New Heights (Lows?) in Philosophy Job Application Requirements

A correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous brought to my attention the job advertisement of California State Sacramento, and sent along the following commentary:

As those on the market all know, the application process can be a hassle. In addition to all the intellectual investment and tedious editing that goes into putting together a decent portfolio, departments often require specific or unique application components from their applicant pool, and experiment with different delivery methods.

Although this is frustrating for the candidate, in most cases we should cut some slack to the departments. They want unique things because they have unique needs and interests and they don’t want to be buried under an avalanche of cookie-cutter applications. Moreover, experimentation in delivery methods is needed because, though there are some better ones already (such as emailing everything as one PDF and Interfolio), they all have drawbacks. For instance, emailing everything as one PDF makes things easy for the candidate, but difficult for chairs and committees. Intefolio is also great overall, but there are some bugs and oddities with file management. There is still room for streamlining and making this arduous process more humane for all involved.

California State Sacramento, however, isn’t one of those many departments merely trying to streamline its process. Instead, the goals appear to be irrational complexity, engineered redundancy, and transferring the costs to the least advantaged.

Here is what the bluntly-worded job ad says, in part:

“Candidates must include the following attachments with the application: 1) A cover letter that addresses the qualifications for the position. The cover letter must include a link to a personal webpage formatted specifically for this application. Place the link to your personal webpage immediately after the salutation of your cover letter. The information on the personal webpage must be arranged in the order shown in the sample at this link…/sacramento-state-university-phil… as follows: – a current curriculum vita; – a statement of scholarly interest; – a sample of professional written work; – a teaching portfolio (including a statement of teaching philosophy, a list of courses taught or developed, and summaries of student evaluations).”

So, the search committee requires that the applicant custom-builds a one-time-use website. This seems wasteful. Most candidates I know already have polished websites. So, the rationale cannot be ensuring that the candidate has the mastery of basic web-design. It is also questionable for privacy reasons. Almost no one wants to make their teaching dossiers or research statements public. Password-protecting the documents or the website will add another layer of needless complexity both for the department and for the applicant. Perhaps more importantly, if all departments did this, a typical candidate would be spending hundreds of hours creating and debugging websites. It is hard to imagine a test of impartiality and fairness under which the requirement might look favorable.

But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. The application also requires the candidate to file an online application through the California State Sacramento HR (for bonus points, the link has been dead for two days by the time of writing this, and HR is unresponsive to email). We, the unfortunate children of the market, know well what hell those online applications typically are, as they require the candidate to manually enter all the information that is readily available in the very first page of their CVs into thirty-something separate boxes.

This online-application requirement would have been forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that California State Sacramento Philosophy Search Committee also decided that the letters of recommendation must be sent to an HR email address, but via Interfolio.

I wasn’t sure how this worked because I had never seen an Interfolio delivery without an Interfolio link before. So, I logged into Interfolio and yes, you can do it. For six US dollars to be paid by you, the applicant, I mean. Notice, Interfolio already provides a confidential letter delivery service for free to the applicant, but for that to work the advertising institution should pay a nominal fee to Interfolio. But why would a state university pay a hundred bucks while they can shift the cost to their applicant pool, which consists mostly of the overworked, underpaid or unemployed?

In total, here is what this job ad requires from the applicant:

1- A one-time-use website exactly matching their format requirements;
2- An online application through the HR website of California State Sacramento;
3- A paid for the Interfolio application.

I do not claim to know all the facts that factored into the decision to concoct this byzantine machination. I also mean no disrespect for the faculty of the department in question. It is possible that the search committee genuinely thought these multiple means of time-consuming and redundant methods were an improvement over the traditional methods, or maybe they just did not think the plan through. However, it is hard to resist the conclusion that California State Sacramento Philosophy Department will not receive many applications this year. Perhaps that was the goal.

And at that, it might be a prudent goal. It is much easier to sift through twenty applications than two hundred. But at what cost? Will the kind of applicants a sensible philosophy department should like to hire even apply? Or will this ad attract only the utterly desperate and the sheepishly compliant? Time will tell.

Let’s remember that some job application requirements may be set by the university (or in public university systems) by the state, and the philosophy department may have little say over them.


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