Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Statistics

I feel like I put up some pretty good numbers this year, even though I was ultimately unsuccessful. Here's the breakdown:

Jobs applied for: 42

First-round interviews: 4

On-campus interviews: 1

Job offers: 0

Apart from the job market, I continue to feel good about my professional development. Publishing-wise, I didn't have as good a year this year as I did last year, but I am proud of my professional accomplishments, which seem to me to be good and getting better. This was also the best year on the market I've ever had. I had more attention, and the attention I got was for more attractive jobs. So I guess I'm somewhat hopeful for the future, although this is still pretty much of a bummer.

How'd y'all do?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Honing" your application and ruining your summer

Anonymous asked here:
Could you specify what it takes to 'hone' an individual application? I've never been on the market. I'm sure you can tailor the cover letter to each institution, but what can you do other than that?

That's a good question. Anon 7:48 responded thusly:
One big thing you can do is to tailor your CV. At the very least, I think it's worth having one CV for "teaching jobs" and one for "research jobs," in which you reverse the order in which you present your experience and accomplishments. In some situations, you may want to tweak your AOCs (e.g., listing 'History of Ethics' instead of 'Ethics' or vice versa) or include an AOC that you normally wouldn't. Many recent Ph.D.s could probably develop an AOC in any one of several subdisciplines that they have not previously taught, but you'd look like a jackass if you list all of them as AOCs. You'd also have a lot of explaining to do if you got the interview. So pick one or two of the AOCs listed in the job ad, and amend your CV accordingly. In some cases (e.g., the job I have now), a job will request an AOC that you have that no one else will care about (because it's obscure, interdisciplinary, or otherwise not something you'd teach in most places).

Other than tweaking your cover letter and CV, you might choose a different writing sample, if you're in a position to do so.
Excellent advice, IMO.

My two cents:

I'm of the school of thought that a cover letter should be about a page to a page and a half long, and is an opportunity for you to emphasize your strengths, your experience, your interest in the particular job, school, department, etc. But to do that, you need to know something about the school and the job. Study the department website. Know what their departmental focus is -- analytic? Continental? Applied ethics? Religion? Do they have an affiliated research institute, ethics institute, new grad program they're launching? Are they looking for someone who can generate grant money? (And have you ever successfully applied for a grant?) Familiarize yourself with the courses they offer, but also what courses they do NOT offer, which you would like to teach. (I think having multidisciplinary skills/interests here helps. Use the word "multidisciplinary" at least twice in your cover letter.) Do they emphasize teaching or research? Is it a SLAC or a big university? Do you have teaching experience in a school like it? Do they teach a lot of GenEd courses? Do you like teaching intro and gen ed courses?

The cover letter is an opportunity to show that you're interested in the specific job or program, to show why you're the One, and to show you cared enough to read and respond to the job ad.

Obviously, tailoring your letter will include emphasizing your teaching if it's a teaching job, and your research if it's a research job. Respond to whatever requirements or desires are listed in the job ad. If they're asking for a research statement and/or teaching statement, you can keep these things brief in your letter, rather than repeating what you've already said elsewhere. If they're interested in someone in applied ethics, or clinical ethics, or phil of law, etc. mention your relevant experience. If you have some other work experience or interests that make you special (and you are all very
special), mention that if it is relevant to the position, especially since these are things that don't fit very well into the academic CV format.

How to ruin your summer:

Those of you who will be on the market in the fall should be thinking about getting your dossiers in shape over the summer, so that you'll be ready when the October job listings drop. The more you can get done in advance, the better off you'll be because (a) it will give you more time to customize your letters and dossiers for specific jobs, and (b) it'll be easier to make the earlier application deadlines.

