Saturday, March 8, 2014

The One Where the Job Market Sucks

This is probably not the best time to be admitting this, but I was on the job market in a very limited fashion this year. I hadn't really intended to be, but that's how it worked out: I was invited to apply for one job and did so because I was flattered to have been asked and because I would have liked to have had a bargaining chip that I could have cashed in for a salary bump or a larger apartment or something else. (My significant other, also an academic, suggested I try to parlay it into a spousal hire. I had to ask him if he knew something I didn't.)  It wasn't a job that I really ever believed I would take, although as a colleague of mine said, in encouraging me to pursue the opportunity despite my own hesitation, you never really know how you'll feel about a competing offer until you have it in hand. It's just as well that I didn't care one way or the other because the institution was running two searches to fill one chair — one junior and one senior — and ultimately decided to make a senior rather than a junior hire. That's easy enough to take. I was ambivalent at best about the position in the first place and I didn't get it because, ultimately, I wasn't senior enough. 

The second job I applied for is one I would have considered very seriously had it been offered to me. I can't say for sure that I would have accepted it — and I was brought up better than to accept or decline a job that hasn't been offered to me — but it might well have been a difficult decision. It was at the single institution that I have occasionally thought, because of the structure of several programs and the concentration of people working in my area, would be a better fit for me than my current one. That's saying a lot about the place, because my current department is a pretty damned good fit for me. As much as the ad for my current job sounded as if it had been tailor-written for me, this ad sounded like I was made for the position. I fully expected that I would, at least, be long-listed, even if everything after that was a crapshoot.

I wasn't even considered.

The deadline for applications was Friday, 21 February, I received confirmation of receipt of my materials on Monday, 24 February, and a rejection letter dated Tuesday, 25 February. Either this is the single most efficient committee in the recorded history of all committees ever or the search is a sham; and I know enough academics to know where the safe money lies. We are, as a rule and a group, just not that efficient. I have heard from sources on the ground that they are hosting three candidates in the coming weeks, but I have to believe it's pro forma and that they already know which one they will hire. The timeline's just too hinky to be credible.

In a sense I am relieved. I wouldn't want colleagues who behave like that, willing to waste people's time and play on their emotions and put on a dog-and-pony show whose outcome is already a given. Sham searches are deeply unethical and are poor practice, to boot. I'm glad I found it out this way than, say, from the inside when it would be much harder to escape. It affirms for me that I am at the right place: The one other university in the country that I thought might possibly have a program that would be a better fit for me intellectually than the one that NYU has behaves, in a corporate sense, badly. The grass I thought might have been greener over there actually isn't, and lucky me to have found out on the cheap.

It's still a body blow, though.

I know that some search committees are horrible about communicating with candidates and can be unbearably cruel when they do. That wasn't the case here, but the letter was still off in two ways. First, it tips its hand as to the done-and-dusted nature of the search: The institution, the letter says, "has decided to pursue another candidate who more closely matches our requirements." Another candidate. One. Even if they are bringing three to campus, they know who they are are going to hire. I wish that more people would remember that the moral of the move Footnote is: Don't try to pull one over on a philologist. It won't work.

Second, it assured me that "this decision is not a reflection on the quality of your work but is, rather, determined by our need to locate a faculty member with a strong commitment to multidisciplinary work in the field." It's the first time in my life that I've been accused of not being interdisciplinary enough. What a dumb excuse. What a ridiculous thing to expect me to believe. Normally people don't know what to do with me because I don't fit neatly into a box of literature or history, of Spanish, Arabic, or Hebrew, of textual or manuscript studies. It in fact has to be about the quality of my work, because I am completely committed to multidisciplinary work in the field. Or it has to be not about me at all.

I know, in fact, that it's not about me. The timeline and the wording of the letter make that abundantly clear; but my ego still hurts.

Look. I know that I have been extraordinarily lucky in my professional life and I don't take that for granted for a second. I know, from all the horror stories around me, that it is a luxury to have been able to apply for only two jobs in a cycle and have the outcome of those searches not be what determines whether I will be able to continue on in my chosen profession or put food on my table. And so this post isn't so much about the job market as it is about still being green enough that my first exposure to certain realities of the profession — the compromised ethics, the willingness to use people to make things look legitimate, the sheer hubris of it all — are shocking.

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