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For reals? No, really, for reals?

10 August, 2012

I’ve been pointed to this column at CHE. I am just plain gobsmacked. The column is bad enough; the comments are worse.

Dear people,

Nobody stole “Edwina’s” job. It was not her job. And honestly, “we were the same on paper”?? How does anybody know that? Oh, right. Because “Edwina” said so.

Give me a break. Even if every part of this story is true, there was no theft of a job. There were a lot of things that were wrong, but not that.

  • “Patricia” did not tell “Edwina” up front that she was applying for the job. This is really not ok. Especially if they were friends. Just not ok. But more on that later.
  • “Edwina’s” colleagues and “boss” told her a lot of things that faculty on every campus tell an inside candidate. She doesn’t mention whether any of them were on the search committee. People not on the search committee should STFU, and not act as if they know anything about the search. It isn’t any of their business. Talking out of your ass to a colleague you want to keep and getting her hopes up? unethical and stupid. If these colleagues were on the search committee, they behaved very unethically. And stupidly.
  • Did I mention that the first rule of Search Committee is that you don’t talk about Search Committee? That’s because it’s both unethical and stupid. Why? because no search committee has the last say. Even if the administration agrees with the search committee’s choice, searches get cancelled, postponed, etc. You don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and you don’t imply to a candidate that you can deliver something unless you have it in writing. Period.
  • “Edwina” talked to the students about this? Do I even have to explain this?

I would feel betrayed by Patricia, too. Really.

But honestly, who thinks that because she is “gunning for that job,” she has a right to expect that someone who “is the same on paper,” someone who has an equal need for that job, should just step back because the job “was mine to lose”?? First, it’s just not realistic. Second, neither is the idea that, if this one friend had not applied, she was guaranteed the job.

Also? how do you “keep your prospects under wraps”?? Unless that means, “I didn’t tell anybody that people were unethically giving me inside information [that turned out to be false]”

Moreover, who thinks that pursuing a T-T version of a one-year position you already have is a “master plan”. FFS, isn’t that what we are supposed to do in that situation, unless the job sucks? How much of a secret did she think this was?

And really, what kind of rinky-dink operation wouldn’t let an inside candidate know when they were bringing someone to campus for an interview?

It’s really too bad that the CHE chose to publish this essay. It doesn’t make anybody look good, especially “Edwina.”

To her, all I can say is, “For Reals”?

UPDATE: I meant to say something about this in the original post, but forgot. Can I just say that I have never seen a one-year position in which a person can excel AND publish SEVEN good, peer-reviewed articles in that one year. I know some pretty shit-hot scholars in jobs with teaching loads meant to support research, and few of them publish that many articles in a year (in part because they are working on books, but still — SEVEN??)

20 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 August, 2012 4:37 am

    Ugh. I have been the inside candidate who was passed over, and it sucks, but yeah. They could not have been “the same on paper;” Edwina’s colleagues may have spoken out of turn and should not have built her hopes up, but… it’s also possible Edwina understood them a little selectively. We don’t actually know what was said to her, only her version of events. And “aggressively pursuing” the job is not a “master plan.” How do you “aggressively pursue” the job, even, aside from applying for it? One hopes she was not making a pest of herself by bugging people about the search constantly.

    Regarding telling the students, though… in my experience, students knew perfectly well there was a search on. They asked me point-blank if I’d applied, and I said yes because I saw no reason to lie to them. The finalists’ job talks were publicly announced, so they knew I was giving one. I also made a point of encouraging interested students to go to the other job talks. When someone else was hired for the position, some students were upset on my behalf and came to talk to me about it. Again, I did my best to keep a stiff upper lip and suggest they give the new person a chance and that there were probably good reasons for the search committee’s decision. To a few students I explained the mechanics of the academic search process in general, in part because they were majors considering grad school. I didn’t give any specifics about that particular search. Students can know quite a bit through the grapevine without the “inside candidate” doing anything inappropriate.

