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anonymous placement director

I'm a placement director who has talked to a few of my former students (who have since moved into TT jobs and been on search committees) about this exact issue. Take this all with a grain of salt, but since I've talked to people at different institutions about it I thought I'd say something. My sense combining what they say with my own experience hiring is that it likely will make a real difference at R1 jobs/places that are concerned about research prestige (not just research!); and that then as you move across the spectrum towards places that care much more about teaching, it's less of an issue (so long as it doesn't come coupled with less teaching experience or make it seem like you are "rusty" at teaching--so I still would be worried about doing it for more than a year. My sense is that currently a lot of places on this whole spectrum (but not at the elite research end of it) are going to be more understanding of this sort of thing in the coming cycle. But that doesn't mean that it all things considered won't be counted against you--I think, sadly, in many places it will.

If it were me I'd probably make significant sacrifices to maintain an institutional affiliation.


I think what Marcus says *should* be right, morally. But unfortunately I think that what the other reader replied probably *is* right. Some search committees will probably hold it against you consciously, and others will probably do it unconsciously. (I think the exception is probably if you are doing work that is closely related to what you work on. Do phil mind or certain kinds of philosophy of science, and work for a company doing AI stuff, or have a JD and a PhD and clerk for a judge - might actually be a plus.)


This is one of many job-market related occasions where I think you should scam, scam, and scam in order to compensate for the fact that you're being unfairly shafted by events well beyond your control.

Here's how to accomplish it in the situation described: almost any university has a handful of quasi-official titles it can hand out that come with *no pay* and no responsibilities, but which look like they're something real. I've variously been a "Postdoctoral Research Fellow" an "Affiliated Faculty Member" and a "Research Associate" at different universities. In each case, the position came with no money, in two cases with no office, and in one case with no library access. In each case, I got this position by emailing friends/friends of friends/friends of advisers at the university in question and just straight up asking if there was something like this available. There was never an application to fill out. There was usually no paperwork to do.

Will the resulting title be complete BS? Yup. Will it prevent some of the discrimination you would otherwise face? Also yup.

FWIW, my experience on the market was that most of the various ways you get shafted by things beyond your control are also things that you can scam your way around, and the scams often have the same 'flavor' as this one.


Such an arrangement need not be a "scam", Tom. I have an affiliation like the one you describe, which, as you state, comes with no pay. But I regularly publish under my university's name; I give comments and participate in seminars at my university; I regularly referee articles; and more.

It seems to me that this is accurately described as a "mutually beneficial arrangement".


It’s not clear to me how “the appointment is not a scam” is supposed to follow from “I have such an appointment”. But I think it’s pretty clear in any event that such appointments are at least very strongly scam-esque. Witness the fact that they appear to be things you applied for but aren’t, look like actual jobs but aren’t, and appear to be something that shows you were granted so sort of professional approbation when you didn’t. It’s just as much a scam as using “yourchairsemailaddress@youruniversity.edu.com” as an email address from which to request Amazon gift cards is a scam. Both are specifically designed to fake the appearance of genuine professional status while being backed by nothing but smoke and mirrors.

None of that means you shouldn’t do it. I did it three times. Now I have a TT job and am planning to continue doing it, albeit the scams have changed a bit.


I don't understand at all how the argument you relayed from the commenter on the other thread is supposed to work, Marcus.

To see why, consider this. There are 200 applicants for a job. 150 have rather dark brown hair, and 50 do not. Isn't it likely that for every one of the 50 without who has three publications, and good teaching evaluations, etc. there are 3 in the pool of 150 who have one. So other things being equal, you will be setting yourself at a disadvantage by not having rather dark brown hair.

I mean, that argument is just obviously unpersuasive, isn't it?


I agree with Tom that it is scam-ish, but regardless of how you frame it, I think getting some no-pay official title is morally permissible, I agree it is pretty easy to accomplish, I think it has real benefits in the job market, I have done something of this sort myself in the past, and I now have a TT position. Of course I don't know how much it ultimately mattered, by I believe it helped to some degree.


This is a question for Tom the scammer.

For the love of God would you please let us in on some of your other scams?!


Tom: what other "scams" like this are you referring to? ("FWIW, my experience on the market was that most of the various ways you get shafted by things beyond your control are also things that you can scam your way around, and the scams often have the same 'flavor' as this one.... Now I have a TT job and am planning to continue doing it, albeit the scams have changed a bit.")


