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Colorado State criticized for job posting favoring recent Ph.D.s

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September 11, 2012

A job posting by Colorado State University for an assistant professor in English has plenty of people who might be candidates for such a position furious.

And it’s got to do with requirement No. 1 for the opening: A “Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment."

Critics say the ad for a “Pre-1900 American Literature” assistant professor discriminates against those who earned their doctorates before 2010 and have been unable to secure tenure-track jobs because of the bad job market.

Scott Eric Kaufman, an English lecturer at the University of California at Irvine, is among those who are upset. Kaufman said he has always suspected that search committees are biased against those who did not land a tenure-track job immediately after graduation. “We were told to ride out the storm, but it seems we were lied to,” he said. “Everyone knows that there is this bias against lecturers and adjuncts. This ad codifies it. It is brazen enough to just put it out there.”

In a blog post attacking the ad, Kaufman joked about what requirements might next appear in ads. "What's the academese for 'no fatties'? Why do I need to know? No reason, no reason," he said in his post.

Louann Reid, chair of English at Colorado State, sees it differently. When asked if the ad discriminated against adjuncts, she said her department is seeking an entry-level professor with an entry-level salary and expectations, and added that the posting was approved by the university’s office of equal opportunity. “I think people are assuming things that we are not assuming,” she said.

“While lecturers and adjuncts who earned their doctorates before 2010 would not be part of the pool, neither would tenure-track professors who earned their degree before 2010,” Reid said.

Of course, to adjuncts who haven't been on the tenure track, an entry-level tenure-track job (with entry-level salary) may well be a financial step up.

A legal expert said that although the job posting it was fine from a legal standpoint, she wondered if it could have been better-written. “I don’t see anything illegal,” said Ann Franke, president of Wise Results, a consulting firm on higher education legal issues. But she said there might have been a smarter way of phrasing the ad -- say, by calling the opening an entry-level position. “In my experience, the language is quite unusual. I have not seen anything similar.”

Franke also wondered whether a recent Ph.D. would have the necessary experience to teach graduate-level courses, as a successful candidate would be required to do for this vacancy.

Chad Black, associate professor of early Latin American history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, also called out Colorado State in a blog post Monday. “I find this so ethically shady, especially given the recent history of the humanities job market, that I think it must be called out,” Black said. “The CSU [Colorado State University] English Department is saying that if you were unlucky enough to enter the job market in 2008, 2009, and quite possibly 2010, you need not apply because apparently you’re not current enough. Those years adjuncting or lecturing while working to get a publication or two? Not good enough.”

Black vented his frustration in an e-mail to Reid, the department chair, and asked why the ad was phrased the way it was.

Reid’s response: “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.  In examining the pool of applicants, we have actually given the true ‘entry-level’ applicant an advantage in that such applicants will not have to compete with others who have as much as six years' more experience.” 

Still, Black said he found the ad distasteful. “I’m not surprised by the ad, but I’m bothered by it,” he said.

Some humanities scholars have worried about the issue of age discrimination. In 2008, the American Historical Association reinstated a statement on age discrimination after reports of such instances in faculty hiring.

"When a department or institution decides to confine its search to younger applicants, it discriminates against two groups," according to the statement. "One is made up of older individuals who earned their doctorates during the job shortages of the 1970s and 1980s, have since held a variety of temporary and part-time positions, and are interested in entry-level positions that offer the possibility of tenured status. Although their teaching experience and often impressive publications might be expected to give them an advantage in the search process, they sometimes find themselves dismissed without interviews as 'overqualified.' "

 

 

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