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What’s the academese for “no fatties”? Why do I need to know? No reason, no reason.

[ 93 ] September 10, 2012 |

It has come to my attention that I’m now too old and too experienced to be hired to do my job. Consider the “Required Qualifications” of this listing for a position at Colorado State University:

  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.

For years our “betters” have told those of up who earned our degrees between 2005 and 2010 that we needed to do whatever we could to survive—adjunct or lecture or accept positions at community colleges—and that when the market turned around we wouldn’t be punished for having done so. Seems we were lied to. If institutions require candidates who earned their doctorate after 2010, it indicates that they’ve embraced the idea that there’s a Lost Generation of scholars out there. A Generation so embittered by the paucity of prospects and the years spent toiling in academic recesses that its members can’t ever be reintegrated into a functioning department. We—I earned my doctorate in 2008—have been tainted by market forces beyond our control, but instead of bucking the inherently flawed system as they do in words and print, these aggressively benevolent “betters” are conceding that they’re powerless to do anything for this Generation in deeds.

“It’s not up to us,” they say.  (Only it is.)

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” they say. (Only they can.)

“If you’d landed a job in 2009 this wouldn’t have been a problem,” they say. (Only there weren’t any jobs in 2009 and they damn well know that.)

In short: the jobs promised to the Lost Generation are being outsourced to younger and prettier scholars for no particularly compelling reason, except that the younger and prettier scholars are younger and prettier. As Chad Black noted in the linked post, it’s not that there hasn’t always been a bias against those who don’t land a tenure track job after three years, it’s just depressing to see it codified in an advertisement—especially in light of what our “betters” have been telling about what will happen when the market turns around.

  • LoriK

    If it makes you feel any better, in a misery loves company way, this is true for everyone who got screwed by the Great Recession. We were all told that we had to take whatever work, no matter how low paid or unrelated to our primary skills, in order to survive and prove that we aren’t lazy freeloaders. Once things turned around hiring managers would appreciate our hard work and we’d get decent jobs again. That’s a lie.

    Of course, it’s also a lie that holding out for a job in your field is the way to go. If you’re out of work too long people assume you don’t want to work or have basically forgotten how.

    In short, our betters are right bastards.

    • firefall

      The only solution I’ve got is to flat-out lie. But that doesnt work so well for academia, unless they’ll accept a 3-year extended investigation of Aborigine dream time myths onsite.

  • smith

    This is nothing new. It was the same in 1975, when I got my PhD. The reason given then was that baby boom had produced an oversupply of PhDs, and the university faculties had been “tenured up.” Once you were off the tenure track, you did not get back on, ever. Over the years I’ve come to see this as something of a higher education long con. The universities always need more grad students than they need faculty members, and sell prospective grad students a bill of goods about employment prospects, exactly as in the law school con often discussed on this blog. The only thing new since 1975 is that graduate education is much more expensive now, and sources of support in the form of fellowships, grants, and scholarships are many fewer.

    • Dana

      Well, were two-thirds to three-quarters of the open faculty jobs available in the 70s adjunct/temporary/visiting/postdoc etc.? Seems like the casualization of academic labor has raised the difficulty of pursuing an academic career to a new (and significantly higher) level.

      • smith

        Yes, that had started by then. I myself toiled in the postdoc, adjunct, soft money research fields before I decided to stuff it and have a career in government instead.

        • Dana

          Interesting. Looks like from figure 1 in this article that this is the worst phd-to-jobs ratio has been since in the 70s, at least for historians.

          • smith

            Not disputing that the trend has intensified, just pointing out that the pattern is not new. This is a long term strategy to obtain cheap temporary labor that has been used by academia for a very long while. BTW, my experience is in psychology.

    • montag

      I’d always thought that the huge surplus of PhDs in the `70s was at least in part due to the big jump in the cost of heating oil after the first embargo, because the university at which I was doing graduate work in 1974 was laying off tenure-track employees in the humanities. (My first impression of the school was picking up the school newspaper the first week and reading that instructors were being let go in art, anthropology, archaeology, as well as all four of the instructors comprising the journalism department. Next to that front-page story was the announcement that the alumni foundation had sprung loose $535,000 to hire nine new assistant football coaches….)

