The overwhelming imbalance between job applicants and the universities who would hire them has emboldened hiring departments to make increasing demands on their candidates or to put unethical restrictions on the candidates they would consider. An egregious example of the latter was Colorado State University’s English Department, which announced that it would only consider candidates for its entry-level assistant professor position who had received their PhDs after 2010. Pressure from the Facebook Blogosphere forced CSU to rewrite their ad. It will be interesting to see, however, how many pre-2010 PhDs make the short list. Similarly Harvard University advertised for an entry-level comparative literature position with the stipulation that “Applicants must have received the Ph.D. or equivalent degree in the past three years (2009 or later), or show clear evidence of planned receipt of the degree by the beginning of employment.” Inside Higher Ed provides more details of these positions here: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/09/17/harvard-will-change-job-ad-asking-recent-doctorates#ixzz285VAt1fI
Now the English Department at Framingham State University has introduced a new wrinkle, announcing in its ad for a position in modern and contemporary world literature that “Semifinalists will be asked to provide a half-hour DVD of one of their classes.” Here is a link to the Framingham State ad: http://tinyurl.com/9gl8fq6
This is an egregious request, which introduces unfair burdens on its candidates to produce a high-quality DVD of their teaching in addition to all of the other burdens placed upon underpaid and overworked precariat laborers. What if a candidate is on dissertation fellowship this year and does not have an opportunity to produce such a DVD? What if a candidate does not have the capability to do so or have a department that will do it for her? Will candidates need to get permission from their students to be recorded, or perhaps have their students be discouraged from participating because of their reluctance or unwillingness to be recorded?
But arguably even more worrisome is the suggestion that these videos will be use as a form of profiling, screening out applicants who do not have desirable or attractive personal characteristics in relation to race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, weight, body modifications, and so forth. While such characteristics are of course evident on Skype or in in-person interviews at the MLA or on-campus, candidates who have made it to this point have the opportunity to overcome potentially unethical or illegal opposition through their performance in the interview situation. With pre-screened DVDs, this seems exceedingly unlikely.
One hopes that public outcry will force Framingham State’s English Department to remove this unfair requirement from their job advertisement. And even more one hopes that academic departments across the country will refrain from similar kinds of abuses of a vulnerable and increasingly desperate class of job seekers.