old phds need not apply

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:

Required qualifications:
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.

Update (3:30pm): 
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.

Update 2:
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?

Update 3:
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

Update 4:
One last update in a new post here.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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45 comments on “old phds need not apply
  1. Thanks for posting your expanded thoughts on this, Chad, and for taking the steps to write the department. I hope we hear something, although I can’t imagine what justification they would give for this.

  2. Bob says:

    This is completely dubious. The department should take itself outside behind the shed and give itself a whuppin’ for such shameful discrimination. But, hey, at least I know I don’t want to work there.

  3. JamesSmith says:

    Perhaps a look through federal law on this might be helpful: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/age_act.htm

  4. ctb says:

    James Smith– I think the argument could be made, dubious as it may be, that they aren’t discriminating by age because they don’t care how old you were when you got your PhD in 2010, 2011, or 2012? Of course, in the aggregate a policy such as theirs definitely would fall short of:

    Pursuant to regulations prescribed under section 6103 of this title, and except as provided by section 6103(b) of this title and section 6103(c) of this title, no person in the United States shall, on the basis of age, be excluded from participation, in be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

  5. […] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}It has come to my attention that I’m now too old and too experienced to be hired to do my job. Consider the “Required Qualifications” of this  listing for a position at Colorado […]

  6. Not at all bitter says:

    This is just the same old Search Committee Wisdom that it’s better to hire a Yale, Harvard, Oxbridge, or Stanford PhD with no publications or teaching experience than it is to hire someone with a state university PhD, several publications, and lots of teaching experience. Because, you know, the former has Potential even though, s/he will leave your department for the Precious Northeast the very instant his/her career shows any promise.

  7. eduardgans says:

    I will encourage anyone I know who might be eligible to apply for this position NOT to do so because of all of the unexamined assumptions that this search committee is making. What if you are a promising scholar who had to set aside the job market because of illness or family or military service or any number of possible good reasons? Why would they not judge candidates on their merits rather than on the date they got their diploma? CSU’s advertisement is so naively cutthroat capitalist in its assumption that good people get good jobs quickly. Utterly disgusting.

  8. […] SEK I read about a job ad at Colorado State which specifies that applicants should have received their PhD from 2010 […]

  9. bosco says:

    Listen, everyone is being super rough on this job opening for excluding people with PhDs from 2007-9, but what is the University supposed to do? How are you supposed to differentiate between the quality of scholarship of different candidates if you can’t just use year designations to do your work for you? Check and mate, you guys.

  10. GhostProf says:

    I’ve seen this before. It’s economics. The dept has to specify someone who has no more than 3 years experience in any capacity (i.e., is not yet through the 3rd year review) because they will probably not be allowed to hire someone who may go up for tenure and promotion (and a pay bump) in short order. The university saves money for every year you stay an Assistant professor. If the dept hires someone with years of experience that may translate into earlier promotion, then the admin has to pay more money out before they plan to. In my dept in the past we’ve been prohibited from interviewing people with 4 yrs of experience for precisely this reason. It may be unethical, but it’s not the department’s fault. And the dept can’t say as much publicly without pissing off the admin, hence the hedgy reply.

  11. ctb says:

    GhostProf, designating a degree year doesn’t accomplish only what you’re saying. It’s been my experience that years lecturing or adjuncting are not credited towards the tenure clock.

  12. GhostProf says:

    But sometimes they are. That could well be what’s at work here. Also, it need not be a function of the tenure clock so much as when someone might have a portfolio substantial enough to go up for promotion. If they go early, it costs extra. That’s the bottom line from the admin’s p.o.v.

  13. Dhananjay says:

    It seems to me that the search committee is trying to do something reasonable in an unreasonable way. UK entry-level jobs (JRFs, non-permanent lectureships, and the like) often restrict applications to or indicate a preference for those without permanent employment. (I am much more comfortable with the latter, since it makes allowance for special cases that are easily imaginable.) Perhaps there should be a similar professional norm for US departments explicitly trying to make an entry-level and not a lateral hire, with phrasing along the lines of “We strongly prefer to hire a junior scholar with no more than two years’ experience on the tenure track at a BA-granting institution (or international equivalent)”. I think that this sort of criterion, explicitly tied to career achievement, does not raise the same problems as freshness of PhD, or at least no more problems than, say, a senior hire does.

