Rate My JIL, Nov. 15: Alt-Ac Fear & Trembling and that Bullshit Guardian Article

This time of year is when the really interesting jobs start getting posted. The regular tenure-track cycle is now in the deadline phase (and soon to enter the wiki-nightmare phase–don’t worry, I’ll have a Vitae column on that!), and so the job listings we get now are all just a little…off. Check this one:

East Carolina U, Dept. Chair, Foreign Lang and Lit. I mean, I’ve seen some wack-ass listings this year, but at least they were in states that exist. I wonder if the sports here are in the same conference as West Dakota and North Virginia. (Yes, I am aware that East Carolina University is in North Carolina, so don’t fucking start with me. It’s a goddamned joke.)

Now check this out:

USC. “The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Language Center invites applications for an Associate Director for Articulation and Assessment. This is a full-time, 12-month staff position, which reports to the Executive Director of the Language Center.” This is an alt-ac position, advertised on the MLA JIL with the faculty positions.

On the one hand, I like what this portends, which is the normalization of staff positions and other alt-ac tracks for MLA list job-hunters. On the other, this demonstrates once again how utterly decimated many foreign-language job markets are, that a staff position that even five years ago would not have  been on the radar of recent PhDs would be marketed to them. Presumably, there have always been highly-qualified candidates for jobs like these–M.A.s in linguistics and SLA (second-language acquisition), I would assume. From reading the listing, there is nothing in this job that would require either a PhD in any given language, or a PhD in SLA, or a PhD in linguistics, or a PhD of any sort. But this year, because this is a very solid-looking 12-month job in a highly, highly desirable location (one where I, in fact, quite passionately desire to live), chances are they will end up hiring a PhD.

And then suddenly there will be another class of jobs that “requires” a doctorate, because UCLA’s language center won’t want someone with an MA when USC’s has a PhD, and so on. On the one hand, this is (I guess) sort of a relief for the hordes of foreign-language PhDs coming into a nonexistent market–here’s another thing you can do!

But on the other, the PhD-ness of this particular “alt-ac” job is basically manufactured as a direct result of the job market. Maybe I feel bad for the otherwise wonderfully-qualified people with MAs who should not be punished for the wisdom not to pursue a PhD. I don’t know. But as much as I do support non-faculty career paths for PhDs (and am, in fact, quite happily on one myself), I’m just not sure marketing this sort of job on the MLA JIL is the right way to adapt to a changing world.


You know what else isn’t a good way to adapt to a changing world? Giving me a bunch of remarkably poorly-thought-out claptrap about how contingency is actually great. I realize this guy’s in the UK, where the NHS makes it so nobody has to worry that they’re one case of pneumonia away from death and destitution, but still. For fuck’s sake, when we have self-identified academics acting like Silicon Valley codebros (I’m surprised he didn’t end the article with “#meritocracy”), shit’s gone very, very awry.

One thought on “Rate My JIL, Nov. 15: Alt-Ac Fear & Trembling and that Bullshit Guardian Article

  1. Meh. This is probably the most depressing year in the history of the JIL. I can’t wait to see what you think about the most recent job — Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. TT position in German. I keep being told it isn’t an inside hire, which makes me ask myself who on earth is so blind that they can’t see it. My feeling is that it’s just far too good to be true. It speaks directly to every ABD on the planet.

    It was posted rather late and less than a month before all the application materials are due (posted 11/15, app due 12/13). It doesn’t ask for a complete dossier, either. It states explicitly that it welcomes ABDs. It provides an option for becoming permanently employed on the tenure track if the PhD isn’t done by August. It looks like such a humane job posting, really. So welcoming. So realistic. So 1970’s.

    And then one looks at the SIU website to see who’s on staff there. One wants to know who could possibly be so gracious and humane towards ABDs and new PhDs. And who could possibly be such a lucky job candidate? Scroll down through their faculty listing. Could it be the person currently finishing her PhD and occupying the position of lecturer who has all of the qualities the hiring committee wants? It’s her job, people. Don’t bother applying. The hiring committee is being strategic — post the listing suspiciously late, give people less than a month to get the application materials together, write the position description such that the current lecturer is an obvious shoe-in (despite an incomplete PhD), don’t ask for a complete dossier so you don’t have so much clutter from applicants applying for a position in vain.


Hello. I "value" your comment. (No, really, I do!) Please don't be a dick, though.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s