June 27, 2003

My History Job Search Paranoia Confirmed?

When making tenure-track hires, history departments engage in what economists call nonprice rationing and what educated laypeople might call discrimination. To reduce the large group of applicants to a manageable number, the members of history-department search committees reject applications for the slightest cause...

... Departments in all disciplines try to engage in the same process, but they can do so only to the extent that they have a glut of serious candidates. Economics departments currently have precious little opportunity to indulge themselves, but history departments have ample room to maneuver. I know of one candidate for a history job who was rejected because her surname was the same as that of a member of the department, and a professor on the search committee thought she would therefore not be a good fit.

-- Robert E. Wright, A Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians

From the "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" files:

There's a discussion brewing down in the comments to "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux" that I want to bring upfront. The discussion concerns a series of columns by "C.A. Wilcox" (this is a pseudonym), "a tenured professor of history at a major research university who will write a regular column this academic year on how the job-search process works from the hiring side of the table in history."

In a column entitled "A Long Shortlist," Wilcox offered what I must consider an invaluable insight into the sheer arbitrariness, nay the downright craziness, of the selection process:

I paid close attention to what might appear to be a mundane aspect of the CVs: the professional memberships listed by the candidates. Remarkably, some applicants failed to indicate that they were members of the appropriate professional organizations, not just the American Historical Association, but also the smaller ones appropriate to the field in which we are searching. When all such groups have low dues for graduate students, it's definitely a mark against a candidate who has not joined them and who thus is not receiving the journals (and current book reviews) regularly. Nonmembers have to pay more to attend professional meetings, and they usually cannot participate in panels at those meetings. Thus memberships are, to me, an important early sign of the professional engagement we seek from new colleagues.

Now when I read this, I had an actually physical reaction: my gut clenched, and for a brief moment I felt dizzy. You see, when I went on the market, I was one of those candidates who "remarkably...failed to indicate" my membership in the various professional associations to which I did in fact belong. I would have been more than happy to have listed them on my CV. But I had been told not to by my advisors and mentors. Indeed, in an early draft of my CV I had actually included them and was quite explicitly warned to remove them. This would be seen as CV-padding, I was informed. And the suspicion of CV-padding might result in being eliminated from consideration as a candidate. In other words, I was told exactly the same thing that William Pannapacker was told (comment to "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux"):

I was told by career advisors at Harvard that one should not list professional memberships on a CV because these are not achievements or qualifications. Anybody can join an organization, and presumably everyone in the profession with good credentials is already a member of all of the major societies.

Well, I'm rather relieved to learn that I didn't just make this up. Because when I read that Wilcox column, for a brief moment I had to wonder whether I had got it all wrong. Perhaps my advisors had most emphatically warned me that I must list professional memberships on my CV, or risk being eliminated as someone who does not show signs of early professional engagement? But no, I do know that I didn't get this wrong (though if I applied for the job in Wilcox's department, which is not outside the realm of possibility, then of course I got it very wrong indeed).

So presumably some committees might eliminate a candidate for including memberships on a CV (CV-padding), while other committees might eliminate a candidate for not including memberships on a CV (lack of professional engagement). How is a candidate to know which committee will eliminate on the basis of which decision? Are there subtle clues in the job announcements, some kind of cryptic code, perhaps, that the extremely bright and assiduous job-seeker might manage to crack?

This all sounds rather silly, doesn't it? But it's actually rather serious for the job candidate. In Wilcox's search, people really were eliminated for not listing memberships in professional organizations. I'll bet many, probably most, of them did belong to the appropriate organizations, but had been advised not to list them.

Psst...Hey, you. Over there. Yeah, you. You're an "A" student, and you love history, and the life of a tenured professor looks pretty sweet, and your undergraduate professors are encouraging you to continue your pursuit of history in graduate school. Don't do it!


