Sunday, January 30, 2011

Are we owed transparency?

The comments on the Kalamazoo thread highlight the lack of transparency in the hiring process. I think we can all agree that we would like more transparency. We would like to know what our status is after interviews, and we'd like to know sooner rather than later. There are self-serving reasons why we would like more (and more timely) information. There are undoubtedly self-serving reasons for search committees to keep their cards close to their vests at least some of the time.

The fact that we'd like to know more doesn't mean that search committees owe us this information. Are we just a bunch of spoiled babies who don't like the lengthy, anxiety-inducing job process? Is the philosophy job market somehow that much worse (or different) than other job markets in this regard? For the most part, when you've gotten as far as a first-round interview or campus interview, you will find out whether or not you're still a contender, although you might not find out as soon as you'd like to. (There are exceptions to this rule, as with all rules, natch.) Assuming good will on the part of all parties, there may be legitimate reasons for SCs to withhold this information for a while.

But how much information do search committees really owe us? Do they owe us the truth if we directly ask for information we are not entitled to know?



Anonymous said...

I think that candidates are owed answers at certain points in the process.

At each point, when a person has been eliminated from consideration they should be told as much so that they can make other plans.

The tricky part is actually the last bit -- if a first-choice candidate is negotiating, they haven't accepted an offer yet and may well go elsewhere. For that reason, I don't think the on-campus interview group should be notified until the first-choice candidate has accepted the offer in writing -- because they haven't been eliminated.

I do think that committees should set attainable deadlines and make them clear to candidates -- at least up until the 'make an offer' point.

Once a candidate completes an application, they've entered into a relationship with the committee and that committee has obligations to the candidate. Among those obligations are confidentiality, fair consideration of the application and reasonably prompt communication.

Anonymous said...

We belong to a profession. At present our profession mostly lacks commonsense hiring policies. There's no reason we shouldn't be able to adopt fair, commonsensical standards and policies across the entire profession using our professional body as the arbiter and enforcer.

Anonymous said...

Woohoo, Zombie joined the blog! Awesome!

BunnyHugger said...

My immediate intuition (which might be changed by reflection on this discussion) is that the amount of transparency owed is relative to the stage of the process, with people who have actually done a campus visit owed the most because by that stage of the process there is so much at stake. I certainly don't think anyone should be directly lied to.

My best interviewing experience was a campus visit in which I was one of two finalists. (Two! It still smarts to think about this.) I was told by email when the job had been offered to the other person but not yet accepted, and then when the job had been accepted. I appreciated that.

That was the only one I had that was that transparent. My other campus visits have included 1) not being told until the first choice candidate had accepted the offer (which meant I waited weeks past when I knew they were supposed to be meeting to decide before I heard anything, which was agony but I surmised what was going on), 2) not being told anything until a month later when I received the PFO that presumably all applicants got, and 3) never hearing from them again. I consider 1) all right but not ideal, 2) not good, and 3) extremely obnoxious.

I'm inclined to agree in general with leftyconcarne, that at each stage when someone doesn't make the cut they should be told. The problem with that is that occasionally schools will move down the list if none of their finalists work out, so this is probably why they don't want to let their semifinalists know what's going on. I don't know if that's a good enough reason, though.

Anonymous said...

Search Committees, or at least those who speak for them, are faced with a though choice. They fly out some folks, but know that they often fail to get/want any of those people. They then typically fly out the next lot. But they don't want the next lot to fell like they were the second string, b/c they could go elsewhere if they feel less loved. So they lie, in the hope that if they try and hire you, you will fell wanted and want to take the job. If they were completely honest they would run the risk of losing you early on, or later on. It's not a great way to go about it, but from the angle of wanting you to feel desired if/when it comes to offering you a job, it's the risk most take. Keep in mind that not all hiring has taken place in the last year or two, when odds are you would kill for a job offer.

Anonymous said...

I think we are owed some minimal degree of transparency. But, I also think that Search Committees are often put in extremely difficult positions by practical and administrative concerns. So, for instance, in the last 2 years the chair of my department has sent out several mass emails to graduate students basically saying (if you read between the lines):'Get your applications in to position X early / NOW... because they found out their approval for this line may be revoked... and they want to move this along so that they can make an official offer before it is' (which, once formally accepted, must be honored regardless what the admin. folks want). These sorts of practical considerations driving SC timelines are increasingly common (in this economy), and make transparency extremely tricky. So, I think actually being transparent to the level that some people apparently feel 'entitled' is simply impossible. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I should hope people are smart enough to stop and think about all the practical constraints put on SCs and to moderate their expectations.

Will Philosophize 4 food said...

In response to anonymous 11.16 I think the job market is such that candidates don't have the luxury of declining a job because they don't feel like the favored son/daughter. My job prospects are so dim that even if I knew I was third or fourth (or seventh) choice, I would still take a job somewhere if it was offered to me.