I will leave it for Marcus to address and manage this, but my sense is that the mission of this site is at odds with being "the place to go" if you want to learn how to scam your way through the profession. I still like to think that we care about things like integrity. Remember the Ring of Gyges.


Marcus can decide whether to post this, of course. But here are two scam-adjacent things I do/have done. Before getting to the scams themselves, I wanna address Gyges' comment.

The fact of the matter is that much of the way hiring and the way university administration is done is so very very morally bankrupt that I just really *really* don't feel that as an actor in this system I have any obligation to uphold whatever norms are imposed on me by those who have the power to impose them. Take teaching evaluations as just one example. Using them to make *any sort* of decision about hiring or retention seems so obviously morally wrong that I can't believe universities retain the practice. They systematically disadvantage people who are already disadvantaged, have been shown repeatedly to not measure any of the things admin folks claim to want to measure, and are really just a mirror for whatever prejudices our students already had going in. As a result, I feel no compunctions about completely and utterly gaming the teaching evaluation system.

On that note, scam number 1: I'll assume your teaching evaluations are administered online. If this is so, do these two things to see a noticeable boost in your scores: (1) open them as late as you can (provided you have control over this) (2) remind *only the students you want to actually see evaluations from* that the evaluations are available. In fact, warn those (and only those) students that they'll be open, then pester them about them. The thing is, we all already know which students are going to give us good evaluations. By getting (mostly) just those students to evaluate you, your scores go up, your ratio of positive comments to negative comments goes up, etc. (I've used this scam for nigh on a decade now; my evaluations are sparkling.)

Scam 2: This is the most morally permissible of the scams I have in my scambook. Whenever I got a position (whether it was real or fake---and see above about the fake-positions scams) I would look through the list of places I applied. Anywhere where there was someone I wanted to impress, I would send an email saying "blah blah, I got a position elsewhere and want to withdraw my application blah blah". The point, of course, wasn't to withdraw my application---almost always I already knew through the wiki that I was out of consideration. The point was just to try to put my name on the mind of someone on the committee, and to put it there in a positive light.

(Does this work? Sorta---I got several invited talks out of the second scam.)

The moral of the story is this: the system is rigged against you, is unfair, and is morally bankrupt. Stop thinking like a good citizen and member of the polity here. Start thinking like a member of the resistance fighting using whatever dirty/guerrilla methods you have at your disposal. Or, to put it in terms that actually make sense given my personal history, think like a poor person who has accidentally found themselves playing a rich person's game.

Playing fair is for suckers.

don't hate the player, hate the game

I find it interesting that job applicants are beholden to Gyges’ point about integrity and not hiring committees that behind closed doors overwhelmingly make decisions about who to hire based on unfair and arbitrary factors like the prestige of PhD department and nepotism (there is data that is decisive about this practice, which has also been shown to further disadvantage underrepresented groups such as racially minoritized people and first-generation students from low socioeconomic backgrounds).

Applicants might feel more inclined to do the honorable thing if they didn’t feel like the system is rigged and unfairly stacked against them not least because it rewards people who try to game the system in other ways (for example by jury-rigging an in-demand area of specialization/competence in social philosophy/non-western philosophy that they otherwise wouldn't bother with). If that’s acceptable I don’t see how what Tom describes is worse.

In this case it’s absurd to blame applicants for doing whatever is necessary to maximize their chances at getting a job especially when the profession at large is dishonest about what it takes. Blame the conditions that lead people to do this.


I suspect that some or many people who commit “scams” and unfair hiring practices in philosophy were also the ones who complained about the injustices when they were on the job market search themselves. Money and power does give some people a bit of amnesia. No players, no game.

I think it’s very important both from a moral and a prudential standpoint to explicitly educate people about the difference between certain job titles and the benefits and costs of them. Some people might look and assume an “assistant professor” will make the same as an “associate professor.” Are some of these labels mentioned by Tom’s experience morally wrong to advertise? Kant would say “no” since they’re not *really* lying to us. Instead, they got us with a misleading truth. We were just naive and ignorant about these positions to expect more.

The lessons to be learned here are the terms, categorizations, and descriptions of different positions. Unless you see the word “assistant/associate/full/tenure professor,” I think it’s safe to assume that the position will not come with many or any financial and/or institutional benefits.

