The Academic Version of "Unemployed Need Not Apply"
by Matthew Stollak on Monday, September 24, 2012
Check out this recent ad for a Humanities position at Colorado State University. Focus on the following:
1. Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment.
2. A promising record of scholarship/research in pre-1900 American literature and culture.
3. Ability to teach a range of subjects in American literature and culture between 1600 and 1900.
A similar recent job posting at Harvard University for an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, “Applicants must have received the PhD or equivalent degree in the past three years (2009 or later), or show clear evidence of planned receipt of the degree by the beginning of employment.”
What do you notice? Go ahead...take a minute....
Well, items #2 and #3 do not seem out of the ordinary - these seem like reasonable requirements for the position. However, #1 for CSU, as well as the Harvard ad, is interesting and has ginned up a little controversy (note...both ads have changed).
Much like we've seen in the private sector, academics were not immune to the vagaries of the economy. If you completed your Ph.D., and entered the job market in 2007, 2008, or 2009, you may have had difficulty finding a tenure track academic position. Now, with ads such as those filed above, we have the academic equivalent of "unemployed need not apply."
Are there reasons to narrow the candidate search in such a manner? It could be economic. Someone with 3 or less years of academic experience will take longer to apply for tenure and promotion, and the accompanying bump in salary. With an average salary increase of 1.4% from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011, earning tenure and promotion is often the only way for professors to see a significant bump in compensation. As a result, delaying the promotion decision can positively affect the bottom line for colleges and universities.
Another reason may be that CSU or Harvard might already have an internal candidate, such as a visiting assistant professor, and are trying to keep the applicant pool small.
A third reason might be similar to the NBA draft, where a team would rather take a chance on a college sophomore's "tremendous upside potential," than a college senior's "experience" that's good, but not great. In this instance, a college might prefer the freshly minted graduate, than a less malleable individual with a couple of academic years under his or her belt.
However, the start of such a trend is worrisome for an already difficult job market, where it might take as many as 3 years to land a tenure track position. One might have spent two or three years serving as an adjunct while trying to publish an article or two. I might be a promising academic who might have had an illness, or family issues (such as caring for a sick parent), or served in the military that might adjust one's tenure clock. Or, I might have found a tenure track position, and simply want to relocate to another area of the country.
It also affects the time one spends in graduate school. Future academicians may delay the time that they finish so they will have a more established publication record, to, subsequently, become more competitive in the job market.
When I entered the academic job market in 1994, supply of labor exceeded the number of jobs available, and it took 6 months to find a visiting position. When I finally found a tenure track position, and built up a number of years of experience, I wanted to find a job a little closer to my parents. Such mobility may be a thing of the past.