      But, it looks like the long con has been in operation for at least that long.

    • DrDick

      Or in 1987 when I got mine. Only 20% of anthropology Ph.D.s got tenure track jobs. I spent 10 years in the contingent adjunct market teaching at multiple schools before I got stable employment. I am still not tenure track, but I have a long term, stable position.

  • adolphus

    Is this even legal? I know they don’t specify age, which is a protected group, but the correlation of recent degree with age should be strong enough to trigger at least an inquiry or something. It reminds me of the old Doonesbury strips on professional tanning competitions. It doesn’t discriminate against darker skin people per se, but….

    • Dana

      Well there are those of us who are more recent Ph.D.s than SEK, but who are nonetheless not younger or prettier. Just the opposite.

    • SEK

      I don’t think it falls under age discrimination, since there’s no single age that a person finishes their doctorate. I was 31 when I finished mine, but I know people who were 28 and 38 when they finished theirs. It’s a loophole, and CSU seems happy to exploit it.

    • EJ

      I don’t know about academia, but in the private sector when interviewing candidates for employment I’ve ALWAYS been advised by HR to avoid not only directly asking a candidate’s age, but also any questions, in particular dates of college graduation, that one might use to infer age. Even though obviously not everyone gets their BA at 21-22, it’s still indicative enough that the potential for discrimination exists.

      • adolphus

        My experience is exactly EJ’s. I have been through the Fed Government’s hiring and supervisory training machine and they are very clear about asking or hinting about ANYTHING that provides info of a person’s age.

        My understanding is you are not protected by age discrimination until after you turn 40 anyway, and though some people do get PhD’s after 40 (ahem, I will be 48 GSD willing and the creek don’t rise) it seems to me the paucity of post-40’s PhD’s, and therefore the exclusion of everyone over 40 who got their PhD before 37, would be cause for action.

      • wjts

        Speaking anecdotally, the age at which people complete their PhD tends to be a lot more variable than the age at which most people complete their BA. I’ve known first-year PhD students who were 21 and first-year PhD students who were 45. I’ve known people who finished as quickly as three years and people who took as long as 18 years. None of which is to excuse CSU’s behavior, but date of PhD degree is often times not a particularly revealing indicator of age.

  • Dana

    I kind of appreciate the honesty, as absurd as the criteria have gotten.

    What will we do when there are no TT jobs left? Wander from one below-minimum wage adjunct job to the another for years? Decades? With no prospect of earning decent pay? Seems like tragedy to us, but I’m pretty sure it’s nirvana for the architects of that system. And the absurd claims that tenured faculty have no agency in the process need to stop now.

    • Anonymous

      “Wander from one below-minimum wage adjunct job to the another for years? Decades? With no prospect of earning decent pay?”

      That’s their goal – or until you leave the(ir) system.

      For administration, it’s great. I’ve seen the term ‘fresh meat system’ used in such cases. There’s a bunch of applicants who can be used up and discarded quite casually.

  • Linnaeus

    Another reason why, even when I do get my Ph.D., I’m very, very likely to stay away from academia.

  • jmauro

    From the description I think they may have someone very specific in mind for the job and want to limit the applicant pool down to basically him/her and maybe one or two other people, since the requirements would eliminate just about everyone else who would be qualified for the job.

    • Tybalt

      I am seeing more and more of these in government and quasi-non-government jobs as well. Very narrowly written. And still when a better qualified person applies, even who meet the requirements, they don’t even get a call, much less an interview.

      • Dana

        Yeah, jmauro’s probably on to something here.

        A friend of mine who works for the feds says the job announcements are often written with particular people in mind so as to narrow candidates down from the (often) many thousands of applicants they get, but sometimes they get too specific and the people for whom the ads were tailored are also kicked out of the hopper as unqualified.

