Monday, December 21, 2009


It's been awhile, but I now feel an old familiar holiday feeling I used to have - anticipatory dread of the holiday job application rejection season.

Because of an ages-old tradition of inhumane psychic brutality, the American Philosophical Association runs the largest chunk of tenure-track university faculty job searches. (I suppose the official rationale has something to do with the integrity of the search process and the profession, but I'll leave such bullshit aside.) The way the APA runs this show is as follows:

They hold the "Eastern Division" meeting of the APA every December 27-30 in a large Eastern city, generally rotating between New York (this year's site), Boston, Atlanta, Washington, and Philadelphia. The location and date assure maximum possible disruption of the holiday, highest possible travel and accommodation expenses, and greatest possible travel difficulties.

At the meeting, there is a main program of papers and presentations, as well as meetings of numerous philosophical societies (for instance, the group for "Realist/Antirealist Discussion" usually meets there). But the main event is the job interviews.

University philosophy departments across the continent (yes, including Canada) who have made early decisions about hiring a tenure-track faculty member tend to hold initial interviews at the APA. The way this used to run, I believe, was that job candidates and people with job openings would all show up, and the meeting would be a kind of open-enrollment job fair. That never happens anymore. Although some departments set up additional interviews at the meeting, almost all of them have slated their interviews already.

So why go to an expensive hotel in the dead of winter, between Christmas and New Year's, if you've already selected your 10 candidates and won't be inviting any walk-ins? Is it just because you like hanging out with the group for Realist/Antirealist Discussion, and can't get out to see them otherwise?

To really understand why this tradition subsists despite all the very good reasons to stop it, you have to go to one of the meetings. I'll save you the trouble. It's depressing as hell. Hundreds of (mainly newly-minted Phd) unemployed philosophers hang around looking like an army of Eeyores, or carting around massive briefcases full of their CVs and writing samples and trying to look impressive as they ask knowing questions in conference sessions. They're all desperate for what they imagine to be the ultimate job. A sorrier looking pack of mutts you'll never see. They all have the look in their eye like they just want to know what they have to do to avoid getting beaten with the newspaper again.

Meanwhile, during the week before, with your plane ticket and hotel already booked for 3 glorious days hanging around the lobby of the Marriott (or whatever), your future in hock to pay for the privilege, you wait around home for the phone to ring, setting up that last-ditch interview chance. Every so often the mail brings you another form letter from another college thanking you for your interest and explaining that it was unilateral. That's the joy the APA meeting and job search tradition brings to hundreds of people every holiday season.

I don't have a ticket. I'm not going. It would have cost over $1000 for me to go sit feeling stupid and forlorn in New York, and if I'd wanted to make a holiday of it and bring my loveliest with me, add an extra $500 to the trip, while we anticipate my imminent unemployment. So no, I'm not going. I am waiting, however, for a phone call that may never come.

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

I have never so much as thought there might be a rotten reason to go to New York. But if ever there was one, brother, that's it.