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The Ad People Noticed

June 11, 2014

Academics often bemoan what Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Emory University, called “the qualifications ratchet.” To be competitive for entry-level faculty jobs, Bousquet said, aspiring professors – particularly in the humanities – must have accumulated a body of work that generations ago would have won them tenure.

A job listing published Tuesday by Santa Clara University’s English department struck some observers as the latest occurrence of this brand of publication inflation.

The posting, which advertised for a quarterly adjunct lecturer in English, recommended that candidates possess a few “basic qualifications.” These included: “at least 25 books on topics ranging from the history of Silicon Valley to the biography of microprocessing to interviews with entrepreneurs”; “e-books on topics such as home life in the US, home life in the UK, and water conservation”; a background in electronic media “such as being an editor of Forbes ASAP or a weekly columnist for ABC.com”; and experience hosting “television and radio productions for PBS, cable television, and ABC.”

This litany of qualifications seemed staggering for a position that, although competitively compensated at $6,000 per course, was far from an endowed professorship. In fact, only one person meets these requirements: the internal candidate Santa Clara had already planned to rehire.

Mike Malone – a self-described “Silicon Valley guy” who holds two degrees from Santa Clara – had been teaching writing at the Jesuit university for the past three years. He really has written 25 books, he said.

“I had no idea what the standard operating procedure was on this,” Malone said. “They wanted me to teach the class because I created the class. Then they threw my short bio into the application.”

Malone said he was a “little surprised” when Santa Clara officials told him they were posting a job listing. The university did not publish a job listing for his position last year, he said.

Santa Clara’s posting began to attract attention within hours of being published. Observers, incredulous that a candidate for a quarterly adjunct lecturer position would be expected to have authored 25 books, mocked the listing’s exhaustive specificity.

Some commenters on Twitter wondered whether the job ad was a joke, whereas others suspected the listing was for a pre-selected candidate.

Another observer wrote: “The successful applicant will be able to draw the sword Excalibur from the stone, revealing that he/she is the King/Queen of the Britons."

Santa Clara officials responded to the online flurry Tuesday afternoon. “This spring we migrated to a new online job posting and applicant tracking system so that jobs can be posted on the system – including this one with an internal candidate,” officials said in an email. “SCU is an equal opportunity employer and every application is reviewed. The goal of this particular ad was to make it as clear as possible to all applicants that the bar for this particular position is very high. We apologize if this attempt at clarity caused anguish for any of our applicants or potential applicants.”

The posting was removed from the university’s site by 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Malone said he “got a kick” out of the blogosphere’s reaction to the job listing, although he was less amused by the “people calling for him to die in a fire.”

“I suspect the English department did it that way just so 250 people wouldn’t waste their time sending in applications to a class that I created and which will die with me,” he said. “Now that I think about it and see the response, I can understand why people are upset out there in blogosphere, and conversely why the English department would make something that specific.”

Malone, who described himself as “not an academic” – he holds an M.B.A., not a Ph.D. – said he teaches part-time at Santa Clara as a way of giving back to his alma mater.

“If they want me to teach, I teach,” he said. “That’s all I’m privy to. I don’t even know where the copying machine is.”

 

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