        • ploeg

          It’s not just government and quasi-government jobs either. If you deal with any large bureaucratic organization that requires public job postings as a matter of course, you have to make a public job posting before hiring somebody, even if there’s only one candidate for the job.

          • Auguste

            The old joke where I used to work was that you could tell when a public job posting was pre-filled when it contained something like “Must drive a 1978 Ford Thunderbird.”

            • adolphus

              Actually for Federal jobs you can tell. The open period for applications is two weeks or less, among other tells.

              • Linnaeus

                I often wondered why the application window for some federal jobs is so narrow. That makes a lot of sense.

            • Halloween Jack

              In today’s job market, you’d end up with a couple dozen people in your front office, waving title deeds to ’78 Birds.

  • Cody

    Looks like you’re going to have to resume your side career as a body-builder and text-based game story architect SEK.

    Alternatively, you could stop being a moocher and start your own fair University like your betters did (obviously without any government support), and hire a bunch of old PhDs!

    (P.S.: I would’ve thought teaching would be one profession where being more experienced would be a huge plus. Aren’t all professors old?)

    • NonyNony

      You’re assuming that the hiring of PhDs involves hiring people to teach, rather than to publish things that will enhance the prestige of the department/college/university.

      Things may be different in English/American Studies land, but I can tell you that outside of the smallest colleges I interviewed at, the expectation for PhDs in science/math land was strictly for the latter. Your publication list outweighed all other concerns (and we were flat out told when I graduated that we should expect to take 2 or 3 post-docs to build the publication list up to look better when the market turned around).

      • Bill Murray

        You’re assuming that the hiring of PhDs involves hiring people to teach, rather than to publish things that will enhance the prestige of the department/college/university.

        If by prestige you mean, bring many research dollars, then I agree. Prestige only matters if it’s bringing in the ameros

  • urizon

    How is this not discrimination? Nice way of filtering out the olds. Sue the bastards.

    • Linnaeus

      Read SEK’s comment upthread. It’s a loophole because people can get their Ph.D.s at a range of ages. I’ll be 41 (or close to it) when I finish my Ph.D., so schools like this could always point to someone like me and say “hey, we’re not discriminating!”

      • rea

        well, they’re discriminating against 57-year olds

        • rea

          I mean, the corrolation between age and having a post-2010 PhD is sufficiently strong that the production burden would shift to the employer to come up with a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the requirement.

          • Linnaeus

            Agreed. I was just pointing out what the likely response to a discrimination charge would be.

            • rea

              Well, but that response would be inadequate as a matter of law.

              Q. What is the purpose of requiring a PhD more recent than 2010, if not to obtain younger candidates?

              A. Well . . .

              • Linnaeus

                Yes, it would be. Doesn’t mean they won’t try it. And they’d get rightly burned on that too.

              • Vance Maverick

                “We’re looking for applicants who are conversant with the latest developments in the field?”

                Agreed, this looks like obvious age discrimination.

                • Richard

                  Requiring a candidate to be conversant in latest developments is NOT age discrimination. Any candidate for any job can be required to be up to date in his profession But, as pointed out above, the degree after 2010 requirement is most likely illegal

              • rhino

                Sure, but who is paying the lawyers? Not the impoverished recently minted doctor…

          • L2P

            The standard is whether it has a negative impact on applicants over the age of 40.

            This would have a negative impact on applicants over the age of 40 because more applicants over the age of 40 would have obtained their PHD prior to 2010 than otherwise, while the opposite would be true for younger applicants. It’s prima facie discriminatory.

            The employer only needs to explain why the classification is reasonable. That looks hard here, but not impossible.

        • Warren Terra

          Serious question: given that a tenure-track job is, in my field, something like a six year commitment (and the tenure decision is often made in the seventh year), and that the school is effectively offering a position they hope the successful professor will hold for decades, building a mini institution in their lab, would it be ethical to refuse to consider a 57 year old? Would it be legal?

