Feeling grinchy, and you?

Maureen DowdI just paid $215 to register for the American Historical Association 2014 conference as a non-member, which strikes me as a confiscatory rate. Why am I not a member? I already get too many journals every quarter that I can’t keep up with and which just take up space on a bookshelf. I’m not on the job market. And at my incredibly low salary, it would still cost me $118 per year to join.  I figure I can use that toward another plane ticket to Quebec or somewhere else I can get some real work done.

I admit that when I was a grad student on the market, I rarely (if ever!) paid to register for this conference. Quite honestly, I wasn’t using any conference services or going to the receptions (and I only sneaked into the book exhibit once with a borrowed badge). I just showed up for my interviews and then made myself scarce until I had to face the next one. However, I consider it my duty now to pay full freight on the rare occasion that I go to this conference. I don’t have much travel money, so I’m not sure Baa Ram U. will even cover this much of the conference expenses (although it did buy my plane ticket. We only get $1,200 of travel money, so most of us end up footing at least half of the bills–or much more–for our ongoing professional development and research trips.)

I’m not complaining–much. I’ve got it good compared to many who absolutely must attend this conference because of the job interviews. I’ve at least got some travel money from my employer. And yes, I have an employer, unlike the many un- and underemployed folks who will be hustling for jobs this winter.

I don’t think I’ll have much incentive to accept invitations to join an AHA panel in the future. (But, you may point out:  if only people at major research universities with major expense accounts attend this conference, how will it ever change or reform?   Won’t I be depriving my colleagues at AHA of my perspective as a professor at an Aggie school in flyover country?  You’d be right to ask these questions, but quite honestly, I’ve got other social justice battles that I think are more important.  For example, my colleague at CSU-Pueblo, Jonathan Rees, is fighing a fake budget crisis that threatens fifty jobs on his campus this week.  For realz.)

I sure as heck will argue much more strongly that we need to stop conducting job interviews at this conference. It’s manifestly unfair to expect the poorest members of the profession (and those least likely to have expense accounts!) to travel for the mere chance at another interview!  If hiring institutions had to pay the travel expenses for all of their interviewees and for all interviews, I think the AHA interview would meet a swift end.  Somehow, we’d manage to muddle along either by bringing candidates straight to campus, or by using Skype for screening interviews.

Some professions and departments do this all of the time.  Why do we historians and literature scholars consent to be prisoners of conferences (AHA and MLA) that happen to meet over winter break?  Anthropologists and Political Scientists have their conferences in the fall, so most departments dispense with the conference interview entirely.  Why can’t we?

25 thoughts on “Feeling grinchy, and you?

  1. Hear, hear. Because the conference this year is held near the location of my grandkid, I will pop in for the department chairs’ lunch and maybe a panel or two. It gives me a chance to stay a few more days without driving my daughter nuts. But, the cost is horrible for graduate students, who if they don’t have family in town end up sleeping on the floor of someone else’s hotel room. (And unlike when I was a student, most of the interviewing now takes place in the big awful room with cubicles, for which they examine badges as they do for the book exhibit.

    Departments (even those at major universities) also have a hard time now paying for multiple faculty members to travel to, stay at, and register for the conference so that they can interview candidates.

    My department has a tradition of not interviewing at the conference and cutting right to a shortlist. We’ve been pretty happy with the results. Last year, we did Skype interviews for our search, and chose a very good set of finalists. And more and more of our students are finding that hiring departments do Skype interviews. It is not quite the same as meeting someone in person, but it is just about as good, and it is a whole lot cheaper and easier.


  2. They’re now checking for badges at the job registry? That really stinks. I had several of those interviews back in the day, but no badges were required that I recall.

    I’m glad to hear about your positive experiences bringing candidates right to campus and/or with Skype. We had a series of 15 or so Skype interviews for a search I was on in 2012, and I thought it worked great. We had no surprises when we brought our candidates to campus, in any case. We were very pleased with the results.


  3. p.s. If any grad students or people on the job market are attending on the down low and want to get into the book exhibit, look for me and I’ll loan you my badge.

    I’ll be the one with the green fur wearing a Santa hat and coat (but no pants.)


  4. $215 is cheap! Member fees at the science themed conferences I attend are at least twice as much–if you get the “early bird rate.” Student rates offer a considerable discount though, usually 1/3 to 1/4 the regular rate.


  5. My department hasn’t done AHA interviews since 1975–when I had mine, in a bedroom in which two of the three committee members dozed on the twin beds. The third, the great John Murrin, not only managed to keep the conversation going but convinced the others I said something, for which (as for much more) I have always been grateful. Like Ruth’s department, mine cuts to the chase. We’d rather bring a fourth candidate to campus when necessary–though that’s expensive, so is paying for faculty to be at AHA interviewing.


