A little-known wiki on the current state (up to the minute) of the academic job market came to my attention last year and has since blossomed
from a listing of gigs in various stages of completion to a though-provoking anonymous discussion on issues pertaining to those in the front lines of the college/university job market in theory & composition. An example from the discussion (author, of course, unknown):
Having worked for several departments on a non-tenure-track basis over a number of years, and having spoken with a number of colleagues working as both TT and NTT faculty at several different institutions, my impression is that the search process is too uneven to generalize. To be fair, the hiring process in any industry is ultimately a crapshoot, both for those doing the hiring as well as for the hiree: one never knows how good the hiree will be until that person has been on the job for a while; conversely, the hiree won’t truly know the nature of the professional environment until he/she has been there for a while. With that said, here are a few impressions:
- Most faculties tend to be, on the whole, pretty good, staffed by competent professionals committed to their work. A few faculties are excellent across the board. A few are mediocre. Many span the range, with pockets of both excellence and mediocrity. (This is perhaps more likely at larger departments.) The same can largely be said of search committees: most are good, a few excellent, and a few mediocre; this range can sometimes be found within different search committees on the same faculty.
- Some search committees go into a search already having identified the person they want to hire. This may be an internal or external candidate. The deck may be stacked in favor of that candidate, making the interviewing of external candidates an expensive formality. (This strategy can backfire.)
- Some search committees go into a search already having identified their ideal hire, but create a fair and level playing field. This sometimes leads to the hire of the ideal candidate, sometimes not.
- Some search committees are beset with political infighting and/or conflicting agendas. This can lead to poor hiring decisions, or to failed searches. It can also lead to excellent hiring decisions.
- Some search committees lack the “relevant expertise” but still make excellent hiring decisions. Some have an abundance of expertise, and still make poor decisions.
- Some search committees conduct themselves with the utmost of professionalism. Some can be highly unprofessional.
- Search committee recommendations can be shot down in a faculty meeting (plenary or otherwise). This can be due to concerns of the faculty, political intrigue, etc.
- For some departments, the hiring decision is ultimately made by the department chair. This individual can veto a search committee’s recommendations.
- A search committee’s recommendation can be struck down at higher levels of the univeristy administration. This could include the dean and go as high as the provost, or even the board of trustees, if there are larger (i.e. budgetary) issues.
So, as I said, it’s impossible to generalize. I once worked for a department that didn’t care what their students thought about potential hires, and hired a fine scholar that the student feedback would have prevented. (One student said to me, personally, about the candidate, “I don’t like that guy, he’s a smart ass.”) The end result was, for the students, fairly disastrous. I also know of departments that do care about student feedback, but don’t consistently follow through, even when their interviewing protocol requires it. I have also seen one search go south due to an incompetent dean that decided to check unlisted references without asking the candidate first. None of this should be surprising: if one looks at tertiary education as an industry, one should expect to find similar ranges (e.g. size of institution, levels of excellence/incompetence, etc.) as one would in other large industries. That these variables should affect some of us in getting hired (or not) should not be unexpected. I think, however, many of us view the university as something “special”, when it is in reality just an institution with a specific agenda, and often a large and cumbersome bureaucratic structure. That structure is inhabited by normal human beings who are just as fallible as the next person.
Not only is the discussion of interest, but the results from the job searches as well – most are named along with their alma maters so you can get a very sharp picture of who’s getting hired and where did they graduate from. What’s your reaction?