Monday, September 30, 2013

We Are Where We Are

The market's heating up, or, more truthfully, getting ever so mildly warm.

Last year, since I was on a search, I was thinking a lot about search stuffs, so I posted a lot about search issues.  If you're interested, I made a list of the job posts at the end of last year.

Earlier today, I was reading Pan Kisses Kafka (what a GREAT name, no?), talking about the difficulties of the job search in German, and especially about the problems of searches in specific areas (the South, rural communities, communities far away from support networks).

I'm mostly sympathetic to Rebecca Schuman, the blogger who writes Pan Kisses Kafka. 

The market is horrible in good part because taxpayers have decided that public education is not a public good, but a private one, and thus that students should pay for their private good with their own money.  That's been happening for a long time.  Public colleges and universities have responded by raising tuition and using more and more contingent labor to save labor costs.  (I think private colleges and universities are responding to somewhat different stresses.)  Let's stipulate that the market is horrible, and that PhD producing institutions are producing a lot more PhDs than academic markets can employ.

But I'm also, well, a tiny bit unsympathetic, I suppose.  (Maybe because I'm part of the "internet full of morons.")  And I write this as someone who's on the other side of the job market now, but who spent three tough years on the market, who moved to a very rural area, and who moved to a less rural area, both far from anyone I knew.

First, even in the best of times, labor often has to go where there are jobs (that's true in socialist economies, too; can't blame capitalism as much as I'd like to).  Even in the best of times, some of the jobs PhDs got were in rural areas and in areas far from established support networks, great libraries, and so on.

So, if you look at a job we're advertising, don't blame us for advertising a job up in the Northwoods, where it gets very cold, in an area where there aren't great libraries, and where culture sometimes seems to involve watching football in an icehouse.  It's where we are because it's where our students are.

You may decide not to apply here, and that's okay.  Decide what's best for you.  But don't be mad at us because this is the job we have available, and it's not geographically inviting to you.

Second, I'm suspicious of blanket statements about how "fit" guarantees that everyone hired will look just like the people already there.  For one thing, there may be a lot more diversity already there than you realize, because that horrible job market for the past 20+ years means that there are a lot of people who've moved all over for academic jobs for a good long time.   In my experience, here, at my previous school, and when I interact with people at other schools in my system and beyond, there's a whole lot of variation in how departments/schools approach hiring.  In some, yes, there are a lot of people who look like younger versions of the old pictures on the wall.  In others, there aren't.

Anyway, good luck to all who are on the market.  Know that you may be fantastic and wonderful, but that there aren't enough jobs in academia for all the fantastic and wonderful PhDs.  It's horrible.  I don't know how to change it, though, short of convincing taxpayers to consider public education a public good, and, at the same time, convincing PhD programs to produce fewer PhDs (without limiting opportunities for people who aren't already privileged by race or social class).


  1. You're not a moron--but boy is the Internet full of them. I think what I was more railing about--now that I've had some time to think about it--is that the university labor model is just inescapably, inherently patriarchal. The university-town system was built and conceived of largely before women entered the workforce, and simply has not adapted since, largely because it does not need to because there will always be so many more applicants than jobs. So it's not the small-town colleges I'm mad at (although I do think there can be more done on the administrative side to work with dual-career couples, even if it means one half of the couple works in the fundraising office, which has its own advantages!)--it's the patriarchy. And I guess academia just makes me amused/furious, because it's where a lot of people learn about the patriarchy for the first time, and yet it's one of the patriarchy's biggest enablers/poster children.

    1. There seems to me a problematic contradiction between criticizing the patriarchy (because universities have long been set up as male work spaces, and to accommodate male heads of families) and wanting administrations to make extra efforts to support married folks, when marriage is a historically patriarchal institution. It seems to me that we need to work against patriarchal institutions on all levels.

      My experience working at a small college leads me to think that it's very difficult for a small college to make an extra job for one half of a couple for a variety of reasons. One, they tend to run very tight budgets. The college I worked at had an open budget process, and it was eye-opening for me as a young faculty member just how tight things were. Two, there are a whole lot of married folks who would expect equal treatment, so administrators would either need to be ready to supply a number of jobs, or (as they tend to do), hire people who happen to be in the right place when the college has an opening.