          • Richard


  • Pee Cee

    For years our “betters” have told those of up who earned our degrees between 2005 and 2010 that we needed to do whatever we could to survive—adjunct or lecture or accept positions at community colleges—and that when the market turned around we wouldn’t be punished for having done so.

    Now I come at this from a science/engineering perspective, but this is why community colleges filter out lots of PhDs right off the bet for full-time positions – because they’re not serious about teaching and see the community college gig as something they think they can do with little effort while waiting for a “real” job to come along.

    • redrob64

      Frasier’s “Well damn me to a community college!” line was a lot funnier when I was a promising young grad student.

      • Halloween Jack

        One of the things that I’d read when I was last applying for library jobs, about ten years ago, was that community college gigs were highly sought after because the appointment was for nine or ten months but the pay was competitive, meaning that you got the same salary as a university librarian but had the summer to earn extra bucks teaching summer courses, paint houses, go on vacation, whatever. No idea if that’s still true.

        • Pee Cee

          Probably depends on the school. I know that my (community) college’s librarian position is a 12-month contract rather than a 9-month contract.

          That said, we have *very* little turnover in the libraries around here.

          • Halloween Jack

            Yeah, I happened to have done my last job search right before the job market for librarians pretty much collapsed. I was looking a few years later (around the mid-aughts) in contemplation of relocating cross-country, and didn’t even get an interview.

        • redrob64

          I believe that our librarians are on 9 month contracts, but I don’t know if our salaries are “competitive” as you put it. Though we too have little turnover in the library.

          We have also attracted Ph.D.s and ABDs for jobs here. A couple have left, but not to move on to bigger and better things in academia, funnily enough. It would appear, in my corner of the world anyway, that the community college circuit is becoming the next best thing for Ph.D. holders who won’t get that LAC or state university TT position for whatever reason.

  • Prof. J

    True gaffe (accidentally speaking the truth) in the sense that they published this “preference”. They could have easily kept their corruption to themselves and not told the world they want someone “young and non-threatening”.

    This feels like a department who is avoiding hiring a person who was kicking ass and scraping by. Even if they rectify… note to scholars… avoid CSU?

  • Mark J.

    There is no way in hell my university’s AA officer would have approved that first point of the advert. I would guess it exposes CSU to some serious legal problems.

    • JohnR

      “I would guess it exposes CSU to some serious legal problems.”

      You mean theoretically? Because I’m betting that there’s not even a hint of a smidgeon of a possibility of a passing fancy of an interest in taking any sort of legal action over this. There’s laws and rules, and then there’s laws and rules. Around here, it’s illegal to run red lights, for instance, but at least a couple times a week I see somebody casually run a red in front of a police car stopped at the light. Nobody cares. Now, if you’re somebody that the cops want to have a chat with, on the other hand, an incautious lane change is all you need.

      • Patrick

        But when your target group is a bunch of pedantic sticklers (no offense SEK), presumably un/underemployed with a bunch of free time on their hands it probably pays to avoid the compliance risk.

    • SEK

      Well, it’s going to get CSU some exposure, that’s for sure, since I was just interviewed by InsideHigherEd about the posting and the responses to it.

    • Katya

      Slightly tangential, but I recall a Chicago-area law firm, perhaps Sidley Austin, but my memory may be faulty, laying off a bunch of older attorneys. Who, what with being experienced attorneys who suddenly had a lot of time on their hands, promptly sued for age discrimination. Who thought that was a good idea?

  • Alex

    Look on the bright side: at least you didn’t go to law school.

    • John

      Fuck that. Even if Campos’s most dire version of the statistics are the correct ones, JDs are far, far, far more likely to be able to find a permanent job in their field than humanities PhD’s.

      • (the other) Davis

        Some anecdata:

        My math PhD got me three years of adjuncting before I gave up (though to be fair, I did pass up a permanent position in a location that would have tested my sanity).

