Monday, September 10, 2012

The Job Market, Again

Via Acephalus, here's an ad in the Chron for a job in English:
The Department of English at Colorado State University invites applications and nominations for the position of Assistant Professor of English with an emphasis on Pre-1900 American literature and culture. The successful candidate will be appointed untenured and at the rank of Assistant Professor. This is a tenure-track, nine-month appointment, beginning August 16, 2013.

Required qualifications:

1. Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment [emphasis mine]

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

I'm no legal expert, but this seems highly unethical, at the least.   One of the commenters on the Acephalus thread said a call to the department indicated they were doing it to try to reduce the number of applicants.  I can understand writing an ad carefully to try to limit applicants to people who do exactly what a department needs, but there have to be more ethical ways to do that, no?  

You could specify the time more clearly:  pre-1700, 19th century, pre-civil war

You could specify a genre specialty: poetry, prose non-fiction

You could specify a subfield: a subfield in Native American lit, or race theory  

But to specify by the date of degree?  That just seems wrong, doesn't it?

I can't quite imagine why a committee or department would choose to do it that way.  And I can't imagine a dean going along with it.  (At my U, the dean is supposed to give the final nod to ad information, also the person who makes sure we don't break laws.)

Yes, once again, the job market is open.  

Here's a link to the academic job wiki.

I have a suggestion for those of us on the other side.  Go look at the listings of Universities to Fear and Universities to Love, and read some of the complaints applicants have about how universities and departments treat them.  Let's do our best to treat our applicants as well as we can, recognize that just applying is an expensive prospect, often, exhausting, and effortful.  Let's treat them well when we send rejections, and do it respectfully, though there's no way to make it less than painful.  Let's treat them well when we interview them, and when we bring them for campus visits.  Let's make sure we read their materials with care, pay attention to their presentations, and treat their applications with respect.

We can't hire ten people for our one position, but we can avoid being jerks.  (I know that seems like a low bar, but read some of the complaints and tell me that it's not a worthwhile starting point!)

Good luck, applicants.  I hope this year treats you well.  If you have questions someone on the other side can answer (though from a limited point of view, of course), feel free to email and I'll try, or I'll ask people to respond (or ask in the comments, if you prefer).


  1. I take it to mean they want a new assistant professor, not a more advanced or tenured person (which I would take to mean being about salary). And, if that's the intended meaning, it doesn't seem any worse than any other way they tailor the ad (and way less offensive, to me, than the ways in which they, say, try to target faculty of color by making it a race position, as if faculty of color, only, only study race).

  2. I'm not entirely sure why it might be illegal/unethical. Can you clarify? For me, it sounds like they're committed to hiring someone very junior (as opposed to someone who maybe already has a position somewhere else).

    I guess the one potentially unethical spin is it cuts out all of the people who have been adjuncting for more than a two years?

  3. It seems unethical to me because it cuts out a lot of really fine people who've been adjuncting because the job market sucks so badly. If they want a beginning assistant professor, then use those words. They've done that by saying the person will come without tenure and at the assistant level, pretty much. But why cut out someone who earned a degree in 2009?

  4. they do not want an older person with more experience. this seems to me nearly as bad as saying, "no one over X age need apply."

    getting one's phud in the last two years is not the best measure of a quality applicant. (and as bardiac notes, it's not like they are really honing in on subspecialties.)

  5. EngLitProf7:56 PM

    While the ad is offensive (for the reasons you name), the response of the search committee chair, one Paul Trembath, is just as bad. Go to

    The Colorado State English department is protecting "the true 'entry-level' applicant."

  6. EngLitProf7:59 PM

    While the ad is offensive (for the reasons you give), the response of the search committee chair, one Paul Trembath, is just as bad. Go to

    Apparently it is essential to protect "the true 'entry-level' applicant."

  7. This is an awesomely bad job ad. I got my PhD in 2008, but didn't get a TT job offer until spring 2011. 2011-2012 was my first year. I had had interviews but no offers. Does that mean I was no good? Seriously, more teaching experience as an adjunct makes you a better teacher. I know it seasoned me quite a bit. That said, I didn't have time or support for research. To me, it sounds like they just want someone who is not that interested in teaching, and who will be work on the cheap.

    In their defense, though -- even narrowing down your job ad quite a bit will still (especially in the fall market) yield over 200 applications for every job. People foolishly apply for every job that seems even slightly close to their fields. Desperation drives that.

  8. Legally they're on murky ground. It's murky enough that if someone sued, the lawsuit wouldn't get thrown out, though it is up in the air who would win said lawsuit. It is an example of disparate impact, but not disparate treatment. The courts have been going back and forth on how to deal with disparate impact cases for decades.

    Not sure who or what "Office of Equal Opportunity’s federal standards for fairness and clarity" is, from that email communication. If it's just their university department, that isn't much protection for them. And what are federal standards for fairness?

  9. Ugh. This is not a surprise to me, since I have a friend on the TT in another university (and field) tell me some years ago that her department routinely eliminates all the applications with Ph.D.s more than 3 years or so old (with no apparent thought for the impact this would have on me, or that knowing my own history should, perhaps, lead her to question this practice). Maybe it's better to have the practice out in the open. But, legal or not, it is, indeed, a discriminatory requirement, likely to narrow the opportunities of those from less-wealthy institutions, those with family responsibilities, or those in any other situation that would limit the ability to publish madly in the years just after defense.

  10. I think the new trend will probably become removing graduation dates from CVs. However, if the school requests transcripts, the date will be on there. Regardless, this date limitation is shady.