Prep includes:
  • Writing, updating, or tweaking your teaching statement and research statement
  • Creating a few different templates of your cover letter to handle different kinds of jobs
  • Tweaking and updating different versions of your CV for different kinds of jobs
  • Putting together a pdf of your teaching dossier, with syllabi, student evaluations, and a teaching statement.
  • Writing some fantasy syllabi for courses you'd like to teach.
  • Last year, I also created a website that included links to all elements of my dossier, which I continuously updated as things like publications, conferences, etc. changed. I concluded my cover letters with the url, noting that other materials were available there, or would be sent upon request. It took me probably four or five hours to get the whole thing up and running (using a free Google site), but those are hours I would not have had if I'd waited until the job season was underway. You can also use tracking to find out (more or less) who is visiting your site to gauge interest in your apps.
  • Decide how you're going to get your reference letters out. Do you have an Interfolio account? Will you use your school placement office? Get that set up.
  • In August, before the term starts, contact your references and ask them to write and file your letters, or update the letters already on file. Remind them if you don't have new letters by mid-September.
  • If you have papers to submit to journals, submit them now. Once everyone leaves campus for the summer, papers will just sit in the editor's inbox. You have a tiny window here for reviews to happen, otherwise, you'll have to wait until fall or even winter, depending on the journal. A paper "under review" on your CV will look better than a file sitting in your computer.
I found it hella useful last year to create a spreadsheet listing all the jobs I was applying for, their deadlines, and whether the apps had to be mailed or filed electronically. I dated and checked them off as they went out, then sent my ref letters from Interfolio immediately (for e-apps) or after a few days for mailed apps. I color coded them depending on how soon they had to go out, or if they had been completed. Then, as I got rejected, I redlined the jobs. Luckily, not all of them were redlined. Doing this helped me stay organized, and track my progress, although it had no impact on my job prospects, except to the extent it helped me meet application deadlines.

That's an extremely long-winded answer to a short question.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

How Did This Year Compare with Last Year?

In comments here, anon 8:47 asks;

Did anyone do a total count of how many jobs there were this year compared to last year (and the year before)? My impression is that this year was a bit worse than the last year

I haven't done this, but I have the same impression. Did anybody do this?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fisking the Clark Letter: Ad Hominems, Character Assassination, Misleading Interpretations, and Unsubstantiated Political Alliances

In the New York Times story about the Synthese hullabaloo, it is mentioned that the philosopher Kelly James Clark of Calvin College wrote to Synthese in May of 2009 to complain about the Forrest article. In a comment on New APPS, Professor Clark has posted the letter in its entirety. It is unbelievably terrible.

[In order to avoid confusion, I have set blockquotes containing material from Clark's letter in boldface type, sections in which Clark quotes material from Forrest's article in italics, and left sections in which Forrest blockquotes someone else plain.]

Clark writes:

[I'm skipping the weird preamble]

Nonetheless, I can't believe that ad hominems (abusive and circumstantial) such as the following have any logical bearing on the author's argument:

What follows is supposed to be an example from the Forrest article of an abusive and circumstantial ad hominem argument:

Although he has been called a legal scholar (Wasley et al. 2006), he is neither a lawyer nor, properly speaking, a constitutional scholar. He lacks the requisite credentials and expertise, holding degrees in philosophy, religious apologetics, and a Master of Juridical Studies (M.J.S.) from the Washington University School of Law (the Discovery Institute financed Beckwith’s research for the M.J.S. with a $9000 fellowship) (Beckwith, n.d.). The M.J.S. “is designed for individuals in career fields who would benefit from limited legal training and do not require a professional degree…. [C]redit earned toward the MJS is not transferable to the JD program. It also does not qualify recipients to practice law” (WA Univ. School of Law 2005–2006, p. 23). Nonetheless, he presents his major pro-ID arguments in two law review articles (Beckwith 2003d,e) and a book, Law, Darwinism, and Public Education (Beckwith 2003b).

Here is what is going on in this much-discussed passage. Forrest points out that Beckwith has been called a legal scholar by Wasley et al., and then argues that because he lacks the relevant credentials Beckwith is, in fact, not to be legitimately regarded as a legal scholar. He's not a lawyer. He does not have a J.D or a license to practice law. He is not presently qualified to obtain such a license. He has a Master of Juridical Studies degree, whatever that is.

A lot of people find this discussion of Beckwith's credentials distasteful, because the focus should be on the quality of his arguments, not the academic degrees he does or does not hold. Although I am generally inclined to agree with this way of thinking about things--whatever problems there may be with, say, Kripke's views, the fact that he does not hold a Ph.D. in philosophy is not one of them--I am not convinced that a discussion of credentials is unwarranted in this particular case. (NB I am also not convinced that they are warranted; see below.)

