Ask The Radical: Search Committee Smackdown, Part Eleventy

March 21, 2011, 10:48 pm

Buy this poster while you wait.

It’s that time of the year again.  You’ve gotten all gussied up in your glad rags.  You polished your power point and talked the talk. You perfected the technique of subtly checking your teeth with your bread knife at dinner.  You left — well, you left that fly-back academic interview feeling good about yourself.  And then:

Nothing.  They never call, they never write…..

Dear Professor Radical,

I have appreciated your blogs about the job market.   I’ve tried to follow the rules– both written and unwritten.

Could you post another one about the rules for search committees? The closer I get to a job without getting it, the more their etiquette seems to break down. I’m a big girl and I can handle rejection. But I don’t like this awkward silence for weeks after the interview.  It makes me feel like a dirty one night stand. 

 If a search committee chair doesn’t know to write a letter of rejection — well, no big deal except that neither place I interviewed has had the decency to tell me they’ve moved on. I’m smart and figured it out. But it just seems decent to tell me before I read it on the Wiki or, God forbid, from another candidate.

 Can’t we elevate the job process to a level that is more professional than bad dating ??  Thank God for basketball or I don’t know what I’d do.

Well, you should also thank the Goddess that you aren’t in my NCAA men’s fantasy bracket, because I’m shooting a honkin’ 96%!

OK, seriously.  This sucks   And you know it’s wrong, but the question is, why do they do it?  I’ll tell you the top five excuses for not talking to the candidates.

#5:  ”We haven’t finalized the deal with the candidate we did offer the job to, so don’t alienate the other candidates in case we have to go to our second choice.”  You know the worst of it?  They really believe that it would cause an unrepairable breach if, in this crummy market, they offered you a job as the second choice candidate.  This is what often prevents them from making a call that says, “You know, it came down to field, but we’ve offered the job to someone else and s/he has two weeks to respond.  We’ll get back to you the week of the 21st, for sure, and let you know what is happening.”  You’re thinking, “Those d00ds have their heads up their a$$es!”  Not really — they have their heads back in the 1970s, when getting the job as a second choice really was a ticket to nowhere and the people who voted against your hire also voted against your tenure case, just on principle.  And they would have been heartbroken to be a second choice, so you would too, right?  Right?  Uh — I can’t hear you, the industrial dishwasher is too loud…..

#4:  ”Was that my job?  I thought the dean was supposed to be in touch with the candidates.”  At many schools, some people will never run a search in their lives, and in small departments, many people may never even be on a search committee.  I know at Zenith, you have a meeting with administrators prior to commencing your search.  They cover all the parts of the process that  have to do with affirmative action diversity hiring, but there is no instruction, written or otherwise, about how to run a search in a way that is gracious or efficient.  The assumption is that you have learned this by being searched for (the same goes for tenure:  everything you need to know to decide someone else’s fate for the first time, you learn by coming up for tenure.)

As an added wrinkle, in many departments, once the candidates are produced, the search committee dissolves, and it may be no one’s job to be in touch with the candidates.

#3:  ”When the heck are we going to get budget approval for this hire?  Can someone call the dean, fuh Chrissakes?”  Believe it or not, at many small schools, the administration approves multiple searches, but only actually has funding for X% of them.  Departments propose their candidates, and the administration decides which ones are the “best” — and only those departments get a new hire.  This, and other budgetary shenanigans, can hold up a process for weeks.  Throw a spring break in, and it’s a real clusterf**k for the candidates.

#2: “We got our first choice! We got our first choice!  Uh — What other candidates?”  This is what you fear, and I am afraid it is often true.  Academics can be narcissistic a$$hats, and unfortunately, because you no longer have anything to do with them, it’s as if you never existed.

#1:  ”That’s a really awkward and unpleasant call to make and I would really rather not.”  Really, this is the reason that most finalists never hear from anyone.  It’s gotten too personal, and they don’t want to disappoint you in person.  What they don’t get, because they can’t cope with this, is that you already know and you would rather be treated like a person!

But seriously, guys. This is the second person I have heard from this week who was told they would hear something in a certain time frame, and they haven’t even gotten a call to be told that nothing is decided yet.

WTF, search committees?  Don’t you read Tenured Radical?

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