    • 10 August, 2012 4:05 pm

      I think there is a difference between telling the students — that’s fine, and obviously, if they like you, then that’s really helpful. It’s one of the real advantages of being an inside candidate. But my impression from what she said was that she didn’t discourage the students from thinking she’d been screwed over. That’s bad for the incoming person and for the department.

  2. 10 August, 2012 12:12 pm

    “Same on paper” makes about as much sense as “married bachelor.”

    It was disloyal of Patricia to keep her application secret from Edwina, but it certainly wasn’t disloyal to apply, as you note. My scholarly soul sister and I went through this when we were first out of grad school. A school in the same town where her long-distance sweetie lived was advertising a job, and I wasn’t going to apply until she talked me out of that folly. In the end, I got that job, and she didn’t, but I didn’t take it from her.

    Departments have the right — nay, the obligation — to hire the person right for their needs. They also have the legal obligation to behave according to certain norms, which, if Edwina Martin is to be believed, this department did not. Let’s hope the students came out the winners.

  3. 10 August, 2012 3:48 pm

    I was involved in a search in my department last year, where we had an inside candidate whose job it was to lose — and he went ahead and lost it. There were a couple of reasons why it went down as it did.

    FIrst off, a small group of my colleagues had decided that this was the person to hire; they undoubtedly were making promises to him from the get-go, and they shouldn’t have. They did not represent everyone on the search committee, and ultimately, they did not represent the feeling of the entire department, which enthusiastically voted to hire someone else in the end. It’s never a good idea to tell candidates that a position is theirs, ever. It creates false and rather cruel expectations.

    Second, the candidate gave an absolutely terrible performance during the interview phase. The talk was awful: even though everyone felt well disposed towards him, no one — even his top supporters — liked it. During q & a, he was even worse, being unable or unwilling to answer basic questions about how his research related to his broader field. He also was rude to several people at meetings and meals, chiefly women. Three different female colleagues independently reported on this, a real record in my department.

    Edwina was nuts to believe the position was “hers” and that her friend “stole” it. Ultimately, the department hired the person they felt best suited their needs. Having been on the opposite side of this equation, I believe it is highly unethical for a minority of the faculty in the hiring department to make promises — or intimate them — that they cannot keep. But it is not incumbent on the rest of the faculty to go along with promises that should never have been made.

  4. 10 August, 2012 4:14 pm

    Also, and rather randomly: Is anyone really named Edwina anymore? I am inclined to believe that this column was written by a man: Edwin and Patrick. Not that it matters, but that just jumped out at me.

    • 10 August, 2012 4:30 pm

      or perhaps the person is an AbFab fan who doesn’t get that the name is actually Edina? And yes, people need to STFU, as much as they would like to encourage a friend, especially if they are not on the search committee. I once heard someone (actually on a committee) intimate to an inside candidate who was also a friend that the IC was likely to get an interview. I had a quiet word with the chair of the search. It was particularly egregious in this case because the IC did not meet a major requirement for the job. People think they are helping, but they aren’t.

  5. Tal permalink
    10 August, 2012 4:18 pm

    “I know some pretty shit-hot scholars in jobs with teaching loads meant to support research, and few of them publish that many articles in a year (in part because they are working on books, but still — SEVEN??)”

    er…my dad does that regularly. he might be a slight workaholic though.

    • 10 August, 2012 4:23 pm

      Yeah, but your dad is in maths, right? that might be normal for his field. In humanities, I don’t think it is. At least, not from start to finish — the turnaround alone for most peer-reviewed journals is generally several months to a year from initial submission to actually being in print!

      • Tal permalink
        10 August, 2012 4:25 pm

        it’s certainly not normal for his department (he’s mentioned this in the past). and i think he counts ‘idea -> submission to journal’ rather than ‘idea -> print’ but definitely he’s always working on multiple projects.

