Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fact-Checking and the Job Market

The post-ac series of MLA job posting naming-and-shamings as a way to call out a broken system of academic hiring continued this week, and was picked up by Inside Higher Ed. As I noted in my links roundup last week, there's starting to be some pushback against blind, self-righteous rage as the primary response to the state of the market. This most recent effort garnered a response from Claire Potter in her Chronicle of Higher Ed. column, in which she takes on both the tone and the fast-and-loose-with-facts methodology.

As Potter concedes she has done, I have written some angry blog posts about frustrating aspects of the profession. But I also agree with her that the tone and flailing scope of this discussion is problematic and singularly unproductive. (Though apparently that puts me in the oppressive category of the "tone police.") In fact, almost everything that I would have wanted to say has been said by others: Potter herself, Historiann, and a few commenters in the Tenured Radical thread, of which Schuman has questionably declared herself victor. So this will be a quick post, one that elaborates just a bit of Potter's point about fact-checking.

This was one salvo in the back-and-forth:

In a later blog post, Schuman says that this isn't meant as an ad-hominem attack on Potter, just a reflection of the truth of the current state of affairs. I know that the market sucks and that while some good people do get good jobs, loads of good people don't get good jobs or don't get jobs at all. But the fact of the matter is that new and very green PhDs are still among the set of good people getting good jobs. I was hired into my current TT position three years ago while ABD and with no publications. The next person in my graduate program to go on the market after me (tiny program — one or two students per cohort) fared similarly. A friend in another field and with a PhD from a different university was hired into a TT job at a prestigious liberal arts school just as he was finishing his dissertation. It happens and not in isolated cases. In other words, I know I was exceptionally lucky, but I also know that my luck wasn't exceptional. And so yes, while the job market is unquestionably tighter than it was twenty years ago, to say nothing of fifty years ago, to say that Claire Potter wouldn't have been hired into her job were she applying today with her 1991 CV is nothing but an unfounded ad hominem attack that's as ungrounded in reality as a search committee that gives candidates five days' notice for an MLA interview.

I can imagine some of the criticism I might get for saying this, specifically that I'm inured to the suffering of the masses on the job market because of my own success and that having someone like me on board doesn't matter because I'm now officially part of the privileged class. But I do get it: I can see the numbers and as much as I have done well and know people who have done well, I also have friends who are struggling, taking their second or third adjunct gig or postdoctoral fellowship in the hopes that they'll get a "real" job soon. I can see that both experiences are reality, I believe that hiring should be more fair, humane and accessible than it is, and in another couple of years (inshallah) I may well be in a position to do something about it at the institutional level. But I definitely don't want to jump on board with a shrill movement that disregards some realities in exclusive favor of the ones that suit its purposes.

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