        My JD landed me a job such that, within three-ish years (I start in November), I will be financially ahead of where I’d have been at the same time had I kept adjuncting straight through — even with law school loans taken into account. And I got to choose where I wanted to live (SF, FTW!).

        And beyond the statistics, here’s the thing: if you’re someone who has the luxury of deciding between a PhD and a JD (i.e., you are actually capable of completing a PhD), you are vastly more likely to be someone who will land on the good side of the JD employment numbers.

  • The ad reportedly passed CSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity. The search committee sees it as a way of indicating this is an entry-level position for someone who is at the beginning of their career or no more than three years into the tenure track. Not my language.

    • SEK

      I hope it’s clear I wasn’t blaming you for the language of the ad. I was just thanking you for bringing it to my attention.

      • No, absolutely it was clear. Just figured I’d update you with their response and was noting that I’m not making that language up. I was bothered by the fact that even in writing to me they mention they don’t want someone who’s been on the TT longer than a couple of years, which would stille exclude you.

    • For fellowships, I understand that. But for t-t teaching positions? Just wrong.

      May as well put “pliable lackey” and “massive committee workload” in the ad.

    • rea

      Because the position is “entry-level” with an entry-level salary and expectation, we believed it necessary to define that term in some way. By specifying “between 2010 and time of appointment” we indicated that we are interested in applicants with up to three years in a tenure-track position as well as those who are just beginning their careers

      So says CSU. With my lawyer hat on (and maybe also with my human hat on), the obvious response is that they should have said something like, “the position is ‘entry-level’ with an entry-level salary and expectation.”

      It makes no sense to in effect announce, “Anyone who in a just world would already have a better job at a higher salary need not apply.”

  • Ian

    Arguments that the department has done this to prejudice the search towards a favored candidate don’t wash, since a department can already pretty much hire as it wants.

    It’s certainly true that someone can be overqualified for a job; we’ve had the experience of the Dean telling us that Candidate X is no-go because s/he’d achieve promotion too soon (a *very* short-sighted approach, of course). But time from degree often doesn’t correspond to level of achievement (i.e., publications).

    So, I think this is as straightforwardly vile as SEK first suggested, and I hope they catch major shit for it.

  • My original post is now updated with the search committee’s response.

  • Jim Lynch

    “I should have sent the little thug to a trade school”.

    Or something like that.

    Doonesbury, circa ’74- Mark’s father to himself, after a political conversation with his college student son.

    • I found this collection in the Legon bookstore. Doonesbury was a lot funnier in the early 70s than it became later on. I loved the whole series on Cambodian refugees coming to testify in front of congress in the collections.

  • cpinva

    i’m curious, did those of you who received your phd’s between 2005 – 2010 learn a different history, than those who received their’s from 2010 onward? this is the only legitimate reason i can think of, to specifically exclude an entire group of people: what you learned is no longer valid.

    while i’ll grant you that the interpretation of historical events changes over time, with new source documents becoming available, but i should think that would affect everyone in the biz, not just one specific group. am i wrong in this?

    sorry, i’m an accounting major/econ minor, the fundamentals haven’t really changed in those areas for a long time. oh, and i got my degree in, um, well, um, longer ago than you got yours.

    • SEK

      i’m curious, did those of you who received your phd’s between 2005 – 2010 learn a different history, than those who received their’s from 2010 onward?

      Yes and no. Because the humanities are so theoretically diverse, there really aren’t standards the way there are in the sciences. Generally speaking — and I mean very generally — people who worked with Scholar A from 2005-2010 learned exactly what anyone who works with Scholar A would’ve, regardless of when they worked with him or her.

    • I think so because I got my PhD in 2004 and I don’t think at all like the leftists at LGM who got their degrees later.

      • John

        Do you believe that you have more in common with the people who got their PhD’s in 2004? Do you really think that the issue here is “year you got your PhD”?

        • I have a lot in common with the people who got their PhDs from SOAS in 2005 despite the fact that I was the only American among them. They were my actual cohort since I did the degree in two rather the normal three years. The others were Thai, Indian, Nigerian, Japanese, Austrian, and British.

