Search Committee Members: You Could Update The Jobs Wiki
A philosopher currently on the market writes in with a request to search committee members: update the jobs wiki.
Every year, many jobseekers spend weeks or months waiting to hear back about jobs. At every stage of the search process—after the initial application, after the videoconference interview, and after the on-campus interview—they desperately want to know whether they have been eliminated. A lucky few soon hear good news. Most of the others have to wait. Days, weeks, months go by. Their hope painfully dwindles. Eventually, they accept their now-obvious fate. And then the PFO* arrives from an HR department, far too late to do any good.
It would be a great benefit to these people if they could find out that they have been eliminated as soon as they are eliminated. This would turn a prolonged and extremely painful process into a much shorter and much less painful process. Applicants would be able to emotionally move on much more quickly and turn their full attention to other possibilities.
Well, as it happens, it is very easy for these people to be informed as soon as they are eliminated from your search. All that is necessary is for members of search committees to update the jobs wiki whenever their search progresses to a new stage (i.e., when invitations for first-round interviews are sent out, and when invitations for second-round/on-campus interviews are sent out, and when offers are made). This year, the wiki is here.
Updating the wiki is anonymous, so members of search committees do not have to worry about being penalized for conveying information without HR permission. There is no downside to updating the wiki and there is a big upside. You can be a big help to jobseekers—many of whom are your friends, and all of whom are your professional colleagues—by just doing this one simple thing. All search committee members should see this as a responsibility of being on a committee.
In many universities, search committee members believe that they are not permitted to communicate this type of news to applicants until HR gives permission. However, in at least some universities, the rule is only that committee members cannot tell applicants that they have been eliminated. In such places, there is no explicit rule against communicating matters of simple fact, such as the fact that invitations to first-round interviews have been sent out, etc. (And such matters of simple fact are all that are reported on the wiki.) If you happen to be in a university where the rules are like that, then you would not even be violating any HR rules by updating the wiki.
But even if you are in a university where updating the wiki would violate HR rules, you can still update the wiki without any fear of being reprimanded, because updating the wiki is anonymous. Your HR department is unlikely to even know that the wiki exists and in any event will be unable to know the identity of the person who updated the wiki. The wiki can be updated by anyone.
Some committee members believe they should try to hide information from candidates because they think they might have a harder time snagging their Nth choice if their Nth choice knows s/he was not the top choice. But for one thing, this line of thinking does not explain why you would want to keep anyone but your tippity-top candidates in the dark. If someone is eliminated in the first round, for example, you can know that they will not be getting an offer in any case so there is no reason to hide anything from them. Also, your Nth choice candidates will eventually work out that they are not your top choice just by noticing the length of time it takes to hear from you. You will not get on their good side by clumsily trying and failing to keep information from them. It’s better to let them know what is going on (either directly or indirectly, through the wiki) than to keep them hoping on the off chance that you will offer them the job later on.
Sounds reasonable, no?[*PFO = “please fuck off” aka a rejection letter]
Funny how you have to say some things about basic human decency out loud. An additional idea would be for people to go back through their inbox and take five minutes to fire off one- or two-sentence responses to every applicant that has emailed you to check the status of their application. Please don’t ignore us. The process is already horrible, and the radio silence just makes it worse. Have some compassion.Report
It’s annoying, of course, not to be told that one isn’t getting an interview. But it is way past annoying–and well into the category of ‘deeply rude’–not to inform people *after* an interview that they aren’t getting a campus visit. That was an hour of (digitally) face-to-face conversation in which the candidate (presumably) poured their heart into trying to show their worth to you, and now they wait anxiously to know if their plans over the next weeks and months will have to take a radical detour–whether they’ll need to plan a special lesson to teach your students, get their job talk ready, have someone cover/cancel their classes, organize travel, coordinate with their spouse, find childcare, etc. And the committee just ghosts them.
I forever do not buy the “HR says we can’t” line. You can find clear-cut ways of doing this, if you really wanted to. It’s sheer neglect that explains the persistence of this practice, not prohibition from doing otherwise.Report
Not that I’m chairing a search committee right now, but I’m unconvinced by the idea that “I won’t get caught” is a complete justification for violating University policies that I might have signed up for. I’m even less convinced that I have a professional responsibility to violate my institution’s policies.
(I completely agree that SCs ought to inform people about status changes as soon as possible, and should push back against often-ill-considered instructions not to from higher up.)Report
You probably didn’t “sign up for” your university’s HR policies. You signed an employment contract when you were hired; there is probably nothing in there about following HR’s rules.