Allow me to illustrate with a partially fictional example. Richard Dawkins discusses the cosmological argument for the existence of God in The God Delusion, and he has a perfect right to do so in spite of the fact that he has no advanced degree in philosophy and is not a "scholar" of philosophy. These facts about his credentials are not really relevant to assessing the quality of his writing on this topic; what is relevant is the (low) quality of his writings on this topic. But suppose that Dawkins had an MA in philosophy, and that he had been described as a "scholar of philosophy" on that basis. I think that such a thing would be silly and possibly worth remarking upon, especially if Dawkins's activism had public-policy-related consequences. Even more so if a political think-tank had paid his tuition for the philosophy MA. The suggestion by Clark and others that there is literally no possible way that any discussion of Beckwith's credentials could be relevant to any philosophical discussion is clearly false.

On the other hand, the Wasley, et al. 2006 reference is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about Beckwith's tenure denial case, not a partisan attempt to use Beckwith's MJS to lend credibility to his views about the constitutionality of teaching ID as science. If there are places where partisans use Beckwith's MJS to lend credibility to his legal views, it would have been better to cite them instead of Wasley et al. It seems to me that this makes the passage in question less worthy of inclusion. Possibly unworthy of inclusion.

Such character assassination is beneath Synthese.

Having said all that, when I read this last thing, I thought to myself, ''Maybe I don't know what "character assassination" is supposed to be." So I looked it up. Wikipedia says that it's "an attempt to tarnish a person's reputation [that] may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person." Which is good, because that's what I thought it was. (Wikipedia goes on to point out that one of the most serious problems with character assassinations is that it can be difficult or impossible to undo the damage they cause. Once the insinuation is out there, it never fully goes away. You can't get the toothpaste back in the tube. This potential permanence of effect is why it's called a character assassination, instead of a character knuckle sandwich.)

It is obvious that this passage is not a character assassination. Maybe it's weird; maybe it was not worthy of inclusion in the article; maybe it is indicative of a nasty tone that has no place in the pages of Synthese. But it is not a use of exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts designed to present an untrue picture of Beckwith. It says that Beckwith lacks credentials he in fact lacks.

The idea that Beckwith's good name will be forever unfairly tarnished by the fact that Forrest has accurately pointed out that he isn't a lawyer is absurd; the repeated claim that this represents a character assassination on Beckwith is itself a character assassination on Forrest.

[I'm skipping the discussion of red herrings.]

There are also misleading, and apparently obviously false interpretations of Beckwith's [sic] views:

Spoiler alert: the passage from Forrest that Clark is about to quote as his example of a misleading and "apparently obviously" (whatever that means) false interpretation of "Beckwith's" views does not contain any discussion of Beckwith's views whatsoever.

Dembski's desire to use his faith hegemonically predates his entry into the ID movement. His [that is, Dembski's] article, “Scientopoly: The Game of Scientism,” written for the Fall 1989–Winter 1990 Greek Orthodox journal Epiphany (a special anti-evolution issue), is in total alignment with Epiphany’s purpose:
To proclaim the …Gospel of Jesus in the contemporary world. To promote an … Orthodox Christian world view, based on the Holy Scriptures…as the salvific alternative to godless secularism. To provide the foundation for the restoration of a fully Christian way of life…To preserve the heritage …of traditional Christian culture …To defend the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church …in an age of apostasy. (Epiphany 1989–1990)
Dembski interweaves the same strands here as in his later work: science provides knowledge, but theological knowledge trumps science. Modern science has become a weapon against theology; an example is Darwin’s theory of evolution, although “current evolutionists reject much of Darwin’s original formulation” (Dembski 1989– 1990, p. 112). Science ridicules God and rejects evidence of his activity in the natural order—miracles.

This is a discussion of Dembski, not Beckwith. OMG WTF.

Clark goes on:

I haven't read the Beckwith [sic] article but the title is about scientism not science. So the author's repeated use of the term "science" in her explication surely misrepresents Beckwith's [sic] views.

Read that again. Clark hasn't read the article mentioned in the passage. He hasn't looked closely enough to notice that the article is not even by Beckwith. But he's pretty sure based on the title of the article that Forrest is misrepresenting Beckwith's [sic] views. After all, the title doesn't even mention "science" and clearly indicates that the article is about a totally and entirely different topic. And that topic is something called "scientism."

Apparently it is obvious to Clark that there isn't any relationship between the institution of science and a view called "scientism" (which is the view that the scientific worldview is better than all the others). The author of an article about scientism would apparently obviously have no occasion to identify or discuss the nature of the institution of science. It is so apparently obvious that this would never happen that you don't even have to read the article, or even bother to correctly identify its author, before you write to the editors of Synthese to complain.

