Rate My Job Market: Grading This Year’s MLA JIL in German

A note: hello new readers! I love you! Now hear this: this post has been edited several times for accuracy after excellent notes from my tipsters. I should also point out to any new readers mercifully unfamiliar with my dubious oeuvre that I have no plans to apply for a tenure track position in German in the near or distant future. I left that all behind this past April and am now quite happily carving out my own path as a freelance writer and dissertation coach, which I love (and if you’d like some help finishing yours, just let me know. My client roster is almost at capacity, but I have room for one or two more).

These days, I adjunct three courses per semester at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Pierre Laclede Honors College, with the best and most inspiring students ever, the nicest colleagues in the world, pay that would be a crime anywhere but St. Louis but is just fine here and well above the national average, and plenty of free time to devote to pillorying the job market that nearly ate my soul. If you like this ditty, please stay tuned for my fearless and scathing new column for the Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae project, Market Crash Course, in which I provide gallows humor, real talk, virtual hugs and even a few practical suggestions. Launching in October!

Also, for a near-daily dose of 140-character realness, follow me on the Twittarz @pankisseskafka!


How do the advertisements for this year’s barely double-digit crop of Assistant Professor positions in my discipline measure up? I evaluate some of the finest specimens, and say aloud everything you know to be super-true but for reasons of propriety and/or simpering cowardice, you refrain from stating publicly:

University of Missouri, Columbia. “Specialization open; theoretical and interdisciplinary approaches welcome.” This position will go to an Assistant Professor already in her fourth year on the tenure track at a comparable flagship R-1 institution, who works exclusively on Goethe. Ad Grade: C+. The “+” is for high-profile use of the administration-pleasing buzzword “interdisciplinary.”

Sewanee: The University of the South, 18th and 19th C. “Minorities and women are encouraged to apply.” Ad Grade: D- for the blatant disingenuousness of “encouraging” women and minorities to apply for a job in rural Tennessee, where no working spouses shall trail, at a Church-run institution that proudly calls itself “University of the South,” and thus surely has a distinguished record of providing a safe and welcoming environ for people of color. Bright side: only an hour from the thriving metropolis of Chattanooga. It’s not that I don’t commend Sewanee for being an EOE. I do. It’s just–come on. A nice good ole White patriarch is going to be the best “fit” for that job.

Transylvania University, 19th and 20th C Cultural Studies. “Native or near-native fluency in German and a commitment to assuming the responsibilities incumbent upon a faculty member in a dynamic, one-person, German Studies program required.” You will be the entire German Department at this tiny college in Lexington, KY, until the vampires get you, too. Ad Grade: Team Edward 4 Lyfe!

University of North Dakota, “Strong Generalist.” I hope this Generalist, if female, is Strong enough to live in North Dakota in perpetual solitude, or is interested in marrying one of Dick Cheney’s grandkids. Look, North Dakota is spectacularly beautiful when you’re not freezing your nuts off, but you’d be fucking bananas to think anyone but a man in a traditionally patriarchal family situation would be a “fit” in this area. Ad Grade: 30 below zero.

Northwestern, Post-1750. “The successful candidate should demonstrate the ability to pursue a sustained program of research, engage in outstanding teaching in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate courses, and help shape a small yet vibrant department.” Enter this “vibrant” department in the final years before it gets so small it’s absorbed into European Studies, and enjoy students who are more “inspired” by the adjuncts whose ability to house and feed themselves are directly tied to their evaluations. This search will be cancelled, as it has been for several years (see also: last year’s debacle at Berkeley; my former employer’s outside chair search). Ad grade: D+. The “+” is for soliciting a 50-page writing sample in the first round. Enjoy pretending to read those.

Tufts, open specialization, open rank. This “tenure-stream” position is for someone with “demonstrated excellence” in “teaching at the college level in North America.” So, have fun getting this job, tenured Associate Professors who are native Germans, and nobody else. Ad grade: D-. The “-“ is for using British/Canadian terminology in a sad attempt to out-pretentious Harvard.

Harvard, open specialization. “Assistant professor appointments are for a term of five years, with review for possible promotion to associate professor in the fourth year.” Enjoy four years in “the Awesomest Post-Doc Ever,” filled with awesomely enormous amounts of scrutiny and pressure, awesome instances where you accidentally mortally offend one of the Übermenschen by doing nothing that you know of, and then awesomely don’t get tenure no matter what you do, because this department appears to have promoted exactly one person since the Reagan administration. Ad Grade: A. Because that’s the only grade anyone at Harvard ever gets, and at least they’re being honest in their horribly menacing ad. This search will also be cancelled.


