Sunday, 30 September 2012

Is there any 'compassion' in academic recruitment?

It's Sunday evening now and I'm due to get on with family food preparations and a whole list of other domestic tasks, but I feel compelled to note a few things before I disappear into the kitchen and crash on the sofa later.

It's been a pretty busy week here for me. When I first accepted my new job role and discussed things like a proper starting date, I agreed that the week commencing September 24th looked like the best time, even though my family visitors from the USA would still be lingering around the household and leaving mid-week on the Wednesday. In the mean time, I agreed to work a couple of days a week through some of August to try to get my head around the systems, meet people and just settle in to my new work space. All of that felt very nice and cosy. It was great meeting these very welcoming people and I started attending some important meetings and thinking about creative plans for the future. One of my nice colleagues was unfortunately leaving his position at the end of August and I was allocated to picking up on some important jobs that he to leave with me. But of course, some stuff needed sorting when I had to take a couple of weeks off in September when my family members were here visiting. My line manager assured me not to worry and that he would pick them up while I was away. He is a very busy man indeed and when I returned on Monday he had to confess that these issues were still left unresolved and that I would have to attend to them. So, to make a long story short, I have spent the week in a frantic state trying to make sense of a plethora of tasks, sometimes hassling him throughout the days with endless questions of how to do this or that (like getting stuff printed after design, etc.) and other related things. Heavy sigh, I got home on Friday evening, crashed at the kitchen table, relieved to see that my husband got home early and started cooking, and vowed  not to challenge myself with much of anything over the weekend. Yes, I know, welcome to the world of the permanent work-force. The summer holidays are now over and it's time to get my head down and get on with things. It'll all fall into place, yes, but 'new' job stuff like remembering what systems to follow for this and that is still to be done via the ways of a learning curve that is frustrating when jobs need to be done yesterday.

What I want to draw attention to now though has been prompted by another post-academic over at  Unemployed PhD for Hire, who writes around the topic of academic recruitment and some of the issues that come up when the post advertised actually has someone already working for some time in the role but the role still needs to be advertised. 'WTF' adds some thoughtful points about the prospect of some other star candidate coming along who is great for the job and who will thus shunt the prospects of the hopeful one already in post. Of course, as I've added in comments, there is then the long list of other hopeful applicants who are probably well-qualified, fantastic, strong candidates, who just may not stand a chance because; a: they are not up to 'star' standard yet in their early career status; b: if they are 'as good' a candidate as the one in the role already, then, well, the department will just offer the job to the one they already know rather than rock the boat. Well, why not? It's tough. The problem, as we are all very well aware of by now, is that there are just too many great candidates out there for the few available jobs.

So my question today, after I read 'WTF's' post was, what kind of feedback will these hundreds of hopeful candidates get after forwarding their strong applications? What will these academic employers tell them? Will they just send them the standard response -  Sorry, good luck next time? Or should they offer more?

Coincidentally, I have just today come across this article from
The Guardian UK Higher Education Network that asks critically, this very same question about the ethics of academic recruitment. It makes some great, and to us in the post-academic community, obvious points about the over-saturated post-PhD job market. What I would have liked to see noted though is, considering the higher numbers of job-seeking PhDs, a recognition that academic institutions now have a responsibility to provide more advice about legitimate, intellectually stimulating, and well paid careers outside of academia. Sure it would be very nice to see employers think hard about how they can feedback in a supportive way  why candidates don't get short listed or offered the job after interview. But most of this difficulty and disappointment relates to larger, structural problems with the institutions who are rewarded (financially) for getting more and more PhD students through to completion, and knowing these PhDs will be struggling to survive in the over-saturated job market.

I am left feeling more and more sceptical about academia and the future of many worthy PhDs. With this in mind, I am not at all sure if there is any 'compassion' left in academia.


  1. In my field, the faculty hiring process values "potential" over proven ability. So many of the new faculty get hired very quickly after the PhD without having published much. Because many of them did not have a long struggle through the academic market, they begin to believe that they were hired because they were much more meritorious than the other applicants and consequently have less compassion towards others. What is ironic is that for the vast majority of my fellow classmates that have gotten faculty positions, the main deciding factor has been the political influence and aggressiveness of the advisor.

  2. That is a useful observation to make about the recruitment process that may often turn to this approach as employers look at the long-term possibilities of candidates. But you are right also in pointing out that it leads the successful ones to believing that they are better than the other sad ones who didn't make it. And then how can recruiters feedback about this kind of thing, that relies of a range of factors? I think this question opens up a big can of worms with no easy resolutions.

