to create a more field-specific ad), and also because having served on three search committees in my time on the tenure track, yes, it’s a boatload of work, but it’s work that is worth doing, and I’d much rather read hundreds of applications (which I’ve done) than have only a few (which I’ve also done). Did I read the hundreds: yes, I did. Because this shit matters. I MADE the time, even if I didn’t have it. Also, Flavia’s suggestions about how to limit are totally sensible.

    Re: Frog Princess’s last comment: don’t apply to something out of your field because of your race. It’s gross that people should suggest that you would. Apply for jobs in your field. Frankly, in terms of diversity, it’s a bonus if a “diversity hire” is not in a “diversity field,” at least at my institution. (Though let’s note, the only two people at my institution who didn’t get tenure last year were African-American, so we suck a whole huge lot.)


  28. I should clarify that the methodology in question is not African-American history, or Africana studies. Just to be clear.

    Dr. Crazy, I haven’t applied to that kind of job for that reason, but it’s become a perpetual discussion. I think it should be a bonus for minorities to be working in fields that don’t map onto their phenotype, but I’m really not convinced it is. Or I should say…I suspect that whatever attention committees may pay to diversity, they don’t do in my field. (Even though I may be one of a handful—if not the only—AfAm early-career person in my field.) If it doesn’t work out for me, it doesn’t work out, but I personally can’t twist myself in knots trying to get a job.


  29. There’s not much to add on the silliness of this(I’ve been at work all day and am just tuning in) but I’d just echo H’ann on this one : I’m actually much more impressed when candidates demonstrate 1) good reading comprehension skills, and 2) make an effort to explain how they’ll fit into our existing grad and undergrad curriculum.

    When I read applications, one simple way to weed people out is to ignore applications from people who haven’t done anything to address the institution they are applying to. thefrogprincess is right to pay attention to who is already there. And when there is a specific methodology mentioned, they probably really want that. Because we’re very small, we often do write very broad ads in terms of field, but there are lots of cues that we’re not a generic place, so generic applications are a real fail.


  30. This cutoff date is just wrong, as you’ve all said more eloquently. Yes, it’s time-consuming to go through hundreds of applications, but we do it at Northern Clime, because–guess what?– you’ll never know what you’ll find unless you look.


  31. I don’t think arbitrary cutoffs are the right way to cull applications but I do agree with Jim that the idea of hiring the “best” candidate is silly. Search committees have an obligation to do the work in a serious and considered way but the notion of “best” is, imho, about the egos of the existing faculty. We want to think that is what the process yields because we are products of that process. Clearly I got my position because I was the best, right? Sure, Professor Dr. Giant Head.

    With regard to the sit-down strike on the Tenure and Promotion Committee , be careful. In my observation, anything odd you do will only hurt the person under review. I had to shepherd a file this year to which the departmental P&T committee had attached a letter stating that the original offer should be re-written because the combination of teaching and research demands were too much. This was a giant neon sign flashing “be suspicious of this candidate” to the Dean’s committee. It was a lot of work to walk that back and protect a valuable member of my faculty. I suggested that the letter should be read as an expression of frustration on the part of the departmental committee about their own situations, not any kind of statement about the individual up for review. They kept at me for a while and I think I handled it alright (because, you know, I’m the best) but the pre-tenure person now has an undeserved black mark next to hir name.


  32. Or departments could go in the opposite direction, as Berkeley History is doing this year, and write an ad for a position in anything, any time period, any subfield in US History. That won’t yield 1000+ applications.

    Sarcasm aside, I think Berkeley is clearly trying to get a huge pool from which to select their perceived best person, but this also does a disservice to applicants who can’t make a case for why they’re great for a 19th C. Women and Gender position or a 20th C Environmental history position or an Early America Encounter position. How the hell do you pick when the pool is that incoherent?


  33. @Rachel – Well, one way to respond to such an incoherent ad is to study the department’s existing faculty and make a case for how your (the applicant’s) work fits into the department’s current offerings, either in terms of complementing existing strengths or filling a gap (either can make a compelling case, especially in terms of graduate training). I mean, you’re right, that’s a terrible ad and could indicate some departmental dysfunction (and a potentially nasty hiring fight within the search committee and department). (Disclaimer: I know nothing about Berkeley’s history department, except they *did* try to hire a 20th US person and the search failed -offer not accepted. I guess that could explain the broad ad, if they thought Well we JUST DID this search and the person we chose didn’t come, why run a 20th c search again, let’s run it broader and see what we get.)


  34. I agree with you, Rachel: there IS such a thing as too broad a pool!

    Truffula, thanks for your perspective on the sit down strike. I thought about it and I agree with you–abstentions from a tenure vote or an annual review would be red flags to anyone above the department level, no matter how well I explain myself.

    Thefrogprincess: it sounds to me like you are appropriately NOT applying for jobs outside of your field. You may be eligible to apply for the job in my department–I am not sure what your field is exactly, but it’s a non-U.S. History job, although of course after reading my complaints about my uni for the past 4 years you may well not care to! (Still, I hope you do if you are in that field.)

    Dr. Crazy and undine are clearly much harder workers on search committees than I am, and/or I’ve served on committees that attract far fewer applications than their job searches. (Because I only seem to serve on Public History searches, and because those searches also often required the ability to teach specific U.S. subfields, I’m thinking that this is certainly the case.) I read all letters of application and the CV. If it looks like a good fit and the letter impresses me with its specificity and detail, then I read on.


  35. p.s. to Lance: It’s the ENGLISH Department that wrote this ad, not the HISTORY Department!

    My department is much more detail-oriented (or perhaps anal retentive, if you will). A drop-dead date like that would never fly in my department.


  36. To answer Lance’s (corrected) question:

    No, the English department had no idea the ad would create the response it has. There are many tenured faculty (not well represented in Ann’s commentariat) who are clueless about the Condition of The Contingent Question. It’s become obvious that both Tembath and Reid are from that group.


  37. Sorry, y’all. I’d meant to say “English.” That’s what two glasses of Lillet Blanc will do you ya!

    I talked to a few ABD graduate students today about this story, and man o man, does it hit a red panic button.


  38. Many thanks, Indyanna, for voicing concerns that I’ve been feeling quite acutely lately. It’s good to know that not everyone is drinking the “But we’re humanities scholars, so by definition everything we *do* is humane and above reproach!” Kool Aid.


  39. So, if they truly are after faculty with “entry-level salary expectations,” when are they going to start posting ads for head coaches with the same criterion?


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