With this in mind, perhaps the productive and wise thing to do is to crowdsource these job labels and positions and put a description of them including their benefits and costs for others to know about so they know what to expect when applying for these positions.

But of course, more knowledge and prudence do not guarantee that these positions that Tom mentioned will come with financial and institutional benefits in the future. I don’t have a solution yet. Immediate solution will probably require either legislation that applies to all institutions and/or institutions going out of their way to provide benefits for all positions. But the least we can do is help those on the job market be educated on these positions before they naively apply and end up being miserable than they’d expect.

Sam Duncan

One thing I'd point out is that the increasing popularity of online classes has made it much easier to maintain a legitimate institutional affiliation while also working a job outside of academia. It's impossible to fit the teaching schedule of most colleges with that of a full time job, but you can do the work for an online class in a way that suits your schedule. Another thing to keep in mind here is that most community colleges have evening and weekend classes and full time faculty often don't want to do these. Those could also be made to fit with the schedule for another full time job. Now granted given the disgusting snobbery of the leitterrific or wannabe leiterrific working at a CC is probably worse for your prospects for R1 jobs than no affiliation at all. But let's be honest if you don't go to at minimum a top 25 school and you don't get at least a postdoc or a fairly prestigious VAP right out of school you don't have any realistic shot at an assistant professor job at an R1 anyway. And for CC jobs and, I suspect many other teaching focused jobs, CC experience would help a lot. If you go the online route you can probably find adjuncting jobs at four year schools as well. (I suspect even that destroys any chance at an R1 gig but it's possible it might look different for jobs that take prestige into account but where folks aren't as prestige-obsessed as R1 faculty and admin).

Assistant Professor

To the original question: I have a similar intuition as others that not having an affiliation is generally viewed negatively, and that there are mitigating circumstances this year and likely in the coming years(s) that hiring committees will hopefully recognize and which may end up revising the norms and expectations around affiliations. Also, it may not be possible to stay in your PhD program as a funded person, and there are trade offs in waiting to officially file for graduation given the perception of time to completion of degree, but it might be worth an arrangement with your institution to remain technically a student, even if not a funded, one an extra year - those are cost/benefits to look at with your committee, most likely.

To the comments: focusing on the term "scam" for navigating professional dynamics seems to undersell the importance of professionalism and oversell the idea that figuring out how to be savvy about your career is identical to a scam. Having an unpaid affiliation seems potentially mutually exploitative at worst and mutually beneficial at best, but not a scam. The affiliated person benefits from the affiliation, colleagues, likely some access to resources (like office space or library privileges), without any teaching or admin duties to take away from their research time that will hopefully allow them to land a great paid job. The institution gets to identify with interesting scholars without having to pay for them. Are these ideal labor conditions? Heck no. But a scam? I can't see it that way. Notably, all sorts of people who also have academic appointments have additional affiliations that are titular and do not come with money or obligations, including joint affiliations or courtesy appointments.

Marcus Arvan

I'd like to follow up on Evan's comment. While I am sympathetic with the situation that people like Tom find themselves in (a job market and profession with many forms of injustice/unfairness)--indeed, I spent a rather horrific 7 years on the market myself--I don't think playing fair is for suckers. Quite the contrary, I think there are two related reasons not to engage in the kinds of scams that Tom describes:

1. Prudential reasons
2. Moral reasons

First, the prudential reasons. First, while you may get away with things like *only* reminding students you actually want evaluations from to fill them out, I've seen where these kinds of short-cuts can unexpectedly lead: to students *discovering* the scam, raising concerns with administrators, or complaining in one's evaluations themselves (i.e. 'Professor Tom is unethical: he only encourages students to review him who he thinks will give him good reviews!'). Complaints like this *can* happen, and lead to real problems for people who do it (nothing could torpedo someone's job-candidacy like a bad reference/background check from your current employer!). Second, even if you don't run into these problems now (i.e. on the job market), if you make this sort of thing a habit (i.e. behaving like Thrasymachus), chances are you'll get nailed for *something* sooner or later, perhaps when you come up for tenure. Indeed, having worked at a university for many years now, my experience is that people who tend to take shortcuts or engage in 'scams' tend to do so ever-more-recklessly, eventually getting caught (indeed, I went to grad school with someone who engaged in a serious scam and was fired from his first TT job as a result - destroying his career).

