Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Conducting Interviews in Bedrooms

Over at Leiter, there's been some interesting discussion about interviewing in bedrooms. Robert Allen says,

I should have thought that we philosophers were a little more relaxed in our dealings with each other than to fuss over interview settings (or even "stares and worse," i.e., boys being boys). Whatever happened to being of good cheer and leaving the professionalism to the attorneys and politicians?

It has been my experience that "boys will be boys" is shorthand for "men are assholes, and you should put up with it, because they're men and they like having fun at your expense." This is one of the things I hate about being a man.

And I hate this "good cheer" argument more than anything. Why does everyone else have to have good cheer in the face of what an asshole you are? What happened to "good cheer yourself, and don't be an asshole"? You can start by conducting your interviews sitting up, with shoes on like a civilized person, and not in a room dedicated to sleeping and/or fucking.

I see why you'd think philosophers shouldn't adopt the same standards for professionalism as lawyers. But that doesn't mean that just anything goes. You're interviewing someone for a potentially permanent job teaching at the college level. You are not having someone over to your studio apartment to sit on your murphy bed watch a football game.

And let's not forget that we applicants are required to wear (something like) a suit to these interviews. What would happen to an applicant who showed up to the interview without shoes on and in a tee shirt that says "Beards: they grow on you"? That person's failure to present himself in a professional manner would demonstrate a lack of seriousness that would rule him out as a candidate. Why shouldn't the interviewing department hold themselves to some (non-lawyerly) standard of professionalism?

Furthermore, the applicant a lot of money to attend the conference, too, but this money comes out of her own pockets, not her institution's yearly budget. That a search committee would demand that I make myself uncomfortable, in a way that may or may not be sexual in nature, in order to save them a few dollars, what with the high cost of conducting completely unnecessary interviews, makes me feel a range of emotions between incredulity, nausea, and blind rage.

Alex Taylor says,

Setting aside the question of whether it is sexist or heterosexist to suggest that women might feel more vulnerable in such a setting, I am puzzled to see that so few of you have realized that sexual harassment can happen in a suite just as easily as it can in a bedroom. If Dr. Creepy wants to harass a woman interviewee he can do so with or without a bed. If this is a naive view - if sexism and harassment are so prevalent - I would suggest that there is a much deeper problem in the discipline, one that should be addressed but cannot be overcome simply by throwing our money away on expensive suites.

For one thing, nobody says that sexual harassment can happen only in bedrooms. Jesus fuck. The point is they are more likely to happen in a bedroom. Even genuinely innocuous behaviors are much more likely to be seen as nocuous in a room whose dominant feature is a piece of furniture you use for sleeping and fucking on.

For another thing, Mark Lance says he did some empirical research. He asked 100 women who were on or had recently been on the market about bedroom interviews. The splits were not favorable to Taylor's view: it was 98 to 2 against. He says, "the majority regaled me with stories of terrible experiences." Now, this is unscientific and should not be regarded as "proof." But it creates a presumption in favor of the view that bedroom interviews are bad that must be rebutted by actual evidence, not a priori musings which assumptions are sexist or whatever.

Of course, Taylor's is a naive view, and there totally is a deeper problem in the profession. And it cannot be overcome simply by holding interviews in rooms other than bedrooms. But come on. No single thing is going to be sufficient to solve this deep problem with the profession. It's going to take a lot of little things and also some big things. But the "x is one little thing that won't solve the problem by itself; therefore we should not do x" argument is going to rule out every one of those little things, when in fact we should be combating the highly embarrassing lack of a feminine presence in our discipline with every weapon at our disposal. We should not be saying, "Why don't you ladies just have a better attitude about what a bunch of assholes we all are?".

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Good God. I stopped reading Leiter when I got out of philosophy, so this gossip is news to me (still read you guys though!). If I were offered a bedroom interview I would fucking decline it.

I washed out of my Ph.D. program after a failed harassment complaint. I found out too late that my supervisor was renowned for either sleeping with his female students or ignoring them if they wouldn't sleep with him. It turns out that my department just didn't give one single fuck about female graduate students. "Boys will be boys." Fuck you forever, Robert Allen.