My job market paranoia confirmed? Mr Pannapacker has left a comment at the "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux" entry that tends toward a confirmation:

In any case, there are lots of criteria that are far more important than anything that goes on the CV when it comes to hiring at any institution (but you'll never know what they are). I recently served on two search committees, and I now realize that the process must look nearly random to the candidate. Anyone in contention for a job anywhere has to have outstanding credentials. A trivial difference can easily be blamed for the major differences that cannot or must not be articulated.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 11:44 AM

IA, for what its worth Wilcox sounds like a total idiot. I’ve been on a few search committees, and while it is not unheard of for people to have bees in their bonnet for some reason or other, he sounds absurd. The standard rule is not to list memberships, and if he does not know that it is presumably because he is deadwood. Real committees focus on letters and your research and/or teaching.

Wilcox sounds particularly stupid because he says that he -eliminates- people for this. Were I reading a somewhat padded C.V. I would presumably be thinking that it was a somewhat padded C.V., but as long as the rest was strong it would not matter much. Perhaps that is what he means, and he just lacks the ability to express his meaning clearly in written English.
He also thought that it would be best to skip the AHA interview, which strikes me as utterly crazy. Meat-market interviews have lots of flaws, but there is nothing to compare to 30 minutes spent talking to people. Perhaps he lacks the personal skills to get anything out of such an interview. That does not mean what Wlicox says is not true of course, many departments put crazy/stupid people on hiring committees because they have no other option. Some departments don’t search very often, and people have really no clue what they are doing.

It’s usually not so much a matter of a committee having secret requirements, its more a matter of them not knowing exactly what they are looking for. We know the job is Modern Germany. Would we prefer someone who does working-class, to compliment what we already have, or someone who does peasants, to fill a gap? (This is more true at teaching schools, but somewhat true everywhere) Usually it depends on what you find. Job listings are usually written fairly broadly, and then you fill in the details as you look at the candidates. Candidate X brings us a, b, and c. What does Y bring that outweighs that? The job ad is fairly broad, but the discussions in the committee are usually tied very specifically to the individual candidates.

Posted by: Ssuma at June 27, 2003 12:48 PM

To either advise a student to not list professional memberships on a cv because of "padding" (this takes what, three lines) or to dismiss a candidate because of failure to do so are both highly idiotic. Of the two, the latter is worse, however, though I don't see any reason to believe it's true.

I'd recommend reading Wilcox's columns as highly abstract allegories. If someone cared enough to look at all the possible departments he could work for, figure out who the lucky hire was, and then determine who these people are and what their real motives were, then you could probably begin to piece together the truth. I doubt that they would have eliminated candidates they were interested in for this peccadillo.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 27, 2003 12:49 PM

Chun, Wilcox may or may not be an idiot, but he chaired a real committee in an actual job search at a major research university.

This is about the oversupply of candidates and the need to eliminate on the basis of increasingly narrow and arbitrary criteria. Which is exactly Robert Wright's point. Sure, there will always be cranksters with bees in their bonnets, but in a better balanced "market" they cannot afford to indulge their idiosyncracies. In at least some areas of history, they can.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 12:58 PM

Rereading the column, I'm convinced that they did indeed eliminate candidates for failing to list memberships: this was apparently done when eliminating those from the "maybe" pile in order to get to a long shortlist.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 01:02 PM

Yet... what if you were looking at 100+ candidates (not unheard of -- in some cases it's even worse) for one position? Even if only half were qualified, that's still 50 people to be winnowed down to 10 conference interviews and 3 on-campus.

I'm not saying that petty things like surnames and "padding" are first-order decisive factors, but given the odds and the lack of time available for most search committees to make thorough decisions, I can't help but think that this is less "unreasonable" than it looks at first sight. That is, if you have a large number of wonderful candidates, all of them qualified to do the job, it should not be surprising if what are otherwise arbitrary, minuscule factors might come into play as a way of distinguishing between them.

Of course, I could just be assuming that the candidate pool is full of highly qualified folks competing viciously with each other for few jobs, but I could be wrong on several of those assumptions.

IA -- for what it's worth, I did put those affiliations on my c.v. -- and you know what that got me this year!

Posted by: Rana at June 27, 2003 01:05 PM

Ah, you said it better than me, and quicker!

Posted by: Rana at June 27, 2003 01:06 PM

I don't mean this in a mean way, but if 1/100 odds are what you face in history job searches, I'm not as sympathetic as I might be. That's three-four times better odds than the typical search in my field.

