Naming and Shaming: UC-Riverside English Gives Candidates 5 Days’ Notice

Hat-tip to the reader who forwarded me THIS gem:

Thank you for your interest in our position in American Literature before 1900. I wanted to let you know that we will be contacting applicants for MLA interviews on Friday January 3rd.


Katherine Kinney
Search Committee Chair
Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities
University of California, Riverside


I have been kind enough to redact Dr. Kinney’s email address from this letter–though honestly, I shouldn’t have (and, also, you can look it up). If you are feeling trolly, or bold, or aren’t in English, or have nothing to lose, please feel free to contact Dr. Kinney and tell her how you feel about her committee being unable to read through their applications and decide on their semi-finalists more than THREE FIVE FUCKING DAYS in advance of a conference, to which people will be spending upwards of $1000 to travel having bought tickets in advance.

The way I see it, Dr. Katherine Kinney and the Overlords of the UC-Riverside English department have decided that anyone they deem worthy will, of course, already be attending MLA, either to give several important papers, or to be interviewed by several other institutions who have the common fucking human decency to notify their candidates more than three days in advance. This is a move that is both elitist and out of touch. Because of the hyper-competitive market and huge glut of applicants for every job, nowadays many, many PhDs and ABDs now attend MLA to go on a single, solitary, pathetic interview–because, they’re told, “all it takes is one,” after all.

The UC-Riverside English department’s decision to give their candidates five days’ notice is unconscionable. I have never felt the need to name a search committee chair in public before, but this one deserves it. Dr. Katherine Kinney, you and your committee should be ashamed of yourselves.

97 thoughts on “Naming and Shaming: UC-Riverside English Gives Candidates 5 Days’ Notice

  1. The trick for getting a search committee to behave properly is to make them realize that they are, in arranging interviews, welcoming potential colleagues. They should also be cognizant of the fact that first impressions count, on both sides. Oh, and they’re not supplicants, but applicants.

    1. This is so true! I think many employers across the board have forgotten in these tough economic times that they are also on trial here, not just the candidates. They have become too arrogant in their belief that people are so desperate for jobs that they will jump through hoops to get one, even at the loss of their sanity and dignity. I recently was accepted for a part-time education job (not with a university) and have been dragged over a week by some HR person just to get some paperwork done. That person never showed up to the meeting we were supposed to have, contacted me only a day after, no apology, no explanation, and attempted to call me for a meeting on days I told her I was not available. It’s so unprofessional and so lacking in respect for my time that I am proceeding with caution on this job. I guess she doesn’t realize that I’m scrutinizing her and the company’s behavior as much as she and the company are scrutinizing mine (and I’m not the one who didn’t show up for a meeting and didn’t even have the decency or professionalism to explain and apologize).

  2. Bravo, Rebecca!!! And kudos to the person who alerted you to this reprehensible display of academic socio-economic arrogance. May they all be publicly reprimanded.

  3. Obvious inside hire; my university did the same for one such, giving only 3 days’ notice to shortlisted candidates for interview (their own human resources department advises a minimum of 17 days between notification to interviewees and interviews). So, going against your own fucking stated policy in order to get the insider to the post.

  4. Three days? Really? Two WEEKS isn’t even enough! Some of us live from stipend payment to stipend payment and need at least a month to plan for any sort of domestic travel, including seeking appropriate couch surfing opportunities. There is something seriously fishy going on here.

    I hate to say it, but I think we need to let HR manage the entire hiring process just to keep it as fair, organized, and as humane as possible. HR is a dirty word, I know, but really? SOMEONE needs to keep these kinds of places in check and following the policies. In the UK, HR plays a very active role, and the HR reps are trained specifically for academic employment searches. As a result, there’s hardly any of this white-knuckled job search nonsense for candidates. HR sends out a call for applications, the applications are collected by HR and sorted and screened based on specified qualifications, THEN the faculty scrutinize them and have until a certain date to provide their short list. Surprise! Their inside hire might not be one of the applications they receive to scrutinize! HR initiates all contacts and mediates the ENTIRE process. HR makes all of the reference calls/e-mails and collects and disseminates those to the faculty. None of this off-list bullshit which is ILLEGAL. Then they do Skype interviews, with the HR rep present, and ask, at the end, “If this job were offered to you, would you take it?” And they call you back the same day to make the offer after deliberating and justifying the hire to the HR person who will want to know why a certain candidate is suitable or not suitable. The process is relatively painless for the candidate. And, since there’s no such thing as “tenure” (just very good labor laws which make tenure superfluous, since it’s not one of those “I don’t like your face. You’re fired!” societies), they aren’t concerned about being “stuck” with someone for 40 years. If you do your job, they CAN’T get rid of you. If you stop doing your job, then they can. No one cares if you’re going to be a “good colleague” (meaning “a friend on the right side of politics in the department”). They want someone who can execute the job properly. Everyone is hired on a permanent contract and as long as the faculty member fulfills the terms, they’re gold. The UK also has great universities, despite the usual hiring process taking less than two months.