You say, “I’m even less convinced that I have a professional responsibility to violate my institution’s policies.” Do you think it can never be the case that your professional responsibilities conflict with your institution’s policies? Your discipline is a much larger thing than your institution. The responsibilities that come with being a member of that discipline could happen to align with your institution’s policies but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think they would have to do so.Report
You signed an employment contract when you were hired; there is probably nothing in there about following HR’s rules.
Typically an employment contract will say that you agree to follow the policies of the workplace as promulgated and established from time to time, or something like that. There are often difficult questions about when those rules themselves are incorporated into a contract, but almost all contracts of employment will have a statement saying that you are bound by the workplace rules. The particular rules don’t have to be specified for this to be an obligation.Report
I just looked at my own contract and there isn’t really anything that could be very clearly interpreted as a requirement to obey HR (and of course there is no explicit mention of HR rules). Anyway, even if there is a thing like that in your contract, it seems like it doesn’t have much to do with the content of the agreement actually being made when you are hired (i.e., it’s like the fine print Adobe Acrobat’s terms and conditions: yes, there is an agreement between you and Adobe Acrobat in the sense that both parties have an overlapping understanding of what each party is expected to provide the other; no, the content of that agreement is not determined by what is written in the terms and conditions that no one reads.)Report
I want to suggest to people that they don’t take legal advice from anonymous philosophers commenting on blogs, because it’s likely to be wrong, as the comment above it. There may be a good question as to whether the sorts of terms discussed here should be seen as morally binding (I’m not sure myself) but there’s not that much question that they are legally binding.Report
When I wrote “even if there is a thing like that in your contract, it seems like it doesn’t have much to do with the content of the agreement actually being made when you are hired,” I wasn’t trying to make a legal claim. I assume the legal question is irrelevant in the current context because there is no chance that search committees will face legal consequences for anonymously updating the wiki (and that’s the only way legal issues matter). I was only trying to make a suggestion about what sort of morally binding agreement is actually getting made when you sign an employment contract.Report
It is unserious to suppose that reasonable people don’t understand that adhering to your employer’s agreed policy is part of what you sign up to when you agree to work for them.Report
(But: congratulations on your promotions.)Report
You’re the unserious one. So there. Nyah. But seriously, your position implies that when a normal person signs a contract at a normal university, they are making an agreement that morally binds them to (for example) do pointless “active shooter” training sessions should an admin require this of you, just because that’s your employer’s policy and you’ve signed an employment contract. That seems really weird to me. (Yes, you should do those training sessions–but only because you’re going to be penalized if you don’t.) Normally, there is a mutual understanding that things like teaching and committee work are expected of you, so it seems plausible that (in virtue of that mutual understanding) you do have a morally significant contractual obligation to do those things. You can’t just refuse to teach courses (even if you can get away with it). But there is no mutual understanding that you’re going to just do whatever the employer says about everything, so there is no obligation to do that. And thank you for the congratulations on my numerous hard-won promotions.Report
Huh? Even if it violates my university’s HR policy, I’m supposed to do it anyway, because it’s anonymous and I’m not going to get caught? That doesn’t sound quite right. It’s almost like, if I had a ring that made me invisible, I might as well seduce the queen and take over the kingdom while I was at it.
This is just bad advice. First, we have fiduciary obligations to our employers to not sabotage their policies. (If those are bad policies–and to continue with the Plato allusions–we should work to change them [Crito], not cherry pick which ones we don’t like.) Second, for all anyone knows, it might well be *illegal* to violate those policies (i.e., under things like data protection, employment law, and so on). And if so–on which I have no idea–then this whole thread could plausibly run afoul of conspiracy law (and other stuff).
So, while I otherwise agree that not communicating with job candidates is a bad idea–at least within the limits of one’s HR directives–I would respectfully recommend that this proposal not be taken seriously. More serious idea: convene a panel at an APA, get university administrators from a range of institutional settings involved, figure out a more humane way to run the process, and so on. Don’t just ninja it over the interwebs.Report
Could Jon or someone provide an example of an actual HR policy at an actual university that says something like, “faculty may not tell people outside the school ‘we’ve invited a few people to campus to interview for a position we’re trying to fill.’”?Report
Our institution has a policy that says this: “In all cases, the work of the search committee is confidential and committee members should not discuss candidate information or details with candidates, or non-committee members.” I take that to mean that *all* work, including the progress of the search, cannot be discussed outside the committee.Report
Thanks. I don’t think this rules out posting “we’ve moved on to flyouts”, though, as doing so reveals no confidential information, betrays no confidences, etc.Report
Once invitations/offers have gone out, this information is public because it’s in the hands of those who have received the invitations/offers and those people are free to share it with whomever they want, including via the wiki. Confidentiality rules such as those cited by EC @ SLAC are not plausibly read as requiring members of the committee to attempt to conceal information that is now publicly available.