Then there's the suggestion of sinister plots, masquerading as logic or, what?, culture criticism:

Such sentiments reflect the alliance of some ID proponents with Christian Reconstructionism
(CR), also called “Theocratic Dominionism,” a far-right form of Christianity with repressive public policy goals.

Should a journal with your explicit aims publish unsubstantiated political alliances?

I checked. Forrest devotes several paragraphs to the substantiation of this political alliance. She connects various of Dembski's (not Beckwith; in this passage, as in the last one, she is discussing Dembski, not Beckwith) views about the proper role of Christianity in public life with those of CR, points out that certain CR honchos are also ID supporters, and that there are financial ties between the two groups. She cites sources.

I could go on, but read the text yourself and see if it lives up to the professed aims of your journal. I can see how this might be published in a rhetoric journal where the goal is to win whatever the cost. But I don't see how it could be published in a philosophy journal that despises sophistry, suggestion and fallacies.

The interesting thing about this passage is that it suggests that the Editors in Chief did not read this article they published and made no attempt to ascertain whether it lives up to the professed aims of the journal they edit they published it. Obviously, this may be true, but if it is true it means that the editors weren't doing their jobs. If this were true, it would be an egregious professional failing on their part. And if I were a recipient of a letter like this I would be deeply insulted by the insinuation.

Sincerely yours,

Kelly James Clark

I hope that when the EiCs received this letter, they threw it straight into the garbage where it belongs. I really hope that this letter did not cause the EiCs to rethink their position on the Forrest piece. I really, really hope that this kind of shit is not what convinced the EiCs to attach the disclaimer.

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Synthese Editors in Chief Respond

Via New APPS, we learn that the editors in chief of Synthese have responded to Leiter's (it was the one Leiter created, right? There were so many...) petition. The response can be found here. It is not at all illuminating.

In the same New APPS post, we learn that Beckwith has also posted the response, and that the New York Times ran a story yesterday.

The way I look at it, there are a bunch of things that are pretty weird about this whole disclaimer thing. One of them is that the disclaimer is attached to material that they, the editors in chief themselves, accepted for publication. This strikes me as highly peculiar. Another is that they accepted the Forrest paper (in particular) for publication, sent it to the typesetter, published it, and then asked Forrest (in particular) to revise the paper. This seems to me to be a highly irregular order of operations. Another is that they attached the disclaimer even though they assured the guest editors more than just once that they were not going to attach any disclaimer.

One thing that the letter does clear up is the issue of the existence and nature of legal threats that may have led to the issuance of the disclaimer. The editors insist that there were no legal threats. So that's helpful. They then go on to say that they did receive messages that were not legal threats but which the editors take as seriously as legal threats. These messages did not come from Christian philosophers, though. And these challenges constrain them from answering questions on the blogs.

I don't know about you, but that seems cryptic to me. It does not seem forthright.

Another thing it clears up is where the idea for Beckwith to respond came from: Beckwith. But that's no mystery. What would be interesting to hear about is where the idea for a disclaimer came from, but on that there is no word.

They also indicate that there were problems with the language of two papers, but not which two. They indicate that they corresponded with Forrest but there is no indication that they corresponded with a second author.

Finally, the weirdest thing is where they explain that they "were unable to properly communicate later stages of [their] decision-making process to the guest-editors." They say that were pretty good about communicating the early stages of their decision making with the guest editors, but not so much with the later stages. Of course, the early stages were where they were disinclined to issue the disclaimer, and (to hear the guest editors tell it) the communications about the early stages seem to have been disguised as a communication of a final decision, and the later stages were where they changed their minds and decided to issue the disclaimer.

On its face, I have no idea what they could possibly mean here. When you say 'unable,' that makes it sound like you lack the ability to do something. If you had the ability but failed to exercise it, you say you failed, not that you were unable. But then they say that what they were unable to do was to properly communicate with the guest editors. The use of 'properly' there makes it seem like they think there was something improper about the way they didn't communicate with the guest editors. But if that's right, they should apologize for having done something improper--especially since this is a response to a petition that calls on them to apologize for exactly that. And now I feel like I'm parsing the sentence entirely too carefully. So I'm not at all sure what to make of it.