  14. Jo VanEvery says:

    The discussion raises some interesting points GhostProf’s experience suggests that there is pressure on departments not to hire the best candidates but rather to hire good candidates who will take the full time to achieve tenure.

    I also think there is an interesting paradox here in that because so many people are on the market without tenure track positions, the bar in terms of publications has risen. I know of cases were all candidate interviewed already had a book out, for example. If this kind of thing does become more widespread it will increase pressure on grad schools to delay graduation of their phd students to enable them to publish as students so they will be competitive within the first 3 years. This is not good for completion times nor for students, particularly those who want the phd but have decided to pursue non-academic options post-graduation.

  15. […] such an ad.  In the meantime, though, I smile at the close of the search committee chair’s reply to Chad Black’s query, “We hope you will distribute this position description to any qualified applicants you […]

  16. Historiann says:

    I teach at Colorado State University in the History department and served on a search committee last year. We did not pre-limit our application pool in History last year (nor will we this year for our search), but I can testify that GhostProf’s instincts are correct. CSU didn’t have raises for four years and for the most part the College of Liberal Arts did no searches in those four years.

  17. Historiann says:

    (Sorry–I can’t see what I’m typing beyond the little box here, so I’ll continue). I think the English Department’s decision is silly, but candidates who come here for interviews are getting a clear view of what it’s like to be a CSU faculty member: austerity now, AUSTERITY FOREVAH! (Except for the football program of course.) This is what it’s like to work in a broken system, friends. CSU Doesn’t reward expertise or experience or accomplishments after you join the faculty–why should they give you a false impression before you even apply?

  18. […] 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 to ask why they’re limiting […]

  19. Chris says:

    1. This is incredibly depressing. In a way I hope the restriction is due to an internal candidate, rather than reflective of a policy that is ordinarily deemed reasonable by the institution.
    2. In response to a comment above, UK hires are most-publications-wins contests, due to the race to obtain governmental funding.

  20. Todd says:

    If the concern is that the department will enter into a negotiation with someone who has unrealistic and unmeetable expectations for salary, then there’s certainly an easier way to do this. In sketching out the job for a candidate (say, at MLA) along with load, teaching expectations, and the like couldn’t one simply say “and the salary will likely be between $48,000 and $52,000, depending on qualifications. Unfortunately, we will not be able to go higher than this amount under any circumstances.” It’s awkward and forces the department’s cards to be more visible, but it’s certainly a finer instrument than say the blunt exclusion of those individuals who received a degree prior to 2010. Indeed, some new graduates may have much wilder expectations than those who have been through the mill. Alternately, one would only need to stress in the ad that this is an entry-level position and would be appointed and salaried as such. UMD did this last year, and the message was pretty clear.

  21. Todd says:

    As an aside, I’ll give CSU one small bit of credit–they’re at least making public a criterion they’ll be using. Too many searches have similar criteria, but committees don’t make them explicit, thus leading to a lot of wasted time, especially if a prospective candidate isn’t good at reading some very, very fine tea leaves.

  22. Dove says:

    This is unusual language and CSU could easily get sued for discrimination. Recent Phds may take time off for a variety of reasons (ie. health, family leave, military or religious service, let alone the current recession) so there are clear equity issues. I bet you the ad is publicized and rephrased. Watch this space.

  23. Todd says:

    I doubt there’s grounds for a lawsuit (distinguishing here between law and justice). The requirement does not inherently discriminate on age per se–a 52-year-old who got her degree in 2011 would be eligible, while a 38-year-old who got his degree in 2009 would not be. Nor does it directly target the other categories you mention. Rather it would affect individual instances of those categories (i.e. the issue would be *when* someone did military service, not simply that he/she did so).

  24. […] short step above an adjunct and I can assure you that my salary expectations are entry-level. In a response Chad Black’s email, Reid made clear the reasoning behind that disconnect: By specifying “between 2010 and time […]

  25. Larry Cebula says:

    Thanks for blogging this, Chad, and for provoking a reply from CSU, no matter how lame.

    The ad reeks of gender and class as well as age discrimination, since female and non-wealthy graduate students are more likely to need to take time off along the way.

    I see that Inside Higher Ed has picked up the story, and I think it will go viral from there. Failed search, anyone? http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/09/11/colorado-state-criticized-job-posting-favoring-recent-phds

  26. EROSE says:

    Failed search is right – I hope that every person on the English job market submits an application. They can all explain how they would benefit from an “entry-level with an entry-level salary and expectation” position.