  6. If I remember correctly, I have paid $250 as a non-member attending the MLA. I figure it pays for the lower cost of the hotel rooms. I’m on a lit search this year, and the search chair believes in conference interviews. So I’ll skip the AHA, and head to Chicago instead. We have done both, it depends on the search chair. I drew the line at using my research funds for the trip.


  7. Amen! Especially when search committees, which don’t get materials until Oct or Nov, make interview invitations only a couple of weeks–or even days!–before the conference. So a grad student/candidate has to decide months ahead whether to gamble that s/he will have interviews and book a plane ticket, hotel, conference registration in order to get decent rates, or whether to wait until something materializes for sure and then pay through the nose for last minute bookings.

    Plus, there’s the effect of the job market craziness on the intellectual substance of the conference itself, when a third of the attendees are super-stressed job candidates and another third are super-stressed search committee members. None of them have time or energy to go to panels, and the collective anxiety just permeates the place to such an extent that the remaining third decides they never want to go back!


  8. It’s a good point you make, Ellie, about the sapping of the intellectual energy of the conference.

    OTOH, these big conferences serve a variety of goals and masters. For example, while scholars might not care too much about their demise because we have access to smaller, more specialized conferences, the AHA and the OAH annual conferences really reach out to secondary ed teachers and the like and try to bring them into the conversation. And they also offer discounted registration fees for teachers, too. I’m not sure very many HS teachers would (for example) attend the 16th Century Studies conference, or the Western Society for French History conference, or the many dozens of conferences that are more intellectually useful for scholars because they’re not also running job fairs and the like on the side, as well as more specifically targeted to a given field.

    However, given that many high school teachers make more than many university faculty (even TT university faculty), one wonders about who should be offered a discount!


  9. “I’ll be the one with the green fur wearing a Santa hat and coat (but no pants.)” — LOL! What a picture!

    I have only ever attended AHA to interview or be interviewed for the job market. The only reason I’m even a member is because I’m currently department chair, since the conference and the journal are so Western-oriented. AHA provides a lot of valuable professional services, but it seems to be time to re-think the job meat market.

    Very interesting to hear your collective experiences of Skype interviews. Our college is leaning that way and several of my colleagues strongly oppose it, and I don’t have enough experience with it to judge.


  10. In my experience, NB, the people who oppose Skype do so on the basis of emotion, not reason or evidence. It’s hilarious for me that I’m perceived to be on the techologically sophisticated side of things, and pro-technology in general.

    We might ponder historians’ (or other scholars’) resistance to Skype interviews, when many of us are pro-MOOC, pro-online education. What is it about us that makes US so special that we can’t interface over a videolink, but we think that’s a perfectly fine way for our students to learn? (Actually, if online ed deployed more Skype, I’d be more on board, but most video used in online ed is canned lectures, not interactive conversations.) What’s good for the goose & all that, right?

    You should gather up some evidence of people’s impressions of how and if they work. I’ve never met anyone who has said that the Skype interviews were ineffective, or that they ended up bringing someone to campus who was totally wrong for the job because they did a Skype interview instead of an in-person interview.


  11. I’m personally not crazy about Skype interviews (prefer a phone interview–yes, I know, I’m weird), but one thing I like about librarianing is that there is almost never a conference interview. You generally do a Skype or phone interview and then an onsite. Makes a lot of sense. I enjoy conferences in general, and I enjoy them so much more when I don’t have interviewing hanging over my head.


  12. My department is increasingly turning to Skype or phone interviews for the first round. It saves candidates money and leaves us with enough to bring one or two additional finalists to campus. They’re not quite as informative as an in-person interview, but as with so much else digital, they’re nearly as good while being much cheaper and more convenient.


  13. I completely agree that we, as a field, need to rethink that conference. For our search, we’re doing Skype – we’d planned on doing the AHA, but the schedule was just awful given what we had to work with, and that was before we decided to start all over again. None of us routinely go to AHA – with our limited travel funds, we go to the places that will accept our papers, and AHA isn’t about to do that. My stuff fits better at another international venue (and which is decidedly more friendly and less cut-throat).


  14. While I too resent the high cost of attending the AHA, I do feel that it is one of the few conferences I attend where I get to see my friends/colleagues who work in other fields. Especially those in American history, who would otherwise *never* show up at Kalamazoo, or places I would likely be.


  15. I was going to make ej’s point: the AHA is the *only* conference where any of my historian colleagues might be found. I had a memorable exchange with a leading historian of a continent I don’t study, saying that his practice at the AHA was to go to sessions outside his field, so he’d get new ideas. That intellectual curiosity is my goal, though not always achieved!