    In North America? Faculty get together and bicker over writing a half-assed job ad, off and on for six months. Faculty send out the job ad. Faculty request a lot of unnecessary pre-screening information (dossiers). Faculty receive a bazillion dossiers and toss them out without even looking at them, based on arbitrary measures, such as where degree was awarded and/or who advised it — actual qualifications have little to do with it. Faculty generate a short list consisting of their inside hires, their friends’ advisees, some Ivy Leage grads, and a few long shots, in that order. Faculty perform unethical and illegal reference checks. Faculty fuck up every step of the process due to the typical faculty trait of waiting until the last minute to do ANYTHING. And the process takes up to a full year from job ad to new hire.

    1. HR asks for a lot of unnecessary crap, too. I just applied to a job at a university whose application portal is very obviously managed by HR, and they asked for all sorts of appalling information up front, like my SSN and even my driver’s license number. Sure, this stuff is less time consuming to provide than a tailored teaching statement, but it requires me to entrust a sprawling, unknown entity with identity theft-bait FOR NO REASON.

      I agree that the UK has a much more humane hiring system, but the way things are going in the US, more HR involvement would mean hiring more administrators at salaries approaching six-figures which would then “necessitate” more cuts, meaning more decaying classrooms, even lower adjunct pay, etc. Search committees often do behave hideously, but being able to select their own colleagues is one of the few areas in which professors have any say in their own institutions anymore.

      1. One thing that is decidedly better in the UK (and should be adopted in North America) is the institution of the “extern”: one member of the SC has to be from another university, precisely to make sure that the others follow appropriate procedures. Sham job searches (and other forms of abuse) are made more difficult, but not impossible, by such an institution, particularly where the SC itself does not pick the extern.

    2. UK universities have serious problems, so let’s not exaggerate. You might not be so sanguine about the role of HR or the absence of tenure if you did get a job there. And you might not like being paid like an adjunct despite being “permanent.” Or the REF every few years. And there’s plenty of ways to make sure an inside hire gets hired.

      More administrative interference in academic matters is not desirable, no matter how frustrating such practices are

      1. I can’t seem to reply to the comment above this one, about UK universities always having someone from an external university on the SC – but in fact that isn’t true. I’ve had several recent UK interviews in English Literature, ranging from Russell Group to Twiddle-On-Wye Polytechnic As Was, and not one had a member of the SC from another university. From another *department*, yes, always. Exam boards will always have someone external, as will a PhD viva, but not the job searches.

        And yes, they will often hire exactly who they want.

  5. This is about like the head of the department asking me if I thought $3600 was fair compensation for teaching a three-credit class. Seriously? How fucking clueless can you get? Do the math, people.

  6. UCR uses UC Recruit to handle all their applications, which means they can begin reading them as soon they are submitted. They have no excuse to not examine the materials in a timely fashion since that system allows them access to application materials anytime/anywhere. As an administrator at another UC (thankfully not English), the recruitment process is not so difficult and the schools allow alternative ways to conduct preliminary interviews such as Skype so as not to place hopefuls in a bind. Plus, if they truly wished to hire an inside person, all UCs allow departments to make an Exception to Open Recruitment request. They really have no excuse other than the Chair of this Search Committee as no empathy or is just lazy and feels this obligation to her department to be a waste of time…or both.
    I have been working on two recruitments and communicated with several applicants and I dread the day I have to tell some of them they have not been selected as so does the Chair. These are people!
    Sorry for the rant. This just makes me incredibly sad that a department could treat applicants this way. If they cannot be ready to do preliminary interviews at the conference do them via Skype!
    *end of rant*

  7. This is becoming increasingly common. I can think of about three schools in my field that are doing something similar this year. However, a lot of schools are also doing Skype interviews in lieu of the MLA interview if the candidate cannot attend. But honestly, you can’t tell me that a person who has a Skype interview instead of an in person interview isn’t at a disadvantage. Nothing beats doing an interview in person.

    1. I work at another UC and they will only do preliminary interviews via Skype. They only want to interview the final three in person…plus they pay them to come to the university (flight, hotel, food).

      1. I’m on a search committee right now at another UC, and our process is exactly the same as what Jacqueline said. We never go to MLA for interviews. It saves us AND the candidates money that can then be used to pay for finalists to come to campus.

  8. We regret that we are unable to arrange our interviews until after the holidays. We know that prolonging the period of uncertainty can be hard on applicants, as can the shortened timeline for travel to MLA. It also puts us at a disadvantage. However, we will find alternatives to MLA interviews (such as Skype interviews) if someone on our list cannot attend the conference. And I can state unequivocally that this is not an “inside hire situation.” We are doing a national search to find the very best person we can for this position.

    Here are a few other thoughts on issues raised in these comments: 1.) I don’t believe that Skype interviews are worse for interviewees — indeed, they may be preferable to waiting for the intolerably slow elevators in MLA hotels or fighting the bone-chilling winds of Chicago to get to the next interview. 2.) Anyone seriously interested in a job at a research university should attend the MLA if they can afford it, whether or not they have an interview or a paper to present. It’s a wild crazy circus and the best introduction to the profession you can find. 3.) Dossiers are not “unnecessary pre-screening information.” They are scrutinized with great care — that’s one reason why the review process takes so long. A strong job letter, cv, and writing sample are crucial. 4.) Members of search committees are acutely aware that they are arranging interviews with potential colleagues. 5.) It’s a small point, but our interviewees will have at least a week to prepare for interviews, not 3 to 5 days. Interviews will not begin until Jan. 10. And, as at other UCs, three finalists will be brought to campus, all expenses paid.