If SC are lying to us to spare our feelings then that's really an insulting kind of infantilism on their part. We can take not being #1 all the point, honest. What we want (I think I'm right speaking for at least many of us) is a pretty stable (i.e. tenure track) job doing what we love.

Anonymous said...

I have found that when faculty become administrators or search committee members (pseudo-administrators), they also become intolerably vague. The self-conscious effort to withhold information, whether to maintain confidentiality or to ensure the success of the search, is a strategy that also protects their asses. Higher level administrators like to blame the failure of searches on naive faculty members who serve on committees. Faculty on searches overcompensate by acting like administrators, obstructing transparency and sometimes even lying. It is tough for faculty to operate in an administrator's world.

Anonymous said...

12:37, I am a grad student at a top program, and I know that we've lost candidates to other programs because they felt slighted (found out they weren't offered the job first, basically).

It might not happen often, but it does happen. And SCs want to make sure it doesn't happen to them.

Seems reasonable. What doesn't seem reasonable, in the Kalamazoo case, is that it seems that people were oughtright lied to. No amount of "keeping options open" justifies outright deception.

I'd like to say I wouldn't work for people who would lie to me. But, we all know that's probably false.

Anonymous said...

"We can take not being #1"

It's easy to say that now, but not so easy to actually live it. One of my colleagues was 6th on the hiring committee's list. Not bad, being the 6th choice out of over 100 applicants. However, he has never been able to let it go. He was tenured, but the department vote was not unanimous, and he brought his job search back up. Honestly, the way many graduate students are trained, they not only have the belief that they are the best, but get quite hostile when they discover otherwise. Notice, for instance, how often those who comment on this blog mention that they are in a "top program." Grad students - especially in philosophy - are encouraged to continually note their superiority.

Anonymous said...

I think that's a fairly uncharitable reading of "in a top program". I usually take that to just be an acknowledgement of the culture gap between programs at the top (or who have aspirations of being there) and programs where market expectations are a little different.

Mr. Zero said...

First, I'd like to thank zombie for accepting our invitation to join the Smoker as a regular contributor. Maybe I should have posted a regular "welcome" post, like the PEA Soup folks do. Missed opportunity.

Second, I guess I don't think we're owed all that much in the way of transparency. Departments ought to let us know that they've received our applications--especially since not all of the material (such as letters) is directly under our control.

They also ought to let us know somewhat promptly when we have been eliminated from consideration. And this doesn't have to even involve a direct communication to that effect. I don't need a letter from each department informing me that I didn't get a first-round interview.

I also don't think they're obligated to give us much in the way of a precise timeline--we don't need to know the dates of the meetings, etc. And if they do give a timeline, I don't think they're obligated to stick to it. They can go earlier or later if they want. (Who is surprised when philosophers run late?) And I don't think they're obligated to give complete or informative answers to questions about the process. They can be vague, or they can decline to answer altogether. (So, like, the Kalamazoo person could have just said, "I can't answer questions about campus visits at this time," or, "we have invited some people to campus and will meet in a couple of weeks to decide about further invitations," or something.) I can see why they'd think it's none of my business whether they've invited people to campus--it's definitely none of my business who they invite to campus--and I can see why they might want to play it close to the vest.

But I do think they are obligated not to be deceptive or untruthful.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Zero. To me, the question of whether there are "good reasons" for SCs to be deceptive or untruthful is irrelevant. Of course there are. The reasons in favor of honesty and truthfulness just happen to trump them.

Also, it's worth reiterating that those who are upset and outraged at being lied to have every right to be, even if the SC had "good reasons" to lie and even if, in the grand scheme of things, such behavior isn't all that terrible. It is absolutely outrageous to suggest that these folks are being "babies."

Bulbus Noggin said...

I must object.

If there are "good reasons" for an SC to lie to a candidate then it is NOT outrageous to suggest that being upset about the lie is excessive (though I wouldn't call them "babies"). You cannot accept both that a person has good reasons for acting and claim that they were unreasonable for acting that way. To claim that the SC's acted in a way that caused unnecessary pain to candidates is to claim that they acted in an unreasonable way (because if they acted with good reasons then the pain caused, though regrettable, is not unreasonable).

This isn't to say that someone that was misled (or lied to) by an SC doesn't feel emotional pain - they do. I know the anxiety of waiting to hear whether you will be interviewed and then whether you will be brought to campus and then whether you will be offered the job.

Euthyphronics said...

I don't buy the "SCs have a good reason to try to keep you in the dark if you're their 2nd, 3rd, etc., pick" argument. Sure, I'd rather be your first pick. But IF I'm your 2nd, etc., pick, I'd prefer to know that rather than to be strung along. And I'd prefer to not have my intelligence insulted by the stringing-along: if you rush to get all your applicants out in a few-week window, do you seriously think I'm gonna buy that it took you another five weeks to get around to deciding who to make the offer to?