Jon Light’s comment is a disturbing conflation between morality (which is what the Ring of Gyges is about) and HR rules. Happily, most people are able to tell the difference between these.Report
The other point is that we’re only supposed to communicate with our applicants through the HR portal, and there’s only a couple different things that can say, any of which terminates the applicant’s application (i.e., they’d literally have to reapply if we so much as wanted to talk to them later). There is no option that says “we’ve picked people to come to campus, and you’re not one of them.”
Of course, in principle, we could email them and say whatever we wanted. But we’re not supposed to do that, either, because: (1) again, this is all supposed to go through the HR portal–otherwise anyone could be saying anything to anybody, and there’s no way to track it, know the propriety thereof, and so on; and (2) there’s other “equal opportunity” worries about emails, many of which could be backchanneled, issued to preferred candidates, and so on. In other words, this proposed “we’ve moved to flyouts” option isn’t an option in the portal, and switching to email isn’t a preferred practice–either institutionally or otherwise.Report
It’s unclear whether posting to the wiki counts as “communicating with applicants.” It’s certainly not a direct communication. Also, posting to the wiki is only a way of indirectly communicating “we’ve picked people to come to campus”–the other bit (“you’re not one of them”) is actually communicated in the posting, but is just something that applicants can easily work out for themselves.Report
(Should’ve been ‘…isn’t actually…’)Report
The OP explicitly says that if your institution has an HR policy that forbids you posting then don’t worry, because it’s anonymous. I at least was commenting on that, without prejudice as to whether there actually are such policies.Report
Is Jon Light’s point supposed to be that we have obligations to some people, so that means that we shouldn’t act on our conflicting obligations to other people? I would have thought that at *best* this is a case of conflicting obligations, and that’s even if we grant that faculty stand to HR departments in anything like the sort of relations that generate moral obligations to obey whatever rules HR comes up with. The problem is that we also have obligations to people who are unemployed and suffering, and so if we’re forced to choose, let’s choose to aid those people. If that’s illegal for some dumb reason, then call it civil disobedience, right?
And let’s be clear: there is no scenario in which telling people that they haven’t made a cut affects your hiring process, since you are not going to hire them. Telling someone they are #2 on a final list has an extremely small chance of affecting your hiring process, but boy, that’s a hell of a small hook to hang your “I’m going to leave people in the dark because HR wants me to” hat on. Especially since every job seeker knows full well that there is no shame in being #2 on a list of 300 applicants!Report
There is a perfectly good case for treating your obligations to your employer as outweighed by other considerations. If the OP had said “don’t worry about your HR policy, it’s unjustifiable and this is more important” I would have had more sympathy (which isn’t necessarily to say I’d agree; the devil would be in the details). It was “don’t worry about your HR policy, you won’t get caught” that I balked at.Report
I think it’s pretty obvious that the OP is arguing for all of those things–that the HR policy is unjustifiable and this is more important and you won’t get caught if you violate it and by the way you might not even be violating it if you u. All of those are relevant considerations.Report
Beyond all the stuff said above about the legal issues and the potential unethical improprieties of search committee members communicating with applicants outside of the official channels, there’s this: if you are on a search committee at a shitty university doing a search for a mediocre job, you always have to be aware that the people you pick for on-campus interviews might all turn out to be bad fits for your job (e.g., they might be likely to accept the job only as a stepping stone to get to where they really want to be in a few years) or they might be good fits but then all turn you down for better jobs.
If they are all bad fits or they all turn you down, you might be in a position where you find yourself scrambling to find whomever is left in the applicant pool who might be tolerable to all the search committee members and be a good fit for the job overall so that you avoid having a failed search and then having your administration not give you the authorization to search for the line next year. If you do have to go back to the applicant pool, you don’t want the applicants you reach out to thinking that they are your backup choices. All of that adds to the incentive one has to keep everything as quiet as possible for as long as possible.
I know it’s hard for the applicants waiting to hear. I’ve been there, bunches of times.
Take nothing about the academic job market personally. The process sucks, but life is bigger than the asinine academic philosophy job market.Report
This is addressed in the final paragraph of the post. Did you read it?
