Hidden Hiring Criteria in Academia


My Ph.D alma mater: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY

Back in the late 1990s I was a finalist for a job at Midwestern state university.  During the campus visit a senior faculty member, who was not on the search committee, pulled me into his office and said to me: “You don’t want this job–you can do better.”  (This, by the way, happened to me on two other occasions, at two different universities, when I was on the job market).  I thought I gave a pretty good job talk, but I sensed that half the faculty members in the room were disengaged and the other half seemed unusually critical of my work.

During the interview I developed a positive relationship with a member of the search committee.  This person drove me to the airport at the end of the two-day affair and told me that I had no chance at the job.  The Dean had asked the department to hire a woman.  I wasn’t angry.  The department was indeed male heavy.  I didn’t even think the trip was a waste of time since I got some valuable interviewing experience.  But everyone I met during that interview, with the exception of my new friend, lied to me.  Everyone knew I had no chance.  The faculty in the department and the administration I met with were just going through the motions.

I thought about this experience after reading Brian Leiter‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Academic Ethics: ‘Hidden’ Hiring Criteria.”  Here is a taste:

Certainly in some searches, race or gender is a hidden factor but not a decisive one. The same goes for hidden criteria based on differences in scholarship or pedigree. For example, despite the committee’s leanings, an excellent theorist may prevail over a quantitative scholar, or an outstanding candidate from an unranked program may be hired by the pedigree snobs.

But when the hidden criteria involve decisive but unmentioned factors — more often demographic and personal than scholarly ones — applicants are effectively being lied to. They are led to believe that all applicants who meet the advertised criteria will be considered when, in fact, only the candidates of a certain gender or race will get serious consideration, or, in the extreme spousal-hiring case, only one candidate will get serious consideration.

That last scenario is surely the most objectionable, since the department is basically defrauding all of the applicants (except one) as well as the legal authorities (the law’s equal-opportunity requirements demand a public ad and a genuinely open search). There may be circumstances under which a department should be permitted to hire, for retention reasons, the spouse of a crucial faculty member, but it should not be permitted to do so under the guise of a real job search and at the expense of soliciting hundreds of pointless applications. Any faculty member confronted with such a rigged search should report it to the institution’s legal office and decline to be part of the process.

Read the rest here.