By Jerry Green
For this post I want to switch gears a bit and talk about the job market rather than teaching. As you probably saw, a few weeks ago the APA posted a short Statement on the Job Market Calendar, which reads
The following statement was adopted by the board of officers at its November 2016 meeting. It is effective beginning with the 2016-2017 academic job market season.
For tenure-track/continuing positions advertised in the second half of the calendar year, we recommend an application deadline of November 1 or later. It is further recommended that positions be advertised at least 30 days prior to the application deadline to ensure that candidates have ample time to apply.
In normal circumstances a prospective employee should have at least two weeks for consideration of a written offer from the hiring institution, and responses to offers of a position whose duties begin in the succeeding fall should not be required before February 1.
When advertising in PhilJobs: Jobs for Philosophers, advertisers will be asked to confirm that the hiring institution will follow the above guidelines. If an advertiser does not do so, the advertisement will include a notice to that effect.
This statement followed a post on the APA blog from John Davenport. John’s post called for an action of this sort from the APA, though in an update to the post he argues that we should go further by setting a single date for all job offers (something like the April 15th deadline for grad school applications). He also calls for much stricter enforcement:
On the first offense, start with a public letter of censure to the department, naming and shaming, and warning of the consequences of recidivism. On a second offense, ban every member of the department (not including graduate students) from presenting at any of the APA meetings for three years. On a third offense, raise it to seven years, and ban the department from advertising in Philjobs (or perhaps make department members ineligible for APA prizes, officer positions, distinguished lectureships, etc.). Whatever the list of penalties, they must be real enough to solve the problem that is now making us all worse off than we need to be, for lack of cooperation on this point. We need to get very serious about this right now, without any further delay.
Now obviously the job market is a mess in a lot of ways, and in general I’m in favor of more organization and coordination across the discipline. But I was surprised by this particular move, so I wanted to lay out some reasons why I think it’s a bad idea.1 And fair warning, this post is a long one…
Two caveats before I start: (1) I’m on the job market now, so my judgment may be warped in all sorts of ways. (2) My goal here is not to refute John’s position, but rather just to float some opposing considerations to begin working through the issue. It is a bit disconcerting to me when my gut reaction goes so strongly against someone else’s view, and I think the right approach in such cases is a slow and careful investigation (at least by blogging standards).
OK, so the first problem John sees is that the job market is no longer anchored around the Eastern APA, and consequently application deadlines, and therefore offers and acceptance deadlines, are moving ever earlier. My first deadline was Sept 29th, so I can definitely sympathize with this worry. But John claims that
“The transition to Skype interviews has done significant harm in eroding the robustness of the one annual meeting at which a lot of colleagues in our field were able to meet face to face; thus we have partly lost one major source of collegiality, to say nothing of meeting a threshold of attendees in which publishers can take sufficient interest.”
I’m surprised at this. I was at the Eastern APA this year, and while it was definitely smaller than the last time I attended (and this despite the date change), it was also much less unpleasant. The pervasive, soul-sucking dread of stressed out interviewees (and worse, of folks who went but didn’t have interviews) was much less palpable than it used to be. So while I can see that the discipline as a whole might conceivably be slightly worse off on this arrangement, the benefit to the most disadvantaged among us seems to outweigh this (as, to be fair, John mentions when he notes that Skype interviews save money for applicants and hiring departments). Yet even if your concern is discipline collegiality, an alternative to changing the job market would be to have fewer total meetings so that participation isn’t diluted. The Society for Classical Studies, for instance, has a single annual meeting, and from the one I attended it seems to work quite well. A single meeting might not be enough for us, but I think two ought to do it.
In any case, John’s “pressing moral problem” isn’t the Eastern as such, but rather than creeping hiring schedule. He laments that people used to not require binding decisions until March or April, whereas now some departments ask for acceptances in December.2 John protests:
What an unfair dilemma in which to place the most vulnerable persons in our profession! This sort of strategy deprives job candidate of the only stage in the process when he or she may have a slight advantage, which can also help in negotiating a better salary and benefits: namely, the stage of having multiple offers.
John goes on to argue that, due to game theoretic concerns, it is rational for some departments to game the system by locking down a candidate who would turn them down later for a better offer.
So, first, one point of agreement. John at one point calls this behavior “’now-or-never’ offers/demands”, and I agree that requiring a candidate to accept a job without sufficient time to mull it over is not OK. It’s a big deal for everyone, after all, and the candidate should have enough time to thinking through their decision. Likewise, departments that know you have multiple offers and react by demanding an answer from you first would be behaving badly.