By the time you get to your second-tier choices, a lot of time will have passed. These people are not stupid. They will by that time have figured out for themselves that they weren’t your top choices. You’ll have a better shot with them if you’ve treated them decently throughout the process.
The final sentences of your post (“Take nothing about the academic job market personally. The process sucks, but life is bigger than the asinine academic philosophy job market.”) are obtuse and miss the point. Whether or not applicants take it “personally” when they are kept in the dark, subjecting them to prolonged pointless waiting is bad. Their lives and futures are in the balance and it’s very uncomfortable to worry for months on end whether you’ll have a job–any job–next year, etc., regardless of whether you see it as a personal affront.Report
“Take nothing about the academic job market personally. The process sucks, but life is bigger than the asinine academic philosophy job market.”
This is such a callous comment. You might be in a privileged enough position to not care much about how it feels to be on the market or to casually say we shouldn’t take it personally, but for many of us on the market this *is* in fact our lives. I have a family to support and currently I can barely do that in my exploitative non-tenure track position. So life is *not* bigger than this – this is deeply important to the outcome of many of our lives.
Have a bit of sympathy please.Report
Interesting considerations raised in response to the OP. Perhaps search committees could include in the job ad information about whether, how, and at which point in the process they will be able to get back to applicants? Or would that violate some moral law or, worse still, an HR policy?Report
This is a worse suggestion than simply having SC members update the wiki as soon as invitations/offers are made because (a) SC members don’t usually know when they will get back to applicants and (b) in part because of (a), any predictions provided in the job ad would have to allow for a large period of time to pass between the occurrence of relevant events and the getting back to applicants, so there would still be a long period of time when applicants are waiting and hoping for no reason.Report
Captain Obvious, did you take the suggestion to be that ads would indicate some time frame by which applicants could expect to hear back? That’s not what I meant.Report
Okay, what did you mean then?Report
Example of “whether”: “At each stage of cuts, the committee will only contact applicants who will advance to the next stage.”
Example of “how”: “Applicants who advance can expect to be contacted via phone.”
Example of “at which point in the process”: “Applicants who do not advance after an initial round of cuts will not be notified until the search has been successful or cancelled. Any applicant that is interviewed will be notified of subsequent advances in the search.”
None of that says anything about a specific time frame.
I’m not speaking to the wisdom of any of these proposals. I’m just floating the idea that the ads include this kind of information.
The more I think about it, though, I guess we should all just be assuming that these people won’t be getting back to us if we don’t advance, even if we are lucky enough to be interviewed. But I guess my initial thought was that there was some value in saying the quiet part out loud, at least so that those who haven’t been jaded by the process know exactly what to expect when they apply to any particular job.Report
Sounds like you’re saying: If we’re going to keep ghosting applicants who don’t make the cut, we should at least make sure that all applicants know they will be ghosted if they don’t make the cut.
Okay, sure. That is correct. But also, we shouldn’t be ghosting applicants who don’t make the cut. We should instead be updating the wiki to make sure applicants know they haven’t made the cut as soon as the cut has been made.Report
I’m with you. I was just offering something that I hoped that even those concerned about violating their institution’s policies can still get behind.Report
Applicant-z, let’s please not retreat to your extremely sad near-complete submission to the status quo until we have really made sure that these lazy chuckleheads are not going to be convinced to update the wiki, as they have every reason to do.Report
The better is not the enemy of the good.Report
An interesting observation: There is a major difference between UK and US jobs. Applicants to UK jobs are normally informed very quickly (normally through HR channels) as soon as they are excluded–within a week or two. Applicants to US jobs, by contrast, are routinely not informed for months if at all. I don’t know how this difference in custom arose but the UK system is obviously better. Having the US-based SC members just anonymously update the wiki is a straightforward way to fix this.Report
Here is a minimal recommendation, violated recently by a department considering me: don’t interview someone and tell them at the end that you’re not going to ghost them, then ghost them.
Also: even if communicating at point of elimination is forbidden, I cannot imagine that many HR policies forbid giving out anodyne scheduling information like “we anticipate that we’re likely to get back to candidates within [X], so if you haven’t heard by then, then it’s likely we’ve moved on with other candidates, though it is always possible that there will be unforeseen delays.”Report
I’m 100% on your side but I want to make two points:
(1) Search committees should comply with your minimal recommendation (obviously) but that is also (obviously) not good enough. Search committees should not ghost candidates, period.