Now, the moral reasons: my sense is that Evan is broadly right here. We all know there are some people who make this profession a better place, and those who make it a worse place. My own experience is that those who make it a worse place--a senior, tenured people--are those who think as follows, "I don't owe anything to anyone. I suffered on an unfair, exploitative job-market myself, so why should *I* do anything to fix it?" If we want to improve the profession, the thing to do is to *not* become cynical people like that. But, my sense is, the kind of cynicism that "don't hate the player, hate the game" endorses lends itself to exactly that.

Anyway, these are just my own views and experiences. But I personally think there is real dignity--and prudence--in holding oneself to a higher standard *even in* an unfair and unjust setting. Two wrongs, as they say, don't make a right. Do things the right way, come what may--and chances are, doing things right will benefit you anyway: scams have a real tendency to blow up in people's faces. I've seen it happen more than once, and seen careers destroyed by trying to scam things.


I find it weird that Tom believes that they are "thinking like a member of the resistance fighting using whatever dirty/guerrilla methods you have at your disposal." For me, you are describing a kind of behavior that is solicited by overcompetitive and unjust systems. Put briefly, you are pretty much part of the game. You are manipulating the system for your self-interest (what you describe as teaching evaluation scam). And you are exploiting the slightest competitive advantage you have over others who are in a similar situation as you are (what you describe as application cancelling scam). Both actions hurt in particular your peers: The first scam contributes to an increase of the department mean that makes live harder for everybody else who is dependent on good teaching evaluations, i.e. tenure track faculty, adjuncts, and sessionals. The second scam does not take away speaker spots from big names, but from other early career people. With all due respect, your actions are not the actions of a guerilla, but of a strike breaker. And I say this as someone who has a real working class background. I had to work my ass off since primary school to get even into the discussion for studying. I could not afford dirty tricks, since I was suspicious all the way long...


Marcus, I like you and like your blog. But I think neither of the arguments you just made hold water.

In the prudential argument you move from to . This move is deeply suspicious. You simply do not know about the scams that don't blow up---that's the nature of scams. Essentially all the examples you have are examples of those that do blow up, so there's a very real bias in your set of samples here. You say "chances are that you'll get nailed for something sooner or later". That's true. It's sadly true even if you don't engage in scams. I've seen many an honest person torpedoed by students who were simply willing to cause trouble. So wtf? If there's good odds it's gonna happen either way, might as well get while the gettin's good.

Your moral reasons are no less suspect. You're of course correct: some folks who scam their way up will think others should have to live the same way. But I think this is not the *usual* human reaction to such things. I think the more typical human reaction to having had to scam, fight, and cheat one's way through an unfair system is *rage* at said system. That's how I feel, and it's how every other scam artist I've met in the profession feels. The folks who think things ought to stay the same are those who *didn't* have to do those things to get where they are.

I'll say it again, and I'll say more: playing fair is for suckers. It's doing what the unfair masters of the unfair system *want you to do*. If you keep playing by their rules and keep being perfectly honest about everything and staying on the up and up, they'll be perfectly happy to throw out your totally honest, up and up job materials and applaud you for being so upstanding while they watch you go home to comfort yourself at night with your dignity and your empty stomach.

If you want to fix things, you've got to get in; if you want to get in you've got to play dirty. So play dirty.

(On a side note, here's a claim I think I honestly believe that I'm down to defend: asking for teaching evaluations from job candidates is morally impermissible. If you're on a search committee and you do ask for them, how do you defend the practice?)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Tom: I can’t give a full refutation here, and any attempt to do so may well leave you unmoved. But if you’re interested, I give an extended treatment of these issues in my most recent book. In brief, there’s a lot of evidence that prudent people become risk-averse in particular ways (specifically, with respect to violating moral norms), and that forms of risk-aversion like that tend to maximize long-term expected utility (risk-averse people tend to save more money, have more career success, more stable relationships, stay out of trouble with the law, etc.). Conversely, non-risk-averse people tend to overestimate the probability that they will get away with things, and tend to act impulsively in ways that favor their perceived short term-term interests but jeopardize their long-term ones. Is this evidence *conclusive*? Surely not. But do we have good evidence that it is true? I think so.

