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September 18, 2012 3:07 PM Only Recent PhDs Need Apply

By Daniel Luzer

It’s very hard for academics to get tenure-track jobs. There aren’t nearly enough jobs available for all of those new PhDs that universities produce every year.

Getting a job is apparently even more difficult if one didn’t earn a PhD recently. According to a piece by Kaustuv Basu at Inside Higher Ed:

When news spread last week about a Colorado State University job ad for an assistant professor of English that specifically asked for candidates who earned their Ph.D.s in 2010 or after, many academics felt that this was discrimination against those who have been on the market for several years, perhaps working as adjuncts.
It turns out Colorado State is not the only university publishing job candidate requirements that actually anger potential job candidates. Twitter, or at least the part inhabited by some faculty members, was abuzz Friday after news surfaced about a job opening for a tenure-track assistant professor of comparative literature at Harvard University that specified the “Basic Qualifications” for the opening as: “Applicants must have received the Ph.D. or equivalent degree in the past three years (2009 or later), or show clear evidence of planned receipt of the degree by the beginning of employment.”

This isn’t exactly age discrimination but it’s something very close to it. The chairman of the comparative literature department at Harvard later explained, according to Basu, that,

a job search for an entry-level candidate rarely ended with a new hire who had a doctoral degree from more than three years ago. “It is a fact of the profession for the most competitive jobs. It is regrettably true.”

What do you mean “regrettably true”? If it’s “regrettable”, then behave differently. The search doesn’t end with a candidate who earned a degree more than three years ago because you don’t hire them.

At least this posting is honest, however. Colorado State subsequently edited its advertisement to say “entry level.” Harvard subsequently revised the job posting too.

But the job posting isn’t the real discrimination here. It’s a reflection of the way the academic career market works. The job posting is just an attempt to cut down on the amount of applications the institution has to process. Colleges still aren’t going to hire for entry-level academic jobs if people earned PhDs five or ten years ago. They’re just not interested in anyone who’s been slogging along as an adjunct professor. Because it’s, you know, “a fact of the profession for the most competitive jobs.”

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Prof B on September 18, 2012 3:50 PM:

    Extrapolating from a n of 1, that pretty much captures my experience. I completed my Ph.D. In 2005 after leaving the Army. Married, with kids and an employed spouse (and so geographically constrained), I taught as a Visitng Asst for 2 years at a local college, as a Teaching Fellow for 2 years at a local university, and then as an adjunct at the same university, publishing 3 articles, 2 monographs, a chapter in an edited volume, and 4 conference papers. Yet when the opportunity to accept an out-of-the-area position presented itself, I was told repeatedly I'd "been out too long" for the dozen TT positions I applied to (and for which I was, on paper, fully qualified). That's the Adjunct Trap in a nutshell -- you work to put food on the table, and ultimately that work proves to be a professional setback.