And there's no indication of why they changed their minds and decided to issue the disclaimer or anything, either.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, May 13, 2011

the hell?

This is surely the craziest VAP ad I've ever seen.
27. UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-ST. LOUIS, ST. LOUIS, MO. Visiting Associate Professor, two-year appointment (non-tenure track), Department of Philosophy. Begins Fall Semester (August 15) 2011. AOS: logic, philosophy of science, game theory. AOC: decision theory, philosophy of biology, ethics. Undergraduate and graduate teaching; two courses per semester; thesis advising; no service except professional. Research expectations in keeping with the highest level (“research intensive”) described in our departmental workload document (http://www.umsl.edu/~philo/PhilosophyDepartmentWorkloadDocument.pdf). Applicant must have a record of securing outside grants and be prepared to submit grants to fund research in Rational Preference aligned with the interests of our campus’s corporate partner, Express Scripts. Salary competitive. Send CV, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample to VAP Search, Department of Philosophy, University of Missouri-St. Louis, One University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121. The University of Missouri is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity. Minorities and women are encouraged to apply. Application review will begin May 26, 2011. (190W), posted: 5/12/2011.
A record of securing outside grants? Be prepared to submit grants "aligned with the interests of our... corporate partner, Express Scripts"? For a 2 year VAP. (Visiting Associate Professor? Why would a tenured prof take this? This is not a research-only gig. This is a 2/2 plus research plus submit a grant plus submit a grant our corporate sponsor likes.)

(Express Scripts is some kind of prescription fulfillment company, which I'm sure is not as much fun as it sounds)

I've seen TT job ads where there is an expectation of eventually securing research grants. (I will have one of those jobs in the fall, in fact.) But this is more than that. I have not before seen a job that (a) expects a VAP to submit grants and (b) expects those grants to be "aligned with the interests" of a corporate sponsor. Indentured servitude times two.


Skynet is on to you

You may have noticed that Blogger was kaput yesterday and much of today. Some of your comments on other posts were apparently lost into the blogger-sphere.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How law journals do it

This came up in a conversation with a law prof, who mentioned that he had already submitted a paper "several times" in the couple of months since I saw that paper. Which would be nearly impossible to do with a philosophy paper. Here's how it works for law journals, I'm told.

There are hundreds of law journals (every law school has at least one). Most of them are edited by law students.

But, you can submit your manuscript to as many as you want simultaneously, so none of this interminable waiting for one journal at a time to decide on your paper (unless you want to submit to one at a time). And there's a submission service for doing it.


You pay $2 for each journal you submit your paper to. I suppose if you submit your paper to 100 journals, that two bucks might start to get onerous, but if it's just a handful of journals, not so much. It takes so much time to upload a paper and fill out the online forms and all that jazz, it might just be worth two bucks to not have to do that multiple times.

Now, I'm not saying that it would be better to have hundreds of philosophy journals (anyway, law schools have money that philosophy departments don't). I did once suggest that using selectively chosen, qualified grad students as reviewers might not be a bad idea, if the current pool of willing peer reviewers is too small for the demand. But would a system like this work for philosophy papers? Would it be an improvement over the current system? Being able to submit to multiple journals simultaneously sounds pretty appealing, but it would (I guess) require a larger pool of reviewers.


Alternatives to publishing in journals

In the discussion about Sympoze below, Anon posts the following query:
Like many readers of this blog, I'm a young untenured faculty member. I think I have some really good papers, but thanks to the awful review process (and my tendency to work in isolation) it's been difficult to get many of them published. I've had a few minor successes but spend a lot of time waiting to hear back on several papers (and racking up rejections!)...all this while I'm scared to death of getting my best ideas "scooped" by someone else (i.e. published before me). Here, then, are my questions: how does everyone feel about posting working papers to places like SSRN? Is it a bad idea, because it "unblinds" what is supposed to be blind review? Or, is it a good idea, because it's a good way to publicly stake your claim to an idea ("getting there first"), even though it's just a repository for working papers? I just don't know, and I'm stressing myself out. The publishing game just sucks, and I could basically just use some advice on how to best deal with the issues I raised. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!
My initial response is to wonder if this a common problem and/or concern in philosophy, having "your idea" published by someone else. (This obviously gets into interesting territory about identity, and the possession of ideas, and idea provenance, and inception.) Given the long time it takes to get anything published, how would you know who had the idea first (and would it matter)? Is this something we should be worried about to the point of posting WIPs online? And is posting WIPs online a solution to this problem, or a way to facilitate the theft of your ideas? (Your papers are copyrighted (by law) when you create them, but you can't copyright your ideas. And you wouldn't want to.) Again, the provenance issue comes up -- posting your paper online would not seem to really prove that it was your idea first. Just that you posted it online before anyone else did. And anyway, don't we have a long history in philosophy of commenting and elaborating on ideas that are already out there?