There was (is?) a basketball player for the University of Maryland named Chris Wilcox, though I'm not sure if that means anything.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 27, 2003 01:20 PM

I'm not asking for your sympathy, Chun. I'm trying to warn people against graduate school in history.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 01:25 PM

Various good things have come out of this dialogue. One permanent legacy might be a website gathering and archiving all the various key articles, statistics, etc., we've been talking about all this time.

Having it up would make it possible to wise up the next generation of suckers. We're really dealing with an ongoing scandal here -- the next generation's cohort of new B.A.'s is being sucked into the system right when I.A. and others are deciding that there's no hope for them in the system. (The book "The PhD trap" is 15 years old).

No one (including ex-grad-students and ex-adjuncts) has an institutional interest in wising up the new generation. However, a website costs almost nothing. If the basic hiring information were put up every year, plus a collection of relevant articles, it wouldn't be necessary to re-invent the wheel (as we have just done) every few years. People would mostly only go to the site if referred (though getting a good google rank should be too hard), but at least once someone went to the site they would have a wealth of information and opinion to draw upon.

Posted by: zizka at June 27, 2003 03:43 PM

Ssuma (Post #1): Far from rationalizing the application, interviewing, and hiring process, or making it fair or (God forbid) humane, the broadly, and vaguely, conceived position announcements you refer to -- seemingly positively -- are precisely what make the process so insane. It permits the indulgence of virtually every disciplinary whim and fancy -- Wilcox is simply one of the more extreme, if not also loopy, example.

What is lacking in your observations is the fact that we're all out here trying to figure out just how we can position/articulate ourselves to show up on your radar.

Posted by: Chris at June 27, 2003 04:11 PM

That's not a bad idea. It would be a bit of a project, however, to find the relevant data for the various disciplines (though I think I could tackle history).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 05:46 PM

As a potential history graduate student, I wonder if someone might shed some more light on the field. Are some areas British/American/Asian/etc.) suffering from more of a glut than others?

Posted by: tronbonne at June 27, 2003 06:13 PM

-Chis. I'm sorry I'm afraid I didn't make my point very clearly. I don't think that many departments send out a broadly worded ad when they actually have a much more specific set of conditions in mind just to jerk people's chains. What happens is that job ads are quite broad and then the process gets much more specific as you look at candidates. Departments do have some minor things that they look for that they would know about before the search (what secondary fields would be helpful at a teaching school, for instance) and candidates can sometimes figure this out from the webpage. The other stuff comes up in the process of the search. As you are going through letters and interviews and such you are thinking about how a person would fit into your department, and coming up with very specific things that you like about them. All lucky candidates could be described by a much more specific ad than the one that went out. At the final meeting where the department makes the ranking none of the specific things that people are mentioning as strong or weak points about individual candidates were things that were in the ad, and that is pretty much the way it has to be, I think. As one of my colleagues put it, you don't really know exactly what you are looking for until a handful of good candidates define the search for you. Yes, broad ads do let idiots like Wilcox do whatever they want, but they would probably do that anyway. Mostly what they do is allow competent committees to do their job. I think the search process, in general, works o.k. Yes some people like Wilcox are idiots, but that would be true in any industry. The real corruption in the system comes from turning permanent lines into adjunct lines and actively encouraging overproduction of Ph.D.s.

-Tronbone. Have you been looking around the site? The situation is really bad in most specialties. Read some of the links on the side. Some fields are of course worse than others. I usually tell my students who are thinking of grad school in History to go get themselves a nice M.A. in Asian Studies so they can finish up their language work and position themselves for a job making big bucks if they should wise up and leave the academy. If you are so deranged as to be thinking of U.S. History DON'T DO IT.

Posted by: Ssuma at June 27, 2003 09:02 PM

There may still be room for optimisim in US colonial. Forget about 20th century (and possibly also about 19th century) American history.
European history is dying. British history especially. Let me entreat you to not pursue a PhD in British history. If you insist, then at least do British empire (though by the time you had finished the empire craze would probably be over -- so do not do British history).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 09:19 PM

Thanks for the advice. I've been following the academic job market for several months when I started to consider grad school. My feelings now range from doom filled to slightly less doom filled depending on what day it is. I guess I do take some small consolation from the fact that I am not considering either American or European history.