  6. 10 August, 2012 9:47 pm

    re: the 7 articles thing… That jumped out at me, too. First, which you mention in a comment, the turn-around time issue. I’ve had articles take YEARS to come out from the time I submit them through the revision process and then FINALLY making their way to publication. And while I suppose it’s POSSIBLE that the stars aligned in such a way that a person had a backlog of stuff that was waiting to be published, and it all just happened to come out at the same time… SEVEN, full-length articles is kind of outrageous. I mean, that’s a BOOK’s worth of articles. The humanities remains a very book-driven part of the academy: why would you publish 7 articles INSTEAD of publishing, say, two, and then save the rest for the book? Basically, publishing all of that in article form would *get in the way* of getting a book contract (assuming all of these “articles” are interrelated). Also: at least in my experience, it’s a heck of a lot more advantageous to publish two articles in Very Good Journals as opposed to 7 all over the place…

    Which reminds me. I’ve got this colleague (a full prof, so this has no bearing on his professional advancement or anything) who lists as “publications” every single thing that he “publishes” – a letter to the editor, self-published course packets, an article for his church newsletter. I’m sure that there have been years when he’s had “7” publications, while I’ve only had one or two. But it’s quality that counts, ultimately, not quantity…..

    • 10 August, 2012 10:20 pm

      yep — back in the good ol’ days, SLAC counted publications in things like the Rotary club newsletter. No more, thank goodness. Although also thank goodness that they don’t have a “X level of peer-reviewed journal” requirement!

    • 11 August, 2012 11:49 pm

      Dr. Crazy’s last paragraph was just what I was thinking: does Edwina count things like that CHE piece as a published article?

  7. 11 August, 2012 12:06 am

    I’ve never yet had to apply for an academic position. One day, I hope! In the meantime, I kind of assumed we all knew that it was a competitive, difficult thing to achieve, and that if we were a proper part of a scholarly community people we knew well would always also be applying for the same jobs. I assumed we all knew that this would be emotionally challenging, but that the only way to get by would be to (1) do one’s best and (2) be polite and courteous about it at all times. After all, how can any of us who want to do this kind of work blame other people for also really wanting it, and being good at it, and giving it a go? When searches regularly attract many times the number of positions in applications there are always going to be more good candidates missing out than making it through, which sucks for them, but surely is part of the process for which they should prepare themselves. In short, I am disappointed that ‘Patricia’ didn’t tell her friend she was applying, knowing as she must have done that ‘Edwina’ would also probably apply. (Although I can also understand the impulse not to tell people which jobs one is applying for – it might be part of a self-preservation strategy for all the times one is *not* the successful candidate.) More importantly, however, I’m disappointed in ‘Edwina’ for complaining about it in such a public and bitter way. Over beers with your nearest and dearest is one thing. Broadcasting it internationally on the internet is another… psuedonyms or no. Politeness is really important in collegiate behaviour. After all, ‘Patricia’ probably knows who she is. And ‘Edwina’ – if she is successful at getting a position and staying in her field – will no doubt still have to see her at conferences, and will still know all the same crowd. She’s making a very durable rod for her own back here, if she expects to have a nice long career.
    The best lesson I think I ever learned about this kind of situation is to assess what parts of it were my own responsibility, decide if there was anything I could and should have done differently, forgive myself for screwing them up that time, and determine to learn from my errors. The parts that were someone else’s responsibility, or at least out of my control, I just have to let go. There’s nothing I personally can do about ‘Patricia’s’ performance in a job interview, I can only try to make mine the best I’ve ever done…

  8. J Liedl permalink
    11 August, 2012 1:10 am

    The way this story unfolds, Patricia is a grade A bitch for not telling Edwina “Hey, that sounds like a great job and I’m horribly unhappy at t-t school so I’m applying too.” Edwina isn’t a prize, either, though – her level of entitlement is a bit too high to make surviving academia a plausible prospect. Academic searches are nasty business – no inside candidate should ever expect the job is theirs to clam. Maybe win if they perform awesomely, but there are so many issues that can change the playing field.