Thank you for being a thoughtful non-asshole, Mr. Zero.

Mary Bullstonecraft said...

I'm "Job-Seeking Woman Graduate Student" from the thread at LR. I had to block myself from the blog after reading the awful comments you quote here, as they made me so angry/depressed that I have been reconsidering (for the millionth time) why I should keep trying to get a job in this field at all.

Sadly, when this thread first came up, I was naively approaching it from the assumption that this bedroom interview bullshit was something that happened in the APA Dark Ages--back when there was no web-based JFP, and most people got jobs when their Chair called up his buddy at Harvard--but that was *obviously* no longer tolerated. If I understand correctly, though, it seems that while the APA officially requests that schools refrain from being shitty in this particular way, there aren't actually rules to this effect--or else that people routinely break them, without much concern at all.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a thoughtful post!

Also, I think Mary Bullstonecraft really hit the nail on the head here:

> If I understand correctly, though, it seems that while the APA officially requests that schools refrain from being shitty in this particular way, there aren't actually rules to this effect--or else that people routinely break them, without much concern at all.

This has been my general experience with philosophy, as regards the issue of sexual harassment. There's some policy in place, but it's greeted with eye rolls by (male) philosophers. As philosophers, we think that we're so enlightened that we can intuit from first principles whether a policy is reasonable, and if we think it's not, we will openly disdain it.

Whether to obey a sexual harassment policy isn't something you get to have a view about.

CTS said...

I'm appalled. I really did not think this still went on! Back in the Dark Ages, when I first went on the market, this was quite common.

I actually had one interview with a person who was IN the bed, 'because he had a cold.'

There may have been several reasons that that was the worst interview I ever had, but I absolutely wanted nothing to do with such clowns (from a highly rated dept., of course).

(bowsin: cute)

CTS said...

This is what I posted at LR:

I'm astonished to hear anyone defend bedroom interviews in this era. I'm astonished that candidates are still being subjected to such treatment.

Most of us DO expect applicants to be professional in manner and appearance (and we certainly do NOT expect them to hang around hotel rooms with beer and undergraduates). Why should we behave less professionally than we expect them to behave?

Of course interviewing in a bedroom is uncomfortable for most people, but especially for women in a male-dominated field.

Yes, the ballroom is noisy and distracting. So are many teaching situations.

And, finally, as no one else has pointed this out: it creates even more stress and hassle for candidates to be running around a hotel from room to room. If all interviews are in the ballroom, they can move back and forth from the tables to the reception area. Heck, they might even get in a bathroom trip.

Long, long ago, when I was first on the market, I had an interview in a bedroom with about 6 men, one of whom was IN the bed. I never wanted to see those people again.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Out of a desire to spare anyone the experience of an interview with this guy's department, I googled "robert allen philosophy" and got some very sad RYS reports. I have no idea if this is the same guy, and I know this comment is a low blow, but boy, it is richly earned by "boys being boys" and "leave professionalism to the attorneys and politicians." (So wait: he wants philosophers to be MORE lecherous than politicians? That's a high bar...)

KateNorlock said...

I was rather heartened, actually, to see that the majority of comments on the thread at TLR were unequivocally opposed to bedroom interviews, and that several philosophers pointedly rejected the few sexist or just dumbass comments.

I'm still smirking at Deborah Mayo's original post, comparing "shrouding" a bed to "shrouding females to insure no unwanted attention." HAH!
Hoot! Sheesh.


zombie said...

FWIW. I just got back from a workshop where I was talking to a woman law professor who was quite surprised to hear that APA had a policy against bedroom interviews. She said there was no such policy for law school hirings -- and that they have the same meat market type interviews that we must endure.
So, apparently philosophers are just as "professional" as the lawyers in that regard. Go team!

(But law professors still make lawyer money, so I'd take one of those jobs!)

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that it was good news that the only people to come out in favor of these bedroom interviews were a couple of obvious asshole nonentities like Robert Allen and Alex Taylor.

In other words, please don't despair because you see comments like theirs. Every community has some assholes. On this issue, at least, they seem to be few and far between.

James said...