Posted by: tronbonne at June 27, 2003 09:31 PM

zizka and IA: As a very worried (thanks to these discussions) soon-to-be graduate student, I think a web site that collects this kind of information is a terrific idea. I'm not sure I have any solid skills to contribute (some basic HTML and web design), but as a potential beneficiary, I'd like to help in any way I can to make it happen. I think it will open *some* people's eyes, and might even help slow down the PhD flood.

I do want to share my experience with trying to get this kind of information out to my fellow humanities majors, though. When I've pointed other hopeful grad students in the direction of these conversations, their responses have ranged from petulant resistance ("oh, it can't be that bad; these people are just bitter") to outright anger at *me* ("why would you want to piss on my dreams like that?"). And I myself, although anxious and frightened, have obviously not been completely defeated--I'm just feverishly trying to figure out brilliant alternative strategies. Heh.

Posted by: rose at June 27, 2003 09:35 PM

Just to amplify something Ssuma said: Many times, a committee will learn about their needs from the applicant pool. (This might especially be true at a smaller school, where there is a maximum of one person per field--"the romanticist," "the modernist," etc.--or even one person for every 200 years, or continent, or whatever.) In those departments, it's possible that no one really knows what the possible subfields are, and they're waiting for a great job letter to show them what they need.

Also, I would be cautious about trying to game the system too much by pitching your application to a department's web page. (You have to do it a degree . . . just not to excess.) You never have enough facts about what's going on: Maybe someone's leaving. Maybe the web page hasn't been updated in years. Etc. And even if you *know* someone's leaving, departments don't always know whether they want someone just like their soon-to-be-former colleague, or someone very, very different.

Posted by: Jason at June 27, 2003 09:44 PM

Rose, I've written some of the stuff they're criticizing. Believe me, I know where you're coming from. A substantial reason I write the way I do is that *I was just like them* when I was in their shoes, and I wish someone had beaten into my head what I'm trying to beat into theirs.

The one thing I hold to is that people who internalize what IA and Rana and THB and I have to say will be better off in the long run no matter what happens to them in academia. They will go in with fewer illusions and come out with fewer scars. (And, I hope, *inflict* fewer scars, if it comes to that.)

You're one of those people, Rose, and I for one am both proud of your open eyes, and encouraged by your example to believe that ripping my heart out and putting it on the web really *was* the right thing to do. No matter how many cracks I get about bitterness.

So thank you. And good luck. No matter what you decide, no matter what you do.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 27, 2003 10:13 PM

Thank you, Dorothea. That's obviously very heartfelt, and I'm moved by and grateful for your good wishes. Your "ripping your heart out" (and IA's, THB's, Rana's, and other edu-bloggers') has been enormously valuable to me. In the long run, I'll bet, it'll even prove valuable to the students who now seem so magically resistant to the facts.

tronbonne, I hear you. Those wild mood swings--between dim and dimmer--describe me too.

Posted by: rose at June 28, 2003 12:14 AM

tronbonne -

Though in many ways history is an awful market, and I wouldn't disagree with the pessimism of most posters here, there are two areas that are expanding with a relatively small number of PhDs. Middle Eastern and (to a lesser extent) African history are growing fields.

As an Africanist who landed a tenure track job on my first year on the market, albeit at an obscure and troubled liberal arts college, I can tell you that schools are scrambling to get people to teach Islam and Middle Eastern courses. Even if you do not to make the Middle East your primary focus, check out programs strong in that area. If you take classes in that area, you will be more attractive as a candidate.

I followed the 'Wilcox' essays with increasing dismay at each installment. I do not think that is how most schools with heavy teaching loads handle their searches, though. The downside is that schools without a heavy emphasis on research run their searches in an equally cold-blooded fashion, but only with a different set of arbitrary criteria that can have little to do with one's ability as a teacher or a researcher.

With all that in mind, good luck!