    Deborah Willis, Chair
    Department of English
    UC Riverside

    1. Thank you for weighing in, Dr. Willis. I appreciate you taking the time to come here and be so civil, and I hope that the rest of the Schu Live Crew will answer you with civility too!

      Some suggestions from a person who is in the rare position to speak 100% honestly because she is not scared of what you think and has nothing to lose:

      1) I absolutely agree about Skype interviews, and my next column in Vitae will be about how the MLA interview needs to be killed in its entirely, and the MLA “circus” should simply be an event with panels, networking and other events, and no longer an interview meat market.

      2) I find it difficult to believe that you and your colleagues are physically unable to get together and decide on 10-15 people before the holidays. The fact is that if you’d had this as a priority, or were more flexible with your time, or just less academic-y about being cooperative with each other in general, you could have had this done by Dec. 1, when you should have. I will continue to name and shame any department that insists it can’t get to candidates earlier, because it’s a practice I find unacceptable.

      3) Most job candidates simply cannot afford to go to MLA, period. Those who can afford to go are the Katie Roiphes of the world who are already so rich that grad school and the job market are hobbies. They–biiiiig surprise–are at a huge advantage for everything in life, and so the academic job market should be no different, but by structuring your interviews the way you have, you are basically saying: We prefer someone rich and well-connected. I find this unconscionable.

      4) What you are also saying is this: anyone who wants a job in our department, or in academia in general, needs to be able to pony up $1000-3000 (the latter figure is how much it will cost someone to book a plane ticket to Chicago with a week’s notice) for the privilege of attending a 20-minute tribunal-style screening interview where you will judge her entire scholarly person on how she clears her throat. It is cruel, downright cruel, to expect people who often make $15,000 per year to spend a third of their income to go attend an event *you* think is fun, because it allows you to preen around and demonstrate how successful you are, but that someone on the outside or fringes of the profession will find absolutely terrorizing and demoralizing for the entire time, because it will cement her Otherness and ingrain it further.

      My chief issue with the way you have handled your search is that you have thought only of what you and your colleagues want–not need, want. You and your colleagues are in positions of extreme privilege, and tailoring the search to your whims (we “can’t” get together before Christmas! We just “can’t”!), and assuming that the abjectly desperate and often quite poor folks who are clamoring to join your ranks should *want* to accommodate all of your whims, rather than focusing on their humanity, on the fact that these will be your potential colleagues and friends–that’s what I find unconscionable. It is not unique to your department by any means, but the short notification time is not as common now as it was years ago, when every job candidate *did* get multiple interviews, and so that is why I chose to isolate and identify you. If I get any more bad search committee behavior, know that I’ll be happy to isolate and identify them too.

    2. Dear Dr. Willis,

      “or fighting the bone-chilling winds of Chicago to get to the next interview.” seems to imply that you only want or expect to see at MLA those candidates who have multiple interviews, when the strongest people in my nationally ranked graduate department are getting one MLA interview at best these days. Attending MLA for a single interview is now the norm, not the exception.

      You seem to do everything you can to avoid recognizing this reality in your comment here. Could you please face up to the fact that some (if not most) of the people you contact on 3 January will be dropping EVERYTHING (and spending serious cash) to come to Chicago to spend twenty minutes with your search committee? I say this as someone who had to drop everything to rush to Boston last year, where I spent a total of about 4 hours at MLA before having to rush right back home to other responsibilities. I was not offered any alternatives–and this from an R1 who had reserved one of the swankiest hotel suites at the convention. I mean, take a step back from the search and really think about this. Think about the candidate who has to fly from bumfuck to Chicago ($$$) just to see you and your colleagues. Ask yourself, how are they going to afford airfare? Where are they going to sleep? What about their families or the January adjuncting commitments they took on when no one contacted them about interviews with reasonable advance notice? Are you taking money out of their paychecks, time away from their students, or food out of their children’s mouths? I assure you, this is not hyperbole. I could introduce you to some damn good scholars who went on food stamps after blowing their meager incomes on a single MLA interview.

      I really hope you’ll stress to all your candidates that you will take Skype interviews just as seriously as those you conduct in person–and then really follow through on that, make a conscious effort to do that. I know it will mean recognizing that your own experiences on the job market were different than they are for today’s candidates, but that is a good exercise in empathy and awareness in any case–two qualities that search committees generally lack.

      You don’t seem clear on one important thing: in 2013, a decision not to attend MLA says nothing about the candidate’s professional qualities or the seriousness of their research agenda. Many of us attend the convention well before we go on the market, now, so I can assure you, we’ve already had that “best introduction to the profession” you emphasize here. We don’t need a second trip to the circus–unless it’s actually finally going to be on the university’s dime, not our own.