(2) Giving anodyne scheduling information in advance of decisions getting made is not good enough. The reason has to do with the fact that humans stubbornly cling to hope. If you say on March 11th, “We anticipate getting back to candidates by March 23rd,” and then March 23rd passes and Candidate X hears nothing, there is a good chance that Candidate X will continue hoping because Candidate X may (quite reasonably) think there is a chance that something has happened to delay the decision (e.g., admin holdup, or committee deliberating longer than expected, whatever). Candidates need to know that a decision has been made in order to stop hoping. And they can know this—if search committees update the wiki.Report
I deeply agree with the complaints about departments promising to let applicants know one way or the other and making no effort to honor that promise. This crystallizes the thing I’m probably most bitter about from the job search which is that for the most part those lucky enough to be doing the interviewing seem to feel no need to even treat applicants like human beings much less like professionals or colleagues. It’s just dirty. I know of no other profession where potential employers don’t have the decency to update applicants when they’ve picked a candidate. Many will let applicants know at each stage. Usually the only people who might even possibly be left hanging are 2nd or 3rd runners up in case the number 1 pick declines. And for what it’s worth HR in the real world is just as terrified of getting sued as HR in academia and they don’t stop such displays of minimal human decency so don’t blame HR if you can’t be bothered to treat job seekers like human beings. But even if they do I’ll note that the whole duty to obey HR debate here mirrors the duty to obey the law debate. To my mind the law and state do a lot for us whereas HR doesn’t and I think guys like Simmons and Wolf have pretty well shown we’ve no duty to obey the law. Even if you disagree just remember how much truly evil behavior in corporate America has been justified in terms of duty to the firm and a supposed obligation to follow its rules.Report
I agree entirely with this comment.Report
First of all, if anyone promises that your online activites will remain anonymous, they’re lying to you or are naive. A legal subpoena is enough to compel most companies to rat you out, if anyone really wants to ID you.
Second, this jobs wiki (which is a nice idea, in principle) already publishes IP addresses, i.e., no need for a subpoena! See “Latest Updates” section at the very top of their main page: https://academicjobs.wikia.org/wiki/Philosophy_2019-20
And it doesn’t take much to deduce the identity of the commentator from there. For instance, on the most recent update (Feb 14 update to Simon Fraser job), the IP address is stated as 22.214.171.124…which means it was from someone inside Simon Fraser. And you could probably pinpoint the department or even office with a bit more sleuthing.
Any IP lookup tool will work, e.g.: https://whatismyipaddress.com/ip-lookup. Your digital fingerprints are already all over the internet…Report
This is the first good objection to the OP that has been posted on this thread.
I think it is unlikely that any HR department will know about the wiki or care enough to try to figure out who updated it. But Patrick Lin is absolutely correct that if someone does not use VPN or other method to hide their IP, they can be found out if anyone is motivated to find them out, and the OP was wrong not to say so.
Future versions of the wiki need to correct for this. Someone needs to create a better, more anonymous wiki. Who’s going to do this? I think it is obviously a job for a certain supreme overlord who will, for now, remain anonymous (or as anonymous as one can be on the internet).Report
“Visitors. We collect the information you provide when modifying the content of a page on the Services (such as making edits, uploading images, etc.). Your username or another indicator that you provided the information is left on the history tab associated with the edited page or appropriate special/image page, on the recent changes link, and in your user contributions. We also collect information you provide when you upload, purchase, view, or download certain content or products from the Services. Further, the Fandom mobile app asks you to indicate the communities in which you are particularly interested. We refer to this information collected from Visitors as “Visitor Data.”
Automatic Data Collection. We may collect certain information automatically when you use the Services. This information may include your Internet protocol (IP) address, user settings, MAC address, cookie identifiers, mobile carrier, mobile advertising and other unique identifiers, details about your browser, operating system or device, location information (including inferred location based off of your IP address), Internet service provider, pages that you visit before, during, and after using the Services, information about the links you click, information about how you interact with the Services, including the frequency and duration of your activities, the search requests you submit on the Services, and other information about how you use the Services. Information we collect may be associated with accounts and devices.”
So minimally, you could be traced back to the valid email address you had to provide to create an account to modify content in the first place. And, as it looks to be the usual case, your IP address is displayed for everyone to see (and could track you down with some sleuthing).
If you want to optimize anonymity (even if that can’t be guaranteed), you might want to use a VPN to create a burner account with an email service that’s outside US jurisdiction and committed to security/privacy, such as ProtonMail…
Best of luck, everyone.Report