  9. 11 August, 2012 11:49 am

    Thank you for saying this – I thought I was going slightly nuts reading the comments on that piece. In courtesy, Patricia should’ve mentioned she was applying, but I wondered if there might not be a degree of desperation there: ‘Edwina’ does mention that Patricia has children, which wouldn’t excuse bad behaviour, but certainly might jack up the pressure on the need to apply for all available jobs. It sounds like cowardice rather than malice to me: ‘I don’t need to say I’m applying because I probably won’t get anywhere…’

    The thing I really hated about this article though was the ‘trust no one’ business. I’ve just been lucky enough to get my first lectureship, and the thing I’ve really noticed is how helpful so many people have been to me. I did get some inside information too, from someone I knew wasn’t on the search committee, but who let me know that the job was coming up, and later what areas the department were particularly keen to see covered. It was helpful, but wouldn’t’ve made me an appointable candidate if those hadn’t happened to be strengths of mine – so just tailoring, rather than fabrication. I’ve already promised to pass on details of the interview experience and the kinds of question I was asked to younger colleagues who’ll be on the market soon. Trust no one sounds like a singularly miserable way to live your life.

    • 5 September, 2012 1:18 am

      I’d like to agree with that most thoroughly. Especially in the medieval side of things, most people know each other, everybody will get refereed or reviewed by people they know at times if not most of the time; our peers are also looking for the elusive permanent job, we must compete and yet we must also collaborate, because almost no-one can operate alone and besides that really sucks as a way to live. Given that we’re going to see our competitors at every other damn conference, and probably come up with ideas that will benefit from their help, and they similarly with us, the only way to face these situations is to be open about applying and say, “If I don’t get it, I hope you do.” I’ve just had the chance to be Edwina to an old friend’s Patricia, but in fact we told each other we were applying (as we have to pretty much every similar job in the UK for the last ten years, so it was kind of obvious) and met for a coffee after we’d both been interviewed to catch up, decompress and talk over shared research projects. They got it because their research interests better fit the vacancy, that’s fine, now I will have them as a colleague again and they won’t be unemployed as was otherwise threatening. (Neither will I be, as I have one more year on the contract; I would just have liked to have two more than that…) I don’t think we’re unusually nice or anything (well: they are, I’m not), it’s just adaptation to a professional landscape where this is just going to keep happening till we’re both secure, and possibly again after that. Edwina and Patricia should both have seen this coming and had a more realistic strategy for staying friends!

  10. Susan permalink
    11 August, 2012 3:30 pm

    Your comments are spot on. I wondered about the “secret plan” when reading: I would have been surprised if Edwina didn’t apply for the TT job. When we had a VAP and a search in the same field, I was very careful as chair of the search to treat our visiting person, (who we ended up hiring) with respect but to say nothing about the progress of the search except when I told all the candidates – I.e scheduling phone interviews, on campus interviews, etc. I even drove him to and from campus the way we did all the other candidates.

    I was once a finalist for a (senior) position, told by the search committee that they didn’t want to interview anyone else, and the didn’t get the job: a departmental split that was all kinds of weird. Fortunately, I’m an old lady, and didn’t take it personally that they hired a competent but boring guy instead of (brilliant) me. Lesson #1 for academics is that it really isn’t usually about you!

  11. Levi permalink
    14 August, 2012 7:39 am

    I think you’re entirely right about this: the article is frustrating in all sorts of ways. Most annoying of all is – as you point out – the tacit assumption that it was only ‘Patricia’ which scuppered her chances. As I’m sure you’ll hardly be surprised to hear, every job I’ve ever applied for has also been applied for by friends, in many case very close ones; that’s just the way the job market works, especially in smaller fields. You need to learn to live with it and take the attitude that if you fail to get a job you want, at least someone you know and like might get it.

    • 5 September, 2012 1:21 am

      I should have read Levi’s comment before leaving mine, but at least we agree! It may be that the small size of the UK sector, our geographical proximity increasing the likelihood that we’ll meet, and the paltry hope of getting a permanent job, force us to be more collegial, but if so then we have been forced to model good practice for elsewhere, I think.

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