      I feel I can be honest with you only because I have no personal investment in your search. You’re grinding your candidates beneath your well-compensated heels before you even get to know them as colleagues. Trying to get a job in the face of the blithe ignorance of search committees is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And it doesn’t make me feel like a respected future colleague–it just makes me feel like shit.

      1. Amazing, amazing response. I am really looking forward to search committees being forced to confront the inhumanity of their behavior more. I think the market’s absurdity has brought about a tipping point, and it’s thrilling to be part of it.

    3. What would you write here if there were an inside candidate? You’d write something like “I can state unequivocally that this is not an “inside hire situation.” Because even to allow for the possibility is to open yourselves to legal action.

      I think many readers of this blog will be watching this hire with great interest.

      1. I think the whole MLA will now that it’s made IHE ;). To which I say: good.

        Also, $10 bet to anyone who wants to take it that this search is cancelled. Usually UC searches are total disasters (see UC Davis German, 2 years in a row; see UC Berkeley German/Comp Lit, for DECADES).

      2. Seemed largely pretty right-on over there. Just a few obnoxious ppl. I liked the woman who suggested you ride-share to Chicago. That would work great from California or Florida. I also like the choice to call me “shrill” because I have the fucking balls to call this industry out for being horrible.

    4. “Anyone seriously interested in a job at a research university should attend the MLA if they can afford it” seems to contradict the offer to do Skype and it having no affect on his or her chances. Why would you not want a “seriously interested” candidate?

      1. Well, my comment about going to MLA was just meant as a response to earlier ones that seemed to suggest the only reason to go was for an interview or to present a paper. If you’ve already gone, great, don’t go again. If you can’t afford it, don’t go at all. If you just hate it on general principles, and will never, ever go, that’s fine too. Right, there are other ways to learn about the profession and other ways to be serious about it. We will certainly be assuring anyone on our interview list that they don’t need to make last minute arrangements to go to MLA. And we will take a Skype interview (or other alternative) just as seriously as any we do at MLA.

  9. 1) “We know that prolonging the period of uncertainty can be hard on applicants, as can the shortened timeline for travel to MLA. It also puts us at a disadvantage.” THEN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT–LIKE DON’T WAIT TILL THE 90TH MINUTE. Recognizing a problem is the first step toward a solution but it is not a solution…and since the folks in the SC already recognized that it’s a problem but haven’t done anything about it then you still get an F.

    2) Was it made clear to the candidates that Skype was an option? Or is that something that is just surfacing now? Or does the candidate have to bring it up? The only acceptable option is A.

    3)” Anyone seriously interested in a job at a research university should attend the MLA if they can afford it, whether or not they have an interview or a paper to present. It’s a wild crazy circus and the best introduction to the profession you can find.” Academic denial and self-righteousness at it’s best. You think that spending seven years through the circus of a university department is not “enough introduction to the field.” Plus, let me break the news: most candidates have already been to the MLA multiple times BEFORE they get their degree. By the time they finish or are post-doc, there IS EVEN LESS MONEY TO AFFORD A $12000 “PRELIMINARY CONVERSATION” TRIP.

    3) Strong dossiers are crucial. My question: do you respond with an appropriate acknowledgement of receipt? Of rejection? That’s meticulous care.

    4) and 5) Not even worthy of a comment.

    Dr. Willis, don’t be a self righteous person and make excuses for personal and committee failures.

  10. ” 2.) Anyone seriously interested in a job at a research university should attend the MLA if they can afford it, whether or not they have an interview or a paper to present.” —

    You cannot be serious?! This advice is about two decades out of touch with the reality of the lit job market, where only 1 in 4 candidates ends up as R1/R2 tenure-track faculty. This suggestion — “go hang out at MLA in preparation for a future year, a future job, do whatever it takes” — is meant to ensure that only elite, trust-fund kids end up as lit professors because, let’s face it, they are the only ones who can afford to attend conferences and put up at swanky hotels on their own dime, with no fear about whether or not it will pay off in the end.

    Here’s a statistic: In my program, grad stipends were $1,100/month after tax. We got paid nothing for 3 months of the summer. The idea that to be a “serious” player for “a [chimerical] job at a research university,” I should pay 33% of my annual paycheck is mind-boggling in its arrogance. Advice like this (masquerading as “concern trolling”) falls under the category of “Neiman Marxism”: teach Marx in the classroom, but do all your shopping at Neiman Marcus.

    I hope someone at MLA (Rosemary Feal, Michael Berube) is reading this so they know the financial hell candidates go through to just be able to afford one interview.

  11. Wow, and if this shit fit that you are throwing forces UCR to cancel their search, who wins? Maybe someone who has chosen yelling about academia as their profession and has zero understanding of how academics spend their time or what academics do at professional conferences?

    1. First of all, friend, if UCR cancels this search, it will be due to their own bullshit reasons and have absolutely nothing to do with me, an utterly powerless post academic.