Which is not to dismiss the question or the concern. The process of getting published is unnecessarily onerous, and someone doing really interesting and original work might rightly have concerns about their work gathering dust while something similar gets published.



Friday, May 6, 2011

May Web-Only JFP

Is up. If you ask me, it looks like a total disaster. 24 ads. Total.

God help us.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Crowd sourcing peer review? Free open access?

Anonymous brings this to our attention:


The idea is to create an open-access online philosophy journal (and then journals in other disciplines), with the peer review process crowd sourced. As many reviewers as want to read a paper can vote to accept/reject, with brief comments. Accepted papers will immediately be published online.

From what I can see, the open access will be free for authors. They are now recruiting reviewers.

Interesting idea.

Whaddaya think?


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Post 2010-11 thread

From Anonymous 12:57 on the PFO thread. They all seemed like good questions and I don't have anything exciting to add. Help out!

As the 2010-11 job market season is now pretty much over, I'm curious to know:

1) If you were offered a job, how much time did the hiring department give you to decide?

2) How did you initially respond when the hiring department called to offer you the position?

3) While some candidates are contenders for multiple, desirable positions, is it increasingly the case that the job you're offered is the only job you're offered? And, if so, is this changing the etiquette/norms governing this stage of the hiring process?

4) If the job you're offered is the one you wanted most, and if you have no competing offer which you can use as leverage for negotiating, how long do you wait before you accept

-- Second Suitor

Word 2010?

Word 2007 is way better than Word 2003. If nothing else it’s prettier.  And, I have my word 2007 ideally set up for distraction free writing - minimize the taskbar, minimize the ribbon (yay windows!), write in draft view and it’s pretty much just me and the screen.  The thing is, I’m fiending all my student’s 2010. It looks basically the same (but prettier!). Customizing the ribbon doesn’t seem that helpful since I already customize by quick access toolbar up top. I don’t need to immediately upload/email/blog what I write (and dropbox/gmail/blogger seem to be taking care of me if I do). Word’s stupid freakin’ reference manager will never reach the point of being helpful – that’d alone be worth the upgrade. So basically I can’t come up with any good reason to get it. But, I want it. For teacher’s/student’s it’s $100.

Anyone know a good reason to drop the cash?

-- Second Suitor

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tercentennial Time!

Friday May 6 is the tercentenary of David Hume's birth. Commence to celebrating. Or, if you still use the Julian calendar, it was last week, so send belated birthday greetings with one of those humorous cards. The SEP calls Hume "The most important philosopher ever to write in English." To which Hume might respond, "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence."

Well played, Hume. And happy birthday to a guy who knew how to wear a poofy red hat. And thanks for giving me an excuse to use the word "tercentenary."


PFO season, the home stretch

They've been coming in fast and furious the last couple of weeks, as the last of the hires are buttoned up. This classy letter arrived in my e-box just today:

Dear Dr. Zombie,

Thank you very much for your interest in the position recently advertised by the Philosophy Department at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. I am writing to inform you that the position has now been filled. We received many applications of very high quality. Narrowing down our choices to a short list, and then (finally) to one candidate was a difficult process.

I remember all too well my own search for a tenure-track job in philosophy, and I know how discouraging news such as this can be. I do wish you the very best in your search.

Yours Sincerely,

Glenn A. Magee

Chairman, Philosophy Department

What this letter does right: refers to me as Dr. rather than Mr. or Ms. (I get both). Gets right to the point and tells me the position has been filled, without telling me how happy they are to have hired Dr. Awesome of Better Than U. for the position. Tells me the search was difficult because the many candidates were of high quality (a nonspecific compliment). Expresses sincere-sounding sympathy (directed towards the recipient) without insincere-sounding regret (I should care how the letter writer feels?), and wishes me well.

Short and sweet. It's not hard to do. And yet, so many of them get it so wrong.

Got vexations and triumphs to share with the class?