Now, you’re certainly right about one thing: the *usual* human response against perceived injustices is to rage against them. And in fact my spouse is a PhD in Organizational Psychology who examines how perceived injustices tend to give rise to counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs). But here’s the thing, again in line with what I said above and in my previous comments: CWBs (such as work scams!) not only tend to harm organizations, but also the individuals who commit them. Indeed, the empirical literature shows that people who engage in CWBs tend to do a worse job, get reprimanded and fired more often, promoted less often, and so on.

The way I see it, your approach to these matters is admittedly natural. But sometimes (oftentimes, I would say) the natural thing is both morally wrong and imprudent. Human beings are *naturally* risk-takers and future-discounters, despite the fact that both strongly predict long-term imprudent outcomes and violations of moral norms. The lesson, I believe, is not to do what comes naturally, but rather to be *better* than that.

Finally, as to your claim that sometimes “bad things happen to good people”, this is of course true: bad things can happen to anyone. The more relevant matter is what *tends* to happen to people who do things right versus people who engage in scams. I’ve seen many people who engage in scams get found out and suffer for them. I’ve rarely seen this happen to people who do things right—in large part because, when you do things right, those who *attempt* to wrongly persecute you (scammers themselves!) will be revealed for what they are: people trumping up fake charges with no good basis. At the very least, doing things right gives you a good *defense* against wrongdoers like these, where being a scammer reveals that, no, it is *you* who behaved unethically.

Anyway, I doubt that I will convince you of any of this. But for what it is worth, the longer I work at a university the clearer and more obvious all of this seems: scammers tend to get nailed (if not immediately, then at some point later on), whereas people who do things right tend to do well. You must of course make your own choices, and I may be wrong. But I’ve seen enough stuff go down to make me reasonably confident that scamming just isn’t worth the risk. Rage solves nothing. The many iterations of the ‘metablog’ are illustrative here, I think. People on those boards raged about the profession all day long—and yet it changed nothing, other than placing those who owned and posted there in danger of being found out. https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2018/05/the-disappearing-anonymous-and-pseudonymous-blogs.html

Having a stable, successful career, on the other hand, can provide one with real opportunities to make the profession a little bit better—as some of us are trying very hard to do our part to do. Fwiw


I still don't see a clear argument why nominal affiliations are "scams". Tom has not given any compelling reasons to think they are, to my mind. If a search committee cannot be bothered to draw a distinction between an "Assistant Professor" and a "Postdoctoral Researcher" and a "Visiting Scholar", and what that might signal (if anything)--well, that's on them. The university and the scholar are acting honestly.

However, I do agree with him that there is truth in "if you want to get in you've got to play dirty". And I tend to believe that you, Marcus, are wrong when you say that "scammers tend to get nailed"--especially in academia. I believe, in fact, that some of our most senior scholars, who have fancy titles and teach at elite institutions, are fakers. I believe that entire segments of the profession are constituted by scam artists. And I believe that, deep down, these people know this (one reason people have imposter syndrome is that they are, in fact, imposters).

Yet I reject Tom's claim that "playing fair is for suckers". Maybe he's right that it's "what the unfair masters of the unfair system *want you to do*". Maybe not. But I believe there is something to standing on principle; to saying what you believe, frankly, even if that comes at personal cost; to trying to stand against an unjust tide.

Ideas like "dignity", "honor", and "duty" are out of fashion these days, and snickered at by guys like Tom. And they have the jobs, and the security, and other nice things. But I would not wish to have any of those things, ever, at the cost of my character.

Marcus Arvan

Tom2: I actually don't think nominal affiliations are scams. It's something that fairly many people do, there are good reasons for people to be able to do it, people on the hiring side of things know that nominal titles like these exist (and what they look like), and there are no standing moral norms according to which it is a scam. If I didn't have an academic position and needed a nominal title, I would do it, and for all of the above reasons I wouldn't think there is anything scammy about it. I just wouldn't *lie* about the nature of my title if anyone asked about it, as that would be a scam.

Anyway, on your 'elite people at elite places' point, I have two responses:

(1) These people are in a *very* different position than Tom. They are in positions of power. The fact that they *have* power is one of the reasons that some of them may have confidence that they can get away with being scammers. But what people in positions of power should do may be very different than what *powerless* people should do. When powerful people get caught, they can sometimes (more often than one would like!) weasel their way out of it, leveraging their power to avoid negative consequences. And this is, indeed, why powerful faculty seem to get away with really bad stuff for long periods of time.

