I just got this as a comment from reader ‘TM,’ who tells a story about a campus visit gone horribly awry that is all too familiar. They harshly and swiftly judged him for things he couldn’t possibly have known about, and decided he had a “bad attitude” for recognizing that his own watch broke. Honestly, this just infuriates me so much I don’t know what to do, other than let my commenters have at it.
The most awkward on-site interview I had involved a three day trip. On the first day I was told I was going to meet the department head and her husband (who was an academic, just not where I was applying) for dinner. Since I had not met her in person, I assumed this was part of the interview so wore a suit. They showed up in shorts. The following day, a member of the search committee suggested we take a walk around. The 15 minute walk occurred in June, during a heat wave, and again I was in a suit. During the walk my watch band broke to which I responded (no joke) “oh dear” and then brushed it off as though it was not a big deal. I did not get the job but was told (and later confirmed these incidents were the reason for these comments) that I was: a) too formal and not very easy going (apparently the initial meeting was a non-job-interview setting, even though it factored into the decision for the position), b) seemed unduly nervous (due to my sweating during the walk), and c) Had a generally bad attitude (because I said “oh dear”). That’s ok, I decided on the plane ride back I didn’t particularly care for the area and had been trying to convince myself that if I got an offer I could make do.
I know, for a fact, that I have many readers who are on search committees, and to you I say: when it’s time to invite people out to campus, BE A GODDAMNED HUMAN BEING. If your candidate does some tiny, minute thing that you don’t think is perfect, BRUSH IT THE FUCK OFF. Is he sweating in July? He’s a human being. Did he say something like “Oh dear?” IT HAPPENS.
Were any, any of these gestures indicative of this person doing a bad job as a professor? Not in the least. I have had professors who were extremely “formal” and uptight–and they were great. I have had professors who were loosey-goosey and laid-back–and they were (second Jean-Ralphio cue of the day) the woooooooooooorst, because they flaked out on everything, all the time.
I do not think it is acceptable for an adult human to wear shorts to a restaurant under any circumstances, but if a job candidate did it, as long as s/he was reasonably nice and gave a great teaching demo and an engaging job talk, it would not matter. I have talked about this before and I’ll do it again:
Why in the EVERLOVING FUCK do search committees demand absolute perfection from their candidates, not as scholars or teachers, where it matters, or as nice people, where it also matters, but in totally pedantic bullshit categories?
Why, honestly, in the double-everloving fuck are search committees so concerned with finding a new BFF? News flash: faculty of most departments in American universities either exercise benign neglect of each other, or hate each others’ guts but act somewhat cordial in public (not always, however). Many (not all!!!!) academic departments are some of the most seventh-grade-style, cliquish, juvenile, no-social-skills-having laff-fests. Many others have colleagues who deign to spend time with each other once every two months at faculty meetings.
I was at Ohio State for two years, and I did not see hair or hide of our “Eminent Scholar” once when there was not some muckymuck visiting talk. NOT. ONCE. He had an office the size of Nebraska, and to my knowledge he was either never in it, or he was in it with the door locked. There were other mid-level faculty I saw a total of three times my entire two years there. One of my absolute favorite colleagues was sequestered in a building half a mile away from the rest of us, and I didn’t realize she was probably my long-lost BFF until THE DAY BEFORE I LEFT.
Academics are not like corporate co-workers, who have no choice but to work with each other all day long, to collaborate on projects, to depend upon each other. On the rare occasions when an academic must endure the indignity of collaboration (on a committee, for example), he acts like this:
Corporate colleagues spend more time with each other than they do with their own damn families, and yet the hiring process in most entry-to-mid level professional jobs consists of one interview and maybe a callback (and sometimes the new hire is even hired on the spot!).
Nowhere but the goddamned Presidential administration and the rarified hallows of academe are the minute, nerve-induced affectations of a candidate voted over as if it were the fucking Yalta conference–but in the case of academia, all of this hubbub is for a person you will almost never see. The only, and I mean only things determining “fit” should be:
- Will this person get tenure? This you can figure out from their C.V. and their job talk.
- Will this person stay here? This you can figure out from the kinds of questions they ask while they’re visiting.
- Is this person relatively nice and adequately dependable? This you can figure out from the testimony of, oh I don’t know, people who have actually met her for more than twenty minutes.
Anything, and I mean anything, beyond that, is simply a search committee cleaving pathetically onto the tiny amount of power it has, and turning that power into temporary megalomania.