Posted by: Jeremy at June 28, 2003 08:57 AM

On one hand, imagine you get 150 applications for a tenure-track position and basically only 10-20 are blatantly not-qualified in some fashion. (Semi-illiterate letters, people with no experience at all and no degrees beyond a BA, that kind of thing). That's high, but you usually see a small number that are easily discarded.

Now what? You've got 130 applications from people who are more or less equally qualified. Of course it's going to come down to semi-arbitrary, highly localized, highly peculiar kinds of filters and distinctions. Sometimes those make some kind of sense (searching for a good match in terms of fields of expertise, intellectual orientation, pedagogical outlook) and sometimes they're as blatantly stupid as Wilcox's "no professional memberships" criterion. (If someone in my department said he'd eliminated a candidate because of no professional memberships, I think I'd be hard pressed not to laugh in their face.)

There is no way to make a job search correspond with actual merit beyond the loosest match. That should be a sobering thing for anyone who actually gets a tenure-track post--I hope nobody's foolish enough to believe in a myth of their own ascendent merit--but it also ought to be oddly encouraging for those still searching, in that they can (usually) feel that it's not their mistakes or errors that are the problem.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at June 28, 2003 11:29 AM

You've raised a good point, which prompts me to clarify my position here. I do realize that the oversupply of qualified candidates is not the fault of any given search committee, and that they must necessarily rely on localized and peculiar filters.

What bothers me is the lack of honesty about this. Wilcox's columns repeatedly emphasize that the process carefully and correctly identifies ascendant merit. But there is a defensiveness to his belabored account of the filtering mechanisms (listing membership in professional organizations is just one example) that suggests (to me, at any rate) he is speaking in bad faith.

And for a variety of reasons (eg, the fact that the Chronicle publishes this series as representative of the view from the other side in the academic hiring process), it is incredibly difficult for candidates to not conclude that it is their own unworthiness that has landed them in the reject pile.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 12:35 PM

IA: My experience on the job market hasn't taught me that I'm to blame for the stunning, sometimes humorous, but in the end always crushing frustration. Instead, what my 3-going-on-4 years on the job market in English have taught me is simply this: a very fortunate few were born under a bright and lucky star, and I, well, I was born under a very dark, very thick, often perverse, and apparently impenetrable cloud.

See, not my fault.

Posted by: Chris at June 28, 2003 12:51 PM

*wry laugh*

Posted by: Rana at June 28, 2003 02:45 PM

Having just finished a stint on a search committee, I think I can speak with authority... only about our search. I suspect that is pretty common. We rejected candidates for what were likely trivial reasons. Perhaps more importantly, we rejected candidates who would absolutely be excellent tenure-track professors, just not in our program. Some of these were so far off that we forwarded them to other departments on campus. (Ironically, some were rejected because they were too close a fit, as well, and would not constitute enough of a move in the direction we want to be heading.)

In other words, I have a feeling that these processes are so idiosyncratic from department to department (and from committee to committee) that it would be hard to say what elements are common. And it is not always the case that a single member's rejection is enough to torpedo an application. We were in unanimous agreement only about our top 3 candidates (of 10).

Posted by: Alex Halavais at June 28, 2003 02:56 PM

you know what I miss. Lingua Franca used to put together a fairly comprehensive listing of who was hired into what discipline in what school. It was not comprehensive, but it was enlightening in some ways, because you could see which of your colleagues were hired, and then you could more easily see what the hiring period was like after the fact, and you could comment on trends or note that people from x schools get hired at y schools, whereas people at z schools get hired by w schools.

Posted by: jeremy hunsinger at June 28, 2003 05:59 PM

I would love it if someone could fill in some of the missing details to the above post. What exactly does "good fit" mean? What does it mean to say someone would be an excellent tenure track professor, just not here?

I've held a series of one-year (full-time) appointments at an elite, small, liberal arts (teaching orineted) college, and as far as I can see both existing faculty, and also the various candidates they've brought for their recent searches, are all fairly interchangeable. After meeting certain minimum standards of qualification, there doesn't appear to be anything particularly special or noteworthy about any of them. Moreover, in this kind of an institution, one's research is at best only indirectly applicable to the kind of teaching we do. The real requirement of the job, as far as I can see, is can you teach a class in a given area and make it interesting and get good evaluations. Beyond that, what?