      Second of all, I spent eight years deep in academia, and (scroll down) am now the author of a manuscript that has been given high acclaim by some of the biggest names in Kafka studies. I have attended seven major conferences and a litany of smaller ones. I have been full-time research faculty. I know exactly what academics do–and don’t–and your simpering anonymous defense of the status quo is laughable.

      Anyone who defends UCR in this situation is so heavily indoctrinated I have no choice but to pity them.

      1. No defense of the system here. But I would have thought that someone who thinks that academic conferences are for “preening” must not have ever put in the intellectual work required to present a paper. My mistake. Perhaps preening, like “simpering,” is another of those words whose definitions you don’t actually know?

      2. You mean preparation of writing your paper on the plane? Of not rehearsing it beforehand so that twenty minutes in you say “in this paper I will…”? That preparation? I have sat through innumerable panels, and the more famous the presenters, the worse the papers. I have also given no less than ten conference papers, all of which I completed weeks in advance and timed. And all of which were received extremely well, not that that matters.

        If you have ever set foot into the lobby I any conference hotel, or at any hosted cocktail reception, the preening would have knocked you to the floor.

        Very, very little about MLA has to do with the panels anyway. Everyone knows that. It is all about the expensed meals, the drinking, and the book room. LITERALLY EVERYONE knows that.

        And I know what simpering means. It’s what you’re doing right now, hoping the UCR English folks will see this and appreciate how valiantly “professional” you are.

        You have my deepest pity.

    2. Dear Anon:

      We know you’re an Asst. Prof. at UCR hoping your tenure and promotion committee is reading this and will pat you on the back for “defending” the profession. There. Now go back to the “lifeboat” you came from. We don’t feed trolls here. Not even “simpering” ones.

  12. you said it. I propose a 1-year moratorium on MLA interviews after which we can all assess the “damage” done to the hiring process, of which there will be none. Having served on and been interviewed by many of these committees, I can say that (a) there actually is no good way to distinguish among 200+ qualified candidates that does not come down to matters of “taste” and “collegiality” so fine-grained that it is outright insulting to ask people earning below-poverty wages to waste $2000+ in order to let the buyers have a quick glance at the wares on sale; and (b) the process would be no more or less likely to result in “success” or “failure” (whatever the hell these are supposed to mean in a buyer’s market so lopsided) than the process we have now. This process has become one of the most egregiously unfair and elite-biased aspects of our entire profession.

    1. Absolutely agree, David. I am convinced that an empirical longitudinal study would show that interviews are of little to no predictive value, no matter what it is you’re trying to predict (including the usual irrelevancies on which people often base decisions). Plus, they reinforce the sort of groupthink that is endemic in lit. departments.

      Maybe someone knows of some such studies? I wasn’t able to find one in a full five minutes of googling.

      1. My husband has read some articles about philosophy departments; I’ll ask him where they’re from. The dept. from which he graduated went straight to the shortlist and was always, always happy w/hires.

  13. A fine piece of muckraking, Rebecca – you’ve called out a practice that is both blatantly unjust and utterly avoidable. And you’ve summoned precisely the kind of response from UCR that one would have expected: unapologetic, apathetic, patronizing.

    There’s no reason for initial interviews not to be done via phone or Skype. And there’s no reason for the UCR SC to have moved forward with in-person MLA interviews after they realized they were behind on reading applications.

    In the Inside Higher Ed article, Prof. Kinney and Prof. Harris both say they have “sympathy” for the “anxiety” of job candidates. First, we don’t need “sympathy”; we need people in power to put a stop to unnecessary and inequitable hiring practices. Second, we’re not feeling “anxiety”; we are expressing rational, justified frustration.

      1. :-) Hope it doesn’t get me in trouble.

        But seriously, in literary studies circles, I’ve seen tenured and comfortable profs use the “sympathy for your anxiety” line on grad students over and over. Not only does this pathologize what should be considered a reasonable response to a deplorable situation, but it exempts the speaker from, you know, DOING anything. No one knows better than a humanities scholar how often the rhetoric of sympathy has been invoked to support a non-politics of inaction.

    1. “No one knows better than a humanities scholar how often the rhetoric of sympathy has been invoked to support a non-politics of inaction.”

      I’ll want this cross-stitched on a pillow, thanks.

  14. Forgive me for a digression… but why so down on inside hires? I appreciate the trouble of sending an application packet to a foreordained search; I get that.

    But, the road to tenure is paved with kissed asses. I’m a staff scientist at a national lab, and I’m building my collaborations and friendships with the university departments I wouldn’t mind teaching at someday. It takes years of work to position yourself as the inside hire; the inside candidate is not necessarily undeserving. Don’t blame the search committee if the law requires they fake a search (so long as they use Skype and not a conference trip to observe the formalities).

    1. I’m actually of the mind that if it’s an inside hire, nobody should apply. I believe it’s that person’s job and they’ve worked for it. It’s just disingenuous to advertise them openly, and often cruel to the hire him/herself.

      1. I don’t think the rather isolated nature of my research did me any favors, but I’m glad I stuck to it and very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

        But in the end, I think it just came down to the market. I never had a chance. I could have been anyone and I never ha a chance. Most of the TT research jobs in my field go to people already on the TT. Teaching schools ignore me because I have too many publications and too weird/interdisciplinary of a focus. I just never had a chance.