(2) But actually--and this is a point that I discuss at great length in my book--even *these* people have a real propensity to 'face the music' in the longer run. For example, there are a number of members of the profession alleged to have profited from sexual misconduct for a great deal of their careers...and yet, as we all know, in recent years many of them were *finally* brought to account (in ways that destroyed their careers, reputation, etc.). Similarly, there are those who willfully engage in research conduct (see e.g. Marc Hauser at Harvard) who enjoy short-term fame but long-term infamy. And indeed, if we look outside of academia, people like Trump are a wonderful example: Trump has profited throughout his life from being a scammer...and yet, in the end, it led him to infamy (and indeed, he's almost certainly going to face multiple federal and state criminal charges in coming months). Hitler, obviously, is an even more extreme case: he was able to leverage a Big Lie into power, war, and genocide...and yet he too was eventually brought to account (Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, white slaveholders & the Civil War, etc., are all good examples as well).

The question, again, isn't whether bad people (scammers) *can* get away with scamming people. Surely, they can. The more relevant question is whether *being a scammer* is a good life strategy. I think there is plenty of evidence that it isn't, both from everyday life and from the science of predictors of long-term health, happiness, wealth, good relationships, and flourishing. But this, obviously, is a much larger conversation than we can have on a blog!

Gambling Addict

I just want to comment on the moral permissibility of the sorts of "scams" Tom has mentioned. I think it's possible they're not only morally permissible but there can be positive moral reason to do them. *If* the ways of assessing candidates really are biased and unfair, then (in at least some circumstances) it's permissible for me to be deceptive so as not to be unfairly disadvantaged. Consider the following annoyingly simplistic example. Say that departments have a bias for naturally dark haired people. It's permissible for me to dye my hair and pass myself off as naturally dark haired. That's not exploiting the system. It's protecting oneself from being unfairly disadvantaged. Now say that I not only dye my hair, but I publicly discourage others from doing so and out other hair-dyers to increase my chances. Clearly *that's* immoral. But now imagine that I not only dye my hair but I encourage others to do so. I anonymously post about it on a philosophy website for early career people to encourage the practice's widespread adoption. I have moral reason to do this. Consider, if everyone dyed their hair, then candidates on the job market would no longer be unfairly disadvantaged in this way. We'd (hopefully) be judged according to our genuine merit. I have moral reason to promote this outcome. I take it this is the sort of thing that Tom means by becoming a guerilla fighter against the system.

Personally, I'm much too risk averse to do the sorts of things that have been discussed (accept for the affiliations thing). But I'm not at all convinced this is to my advantage. Marcus, I'll check out that chapter in your book. Maybe you'll persuade me otherwise.