And as for social interraction, again, I think it's vastly over stated. The faculty at my institution do not talk about their work -- ever -- and they almost never interact off campus. We live our own lives. To the extent that there is any conversation, it tends to be either brief classroom war stories, or congenial, but empty chit-chat around the mailboxes. So really, what's the big f***ing deal?

Posted by: Chris at June 28, 2003 06:01 PM

Chris: It becomes a big f***ing deal (to borrow your phraseology) at schools like mine, which have small departments and are located in even smaller towns. At places like this, socializing is expected: there are parties, brunches, general hanging out, etc. The "everybody ignores each other" model is hardly universal.

Of course, I haven't had the "everybody's interchangeable" experience, either. Quite the opposite, actually.

Posted by: Miriam at June 28, 2003 06:28 PM

I believe Chris said "fairly interchangeable," and I believe this is a fair assessment. Of course this is a matter of perspective. And from my perspective, much of graduate school has to do with socializing initiates into the norms and expectations of the profession, which process encourages a good deal of conformity to standards both implicit and explicit.

Much the same thing happens in law school, and with much the same result. I would venture to say that if you walked into a law firm in midtown Manhattan and observed the attorneys in action, you would walk away with the impression that they were fairly interchangeable, at least as lawyers and at least insofar as they conducted their professional lives (which doesn't argue against individuality in other areas of their lives). Were a non-academic to make a similar visit to an academic department, that non-academic would very likely come away with the same impression of "fairly interchangeable."

This is what professionalization does (though it's not the only thing that professionalization does). And of course it's not necessarily, or not only, a bad thing. The fact is, no institution can absorb too many members who are too far off the norm in conduct and attitudes and so on.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 07:15 PM

At these various functions in this hidden cultural epicenter, where the "F" word is, well, let's just say, declasse, I'm curious about one thing. Which of the following songs is one more or less likely to hear at once of these "general hanging out" sessions:

"Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
"The KKK Took My Baby Away"
"My Heart Will Go On"
"You're Still the One"
"The Phone is Off the Hook, You're Not"
"Seven Chinese Brothers"
"Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis"

Or is it more of a "The Big Chill" Motown kinda' crowd?

I apologize. I shall never again say 'what's the big fucking deal' again.

Posted by: Chris at June 28, 2003 08:30 PM

The rules of engagement here:

*no flaming
*no ad hominem attack
*no ALL CAPS shouting

Nothing in the rules about use of the "F" word, because it really doesn't bother me. Admittedly, I'd rather people didn't go overboard with the use of words that some readers might find offensive. But the ocassional "F" for emphasis is fine. So please feel free to ask "what's the big f***ing deal?" It's a question that's been on my mind lately, too.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 08:45 PM

Miriam: Do you (or others) think it's adviseable to list one's love of brunch on their vita? I mean, would you be more inclined to give them an interview if you saw that on the vita? Or is this something that should be noted in the cover letter?

Posted by: Chris at June 29, 2003 11:19 AM

*sigh* Chris, what's the matter? One doesn't need to advertise one's love of brunch; it is, however, generally advisable to be polite to the search committee (and the department secretary, who can do a surprisingly effective job of scotching your candidacy), pleasant when taken out to lunch by your prospective colleagues, and so forth. I would have thought that was basic etiquette. Because, strangely enough, not all departments try to foster an atmosphere of festering discontent (or frozen dislike), and most departments dislike people who are overt jerks.

Posted by: Miriam at June 29, 2003 03:30 PM

Okay, I realize that these are very touchy issues and I really hate to have to do this, but Chris and Miriam, I have to ask you to please keep things reasonably civil. Thanks!

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 29, 2003 03:44 PM

Here's an ethical question for IA and others: let's say you do (or did) get a job in a history department with a PhD program. The programhas not had much luck placing students in a tenure track jobs. Part of the condition of your employment is that you teach graduate students and serve on dissertation committees. Knowing what you know, do you take the job?

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 29, 2003 04:21 PM

Are recruitment and retention of grad students also part of the requirements? If not, I could reconcile duties to students who chose with full knowledge to remain in the program with warning undergraduate applicants that they might want to carefully weigh the alternatives first and counseling grad students who are struggling about other options.