      2. I think you missed the part where MatSci said “if the law requires you fake a search”. The same thing happens often in government contracting–been there, done that, was one of the ringers brought in to make it look like “competitive bidding”, but sometimes it’s really hard to tell that upfront, from the outside.

    2. Making what should be inside hires public job postings is “often cruel to the hire him/herself.” This is very true. If I tally the limited no. of searches I’ve observed, I actually find that inside candidates (with the exception of spousal hires of very senior faculty) more often than not do NOT get the job. Being inside is a double-edged sword–the faculty know you, true, but that includes the things they don’t like about you: the sound of your boots as you trudge up the stairs, that time you were 10 min. late for a meeting–and importantly, they get to know you as someone who’s *not fully their colleague* if you happen to be, say a postdoc. By the time the SC invites other favored candidates for campus visits, they–not the inside candidate–are the exciting, new, fresh faces.

      1. Appreciated, but in my experience (engineering) it seems like the inside hires do pretty well. Our lab is one town over from an R1, with whom we work closely, and we’ve sent several postdocs into TT positions in their school, despite international searches. YMMV, of course.

    3. Surely part of what’s wrong with academia is that the road to tenure is paved with kissed asses. Cronyism and clientelism have been minimized in a lot of other lines of work. There’s no reason that suitable precautions couldn’t be put in place to minimize them in academic job searches (and without involving administrators directly in the process).

  15. As a tenured professor reading the report and accompanying comments with great interest, I give my fullest support to what has been stated about this particular situation and the MLA conference and interview circus in general. Before I left the UK in the mid-80s I was informed that any aspiring lecturer should have a “second income” to survive in the profession. Naturally, this limits it to the affluent and well-heeled Downtown Abbey residents of the profession, a situation the defenders of this appalling practice intuitively support. There is simply no excuse for the economic exploitation of graduate students at present not for the financial burdens the repgnant MLA institution is putting on job candidates suffering from emorional and exonomic stress. The situation is corrupt and must change. If committee members for jobs can not do their work in a timely fashion then they should be fired for inefficiency.

  16. I really adore the comments suggesting that a defender of UCR posting under the name “Anon” is actually just kissing up to higher powers. Because, yeah, the best kind of kissing up is done under the name “Anon.”

    1. Hey, that’s academia, where everyone thinks that you’ll Know Who They Are, no matter what the do. You wouldn’t believe the kind of paranoid email I get, or the kind of paranoia I witness (and probably participated in back in the day).

  17. Personally, I think the whole “MLA interview” concept should be done away with, as unethical and unnecessary. Many institutions are getting their positions funded so late that interviewing at the convention isn’t even an option, and only the larger (and/or richer) institutions have the $$$ to send multiple faculty members to the conference to interview candidates. Asking impoverished applicants to purchase a plane ticket and hotel room just for a preliminary interview that could be done just as well by phone is not fair and makes less and less sense every year. My department hasn’t interviewed at the MLA for at least fifteen years, and that’s had no effect whatsoever on the quality of the new faculty members we’ve been able to hire. We interview by telephone, and then invite the finalists for on-campus visits, which we pay for. That approach to the process has worked well for us, and hopefully for the candidates as well.

  18. One has to wonder, why the focus on UC-Riverside at this point in time? Last minute notice interviews are nothing new for MLA. When I did my searches nine and ten years ago, I heard frequently that you could be called the day before, or while you were at MLA. I was given last minute notice for an interview, and I managed it. Of course, MLA was held between Christmas and New Year’s then, ruining what was supposed to be family time. I recall learning to schedule any interviews for one day, to stay less nights and save money. I remember one university that gathered all of its Asian American lit candidates together in one room for a cocktail party–imagine the squirming and the uncomfortableness of having to meet your rivals for a job! Almost hazing, anyone? Now, I certainly don’t condone last minute notices about interviews, but this has always happened, and no one forces you to apply for a job that states the notice is last minute. And UC-Riverside is offering the Skype alternative. For my part in chairing searches, I can say that I’ve notified candidates well-in-advance, always a month, so they can find cheaper airline tickets and make hotel reservations. But some faculty are kept so busy and their committees are so sizable that it’s impossible for everyone to find common meeting times to deliberate on candidates. I’ve heard the UC-Riverside issue called an “MLA scandal,” and there certainly seems to be a web-facilitated uproar, with some honest outrage and venting about how awful the job market is. Scandal, there isn’t, but yes, the job market is awful, and every candidate out there has my sympathy for that.

    1. I don’t think what UCR is doing is unusual at all, but I think that the world of MLA interviewing has changed drastically since 2008. Most interviewees now go for a single interview. That’s over $1000 for a single. Interview. Anyway, the reason I named & shamed them was that a reader asked me to. My “rage” was on behalf of my readers. It usually is. I’m out of academia now, it can’t hurt me anymore.