Sam Duncan

It seems to me that it might be too easy to fall in to a false dichotomy here: Either one accepts all the norms of the profession and scrupulously follows them or everything goes. Neither seems right to me. In some cases it does seem not only acceptable but positively virtuous to flout the norms of our profession. Consider norms around so-called "professionalism". A lot of the time being professional means nothing more than those lower in the grand academic caste system ought to know their place. In these cases I have nothing but admiration for those who openly and intentionally violate the norm of "professionalism" and I wish more of us had the guts to do it. Consider this example: A friend of mine had an interview and the head of the committee promised that all applicants would know whether they'd made the on campus stage in a month. A month comes and goes and my friend emails the head of the search committee who ignores him. He emails again and again. Finally, the secretary of the department writes him to let him know that they are in the process of on campus interviews and he wasn't selected. My friend then writes a pointed email to the chair of the committee calling him out on not keeping his promises and not having the decency to either answer his emails or courage to give him the bad news himself. The chair is utterly outraged and sends him an email back blasting him over and over and over for being "unprofessional." Anyway this went on for a bit but my point here is that my friend likely was "unprofessional" by the norms of academic philosophy (though not those of any honest profession where failing to notify unsuccessful applicants is considered highly unprofessional and, more importantly, just shabby). But in this case they're lousy norms and seeing through them and resisting them requires and shows considerable virtue.
That doesn't mean that all norm breaking in academic philosophy is justified or virtuous though. Another sort of possible case to my mind are scenarios where those low in the academic caste system must do something that is in many ways less than ideal to protect themselves from the bad behavior of those higher up but where regret is an appropriate attitude for doing that. For instance, I've known people who had good reason to think they were the victims of sabotage letters and used various strategies to get their hands on their letters of recommendation to see whether that was true and to ferret out the offender. I've much more mixed feelings about this than telling off a search committee chair who's too lazy or cowardly to keep his promises. I can't bring myself to condemn them-- they wouldn't have to do it if not for the gross misbehavior of those higher up-- but I can't bring myself to think this is a good or admirable thing to do either. At best this seems like one of those cases like injuring or even killing another person in self-defense where the action is perhaps excusable and possibly even justifiable but far from ideal. It's not a good thing one has to do this and a decent person should recognize that. They shouldn't exult in their behavior and tell themselves they are more clever than all the suckers who follow the rules of recommendation letters anymore than someone who's had to hurt or kill another should pat himself on the back for being a wolf or lion above the herd morality. That shows a pretty deep and frightening moral corruption I think.
And of course much norm breaking in the profession is just plain bad. I don't see most of Tom's "scams" as particularly bad, though they really aren't very clever or effective either. I doubt titles like "affiliated scholar" or the odd talk, which one could get by honest means, really do all that much to give one a leg up. Gaming course evaluations though in the way he does seems pretty blatantly immoral though and his justifications sophistical. Perhaps I've missed some information to the contrary, but I assume that Tom is a man and most likely a white man under the age of 60 (I'm just going on demographics here). If that's so then of course Tom already benefits from precisely the biases he bemoans. Gaming evaluations allows him to take further unfair advantage on top of an unfair advantage he already has. Citing the unfairness of evaluations as a reason to do what he does is like Donald Trump citing the unfairness of the tax code as reason for gaming the system so as not to pay taxes. Yes the tax code is massively unfair but the way it's unfair already benefits guys like Trump to the detriment of others. Yes the evaluation system is unfair but it's unfair in ways that benefit guys like Tom (assuming he is in fact a white guy under 60). Moreover, even if we admit that evaluations are flawed there are many legitimate reasons that employers might want to see them. For one thing, correct me if I'm wrong but I thought that studies showed not that teaching evaluations failed entirely to predict and reflect quality of teaching but only that they were not all that great as predictors. I seem to remember that there was some positive correlation between evaluations and effective teaching in studies. Personally, though I've never thought evaluations can tell us that someone is a good teacher, I do think they can tell us when someone is a lousy teacher. I wouldn't jump to any conclusions if someone has mediocre evals or great ones semester after semester but I would have some very strong suspicions if they had consistently terrible ones. And there's a good chance that if someone has racial or other biases or is prone to sexual harassment that would show up as a pattern in evaluations or at least it would complete evaluations. Again, I wouldn't assume that one accusation of bias or harassment or other worrying behavior in evaluations means too much but if claims of bias or harassment pop up with any kind of regularity in evaluations... well that very likely means something. Patterns are very telling with these things. That's a very good reason that those doing the hiring might want a full and accurate set of evaluations.

Amma (ant-anti-Tom)

Tom, thank you so much for sharing these great scams! The original one you mentioned is brilliant and the two follow-ups are invaluable. I will be using them post haste. I think it is really generous of you to share them. I haven't the slightest compunction about using them and actually find it interesting that others do. Maybe I don't feel bad for trying to get in the back door because it seems like luck anyway, or maybe because I believe I'll be a great colleague, dedicated teacher, etc once I'm in? Maybe the stakes are high enough I consider it permissible self-favouring.

In any case: if you have still other scams (or "scams") to share, I would be greatly indebted to you to learn them.


I was the OP and after the helpful thoughts in this thread (thanks!) I asked several people at my institution if I could be given a nominal affiliation. I was told that no one in my department knows how to offer such a thing and that if I want to convince the administration to offer nominal affiliation I should provide links to descriptions of similar positions at other universities.

Does anyone have any ideas about how to propose a nominal affiliation to the administration? I'm assuming there is no way to show them that other universities are engaged in this since these positions are 'scams'. Any other ideas?


Tom, I know this is a bit late but I would be extremely interested to learn of some of your other "scams" if you would be willing to share (anonymously of course). I know I don't have much to offer in return but I will shower you with gratitude. You could email me at interestedparty631@gmail.com. Thanks for your help in this thread.

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