53 thoughts on “Rate My Job Market: Grading This Year’s MLA JIL in German

  1. Every single description here is true and I commend you for saying things no job seeker wants to hear, especially the ABDs/new PhDs. The only people who end up in Asst. Prof. positions in the humanities are already Asst. Profs. somewhere else and have a book #1 published and book # 2 in press. Also, if you don’t have Harvard/Princeton/[public Ivy] in the first paragraph of your cover letter, the application is going to be thrown out.


    • Also, the more absurdly detailed the job specification with an insane combination of required sub-specifications (as in the Oberlin example), the more certain it is to be an inside hire. [ABDs/new PhDs who are reading this should pay us for these free tips!]


    • Of course, with 11 open positions, it honestly doesn’t matter. Princetonians even have no chance this year. Every job will have 300 applicants, b/c as far as I know I’m the only Germanist from last year’s market to a) not get a job and b) give up.


      • Not that the comment deserved much of an answer, a part from what you did provide by way of it, but the acknowledgment that there is nothing wrong in itself with not wanting to let go completely is missing here. I mean, you make an excellent case for why the academic job market is fucked up, but that does not mean one does not still harbour feelings of belonging, regret, and also rage that it is so and not the way you expected, were told, it would be.


      • The story is the same in every field in the humanities. My own field has 17 jobs. Total. Something you said in another post rings true: even if the # of jobs were tripled or quadrupled, there would be no way to accommodate all the hundreds of job candidates out there, many of whom have been applying for year after year, putting their lives on hold while making ends meet on poverty-level wages from adjuncting. And all the while they are advised to “polish your cover letters,” “publish more,” “it takes 6-7 years to land a t-t position, don’t give up,” “apply everywhere, you never know.”


    • At least one of those women is half of a husband-wife dual hire. Awesome that ND did that, but those days are long over. I just know that it would have been a really tough sale in my house bc there are no other jobs there.


  2. This post is The Bomb! For real.

    People just need to be honest about the sh*t that really is going on in the academy, on the academic job market. So glad you have the courage to do so.

    I would just add a couple other related f*cked up realities related to this abysmal situation. Elite departments will often do anything to make sure their favorite grads get jobs, even if such grads are known to be abusers/sociopaths. What counts to them is being able to say that one of their grads got one of the few jobs because that’s how much power and prestige their dept/program/university has. The insane level of competition encourages sociopathic and unethical behavior: some people are literally so fixated on a getting a job, and have already been encouraged to be ethically challenged and mercenary that they will literally do anything to get a job. (Is this what the academy really wants to encourage?) Though it doesn’t apply to the German job market you’re describing, per se, the North Dakota and Tennessee examples raise necessary questions about who can and wants to and will be accepted where and by whom. Recently on Savage Minds their was a discussion of anthropologists going abroad to find jobs, with lots of talk about finding jobs in China, Asia. Um, yeah… Perhaps not a choice for all given the realities of georaciality? But it certainly raises interesting questions about power and privilege and colonial legacies and what bodies are valued where. So I definitely appreciate this conversation as a reminder of the ways in which embodied constraint(s) play out in the academic job market, such as non-German natives having a harder time getting jobs in Germany.

    Meritocracy, right.


    • No you’re not dense. I had reviewed their listing as an inside hire but then got some tipster info that contradicted that. I decided the revised listing disrupted the flow of this article and took it out.


  3. Ooo, yeah, sorry, I gotta call you on that Sewanee thing. It’s true, it’s a VERY small college, and it is not very diverse. (Which is generally the case for small colleges.) But it also doesn’t pound you over the head with fake claims to diversity like most colleges do. Basically, it has about 1500 students, and most are white, though not all of them. The quality of education is incredible, and it is one of the few places you can still get a fairly classic liberal arts education without having fake interdisciplinarity shoved down your throat. The students and teachers are extremely close because they all live on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere together and therefore share a kind of mutual respect that seems rare in the universities I have been part of. They do not have underpaid adjuncts. They have professors. With benefits. Yes, they are run by an episcopal diocese but I don’t see why that is such an inherent flaw. It is a private institution. They don’t follow any evangelistic creeds, but their philosophy is informed by a deep devotion to service and sustainability. Is being run by a fairly low-key religious institution any worse than being run like as a corporation?

    So I certainly don’t mean to be advertising for them or invalidating your comments, but I don’t find the assertion that a place is inherently blame-worthy simply because it is a) in Tennessee (oh dear god, how awful!) and b) run by a religious institution terribly productive. It is, in fact, somewhat under-informed and judgmental. I say this because I really like your work and I think what you’re doing here is excellent. But using a place for diatribe that is full of excellent people who mostly spend their time hiking around the woods and reading books and maybe going to church a bit as well does not seem the way to go…

    I initially didn’t want to not write this, but I did anyway. And the reason is that, in this work that some of us do, this criticizing academia from within and from without, is only effective if we don’t turn every last thing into an object of cynicism. Also, Chattanooga is great.