          • OOps I meant “in two rather than the normal three years.”

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    Well, I only have a lowly BS and an AA, but as a transsexual woman, I’ve come to despise people who discriminate in employment for bullshit (that is, all) reasons. Trans people face a massive problem with un/under employment, and I have zero tolerance for people who pull this kind of BS. Its all about judging people based on something that has nothing to do with the qualifications of the position.

  • Actually there were jobs for academics in 2009 just not in the US, Canada, or Europe. You can complain all you want that you shouldn’t have to go to India or Africa to work. But, I am sure there are plenty of people from Mexico who would rather have stayed in their home country as well.

    • Dave

      There speaks the man from Guyana Guinea Geneva Oh, whatever!

    • Emma in Sydney

      Otto, there might be local people with PhDs in India and Africa who wish that Americans would stay home too. I know in my country, there are plenty of underemployed PhDs who would gladly shoot the Yanks who apply for jobs here, because the ‘cultural cringe’ of hiring committees out here on the edge of empire gives them a leg up.

      • Emma: You are not right about this at least with regards to Ghana. The law requires that the potential employer first make all possible attempts to hire a qualified Ghanaian before even considering a foreigner for any job. But, decades of brain drain have left very few indigenous PhDs in the country. They all went to the US where there is no such legal requirement to give preference to citizens, the UK, Canada, Australia and other places. The UK legally required that the employer make all possible attempts to hire an EU national before hiring any non-European. Canada has very strict laws making it almost impossible for anybody who is not a citizen or landed immigrant already to be considered. I seem to recall that Australia had similar laws.

    • John

      The idea that it is reasonable to expect American PhD’s to move to Africa or Asia to get jobs is completely absurd on its face. It’s already ridiculous enough that we’re expected to be willing to move to Nacogdoches, Texas, at the drop of a hat. Now if we aren’t willing to move to Ghana we’re a bunch of entitled slackers?

      • MAJeff

        Now if we aren’t willing to move to Ghana we’re a bunch of entitled slackers?

        And racists to boot!

      • I fail to see why it is ridiculous. Not everybody can work in an overrated white dominated institution in Oregon. World Class Universities in Africa and elsewhere also need qualified faculty. If you don’t want to work in a majority non-White environment that is fine. But, spare me the hypocritical “anti-racist” pose and complaints that there are no jobs. There are jobs you just don’t want them because you want to stay in a white majority country.

        • MAJeff

          how cute

        • (the other) Davis

          Call me crazy, but I would expect that some academics have USA-based social-support networks, and would balk at the idea of abandoning those and creating new ones in an unfamiliar culture.

          • Right, going to live in unfamiliar cultures is only for third world people not privileged white people. How could I forget the proper hierarchy of rights in this world?

            • (the other) Davis

              Gosh I’m sorry, I forgot that I’m supposed to value employment over family and friends. How privileged of me.

            • MAJeff

              How cute.

      • CD

        I’m U.S.-based, and I would take Accra over Nacogdoches.

        More generally, think about the work that “expected” is doing in your comment. The nature of academic employment is that, unless you’re a star, you don’t have much control over where you go if you want tenure-track employment.

        Nobody expects anything: you’re making your own choices. If you want control over where you live, get an MBA.

  • Emma: You are not right about this at least regards to Ghana. The law requires that the employer first make all possible attempts to hire a qualified Ghanaian before even considering a foreigner for a job. But, decades of brain drain have left very few indigenous PhDs in the country. They all went to the US where there is no such legal requirement to give preference to citizens, the UK, Canada, Australia and other places. The UK legally requires that the employer make all possible attempts to hire an EU national before hiring any non European. Canada has very strict laws making it almost impossible for anybody who is not a citizen or landed immigrant already to be considered. I seem to recall that Australia had similar laws.

  • Steve

    Wow. When you’ve lost SEK, academia, you’ve lost everybody.

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