Countdown to Rate My JIL: Friends, Enemies and Frenemies Edition

I can’t believe it’s almost time for the MLA JIL to come back — largely because I haven’t been on the job market in years, will never go on the job market again, and thus, unless someone sends me a particularly egregious ad with a chuckle, forget that it exists. But, my sources tell me that this coming Friday, the 12th of September in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Fourteen, the world’s most depressing set of classified ads will return to our sphere. I am assuming they will once again be open to the public to search (although if I were Rosemary Feal, I would have rescinded that rule simply to prevent me from getting my big fat mitts on them — although, come on, I have enough friends now that I could get a logon in about four seconds, so).

So, I thought about not doing Rate My JIL this year because it does raise the ol’ blood pressure a bit and I don’t want to aggravate SchuFetus (who just, in fact, gave me a Miss Piggy-style chop in disapproval–and who, in three short weeks, will be promoted to SchuBabby once she becomes technically able to survive outside SchuWomb). BUT, it’s also my most heavily-trafficked feature, and what will SchuBabby need more: my dignity, or my money? All you parents out there know it’s my money; come on — so, capitalism wins, and Rate My JIL returns. Also, it’s fun, and every time I see some well-meaning tenured friend post a job ad on Facebook (like someone they know will actually get that job; like that job won’t either go to some Princeton snotnose halfway through his dissertation and/or be cancelled), I very badly want to subject it to the Schumometer, so, here I am.

Last year’s Rate My JIL taught me a lot about the inner workings of search committees, and the things people get most offended by when I make fun of them. Did you know that white people in the South get REALLY OFFENDED when you make fun of Ole Miss for being racist? How dare I? Pissed off about racism in your area but not yourself racist? Spend your energy fighting racism and not fighting me for calling other people (#notyou, of course) racist. If Ole Miss advertises a job again (especially a shitty one), it will get made fun of again for being full of fucking racists. We clear?

Now, on to the other thing I learned: A lot — like, most — of the most egregiously annoying, irrelevant, insulting and unpleasant aspects of academic job ads (which are multiplying in length like syllabi, and for the same reasons!) are, indeed, penned directly from the assistant to the assistant to the vice-vice provost between luxury cruises. So this year, I will never lose sight of Enemy #1: The Administration, who was so reluctant to give a tenure line to some foreign-language department that they just wrote the job ad like a business professorship anyway. Yes yes, #notalladministrators — but, on the other hand, the last time I was contacted by an administrator, it was on the Leonard Lopate show, and it was a “former college president” who called in to “explain” that the one and only reason for adjunctification is tenured professors taking leave to do their “worthless” research (in which case–MATH DOES NOT WORK LIKE WE THOUGHT IT DID YOU GUYS!). I have never had a single administrator write into me, or write in coherent prose anywhere, about faculty labor issues in a remotely compelling way, so until such time as that transpires, I will continue to place a substantial proportion of my disapproval squarely in the direction of the fanciest digs on campus.

That said, search committees (your “frenemies” in this situation, since they could feasibly give you a job, but probably won’t — and even if they do, their more social-skills-devoid members might make your life difficult forever), won’t be escaping culpability entirely — especially when they’re actually culpable. If you or your committee don’t want to end up in Schuman’s Hall of Schame, here are some pitfalls, that, should you be unable to (or refuse to) avoid them, shall get you roundly made fun of by yours truly:

  1. If you have a clear — we’re talking obvious — inside hire (the ad looks for “early 21st century digital studies about 1750s postcolonial discourse” and the department has a well-liked VAP whose capstone project is an interactive website about the Bessie Mae Griggs, the world’s first postcolonialist), and you still insist on forcing your fake-interviewees (and, for that matter, your real one) all the fuck way to Canada for MLA, AND you still insist on bringing three suckers to campus with no intent of hiring them, eff. You. Rules mean you have to run a national search. You can run a free national search on Skype. Eff you.
  2. Same as above: If you’re running an obvious sham search and you ask for a bunch of unique dossier materials, eff your mom too. You are just wasting desperate people’s time because you can. “Oh, but we’re not sure! We might find someone better!” Then you might want to have been sure not to write such an overly-specific ad so obviously targeted to one individual.
  3. If you’re a teaching-intensive or service department and you expect some Harvard-level research specialization and output from your ad, you will attract precisely the wrong candidate for your department’s needs and I will make fun of you for it. Yes, we know you all graduated from prestigious R-1 departments and were conditioned there to elevate the “profile” of wherever you end up, but that. Is. Elitist. Bullshit. Your primary duty is to your students, and your ideal candidate will attack your 4/5 teaching load like an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. You want someone all about teaching. Period. Fuck your profile. Your profile is your undergraduates.
  4. If you are advertising a non-TT job on the first week of the JIL and are treating it like a TT job (in terms of MLA, and of dossier requirements), you are enabling the desperation and feeding frenzy of today’s carnage disguised as a “market.” You are just as bad as the admins who won’t give you a tenure line. Your two-year non-renewable VAP job is shitty, no matter where it is or how much it pays, because your “new hire” will have to spend every year of it on the market, and thus remain a broken-down shell of a person–and, also, s/he will remain a second-class citizen in your department and grow less “viable” for the TT market every minute.
  5. Speaking of which: If you want to be TRULY AWESOME and the total opposite of all the imaginary assholes I’ve preemptively mocked above, do the following: Specify in your ad that “5+ years of teaching experience is preferred, though not required.” Why? Because that is sending a clear message to adjuncts and VAPs that they are welcome, and their experience — rather than making them “stale” according to the elitist bullshit rules of our current bullshit system — is valued by you. By making it “preferred” but not required you are also welcoming Princeton ABD snotnoses, should any catch your fancy. Everyone wins!