    • Call me out how exactly? It sounds like a great place for its students, but that kind of isolation is hellacious for a lot of faculty, no matter how it seems on the surface. My criticism was that I found the EOE statement disingenuous, because a person with a working spouse would have to leave that spouse behind, and a person of color would almost certainly feel very, very outnumbered and alone. I remember at Vassar thinking that my faculty loved it there in Poughkeepsie with all us smarties, but now that I’m grown up and know all of them as an equal, I found out a lot of them spent a lot of their lives miserable there. Faculty appreciate good jobs with benefits, and love students, so they will put on a brave face about their lives, but that kind of isolation, from your partner and your family, is no joke. The Church quip was just to further reinforce how White the place is, which again would make it a bad “fit” of many people of color. Therefore, while I commend the place for being an EOE, its diversity statement is disingenuous. That’s all I was grading, and it stands. In fact, your hagiography has been a real teachable moment about how even the nicest places can be awful to work for if you don’t have access to your support system. Remember, most beginning professors are in their mid 30s so the “adventure” of moving somewhere isolated alone is not often present.


    • So again, the emphasis was that rural Tennessee is not a “good fit” for many women or gay people with working partners, or men with working partners who won’t give up their jobs, because no spouse with a livelihood will be able to trail there. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is a huge deal. Chattanooga seems quite fun if you like eating meat and drinking alcohol (two things I don’t do), but it is not a major city so it doesn’t have the kind of industries where working spouses could work–and it’s still a long, winding, mountainous, carsick-making car ride away, which would mean any family with kids would basically sacrifice a parent most of the time. When I make fun of rural institutions for encouraging women to apply, it is to bring to the front the very, very important fact that the University-town system (where there is a small uni-college and little else) is a structure that is inherently patriarchal because it was built back when most women did not work outside the home. Now women are in the workforce, but the uni-town problem hasn’t done jack-fucking-squat to catch up to the 21st century (or even the 20th), because there will always be a huge glut of PhDs to apply for any open job with no outward complaint, so why should they care about faculty happiness? If Sewanee wanted to encourage women to apply, they should have said that they have a guaranteed spousal-hire policy (not nec. as faculty, but as something). If Sewanee wanted to encourage ppl of color to apply, they would try a little harder to create diversity in their ancient-sounding, “Western-Canon”-heavy curriculum, and their non-diverse student body that doesn’t care about becoming diverse. These are both real concerns, and they deserved, and continue to deserve, scrutiny. I’m proud of what I said and I would say it again.


      • I got my PhD in an city very similar to the one under discussion here. Faculty, almost all of whom got their PhDs from the Ivies/public Ivies, would take off, literally disappear, the day the semester was over, spending the break in bigger cities on the coasts. Ironically, these were the same faculty who advised us “should be ready to move anywhere” for a t-t job. There was nothing to do in University City unless you loved football, country fairs, barbecuing.

        Oh, it was a fantastic place to raise a family if you were married and had kids and were looking for a low cost of living. But if you were a single/divorced person looking for romantic relationships, forget it — there were no eligible men/women around. For my friends in their thirties who are still finishing the PhD, the big goal is to get the hell out of there. My friends who want children are afraid their reproductive years are flying by because they’re stuck in a location where they cannot meet anyone. If you were a person of color, then you might as well forget it — there were very very few people of color.

        As charming as University City was, there are real quality of life issues that affect men and women, but women much more. Rebecca is brave to speak about these issues. The only reason people are moving to these small towns is because (a): the job market is forcing them to take whatever they can get or (b): they have pre-existing family ties there which make living there attractive/tolerable.


      • I really hope that’s not your main takeaway! My main point was that a school of that size in that location is going to be a bad ‘fit’ for most women and people of color. That’s unfortunate, it really is, but it’s true. I actually have enormous bouts of regret and fear when I say some of my more combative things, and the idea that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings keeps me up at night. So I hope you know that I am very sorry if my characterization of Sewanee seemed unfair.


  4. A university encourages women and minorities to apply, you say this is disingenuous, and proceed to say that they should try to create diversity. Is this not circular? Short of relocating to Manhattatan, what do you want them to do? Say in their listing, “Hey yall, we live in Tennessee’s butthole, come on down?” You mention revising their western-heavy curriculum; ok, fine, but isn’t recruiting a diverse faculty one important step toward achieving that? To echo indirectlibre, I really like what you’re doing here, and think it’s truly valuable, but the critique at times seems unwarranted.