  3. There is no compassion and often administrators are hand picking the people they want. I am not sure how those left in academia, particularly those who were adjuncts can live with themselves, but I see it all the time. Basically, the most self-serving people are the ones who remain, neglecting their students to pursue their "research" and pretending to feel sorry for their colleagues when really, they couldn't care less (otherwise, they could consider adjuncts in their collective agreement instead of saying "There's nothing we can do!). But do not worry, that self-serving attitude will eventually destroy the system, and finally the greediest, most self-serving people of all, the university presidents and the corporate shills that are sponsoring them, will find that they are kings and queens of nothing, as anybody who is decent and worthy has left with their good ideas and good intentions years ago. What they now rule is hord of swine--YES, SWINE who do nothing to protest this terrible state of affairs on behalf of their students and their colleagues other than say, "My hands are tied"--(think Nazi Germany! Althought the result is different, the rationale is sooooooooo similar) Let's hope that the university does not actually have to respond to a real crisis, for their have so much blood on their own hands that they are hardly capable of offering a clean one to anyone else.

  4. PS: Hiring for "potential" is another word for cheap and someone with whome the administration feels comfortable. If that new profs thinks the have earned the position, they are deluded and that probably explains the rather unimaginative things these "aspiring scholars" write. In other words, academia really doesn't want a critical voice of a mature scholar, but the managed voice of the young scholar who they can bend to their will. In this sense, it really is a question of narrowing the range of thought rather than opening it up, and the easist way to do this is at the level of recruitment. Any strategy of "an aggressive advisor" usually only works because that "aggressive advisor" follows the party corporate line and tends to reproduce the same scholars and the same discourse that admin finds so ammenable. Basically, if you do academia in good faith, which I think is the case of the majority of adjuncts, you will be penalized period, no matter how good your advisor is. This is why I say academia is made up of clones and drones. And if you are not sure of this, you might ask yourself, at least in the social sciences and the humanities, what truly original thinker has stepped on to the stage in the last 30 years and why is this? Why were people able to put a man on the moon in the 1960s and why have we not even come close to this level of innovotion 50 years later? Basically, what have the clones and drones done to our best thinkers? Has university now been educed to a war of the people with the most publications? 50 articles of the same thing is not a great thinker. It is worker bee doing its worker thing while the Queen (admin) proudly tells the world it has 10 new hives. Seriously, wanting to be part of that is not really thinking. You would be better to join Mensa or other fringe organizations where people really do think instead trying to be like all those wanna bes who are basically great technicians (they have mastered the form of the article, the "right way" of talking), but with really very little substance.

  5. PS. One of my last posts, talking about the absurdity of equating the number of academia articles with intellectual rigor, was removed. I strongly advise all people who are interested in actual thought to join Mensa.

  6. Thanks Anonymous for your heartfelt response. You make some great points - one in particular - that a list of voluminous publications does not equal innovative thinking or quality of scholarship. I tend to agree also that the 'potential' candidates are probably the early career 'cheap labour ones, not to mention one who fit in with the mould and expectations of the department and who won't rock the boat (of course). So, yes, nice of they land the job, but let's not be fooled into thinking that their job-landing success is related to their high-quality work.

    1. It really is duplicity of the highest order. Even McDonald workers can see the ideology at work with a much greater degree of clarity that an adjunct, and that is because they have not been subjected to the same degree of colonialization. Did you know that they bug entire buildings? I was in ignorance of this fact until the custodian at one of my schools informed me that the head admin was watching us through secret cameras! You see, they know deep down what they are doing is morally reprehensible, but instead of admitting their criminal behavior, they max of their mini-police state. Why do you think they want you to put your lessons on line? To benefit the students? It is a TOTAL mind fuck at every turn and so if people feel helpless as ajuncts, it is probably because the complete control, although it is often unseen, and comes out in the form of regular abuse and the unwillingness of full time faculty to look you in the eye. And of course, this terrible state of affairs is "never anyone's fault." Seriously, the university is just one step away from a prison camp where insurrgents to the state are taken out of commission in the prime of their life and subjected to years of dire povertry, where they will learn through the discipline of pennliness to toe the line. The job "lotter" is no longer for the best thinker, but a) for the most compliant and b) to give the other prisoners false hope that some people actually do "get out"--otherwise, how can their colonial masters keep this fantastic bingo game going? It's the kind of mind fuck that keeps the pigeon pecking for food because they never know when the next meal might come.. "If only I had done this, they say. It's as ridiculous as saying "if only I could have pleased my pimp masters by giving that extra blow job maybe they would have given me a job as pimp master." Huh? You think those guys are going to give up their pimp master status when they have all those slaves giving it away for free? This is why it is so criminal and this is why adjuncts should not feel any regret about leaving. It is really about keeping the corporation flowing smoothly and bringing in record profits--teaching students how to think is just an added bonus (think of how the most recent textbooks are being watered down. Does this not give you some idea of the real purpose of why new "professors" are there?