Last Thursday, Larry Cebula tweeted about this ad from The Chronicle for an assistant professorship in pre-1900 American Literature at Colorado State University. The text of the ad presents two de rigour required qualifications and one quite surprising one:
1. Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment.
2. A promising record of scholarship/research in pre-1900 American literature and culture.
3. Ability to teach a range of subjects in American literature and culture between 1600 and 1900.
It’s no surprise, of course, that CSU wants a colleague who shows promise as a scholar and who can teach widely in their area of expertise. But, I (and others) find it quite astonishing that the department expressly limits their pool to those with a PhD “awarded between 2010 and time of appointment.” I find this so ethically shady, especially given the recent history of the humanities job market, that I think it must be called out. Why would CSU write the ad this way? Trevor Owens suggested that it’s so strange, they must be writing for an inside candidate. I thought maybe they were just trying to keep the applicant pool small. Rather than continue to speculate, I wrote to the Chair of the Department and of the Search Committee and asked them why that language was included. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ll update this post if I do. (I’m not hopeful though, as academic job search committees frequently can’t even be bothered to communicate with their own candidates, much less some nosey professor who’s not even in their discipline.)
A little more on why I find that language offensive. The effect of the ad is to say to PhDs who, in the wake of the job market crash of 2008, have held out hope for full employment that they should simply give up. It’s been both conventional wisdom and empirically backed up for a while that a new humanities PhD has three years to land a tenure track job, a time frame outside of which it gets inordinately more difficult to get a job. And, while we all may know that to be true, to see a job ad that codifies that as a hard and fast rule is very depressing. The CSU English Department is saying that if you were unlucky enough to enter the job market in 2008, 2009, and quite possibly 2010, you need not apply because apparently you’re not current enough. Those years adjuncting or lecturing while working to get a publication or two? Not good enough. Or, if you did get a tenure track job, but if you have ambitions to live in a different part of the country or advance your career in other ways, too bad for you. On its face, this ad expresses a total callousness to the state of humanities work in 2012. And, given all the rest of the capriciousness of the academic job market, anything that makes it more callous should be called out as unacceptable.
At UT, we have to have our job ads and the whole search process cleared by our Office of Equity and Diversity. The language here doesn’t, as far as I can tell, violate discrimination policies for protected categories of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or religion. But from an ethical standpoint, I find it just as bad. Moreover, as my department’s Director of Graduate Studies and advocate for our graduate students, I would be chagrined if this approach were to catch on widely in the humanities job market.
I heard from the people at CSU. I’m waiting for permission to post that email communication in full. Suffice to say, the search committee feels the language denotes the position is entry level and for people with no more than 3 years experience on the tenure track or at the true beginning of their career. Again, I find the language to be astonishingly dismissive of the reality of the humanities job market. As Eduard Gans states below, there are any number of reasons (besides already being in a tenure track job for 3 years) why someone might be 3 years or more out from their degree, completely qualified (eh hem), and looking for work. What is more, this language passed CSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity. It may be fine from a solely legal perspective, but I see this as an institutional failure by CSU.
Anand Sarwate contacted CSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity directly. Apparently because Fort Collins is a popular place to live, and the Department doesn’t want/can’t pay for an experienced professor, OEO cleared the ad. So, OEO is as tone deaf as the department?
Here is the response I got from the chair of the Search Committee:
Dear Prof. Black:
Thank you for your questions concerning our job description. Our reasons for requesting applicants who received their Ph.D. in English or American Studies between 2010 and time of appointment have to do with clarity and fairness regarding our expectations. We seek to recruit the greatest number of qualified applicants for our particular position. Because the position is “entry-level” with an entry-level salary and expectation, we believed it necessary to define that term in some way. By specifying “between 2010 and time of appointment” we indicated that we are interested in applicants with up to three years in a tenure-track position as well as those who are just beginning their careers. In examining the pool of applicants, we have actually given the true “entry-level” applicant an advantage in that such applicants will not have to compete with others who have as much as six years more experience. Our language has been approved by the Office of Equal Opportunity’s federal standards for fairness and clarity. I hope this response clarifies our choice of phrasing in our job description. We hope you will distribute this position description to any qualified applicants you know.
Prof. Paul Trembath
One last update in a new post here.