  16. Check this out: UC Riverside English search committee informs job candidates that they’ll be informed as to whether or not they have a MLA interview SIX days before the conference begins.

    The search committee chair and the department chair’s response to the internet-fueled outrage that resulted: that’s the way we’ve always done it, so we don’t understand why you’re complaining.

    Awesome!!! There’s apparently no need to review abusive or unfair practices because they’re longstanding.


  17. And to Susan’s and ej’s point: I think there’s a good argument for general history conferences. As I said above, the outreach to secondary ed teachers usually only happens at these larger conferences. I just don’t think there’s a good reason any longer to tie this particular conference to the job market.

    An AHA–expensive as it is, and always held in cold northern cities as it usually is where air travel is most precarious (another beef of mine, which I know competes with my complaints about the cost)–will likely still draw participants because of these reasons. But how much more intellectually valuable would it be if everyone were actually there to attend sessions instead of to interview or be interviewed?


  18. I’ve attend the AHA as a grad student presenter, a job candidate, and now as a (much happier) high school teacher. I love the AHA now that I am not on the market and going from interview to interview (yes, I mainly go to see the famous historians and to drink with grad school buddies). And it’s awesome to be witness the scholarly conversation. I say witness because the AHA’s efforts to include to secondary educators could be so much more than they are now. I’m consistently saddened by how this organization could do so much more to work with high school teachers. (This year’s offerings look somewhat promising, but I do find myself wanting more — where are the panels that begin conversations between college professors and high school teachers about the kinds of students college professors area getting and about the challenges/constraints they face? Where are the serious conversations about how history is taught in high schools across the country — and how to change that on a micro and meta level?) I’d love to see some way to make these connections deeper! It can only help both sides. But, of course, as long as the AHA is a hiring conference, this may not be entirely possible.

    Also, is there a way to do this sort of thing at the smaller, more specialized conferences? Those are so fun and those organizations could do some amazing things with high school teachers (and also help college professors understand the world he their future students are coming from).


  19. If outreach to secondary ed was a real interest, they wouldn’t do it when school is in session. Guarantees I’m not going unless it’s in Philly, Baltimore, NY or DC. And then only for Saturday session.

    @HighschoolPhD We are experimenting with the cross-faculty discussion at ASEH. It’s mostly a rebel move by the teaching committee because there are two HS teachers on it but we have struggled this far. Some success, some failure. Plus drop in on #sschat on Monday from 7-8 EST for a twitter chat on environmental history. Twitter has been great for some teachers in working across levels.


  20. HighschoolPhD and Western Dave: thanks for these comments–it’s good to hear from actual teachers in this thread. I hear you about the scheduling of the conference–it was moved back about 20 years ago so that it wasn’t always held the weekend between Xmas and New Year’s, a timing that presented other challenges and annoyances.

    If AHA gave up the job interviews, it could be a summer conference, and would be theoretically more open to teachers and professors. This year’s conference seems really early–since it was switched to January, it was usually held the second weekend in Jan., which is after some unis have already returned to classes (unis on quarters and some early starters).


  21. I am very curious to know your take on your blogging associate Tenured Radical’s sexist, elitist effort at a takedown of a critique of disrespectful and expensive hiring processes that you linked to above.


    I can’t imagine how someone calling herself “radical” and “feminist” can use “hissy fit,” “drama queen,” and an Ann Coulter analogy against someone whose “tone” she dislikes. (“Shrill” is one that TR’s supporters have also used to describe the original shaming of the UCR committee by Rebecca Schuman) and still feel comfortable using “radical” and “feminist” to describe herself.

    What do you think?


  22. Pingback: Peace on Earth! Or, the Christmas that job wiki rage went viral. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  23. Historiann, I’m late to the game, but I would love to see the AHA become a summer conference. Dispensing with the conference interviews would be a boon.


  24. In Canada, we have our annual conference in late May/early June as part of a broad conglomeration of academic society meetings. No conference interviews of which I’m aware since it’s far outside the conference interview season.

    Kill the conference interview tradition. Kill it dead, dance on its grave and use your video-conference software option of choice instead. Save everyone time, hassle and money, especially the poor candidates!


  25. Very late to the game. I hate the conference interview. Even after I was a prof, I hated paying to go for an interview to change jobs. The skype interview is taking off for preliminaries in other fields, I can’t tell you why historians don’t do it except, as you so aptly noted, “we’ve always done it that way.” I used to tell folks who said that response was “non-responsive to my ‘why?’ question.”


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