The argument for keeping me in the dark is that, if you end up making me an offer, you'll want me to think I'm your first pick. But if you end up making me an offer as your 2nd (3rd, whatever) pick, odds are before the negotiations are over I'll have figured this out. Even if SCs have reason to make everyone think they're the first pick at the time of offer and negotiation, that doesn't translate into reason for a lack of transparency unless that lack of transparency makes candidates more likely to think this (and doesn't risk a greater cost).

zombie said...

Anon 7:46: I wasn't suggesting that anyone was being a "baby" in the Kzoo case. When one is lied to, one has a legitimate complaint against the liar. I was, instead, asking if our expectations about how we ought to be treated are reasonable, or if we are conflating how we want to be treated with how others must treat us (and being babies when we don't get what we want).

Anon 10:19: Thanks for the enthusiastic welcome!

Mr Zero: ditto!

Anonymous said...


If the "good reasons" SCs have not to lie are substantially outweighed by the "good reasons" they have not to lie, as I believe they will be in almost every conceivable case, then it is indeed outrageous to suggest that candidates are out of line for getting upset at being lied to. That was my point.

Bulbus Noggin said...

I don't think that the primary reason for keeping you in the dark is your feelings. I've witnessed searches get canceled because the SC had eliminated some folks from the search. How? They decided on their top there and eliminated the others but then it turned out that the top three accepted positions elsewhere (or were deemed unacceptable). Now, you might think that the they would then just go back to the candidate pool - call up one of those that they had eliminated - but they couldn't. University rules stipulated that once candidates have been eliminated you can't bring them back in without a completely new search. The department had to cancel a search and nearly lost the line because they told candidates that they weren't going to bring them to campus.

Also, it might be the policy of Human Resources - that is, out of the department's hands. "But," you might object, "HR has no good reason for that policy." You and I may not like it, but covering one's ass is a strong motivator. It is especially so given how many jack-asses there are out there. Universities get sued over their hiring practices, this could be a way to avoid litigation. How? Uniformity. No one will be able to claim special treatment - all candidates that were excluded get notified at the same time.

Seriously, have some charity. I know being on the job market sucks - I'm on it. But assuming the worst in others doesn't make it easier, it makes it worse.

Euthyphronics said...

Bulbus, I'm all for charity. I was responding to the claim, made by others (not me!), that (i) SCs string candidates along so as not to hurt their feelings, and (ii) that this was justifiable. My objections were to (ii), but that doesn't mean I endorse (i). Maybe your comments were directed at someone else, though?

That said -- I don't get your example. It totally makes sense that HR would tell SCs they can't invite to campus a candidate they've already eliminated. I don't see what that has to do with transparency. If you're worried you might not get one of your top three picks, don't eliminate all but three. Invite three out and send others a nice e-mail saying "We're not inviting you to campus now, but you're still under consideration, and we'll be in touch with you in [expected weeks] with further updates" or somesuch. Likewise, I don't see what the example you cite has to do with telling someone "We've made an offer to somebody else, but if they turn us down, you're still under consideration". In neither of these cases is anyone "eliminated" and then "gone back to".

Maybe you're thinking of HR practices that forbid these sorts of communications with job candidates? I'd be surprised. But even then, SC members should be able, when asked, to at least say something like "Unfortunately, HR policies do not allow us to discuss ______ with job candidates at this stage of the process, but we do hope to have some news for you soon." This at least dignifies candidates with a real reason for the silence, rather than leaving them to conjure up their own paranoid explanations.

crazy chester said...

SCs lying to candidates (for any reason) is no more justified than candidates lying to SCs (and, in my view, it's never justified in either case). One of the reasons for principled restraints on how much you say how soon is that confidentiality and other considerations can be protected without deception.

Anonymous said...

"Do they [SC] owe us the truth if we directly ask for information we are not entitled to know?"

Yes. (The propositional content of the true response: You are not entitled to know that.)

Anonymous said...

I believe search committees have an obligation to make the expectations for transparency clear from the start. So, for instance, I would have no problem with a search committee that said: 'We will not answer specific questions about the stage of the search until an offer has been made and formally accepted', or, one that said: 'We will notify candidates once their materials have been accepted, once we have advanced to first-round / on-campus interviews, once we have made and offer, and once the offer has been accepted'. As long as SCs are crystal clear from the start about the expectations (and they follow through on their plans), then I think that this is all we are actually 'owed'. Would I like more transparency in communication. Sure. But, in terms of what I am owed as a candidate, clear expectations are it. The lack of clear expectations across the entire discipline is what is so weird to me. Different institutions have different policies on keeping candidates appraised, and so this can lead to situations where expectations are wildly out of sync. I would be in favor of APA mandated standardization of SC-candidate communication.