    • I outlined what they should do: guarantee spousal and partner hires. That would fix a tremendous amount of the problem. But they wouldn’t do that, because why should they when they will get 200 applicants, so desperate for the tenure-track that they will sacrifice their personal lives? Because I am White I tread carefully about what I do and don’t think would alienate people of color, but I think that working at a 1500-student, mostly white, entirely isolated campus in the middle of one of the most racist states in the Union would make many people feel marginalized or unhappy. I don’t think it’s disingenuous to be an EOE, I laud it–what I am rating is how much the listings accurately reflect the person who will be the right “fit” for that job. A White male in a patriarchal marriage situation would be the best “fit” for that job, because of all the reasons I outline, and it is indeed disingenuous to think that it will go down any other way, in the end. Here is the current German faculty at Sewanee. http://german.sewanee.edu/facstaff
      100% male, 100% White.
      Here is the current English faculty at Sewanee.
      Over 11 males, 7 females, 100% White.
      Here is the current History faculty at Sewanee:
      Good gender distribution, but…100% White.
      Here is the current Physics faculty at Sewanee:
      100% male, 100% White.
      Are there ANY faculty of color at Sewanee?!?


      • Again, their ad seems to acknowledge your point: there is a lack of diversity at Sewanee that they are (however meagerly) trying to address. I agree that there is probably an assumption that they need not guarantee a spousal hire, given the desperate state of the market; if this is true, however, I don’t see how this policy is leading to a more homogeneous faculty; aren’t whites and minorities equally desperate to snatch up whatever job they’re offered? In short, guaranteed spousal/partner hires seems to provide for happier faculty, but not necessarily more diverse. It’s a different story, however, if you’re suggesting minorities are not as desperate as others to take a job.


      • The spousal-hire thing is for anyone with a working spouse. This affects women more than it does men. I do commend Sewanee for trying, however flaccidly, to address their lack of diversity. I just call ’em like I see ’em: I don’t think the faculty of color I know–especially not the women of color, and especially not the *single* women of color–would be jumping at the chance to go work on top of a mountain in rural Tennessee if the market weren’t so dire. I think everyone is equally desperate, because in a field with 11 jobs, that pretty much guarantees everyone but 3 people won’t get a job (5 already-TT hires, 3 inside hires, 3 “real” hires is my guess).


  5. Can’t tell if your listing for Transylvania is meant to fall under the same umbrella of “places unfit for spouses or LGBT/minority candidates.” Sure, Transy itself is a Small (if very old – like founded in the 18th century old) Liberal Arts College, but it shares Lexington with a much larger university (University of Kentucky, in fact), so you would not lack for nearby colleagues in your field. Also, Lexington certainly does have multiple industries, and is the kind of town that has a bikepath-obsessed, openly gay mayor who is presently cruising towards re-election. It is not rural TN or ND – I cannot tell if you meant to suggest it was or not, so apologies if you didn’t!


    • Nope, I love Lexington. My cousin Dan lives there, and my uncle and aunt live nearby too, so I would love to move there, because I would be near family. My mockery of Transy was to highlight that the hire there would be THE SOLE GERMAN PROGRAM, and thus have nobody to talk to about research or German pedagogy, and be stuck teaching every single German class (i.e. mostly first- and second-year German classes), every single year, for the rest of their lives…AND THEIR AFTERLIVES, after the vampires got them.


      • Also having to spend their entire tenure while employed there dealing with everyone they talk to from outside KY saying, “Wait, you work where?”


      • That already happens to most of us. I work at a tiny honors college in a directional university that nobody outside of Missouri has heard of. Of course it doesn’t have nearly as cool of a name…


  6. I don’t think you have ever been to North Dakota (ps. Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, one state over and very different vibe). North Dakota has a progressive past because of the many there with Norwegian ancestry.


      • Yes, but that doesn’t mean it will be a bad place to work. In fact, the cold brings people together in more of a community atmosphere.Yes, I know it is not very diverse racially, but people are generally welcoming. Unlike Montana where there is a libertarian/militia movement that is scary. Both Minnesota have generally more progressive governments. Plus the oil boom means the economy is pretty good.


  7. Chattanooga’s amazing and also has gigantic companies like VW, which means it’s chock full of Germans. And the fastest internet in the country. And excellent rock climbing, pro cycling and trail running scenes. Yes, I know this post is four years old. Yankee.


    • This post is from before my daughter was born, i.e. written in a different universe. I’m sure Chattanooga is lovely but I bet it does not compare to the infamous Yankee epicenter that is St. Louis.


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