I'm male, and I did my interviewing before the APA policy against beds. I found the process kind of cringy, and some of my interviewers sitting or even lying on beds certainly didn't help, but I do think it's only sort of quirky and weird for males, not upsetting or threatening.

I think people are being a little unfair to Deborah Mayo. Okay, so, she missed something important. It was a mistake. That means she's human; it doesn't mean she's a wretch.

Also, there's a lot of speculation and assuming about what current practice is. I'll contribute a little data: I've been on the hiring side in maybe six years worth of interviewing (all since the APA policy went into effect) and we have NEVER interviewed in a bedroom, ALWAYS in a suite.

Can others please report from either side of the process?

Mr. Zero said...

Yes. I was glad to see that so many commenters were on the (obviously) right side of this question. And although I was (obviously) disappointed to see that such dumb ideas were still out there, I wasn't that disappointed: they were seriously outnumbered, and it was pretty easy to demolish them. But I do find this kind of cluelessness disappointing, and I hope I never get to a point where I cease to be disappointed by this shit.

What I am really disappointed about is that we are having the conversation at all. I was very disappointed that the question was asked in the first place. (And I think we can point out that Deborah Mayo asked a phenomenally stupid question without thereby calling her a wretch or anything, or drawing any larger conclusions about what kind of person she is. She's human. A human who asked a really dumb question. And who made a really dumb comparison between keeping the bed out of the job interview and making women wear burqas or some such thing. Bygones.)

Mostly I was disappointed with the way that Leiter put the question up without comment, as though there was some legitimate need to have a serious discussion in order to resolve this compelling and thought-provoking question.

Mary Bullstonecraft said...

I share Mr. Zero's grave disappointment with the fact that it was necessary for the question to even be asked, that people (beyond the two that Mr. Zero quotes here) rushed to suggest that bedroom interviews weren't *that* bad, that Leiter felt no need to moderate his comments to exclude the obviously sexist one--or minimally, to add his own comments (as he often does in the case of comments he finds disagreeable or misguided in other threads), and that more than a few people in the thread appeared oblivious or willfully ignorant of the extent to which practices like these contribute to Philosophy's ongoing gender problem.

There was (and is) plenty to be disappointed about that goes beyond the sexism of rogue individual philosophers.

Anonymous said...

Let's admit that there are some sexist and essentialist assumptions at work in this discourse. Men can also be made to feel uncomfortable in a situation with a strong heterosexual female (or homosexual male) not because she is strong but because she has power over him such that she can pressure him to do something sexual with her that he would not otherwise choose of his own free will. It is the power differential and the odd setting, not whether the job candidate is male or female, that is relevant here.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Leiter brought the issue up. Given the general cluelessness of many members of our profession, it's not unlikely that some who hadn't given it much thought now realize that this practice is ridiculous and indefensible. And the comments were, in general, heartening: very few out and out defenses of bedroom interviews; and the few that did appear, pace Bullstonecraft, serve to remind the aforementioned well-meaning clueless that there are indeed still some serious sexist assholes out there.

Anonymous said...

The real scandal, in my opinion, is that the bedrooms thread has (at last count) 47 comments and the alternative-jobs-with-a-philosophy-PHD thread has only 28. The former seems to me to be a non-issue, or at most a tiny one, which just about everyone seems to agree on anyway; whereas the latter is a matter of life and death for many job candidates.

Anonymous said...

I think the law professor Zombie mentions must have misunderstood the question. The law school hiring conference is both vastly more professional than the philosophy one, it's also vastly more expensive. (It costs $400 just to register for it, and that doesn't include the hotel.) Interviews are _always_ in suits. I assume she didn't understand that Zombie meant that the interviews were in non-suit rooms. That would be basically unheard of at the law school market (as would the ball-room setup.)

zombie said...

Anon 4:07 -- she was a pretty sharp lawyer, and no, we were explicitly discussing the matter of beds in the interview rooms, and APA's policy against them. But perhaps things have changed since she was interviewed last.

James said...

Okay, I guess it seemed to me that the reaction to Mayo was not merely critical, which is warranted, but hostile and demeaning, which is not. But possibly I over-interpreted.