  19. What some of those who are outraged might not realize is that faculty search committees often don’t make up their own timetables. Often they’re at the mercy of approval being given for funding from upper level administration for a hire, and then they have to set a late deadline and give up their own time to be at MLA. In other words, search chairs are often told by their department chairs that they will direct the search (perhaps with their own promotion in the near future at stake), and that they will go to MLA, late notifications or not. Of course, the idea has always been that if you’re included at MLA, you have the chance of hiring the best of the up and coming new graduating candidates for your institution. So don’t always blame the committee chair or its members. The complexities of renewing a line, or maintaining a tenure track position, have only become more difficult during the last few years, and committee members are at the mercy of the system, just as much as candidates are. I’ve had to write the job ad in a hurry to meet a deadline; I’ve waited for approval, and fortunately have been given it, to move forward with a search, but it’s never been on the timetable of my own choosing.

  20. Thank you for your naming and shaming, Rebecca, and the resulting comments. It’s past time to name and shame, and I appreciate it greatly!

  21. if the market is so bad, why do people go to grad school ?
    the logical inference is that most of them are not thinking to hard, or can’t figure out anything better to do with their lives
    I mean, is that any more intemperate then your post ?

    As for academia being different then industry….a nonstarter
    I mean, have any of you ever actually seen the “software” that many large (multi billion dollar yearly revenue) companies use ?
    it is the worst software in the world, cause the users are the least powerful people in the process..

    1. In response to “don’t be a dick” Ezra Abrams goes ahead and, indeed, acts as putz of the year. My guess is either Mr. Abrams is a big honcho in the academy industry or he collected a couple of degrees in science and found employment in industry (not quite the same transferability for the humanities). Either way, it’s early in 2014 and I think he already won the (little big) Putz Of The Year Award.

      1. Come on, now, DM. Mansplanation is a serious disease. There is no cure. We must be vigilant about our support for those senselessly affected by mansplanation. They can’t help it. They simply must mansplain. We wouldn’t understand. We’re just women, after all. ;)