But even so I think John’s worry is misplaced, for two reasons. First, he’s concerned about the wrong job-seekers. And second, he does not take into account the benefits of a wider distribution of offers/acceptances.
As the quote about multiple offers above illustrates, John is worried about departments pressuring candidates who might otherwise turn down the school for a better offer. Implied in this worry, I think, is another, that the later departments who would have gotten the candidate lose out as well. But I’m just not moved by this worry. Why? Because the folks John is worried about are among the most privileged people in the profession. The job candidates just got a job offer! Given the nature of the job market, it isn’t certain they’ll get another in the first place. But if they do, they’re in an even better position. Roughly the same concerns apply about the department that loses out: given the surplus of qualified candidates, the person they get instead will almost assuredly be at least as good (and that’s granted that there’s some single metric ‘good’ that all candidates are judged by). So while there’s some small loss that the candidate could have gone to a preferable school, this loss is barely on the radar compared to the many other problems with the job market.3 And if the candidate really doesn’t like the place and think they can do better they’re free to turn down the offer.
This brings us to my second point: I think that it would be a net benefit to spread out the hiring schedule (and I say this as someone who was hit with deadlines before I was really ready to submit). For one thing, early submission deadlines will likely decrease the number of submissions a bit, which will make it slightly easier to look more seriously at more applications (a very small change, I’m sure, but it’s not nothing!). It also allows the candidate to know early on where they’re headed next, info I would love to have right now. It allows the hiring department to plan better for the next year in terms of courses, etc. It decreases the chaos of waiting for one person’s decision to ripple through the system because they have multiple offers. And it removes a candidate from the applicant pool for other jobs, which is especially relevant in the interview and fly-out stages. These benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks of ‘getting a job but maybe not the one you wanted most’ by quite a bit.
The natural response is that the early offer departments are being unscrupulous in getting candidates that are in some sense better than they deserve. Now of course if the hiring department is being coercive or something, that’s no good. But it’s no good regardless of when the offer happens, so that doesn’t seem to be what makes the difference here. But the idea that departments would lose out to a “better” department in a fair head-to-head contest seems wrong-headed to me. There are quite a few schools out there who would greatly benefit from having a really good young philosopher join their ranks, especially compared to the benefits of that same philosopher going to a “top program” that is already full of big names. The discipline already has enough of an issue with a small number of departments generating a small number of graduates that (i) take a disproportionate share of the job offers and (ii) go directly or indirectly back into those same few departments. Spreading the wealth around, as it were, seems like it would make the discipline better off. And while John worries that it is unfair to the later departments to lose a candidate, it strikes me that (a) they can interview someone else who is in all likelihood just as good, and (b) it’s equally unfair to “weaker” departments to be systematically shut out of getting the best people they can and thereby improving. Not to mention, and I can’t stress this enough, the candidate got a job offer! There’s a big difference between being harmed and being made well off but less so than you could have been.
So try as I might, I just can’t find a way of thinking about John’s worry that makes sense to me. It almost works if you assume something like ‘there’s a clear, objective sense of ‘best’ department and ‘best’ philosophers that justifies them getting the lion’s share of the discipline’s benefits’, but since that seems like a pretty objectionable way of thinking (and it runs counter to some other things John says in his post) I don’t want to foist such an assumption on someone.4 But otherwise I’m at a loss.
So what do the rest of you think? Am I missing something here? I’m especially interested to hear from folks who’ve served on search committees, since I don’t know what things look like from that vantage.
 This isn’t to say I disagree throughout. John’s call for philosophy courses to respond to people’s interests and to engage with the broader public is spot on, for example.
 John cites two anecdotes for this claim, one for a grad in his department and one from his alma mater. I quick look at the job wiki throws some doubt on the prevalence of this pattern: ANU’s offer was posted on Dec 9, but the rest weren’t posted until January. Though both anecdotes and wikis can be unreliable, I think we should grant John’s observation.
 This observation is compounded once we take into account folks who are applying for strategic reasons, like angling for promotions or spousal hires. I don’t see anything wrong with these moves per se, but they’re pretty low on the priority list, seems to me.
 As I proofread this post I see myself continually slipping into talk of ‘good departments’, ‘top candidates’ etc in a way that I don’t like. Problems about ranking departments are well known. Worse, talk of a philosopher’s ‘talent’ buys into a bad picture of our psychology (I have in mind a sort of Dweckiean ‘Fixed’ vs. ‘Growth Mindset’ picture). But that’s a post for another day.