U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Job Market Exposed—At One Institution—In Another Field: Is It The Same In History?

The City College of the City University of New York listed an open assistant professor, tenure-track position in philosophy last fall. Lou Marinoff, chair of philosophy at CCNY and founding president of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, decided to chronicle the search for an Aug. 31 InsideHigherEd article. [Hat-tip to the ever-intriguing Historiann for bringing this to my attention. Try to ignore my extremely salty comments on her post.]

While I’m sure that philosophy searches differ from those in history, I believe it’s probably more by degree than kind. For instance, Professor Marinoff relayed that 637 applications were received. As a result they committee resorted to “practical” sorting methods. Here’s an excerpt that narrowed my pupils:

How did we prune our field from 637 to 27? An important selection criterion was holding a Ph.D. from a good university. Members of our department earned their Ph.D.s at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London. Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy.

What did Marinoff mean by “good university”? Highly ranked universities? Solid departments? Schools with which he and his CCNY peers were familiar?

Second, third, and fourth criteria included evidence of research and publication, evidence of undergraduate teaching ability as well as versatility, and evidence of administrative service, respectively.

Notice what’s missing: an intriguing, weighty dissertation topic; collegiality; affirmative action data; conference presentations; good grades, etc. Also note the ordering of criteria: institutional choice, publications/research (which I concede could include your diss. topic/approach), teaching, admin. service.

So what’s the message to past and present students who either are on, or will be on, the market? Well, everything centers on your very first choice—the nearly immutable decision of where you go to school. I wonder how true this might be in history? Is that kind of career determinism empirically evident in history?

Next? Start working on publications the minute you get on campus. This means you need to know your diss. topic quickly and make your classes work with your research and writing goals. Otherwise you need to come to campus with some publications cemented or at least pending.

As for teaching, screw it. Slack off—do the minimum—on your TA-ship because it just doesn’t matter. Now, say that in your best Tripper Harrison (aka Bill Murray in Meatballs) voice:

7 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. AH: You’re probably right. Then again, this would prove my ongoing contention that the academy leans further right, or at least slightly right of center, than many of those outside the Ivory Tower realize. They don’t know how conservative the staff and administration are in higher education, as well as a growing number of professors. -TL

  2. A friend of mine who got a Fullbright last year was the *only* one from a state school out of the hundred or so in Germany.

    Depending on the type of history (US or abroad) I would add major funding grant to that list.

    All of which is just the slightest bit freaky! As if we don’t have enough worries–year(s) long job search, bad economy keeping my husband unemployed for months now, but now my school is an automatic mark against me. Then again, I’m sure City College had a lot of applicants who wanted to live only in New York. As much as I like the city, I can (and have all my life) live elsewhere.

  3. Yes, these are same people who pride themselves on their liberal egalitarian values, their openness to differences and so forth. Who said that academics were not elitist? After many experiences in other sectors, I found academics as a group to be much more aware of rank. This report is not surprising.

  4. An article in the “On Hiring” section of the Chronicle caught my attention today:

    ” September 09, 2009, 11:00 AM ET
    ‘U.S. News & Career-Path Report’
    By Gene C. Fant Jr.

    Recently, I posted about the data that is contained in the U.S. News & World Report rankings and I’d like to visit one other issue related to rankings as a whole: their effects on the deliberations among search-committee members. Regardless of how we may feel about the validity of rankings, it is hard to ignore their effect on searches.

    When I first started learning about academic searches as a doctoral student, a dean met with a group of us to look over résumés and talk about their contents. One particular résumé stood out in my mind because the dean made this observation: “Look at this guy’s degrees: tier-one undergrad, tier-two master and doctorate. Now look at his institutional affiliations: tier-three for both of his experiences. If I’m looking at his résumé, I see him going down, not up. I don’t see why I’d want to hire someone on that trajectory.” This really opened my eyes to the place that even informal rankings hold in the job market. As one mentor told me, “You can always drop down a tier, but it’s almost miraculous to move up a tier.” A friend of mine recently made an amazing jump from a fourth-tier institution to a first-tier institution, but it was after years of hard work in scholarship and teaching to build a really strong résumé, along with a ton of professional networking. It was doggone near miraculous.

    Do you think that rankings like the U.S. News ones impact search deliberations in ways that are valid?”


  5. Lauren,

    Do you think the Fant-Chronicle piece confirms or denies a similarity between philosophy and history searches? I’m concerned that my post implies too much that I believe both ~really are~ similar right now. I’m not sure they are presently, but my reaction would be pretty negative if the correlation holds.

    Also, although institutional reputation and teaching qualifications were on the list given by Marinoff, at 1 and 3 respectively, what do you think of their relative importance? It seems to me, because of the numbers in play for the first screening, that reputation is far and away the most important factor—at least in philosophy searches. Again, I wonder how this figures in history?

    – TL

  6. I really have very little experience with philosophy searches. The only one I know about was my brother’s and his must have been rare (he got all his degrees at ASU and was hired by ASU West).

    I sat on two hiring committees at MSU, one of which hired 8 professors in a single year, so I do have some experience with the way that people relate to job candidates, though only at this university. I do feel like people want a short hand way of assessing merit. We interviewed a lot more people from a “tier” or two above us than we did from similar institutions (i.e., Yale, Johns Hopkins, UMich, etc.). I don’t pay enough attention to rankings to know the specific way each department was ranked, but I do think an Ivy League degree has a certain cache. One of the very next qualifications looked for was for a major grant of some sort (none of the searches was for a US historian). With some sort of short hand reason to take a further look at an application taken care of, then the research project became foremost. It mattered a lot to the chair of the committee that the research project be innovative and good work. The topic had to catch his eye.

    By the time the candidate came to campus, it was who could be collegial and who would be a good teacher (although I saw a couple of people bomb the job talk and that bombed their application, no matter how well they did the rest of the interview).

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