So, can others report on their experiences, please? Is it indeed true that departments are still interviewing in bedrooms, contrary to APA rules?

Anonymous said...

Lets not get personal--the reason some people are "clueless" is because they don't experienced the world the same way as "clued" people

Way back when i had an interview in a bedroom, but I hardly remember the bed--we were sitting at a table and I was focused totally on my interviewers. Some people will be like this in an interview. Others will be more nuanced in their awareness of the environment. People are different. So you can say, "well that's how you saw it, but for me this is how it goes and you should think of that... without calling people names or calling into question their judgement (none of us can escape subjectivity..after all)

Anonymous said...


I think you're wrong that the only relevant thing is power and therefore gender is irrelevant to this discussion.

Given the terrible history (that is not all history) of sexism in this discipline, I think it's reasonable to think that a woman would feel more uncomfortable being interviewed by a group of men in a bedroom than a man being interviewed by a group including a "a strong heterosexual female (or homosexual male)".

I think you're misunderstanding what's at issue here. No one is saying that we should not interview in bedrooms because people might feel pressured by an interviewer, but rather, we think that it's already stressful enough going through interviews, things should be done to make interviewees as comfortable with the situation as possible, and a woman's guard is going to go up when in a bedroom with four men, even if they're all totally awesome progressive male feminists who aren't going to sexually harass her.

It's about understanding that women already have it shitty around here and maybe we should not trigger their defense mechanisms when they're already in high-pressure situations by interviewing them in someone's bedroom. This has nothing to do with how dominant the search committee members are.

PA said...

At least philosophy departments aren't interview in hotel bathrooms ... yet.

Anonymous said...

Ah PA reminds me.... In 2004, I had a terrible APA hotel room interview with a highly ranked department where I was sat in a chair jammed against the bathroom door apparently to ensure that I couldn't see the bed in the room. However, the chair was opposite one of those mirrored hallway closets so of course I could see the bed and all of us reflected in the mirror. I felt uncomfortable from the very beginning in that space and it only got worse as the interviewers were complete hostile jerks for an hour.

quimby mouse said...

1. I'm a guy. I had interviews in hotel rooms. I was glad to be out of the noisy ballroom, especially since it is so poorly organized. Would it really be that hard to have an attended waiting room, where departments could come to get their interviewees, instead of having us lurking and peeking, and trying to decide if that person at the table is a member of the interviewing department or the previous interviewee? In my hotel-room interviews, I never thought anything about the bed, or propriety. All my interviewers were professional. Beds were always made. I had an interview in a suite once, and it was a mess, but I didn't care. I was there to talk about my work, and the interviewers were focused on that as well.

But, my experiences are mine, and I understand that they are not universally generalizable. I certainly defer to those who find the situation unacceptable. I'd happily support an enforced ban on hotel-room interviews, especially if it would encourage the APA to improve the ballroom situation.

The thing is, my experiences on the market were thoroughly miserable. I did eight years before I got a job. Some years, I had only one interview; one year I had none. I can't blame it on the sexism, or some inherently unfair mechanism of the process. It's just a shitty market, with too many candidates, and too many really awesome candidates, and far too few jobs. When I hear people complaining about the unfair, unjust structure, I make the (perhaps unwarranted) inference that they think that were it not for the unjust structure, their experiences wouldn't be miserable. So then I think that the fault lies not in my stars, but in my self. But, I rock. Cognitive dissonance follows. I resist the temptation to lash out, but I understand how others might take that route.

2. Members of interviewing departments don't want to spend two full days sitting in the miserable environment of the ballroom. It's more comfortable for them to be in their hotel rooms. And, it's something of a status thing, I believe. The ballroom is (seen as) for hoi polloi. Interviewing in hotel rooms allows members of interviewing departments to think of themselves as mitigating the miseries of the awful APA process.

My current department interviewed in a hotel room in recent years. I think that the next time we interview, we'll have a discussion about it. My guess is that we'll decide against it for the reasons recently adduced here and elsewhere. I suspect that the practice persists out of ignorance rather than malice, so these discussions are worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

I think we should just have our interviews at the hotel bar. It's more relaxed, less fussy, and its all in good cheer. Let's leave sobriety and professionalism to the attorneys and politicians who control our budgets. Shared governance was too much work, anyway. Vertical management seems like it will work out fine, so long as I never have to wear a suit or behave like an adult, even if it means the gradual destruction of my discipline.