  22. Allow me to apologize in advance for this insanely long comment; I have an unfortunate tendency to be verbose and I’m rather low on sleep at the moment, which seems to exacerbate the problem. Also, I realize that no one has been active on this thread in several months, but I felt the urge to comment in spite of this. Feel free to ignore my comment, as I am almost certainly the least educated person to encounter your blog.
    I am a fifth-year English major at UC Riverside. I have not yet completed my bachelor’s degree, let alone a doctorate program, hence, my utter lack of qualification and ability to post anything of value on this blog.
    Anyway, several hours ago, I was finding new ways to procrastinate instead of writing my paper. Due to a discussion I had with my professor recently, I googled “tenure track professor job market” and clicked on the second link, an article entitled “How the Tenured Are to the Job Market as White People Are to Racism.” I was surprised and intrigued to see UCR mentioned, due to my generic search terms, so naturally, I clicked on the link that led to your blog and read through the article and all the comments, as well as most of the other articles related to it. I was depressed and horrified. I had been told that the situation was bad, but I had no idea to what degree.
    You see, I had been considering a Ph.D. in English. When I became an English major (I transferred from the sciences only a year ago), people began to ask me, “What are you going to do with that? Teach?” I had no answer for such a question. I knew that I did not want to be a high school English teacher. But then I finally started taking upper-division classes and realized that I truly love writing papers and thinking about literature all day. I found professors who inspired me; I desired to emulate them. So a few months ago, I finally decided that I wanted to obtain a doctorate and be a college professor. I could not conceive of a better way to spend the rest of my days than to analyze and talk about literature and improve students’ grammar and syntax. I spent the rest of the summer happily researching graduate programs and developing romantical notions about graduate school and professorship.
    Two weeks ago, I visited my professor’s office hours for the first time. She asked me about my plans after graduation, and I told her that I wanted to get a Ph.D. in English. This was the first time that I had expressed such a desire out loud to anyone who could give me meaningful advice on the matter. She told me, “Don’t do it. Run for the hills.” She explained that far too many students begin doctorate programs not knowing how incredibly awful the job market is. She also said that many professors encourage their students to go on to Ph.D. programs because they want them to develop their potential and they simply don’t realize that they are ushering these students to the slaughterhouse. These professors generally don’t know how bad the situation is because they simply haven’t been on the market recently. She was hired earlier this year. In fact, she got the early Americanist literature job which inspired that whole slew of articles. Yes, she did go to an Ivy League school on a scholarship. But the assumption that whoever got the job almost certainly comes from money and is part of the privileged upper class is, to the best of my admittedly sparse knowledge, incorrect. She was exceedingly excited about being able to buy basic necessities like toothpaste. But she told me that she won the lottery and that she has brilliant, similarly deserving friends who cannot afford to buy such things because the system is not fair. Apparently, in the whole of the United States last year, there were 15 tenure-track positions in early American literature for 400-600 candidates in the field. She informed me of the way the job market works, about that MLA conference and the draconian interview process. Here I was, thinking that getting into a Ph.D. program or defending a dissertation would be the hardest part. I had no idea that the odds of obtaining gainful employment in academia were so ridiculously low.
    When I signed up for two of my classes in the spring I was actually worried that I would get a bad teacher, since the instructor was listed as STAFF so I had no idea by whom the classes would be taught. Given the information I have now about the job situation, the very thought of a new teacher who was bad seems utterly ridiculous. It’s not exactly like finding a diamond in the rough, is it? More like choosing a diamond out of 600 diamonds which have all already passed the 4 C’s test with flying colors. STAFF for both classes turned out to be the same person, this new professor. I am taking both her undergraduate classes and I think she is incredible. She’s passionate, funny, and knowledgeable (obviously). She is also an amazing and compelling lecturer; both classrooms were as full yesterday morning as they were on the first day of class. She has already become one of my top two favorite professors, and I’ve only taken her for three weeks. But what distresses me is the thought that there are hundreds of similarly brilliant scholars and wonderful teachers out there who deserve to have tenure-track jobs but do not. You guys have been laboring in the trenches for 5-10 years, grading most of the papers and exams, leading the discussion sections and composition courses, and interacting with the students, notwithstanding your graduate course workload and dissertation! Obviously, there is literally nothing I can do about the situation, but I find it utterly appalling. Way to crush an English major’s hopes and dreams, tenure-track job market.
    As to the 5-7 days’ notice regarding an interview at the MLA conference, I have nothing particularly useful or insightful to add. I have not taken classes from any of the professors mentioned in the articles. I’m sure they’re not bad people. I seriously doubt any malicious intent on their part. I don’t think they derive some sort of sadistic pleasure from stringing along or toying with desperate job candidates. I think someone along the line made a mistake or several (as we humans are prone to do), that the search committee tried to remedy the situation as best they could and, having done so, did not spend adequate time to consider carefully the harsh economic realities for potential candidates. They forgot to show sufficient consideration and empathy (something else we are prone to do) or perhaps just didn’t think that hard about it. That doesn’t make them evil; it makes them human. But it is certainly unrealistic to expect impoverished grad students to spend large sums of money on last-minute plane tickets. Neither is spending 30 hours driving economical, since gas alone from the West Coast would cost 350 dollars one way.
    Anyway, I had no idea until yesterday that the job slot my new favorite professor now occupies had caused such a stir. I, for one, am glad UCR did not call off the job search; I would have been lacking in the last of my requirements to graduate, forced to spend an entire quarter’s worth of tuition on procuring a single class, and one more highly deserving candidate would have been shuffled back into that pernicious meat market cycle, unable to buy toothpaste.
    I do actually have a point. One of the comments asked why graduate students even try to get a doctorate if the situation is so bad. If I might be so bold as to venture a reason: students have no idea how bad it is. I didn’t until I went to my awesome new professor’s office hours. And, I would also suggest that many (or at least some) well-meaning tenured faculty do not know how bad it is, either. They may have a vague notion, but since they have not been in it recently, they have not plumbed the depths of the horror. The horror! They see a brilliant student and they want that student to develop his or her talents and become a credit to civilization, so they encourage the student to apply to doctorate programs and write him or her a sterling letter of recommendation. My professor said she and her colleagues ended up in the Ph.D. programs mostly because people kept telling them that they were good at it and gave them no hint as to the job market situation. I think the main thing that can be done to alleviate at least a tiny bit of the current stress is for faculty, both new and old, tenured and non-tenured, to have a chat with their most promising students about the economic realities and the comically miniscule odds. After my bleak and eye-opening conversation, I went to two other professors to see what they had to say on the matter. One of them told me that he wouldn’t recommend it. He said that he had had greater luck than most other faculty in getting his students placed in tenure-track positions (I can’t precisely recall, but I believe it was three out of six), that another one was teaching at a community college, and that the other two were on the market. But he considers his placement record somewhat of an outlier, driven mostly by luck. The other professor I asked said that most students from the program get jobs teaching composition. Anyway, my point is, tell us. Scare us. Tell us, as my new professor did, about the lack of health care that results from being unemployed after having finished the doctorate. Tell us about the necessity of budgeting for four years of job searching. Tell us about the inability to buy toothpaste and toilet paper. Tell us about the horrors of being an adjunct professor. Make sure we know that all these people in low-paying contingent jobs or impoverished situations have already given 5-10 years of their lives and earned the highest degree known to man. Tell us that a higher degree does not equate to higher job security. Tell us that master’s programs are great (they are, right? My professor told me so and she’s been right about everything else). Tell us about the other things we can do with an English major beside teaching high school or becoming a lawyer or MBA (what are can we do with an English major, anyway?). Tell us that getting into the program or finishing the program is not even close to the difficulty of securing a tenure-track job. And if we don’t believe you, link us to your blog.
    Wow. I just typed more words than were required for that paper I was procrastinating to avoid. Soory abou that. Don’t worry; I restrained myself from writing this obscenely long comment until after I had finished the paper. But thoughts of this blog were swirling through my head as I was trying to think about postcolonial literature. Anyway, I’m sorry for being so incoherent and unnecessarily verbose. And I’m sorry that brilliant, hardworking people don’t have jobs. They should have jobs.

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