Posted by: Rana at June 29, 2003 05:39 PM

Sorry, IA.

Posted by: Miriam at June 29, 2003 06:31 PM

I think I'm with Rana on this one. If I were expected to perform recruitment on the graduate level, or if it became clear during the interview process that I would be expected to softpedal my understanding of graduate education and of the job market, I would decline the position.

(If such a requirement were wink-wink-nudge-nudged at me after I was hired, I would ignore it and take my lumps, up to and including dismissal.)

What to do as an ethical person in a not entirely ethical system is a marvelous question, though, in this context and others. I don't have a good track record; when my ethics have been challenged, I simply walked away. I know there must be better responses, but I've never managed to muster one.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 29, 2003 06:32 PM

ethics'll get you weeded out pretty quick.
walking away is much the most honorable course
whenever one can afford to do so.
"stay and fight" is next best;
"give in" is dead last. everybody knows this.

it was taken for granted at my (short-lived)
full-time job that everybody would pitch in
and work on getting some evil little grant --
which i had no interest in or talent for
and which, indeed, i considered, then as now,
to be a step in exactly the wrong direction.
i suppose this kind of thing is normal but
if i'd have wanted to bullshit for a living
i wouldn't have majored in math. moreover,
and this is the real heart of the matter for me,
nearl everything i ever tried to do *right* got
undermined by a no-talent dog-in-the-manger chair.
all that *and* i wasn't willing to relocate.
well, you can imagine the outcome.

Posted by: vlorbik at June 29, 2003 09:36 PM

IA: Sorry

Miriam: I AM nice to the secretary in my dept. In fact, I'm one of her favorites. In fact, she refers to me as a "mensch" amongst the weeds. That's probably because I was the only one to have enough tact to keep my views on the Iraq war to myself in front of her, and especialy on those days when she was in near tears worrying about her son who is in the military.

To the question about teaching in a dept. with a Ph.D. program, oy. I lost out on one of the two campus interviews I've ever had when I paused at being asked by a tenured prof. about grad. student recruitment. 'What kind of role do you see yourself performing in our efforts to build up our graduate program', she asked. I fumbled. I hemmed. I hawed. And finally, I fell apart.

I should have lied. Had I just lied I would have a cushy job, tenure perhaps, interesting courses to teach, a sabataical now and again, Summer's off in perpetuity, health benefits and one of those way-cool TIAA-CREF retirement funds, and brunch Goddamnit, lots of it!

But alas, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I wasn't able to give her what she wanted. I tried to deflect things a bit by asking her to tell me more about the building-up they were undertaking, but she saw through me. And I tried to say things about creating an advisory program that helped students with their career decsions. This is when she let me have it. 'We're in the job of creating future scholars', she said, not Salon.Com crack-pots.

Suffice it to say, it went down hill from there.

Posted by: Chris at June 29, 2003 11:36 PM

Chris, I made the same mistake when asked about internet distance education. I paused. I couldn't quite bring myself to come out with the required expression of unqualified enthusiasm (not that I attacked it in a rant or anything, but I paused, then hemmed and hawed and tried to recover but failed.)

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 29, 2003 11:54 PM

Lying about what one would or wouldn't do, about one's qualifications, about one's ethics, etc. would be on my list of "major blow-ups" (see response to IA's response to me above). When I was interviewed at a Catholic university and had to discuss my commitment to its "mission," I know that my enthusiasm came across as somewhat, er, muted, to say the least--although I think I managed to refrain from gritting my teeth and saying "I'm Jewish. How excited do you expect me to get here?" At least I felt less silly than when I had to write a paragraph starting "As a Reform Jew..." in response to a request about my Christian faith from a Protestant college. Neither instance took much moral fibre, though. Other than that, I've never had to deal with the kind of ethical questions people are posing; all but two of my interviews were at four-year schools, so prepping unemployable Ph.Ds was never an issue. I'd like to think that I would have turned such a position down--but that's a moot point.

