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Some years, the gossip for those on the job market has focused on where a good opening is about to be announced. This year, the gossip has been about which searches are being canceled, which searches are still going on but likely to be canceled, and which searches might survive.

A study by the American Sociological Association being released today, however, finds that despite all the publicity about canceled searches, most of those advertised last year in the discipline were in fact completed with a hire. (While the economy didn't collapse until the second half of 2008, many of the searches advertised in the first half weren't done then.)

At the same time, the study finds that significant numbers of searches were not completed successfully, and that bachelor's institutions fared better than research universities and doctoral institutions in finishing a search with a hire.

Of the 415 jobs posted with the ASA in 2008 for assistant professors or open rank positions, 69.2 percent were successfully filled. For 6.7 percent of ads, no search was conducted. For 9.6 percent, a search was conducted, but the job was later eliminated or the position was suspended.

And for 12.3 percent of positions, jobs were not filled for other reasons -- in good times and bad, many searches end without a hire, when a department isn't happy with its options or can't come to an agreement. (The numbers don't add to 100 because the association wasn't able to get final results in 2.2 percent of cases. And while not all jobs are posted with the sociology association, its postings generally reflect those of the market, especially for tenure-track jobs.)

The study found significant differences by sector in terms of whether positions were filled and how far along in the process searches went. Bachelor's institutions were the most likely to fill jobs.

Outcome of Job Searches in Sociology, by Sector, for Positions Advertised in 2008

Sector Searches Conducted Candidates Brought In Offers Made Jobs Filled
Research universities 87.9% 78.3% 68.8% 59.9%
Doctoral universities 91.3% 89.1% 87.0% 76.1%
Master's institutions 90.1% 78.6% 74.1% 69.6%
Bachelor's colleges 98.1% 96.3% 90.7% 87.0%
Other 91.3% 86.9% 82.7% 71.7%

The study is being released today as the association kicks off its annual meeting this weekend, in San Francisco. The research follows on an April study that found a drop -- similar to those experienced in other disciplines -- in the number of jobs available. Given that there has been so much talk about canceled job searches this year, the ASA conducted a follow-up survey to see if that trend suggested a significant further erosion of positions. (This is the first time the association has conducted a follow-up of this type so there are not comparisons available for prior years.)

The new study also looked at the question of how colleges are handling the searches that were called off. In 28.6 percent of cases, a decision has already been made to use adjuncts instead of filling a position for the coming year, and in another 12.6 percent such a plan is under consideration but not final decision has been made. But in 44.5 percent of cases, a decision has been made not to use adjuncts.

Roberta Spalter-Roth, director of research and development at the American Sociological Association and one of the authors of the study, said that the results of the survey were better than she had feared going in. "I think that we expected the survey results to show more canceled and suspended jobs than we did," she said. At the same time, she said that 2009 may be worse, and that the association will repeat its research next year.

Jerry A. Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and another of the authors, said that he too saw the results as suggesting a "glass more full than we thought" for the job market in the discipline. He said that he realized that for some new Ph.D.'s on the market, the year has been quite frustrating and that the situation now may be one in which they "have to think of the search as a two-year process."

But part of why he is relatively encouraged, he said, is that sociology has had a fairly stable job market of late. Unlike some humanities disciplines that have years of unemployed or under-employed or employed-without-job-security Ph.D.'s, sociology does not have such a backlog, and so should bounce back, he said.

"I do think most people will muddle through," he said. At the same time, he said it was more important than ever for those going on the job market to "apply broadly" in terms of sector (two-year and four-year, public and private, etc.) and geography.

Jacobs said he couldn't be sure why bachelor's institutions were so much more likely to have filled their jobs than were research universities. But he speculated that it may have to do with administrators feeling that larger departments have more options for covering courses (drafting the faculty, graduate students and so forth) than do smaller departments.

"There is a sense that if you have 10 or 15 sociologists in a department, you can get by. My friends who teach where there are 4 or 5 people tell me that if you need 5 and have 4, it's hard to get by," he said. "I think people at research universities just feel that deferring hiring for a year or two is a viable strategy."

The third author of the report was Janene Scelza, a research associate at the sociology association.

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