/end snark

CTS said...

I have been at the same place for about 22 years. We have done LOTS of hiring - always in a suite or in the ballroom. We would never subject a candidate to a bedroom.

The idea that it is nicer for interviewers to hang out in a bedroom strikes me as beside the point. After all, it would be nicer to interview in our pajamas. The real issue is professionalism and respect for the candidates.

And the ballroom is for the hoi polloi?? Why?

Anonymous said...

And the ballroom is for the hoi polloi?? Why?

Presumably because that's where departments interview when they can't afford a suite (or didn't reserve one in time).

Anonymous said...

I do think that there is still a bit of a stigma against interviewing in the ballroom for some people, and I remember the year I went on the job market a candidate from a top 10 program talk about doing a selective search and not bothering with any '"table interviews".

It's been over 10 years since I've been on the market, but from the 4 years that I was on the market, I don't remember hearing of a top 20 program (possibly even not a top 50 program) or any top level liberal arts college doing table interviews.

That, plus the fact that the APA often finds itself in hotels with insufficient numbers of suites (a problem that may have disappeared now that so many fewer departments are hiring) put schools that didn't book a suite in time in a bit of a bind. Either do the interviews in a bedroom, the faults of which are pretty clear, or interview in the ballroom, which (like it or not) makes the school look 'second rate' in the eyes of many candidates.

Luckily we were always able to book our early enough to get a suite, and perhaps if the APA actually made it a requirement that hotel room interviews had to be in suites, the stigma against ballroom interviews would be less.

zombie said...

Any departments planning on table interviews, but afraid that some snobby job candidate won't take you seriously?

I'll take you seriously. Call me.

Anonymous said...

"Either do the interviews in a bedroom, the faults of which are pretty clear, or interview in the ballroom, which (like it or not) makes the school look 'second rate' in the eyes of many candidate"

You've gotta be kidding! Are you telling me that if Rutgers advertised a position next year, but held their interviews in the ballroom, people would form the opinion that they were second rate?

Moreover, no serious candidate would form an opinion of whether a school is "second rate" or not on the basis of whether they conduct ballroom interviews. I'd wager that each candidate takes a very close look at every department who offers him or her an interview. Candidates have all sorts of useful information from which to make a well-informed assessment of the department.

Anonymous said...

You've gotta be kidding! Are you telling me that if Rutgers advertised a position next year, but held their interviews in the ballroom, people would form the opinion that they were second rate?

My pedigree isn't good enough to know people who look down on table interviews. It's news to me that some people do so.

But the point, presumably, isn't that anyone would disdain Rutgers for a ballroom interview. It's that someone might be snobbish enough to rate a so-so department that interviews in a suite above an otherwise comparable that interviews in the ballroom. And that might not be totally unfounded: It might suggest something about the degree of financial support that faculty members actually get from their university.

That said, I'm not sure this argument gives departments any good reason to avoid the ballroom. Since the argument only affects "so-so" departments, they're probably not going to land the snobs anyway. And even if they were, they might not want to, since the snobs are, well, snobs.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little lost. Who are the "snobs"? The ABDs from Rutgers and NYU who are on the market? This strikes me as a bit out of touch.

Also, I don't know this from actual experience, but it does seem plausible to me that if a candidate got an offer from two otherwise-similar departments, one interviewing in a suite and the other interviewing in the ballroom, the 'atmosphere' might make a significant difference. Also if one department picked you up for your on-campus interview in a limo and the other in a '92 Neon.

Oh, uh, of course, I wouldn't notice those things. I'm so ethereal and Platonic and shit. I'm just saying other people.

Anonymous said...

So, is the jfp coming out on Friday since Monday is a holiday?

Has anyone hacked it yet?

Mr. Zero said...

I'm pretty sure it's coming out on Friday because that's when it's scheduled to come out. Typically it goes online the Thursday prior, and then the links are published on Friday. I'll let you know when it goes up.