Posted by: Miriam at June 30, 2003 12:59 AM

"Chris, I made the same mistake when asked about internet distance education. I paused."

so here at last is a pretty clear statement
about what is meant by "meritocracy":
whoever lies the most shamelessly wins.
and, again, everybody knows this . . .
which is precisely why i feel that treating the
"i've got mine; what the hell is wrong with *you*"
posters with respect or even civility
is misguided -- they're treating me with contempt.

Posted by: vlorbik at June 30, 2003 06:23 AM

"Lying about what one would or wouldn't do, about one's qualifications, about one's ethics, etc. would be on my list of 'major blow-ups' (see response to IA's response to me above)."

Miriam, I don't follow you. By "major blow-ups" you refer (in the post above) to various "self-destructive" forms of behavior. And here you suggest that lying would be one such form of self-destructive behavior. But the point Chris makes is that it was precisely his reluctance/inability to lie that amounted to a self-destructive form of behavior. He has (and not without good reason) reservations and concerns about helping to build up a graduate program. He made the mistake of conveying a sense of this concern. The self-constructive/self-promoting response would have been to lie: i.e., to come out with a smoothly delivered account of his enthusiasm for the task of building and strengthening a graduate program and of the important contributions he would be eager to make.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 30, 2003 07:15 AM

Miriam, I don't know, maybe the SUNY you're at is SUNY at Ethical Utopia (an aside: my Ph.D. is from SUNY Buffalo and the terms ethical and SUNY do not go together very easily in my experience, but that's an aside) where everyone can speak truthfully at all times without any negative repurcussions. Or, alternatively, you live amidst a community known as the choir and everyone already has the same or at least compatible view points -- about everything. That said, I can promise you this: if given the chance again, I will lie, I will toe the party line, I will wheel out a litany of tropes about how we are the last bastion of defense against the "filthy modern tide" and that graduate programs should be about maintaining the best and highest cultural standards, cultivating the refined and gentle humanist soul, and any other bullshit that comes to mind -- all with a smile and one of those cavalier oh-it's-all-so-silly chuckles.

Why? Because I have finaly learned a lesson I suspect most others learned in high school. Ethics are a conceit of the privileged, and at this point in my life causes be damned, I'm out for myself. Period. If my colleagues believe I am of a like mind with them, that's fine because it keeps me employed. And I'm a good enough actor at this point to keep them believing. And if this makes me and my life a sham, well, then so be it. At least it will be a sham that has a decent pay check, health benefits and all the rest. And in my book a pay check does bring happiness, or at least the closest thing we can ever get to happiness, which for me is knowing that the rent will be paid and if I need x-rays or a tooth fixed I can get it done rather than swallowing bottle after bottle of Advil to dull the pain.

My advice to all students: lie, lie through your teeth because no one, and I mean NO ONE wants to hear the truth. Telling them the truth will get you nothing and nowhere.

But then, perhaps my real name is Siminodes the Cretan ...

Posted by: Chris at June 30, 2003 02:09 PM

If you mean the Simonides I think you do (he of the satire on Corinth?), he was from Ceos.

I think a lot of people think the way you do, Chris. I haven't found many brave enough to admit it, even on behalf of others.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 30, 2003 02:27 PM

probably he meant epimenides:

saul of tarsus didn't get it.

Posted by: vlorbik at June 30, 2003 04:00 PM

I loved the comment on C.A. Wilcox's "A Long Short-List." I, too, never listed the professional organizations
to which I belonged as I saw these as resume padding. Additionally---and Wilcox seems to be completely
oblivious of this factor---joining these organizations costs money. Don't kid yourself as regards the "low
membership fee" for graduate students. $25 is not an insignificant sum (I used to skip prescribed medications
when they cost that amount). Oddly enough, I used my money to travel to conferences (national ones) to
give papers---occasionally, of course, I was forced to join an organization to give the paper but why list
my membership (for that year) on a resume? It was much better, I thought, to list the fact that I had given a paper.
Also...and I realize this is a truly radical concept...but I want to point out that I am an avid fan and user
of libraries (public as well as university). When I was in academia, I tended to read journals in the library
where I had a wider range of journals than I would ever have been able to afford.

Posted by: AML at August 13, 2003 01:28 PM