  2. I'm like you in that I work and live in a place that, to most of the academic world, is highly undesirable. (Locals often consider this area paradise. If you love ice-fishing, winter sports and hanging out in the bush/north woods, maybe it is.) When I accepted the job here, my then-fiance gave up a lot more than his beloved big city: he gave up good employment opportunities. A special needs child in the mix made things even harder all around but we stick it out because there aren't really any decent other options. I've applied elsewhere very selectively over the years but it obviously hasn't paid off. Oh well. :-(

    Yes, the job market overall sucks. Yes, some people can't consider the few jobs that are out there because of personal or family situation. But a lot of us who're being cursed for enjoying the privilege of full-time employment in our fields (a real privilege, a big one!, I recognize) have had to sacrifice a lot in our lives to make this work. We understand this isn't easy.

    That said, we're hiring two francophone historians in the next year. If you're a francophone historian of indigenous peoples or the French Atlantic world, apply for our jobs! It's a pretty great group of colleagues, a not-so-bad small town and a more than decent paycheque!

  3. There is still a shortage of PhDs in most of sub-Saharan Africa and it doesn't get cold here, ever.

    1. Huh, now that's interesting. How would one find out about, say, Shakespeare jobs in sub-Saharan Africa? In Anglophone countries specifically?

    2. You look for them like for jobs in any other place. I found my current job listed on H-Net. But, you can find more vacancies going to the individual web pages of universities. So yes start going through the universities in the English speaking countries. If you want a bulk list to start with try Academic 360 which has listings from around the world, but is not complete.

    3. Thanks! That's interesting (But alas, no Shakespeare type jobs overseas right now.)

    4. But, we do have a large Theatre-Arts department here. Maybe if you were not so narrow and taught some African playwrights. After all I cover more than just one historian. ;-)

    5. I actually do teach a few African playwrights when I teach the intro to drama class. :)
      And, on occasion, a fair bit of Brit lit.

  4. Thanks for drawing attention to that post--I hadn't seen it. I rather think everyone is right...I read your post here, nodding my head, and I read her post also nodding my head.

    In last year's search, we made 2 offers to candidates who turned them down and in the end took no job at all, because of somewhat idiosyncratic family circumstances that made a family move here a really bad choice, even though in terms of individual candidates' interest in different aspects of our campus, our department, and this region, the job would have been a great thing for each one. Maybe academia isn't that different from any other profession, in that surely it is easier to move for a job for anyone who's unattached, healthy, with no relatives who need social or medical care, etc. But the ways in which the timing of the job offers here force such quick decisions, the limited and sometimes isolating options that can be available for other family's complicated. My prior university (which is a comprehensive urban one) had an excellent development program for academic hiring that really stressed taking a long term view of recruitment, getting potential hires connected to the community (particularly in terms of addressing potential concerns about isolation), and really thinking about the whole drafting-the-ad-to-tenuring-someone timeline as one big process of recruiting, supporting, and retaining faculty. My current u, which probably thinks of itself as a higher status university than my former employer, takes a much more limited approach to encouraging depts to consider issues of diversity and recruiting--sure all the same legal issues are covered, but the language inserted in job ads is very legalistic (like the Sewanee language that post quotes) and I didn't think that the advice to search committees was really something that helped us a whole lot. are so right. Those of us who work at universities that aren't the big R1s that so many applicants are coming from work at places that have all kinds of people and all kinds of advantages. And it would be good if candidates came to us with open minds.

  5. As I read this, and before I read the original post at Pan Kisses Kafka, I thought about my husband, who in the early 1950s moved from Oxford (UK, not Mississippi) to Sewanee. (He was then young and unmarried, but it was the 1950s, so yes, his first wife followed him.) FWIW, the rewards of that time for him was getting to know Miles Horton and the (then) Highlander Folk School, now Highlander Research and Education Center. I have no stake in the current Sewanee context, except to note that the language of ads is usually dictated by HR, not the faculty. I *hate* our job ads, which proudly proclaim our commitment to dual career couples, without any backup.

    But yes, as the other Susan says, both are right. Local communities may be much more interesting and supportive than you expect. But leaving your support network is harder than anyone imagines. I think for two or three years after I moved here -- 2500 miles from the area I'd spent my adult life -- I struggled with the "no one here has known me before" syndrome. I don't think that's an issue with remote places, though it is exacerbated there. It's about the old two body problem. And even that's not solved by sophisticated urban areas, though they make it simpler. I do think that she's right that the ways in which the geographical constraints on our jobs work make the patriarchy of the work force so much more evident (there's someone at home cooking for you, right?) but it's no more patriarchal than the consulting job where you travel for weeks at a time. We're really the only professionals whose job choices may be limited to remote, distant, rural areas. Lawyers not at all, doctors, only a little...