  27. […] frustrating is the reality that is being discussed by faculty on a  blog by Chad Black. Comments, while thoughtful and likely spot-on, explore the possibility that […]

  28. […] Years Federal air marshal gets probation for punching Occupy Boston organizer, stealing her phone OLD PHDS NEED NOT APPLY (by ‘old’, we mean ~32 years of age) “It Smelled Something Like Pizza”: New […]

  29. […] I figured this update deserved a new post, rather than adding to the original. […]

  30. […] Chad Black and Scott Eric Kaufman (1, 2) have done a great job publicizing the now-famous “No Olds” ad at CSU English, to the point where the ad has now been revised and the MLA Executive Council will take up the matter for discussion at its next meeting. What I hope won’t be lost in all this is the extent to which—regardless of the actual, unknowable intentions of the CSU search committee, and the thorny question of whether this particular ad meets the legal standard for age discrimination—explicitly posting the criteria by which the decision will be made can easily be seen as a kindness to applicants from a search committee that knows how bad the market is and want to be as honest and transparent as possible. […]

  31. […] at Colorado State University in pre-1900 American Literature, you have likely seen the serious discussions of it, and how ill it bodes for academic job-seekers whose Ph.D.s are not the newest […]

  32. […] it bad when Harvard does it too? Yes. After all the kerfuffle over the CSU ad this past week, it turns out that Harvard’s English Department is using almost the same […]

  33. […] an email to Chad Black, an associate professor of early Latin American history at the University of Tennessee at […]

  34. […] came the brazen academic job ads from CSU and Harvard; then came the announcement that Emory is drastically cutting […]

  35. lola says:

    From a Harvard Comp Lit ad currently on JIL:

    “Comp Lit, Dana Palmer House 16 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138
    http://complit.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do Apply to this position
    Tenure-Track Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature [17555]
    Harvard University. The Department of Comparative Literature seeks to appoint a tenure-track assistant professor in comparative literature. The appointment is expected to begin on July 1, 2013. Teaching duties will include four courses a year at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    Applicants must have received the PhD or equivalent degree in the past three years (2009 or later), or show clear evidence of planned receipt of the degree by the beginning of employment.”

  36. ctb says:

    Yep. I saw that earlier today.

  37. […] blog post, Old PhDs Need Not Apply, says: “ I find the language to be astonishingly dismissive of the reality of the humanities […]

  38. Thana says:

    I agree that they should just post maximum salary. Given that they are in a desirable area, they might be able to snag someone who would otherwise be ovberqualified. As long as the candidate and the department are upfront about the money issue, it makes much more sense to be honest about a salary cap than to do this sort of age discrimination.

  39. […] new doctoral degrees. This is not an expression of cynicism or advocacy; I am merely pointing out a hiring system in practice, a system that makes faculty mobility more […]

  40. […] this Fall, I wrote a few pieces about the scurrilous formalization of the expiring PhD. In the wake of the furor caused by the ad from Colorado State, and another from Harvard, much […]

  41. […] attention; we’ll see if it sticks. Read, for example, “Restricted Entry,” “Old PhDs Need Not Apply,” and “Why Bother? Thoughts from an “Old” PhD.” “Is this […]

  42. It’s “funny” that I noticed that now-vanished “Chronicle” article and managed to find this one, in which the job in question is precisely my Ph.D. field (American Lit/Cultural Studies pre-1900, Brown U). Between 15+ years of teaching, six books, and recognitions for both, I feel I’ve never been more qualified and effective (these fields demand years of relationships from Native peoples to archaeologists). And I can’t imagine many colleagues with less chance of ever having a “real” professorial position. Seems what is wanted is young people who can be controlled and molded (or is it mildewed), or if they disappoint, tossed away easily.

  43. […] that loyalty, and actively looking for full-time work can be grounds for dismissal. On top of it, adjunct too long, and you may make it impossible to ever land that full-time […]

  44. […] with the campus OEO for an American Lit specialist with a Ph.D. completed no earlier than 2010.  A number of Ph.D.’s in English got a tad upset and there were articles in the Chronicle and elsewhere.  This was fortuitous for me because the […]

  45. […] 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 […]

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Chad Black

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