All right. Just a few days now. Who wants to “make it interesting” and take the under/over on the jobs in German this year relative to last? Last year’s first-day offering was an utterly decimated eleven jobs.

My money’s on the under.

20 thoughts on “Countdown to Rate My JIL: Friends, Enemies and Frenemies Edition

  1. Hi Rebecca:

    Will you accept tips (TMZ-style!) about job postings in other (non-German) fields? You know, the ones that require us to fly in the dead of winter to Vancouver on our own dime but will go to someone from a Top 10 school, but without a dissertation defense date or any publications? (One of the top positions in my sub-field last year went to such a person.)


    • “without a dissertation defense date or any publications? (One of the top positions in my sub-field last year went to such a person.)”

      But, but, but? How come? You mean it didn’t go to someone with publications and teaching experience? But instead to someone who showed “scholarly promise”? And who certainly was a great “fit” for the department?
      You mean that people who tell us to “publish more” are quite possibly mistaken, because publishing more doesn’t count as much as being a starry eyed ABD with “great potential”?
      That can’t be true 😥
      I’m bitter. That’s probably why I don’t have a job.


      • Hi littlewashingbear:

        I was told the same thing throughout grad school: “publish more”; “there are plenty of jobs for the right people”; “the school you’re from doesn’t matter, only your publications do.” After three years on the job market, failure after failure, and still without a f-t position, I have concluded that I was neither from the right school/department and that my publications didn’t matter.

        The candidate I describe above is from a Top 10 department and graduated this May. Doesn’t have a single publication in a peer-reviewed journal. But I’m sure s/he is the “right fit” (they always are, aren’t they?)

        If you’re ABD, all I can say is have a Plan B ready that doesn’t involve a t-t position or maybe even a position in academe. Pragmatism and an action plan is my best advice.


      • If my large state institution is any indicator then carnage on this year’s market is right. In recent years the number of approved searches has been stable at a number to equal the long term average of losses to retirement, death, and moves. (No department or program is guaranteed replacements, but the size of the total faculty is meant to remain fairly stable.) Due to budget rumblings, they cut the number of approved tenure-track searches to less than half of that replacement rate for the next hiring cycle. There are now rumblings that some of those approved searches may get cancelled before the hiring cycle kicks into full gear. Not good.


  2. #4 cannot be repeated often enough. So you’ve got a 1-year VAP to fill? Save it for February, or you deserve to have your top candidate jilt you for a real job somewhere else.

    I’ll put my money on under last year. The wiki is getting pretty good at posting links to university hiring sites, and there’s not a lot of action out there.

    Whatever the opening number of TT jobs is, multiplying it by 1.75 will tell you pretty closely how many TT job ads to expect for the whole year.


  3. There is only one (you read that right, ONE) position at the Assistant P. level in my “ethnic studies” area–it’s defined by period but open to all disciplines. You said it: carnage. There are going to be HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of applicants, fresh PhD’s and a long,long bottleneck of VAP’s and adjuncts. Glad not to be a part of this disaster anymore (finally!!!).


    • Great merciful crap. My field is not THAT ravaged, but I am still so glad I am not subjecting myself to the horrors of the job ads this year, except for sport.

      I delight myself and my friends (one in a TT position, one a VAP) with my made up job ads, loosely based on how the current ads could possibly be worse.


  4. dunno about German, but for medieval history, this year looks like the jobocalypse: only four ads on Hnet so far, one at a community college, one a repeat from last year (at Columbia!), and one a senior year. thank god I have a job job.


  5. It will make the GSA conference next week all the more ridiculous — everyone responsible for the demise of their own field in the same place, never to address the elephant in the room; in a decade there won’t be many left who can afford to attend the conference in #BismarkND #GSA2024


  6. Amen to all of the above, especially #s 3 and 5 (and also 1. Never mind all the other expenses, has anybody priced a passport lately? The price is similar to that of an interview suit, or at least a good set of interview shoes. One could argue that educated, worldly people should already own a passport, but impecunious grad students in non-foreign-language fields may own expired ones, or view a passport as one of those aspirational luxuries that they hope will be attainable after the defense. And you can’t get into Canada on a driver’s license anymore, as was true at my first, pre-2001, Canadian MLA).

    And just a PSA: at least in fields other than German, being a Ph.D. candidate at, or even holding a Ph.D.from, a “Top 10” or “Ivy” school (perhaps even the one mentioned repeatedly in this column) will *not* guarantee you a tenure-track job. Don’t ask me how I know, but I’m quite sure of this. Really. It’s hard out there for everyone.

    I realize there’s some hyperbole in the repeated references to ABDs from certain institutions getting all the jobs, and I don’t mean to nit-pick, but I still worry that people will think that, if they get into a program at one of those institutions, it’s safe to go to grad school assuming there will be a job at the end. It isn’t. If you insist, I’d argue that a highly-ranked program at a state flagship u. is probably going to open up the widest range of possibilities given that a lot of the jobs out there are the sort described in point #3, and a number of search committees are *not* populated by elitist idiots (some may be populated at least in part by idiots who pride themselves on being anti-elitists, but that’s another story).


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