[photo credit: Richard Rutter]

Job Search Blues

Things have been tough all over in the Humanities job market. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that job seekers are getting any better at hunting for a place to work. In fact, some of them have gotten progressively worse, suicidal even. The journal Inside Higher Education recently published an article about an academic couple that had had enough with the traditional job search and decided to run their own ad, asking for colleges and universities to apply to them. I am not altogether sure if this is a protest against the system or a sign of grad-school egotism, but I don’t think it will ever pan out in a buyer’s market. Typically applicants express interest and pray that their files rise to the top of the heap, but there is more that comes into play in a job search that what’s on paper, not the least of which is the personality of the review committee. I served on a search last semester and, throughout the process, made a series of annotations that could provide some insight into the workings of this group. I’ve left my private comments in italics. Oddly enough, this simple process brings out the most bizarre personality quirks of faculty and a series of pitfalls for applicants.

The Search Committee Chair

Me: Oh, please God, don’t appoint her!

The reason why one individual becomes a committee chair is beyond me. Often I assume that the head of the department cuts chooses this person to prevent him or her from becoming a royal pain in his ass over the next year or so. This time the job fell on the most elitist and controlling person that I’ve had the pleasure of working with in years. I’d served with her, worked with her, and found that she presides over the committee as if she were on the Supreme Court. In the previous instance, we were searching for a specialist on the Ancient World, and her decisions were cutting. She discounted one qualified candidate outright because he had written his dissertation on pederasty. Her reasoning was something to the effect as “The title of his thesis suggests that he’s gay and he probably wouldn’t be happy here in the Midwest.” Shocked, I didn’t say anything at the time; I didn’t want to rock the boat before tenure by suggesting that a flamboyant queen was what the department needed.

This is not to say that I disrespect my colleague. On the contrary, her work on women’s rights covers a number of areas that scholars have overlooked. What is difficult about her is that her apparent feminism hides an unconscionable snobbery. I recall her relating to us–with no small amount of shame–that her son was marrying into a family that had a “graduate from our university.” Even the Departmental Psychopath raised an eyebrow at that comment. Moreover, lately she’s given to what I call “senior moments,” the tendency to ramble on and on in departmental meetings. At our final meeting of the year, we’d concluded discussion about the upcoming report, and about three or four minutes into the next topic, she went off on another four-minute digression on the previous topic. Whatever we were going to do as a committee, it was going to be long and tedious and painful.

To be continued …

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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