Digital technology, including social media, has dramatically transformed the academic landscape over the last 10 years. Some of these changes have been positive, and some negative. Some platforms like Twitter have facilitated the creation of online communities for academics, creating spaces where we can provide support for each other, engage in conversation, and share our work. But at the same time, new publication venues, like blogs, have put even more pressure on graduate students and early career academics to produce material. Other changes are less easily categorized, but raise important questions that we, as a field, need to address. In this case, I’m speaking about the increasingly common practice of online job announcements. To be clear, I’m not referring to job ads, but rather, the announcements from the individuals who get the jobs and/or promotions.
Back in the Dark Ages (before social media), the announcement of job hires was much more subdued. When someone was hired, the search committee would of course announce the news to the rest of their department, and might even put a notice in the department newsletter or bulletin. The successful job candidate might phone their friends to let them know the good news. And sometimes, particularly in very high-profile cases, the department or university would make an official announcement, but usually only after all of the paperwork was complete and the new hire was on the ground and ready to go. And that’s pretty much it.
Nowadays, perhaps as a larger symptom of the culture of sharing information that has arisen with social media, new appointments are often announced by the candidates themselves on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, often months before they are set to begin their jobs.
I want to be clear here. I do love hearing these announcements. I am always excited to hear from friends and colleagues who have been successful in the job market, and I want to celebrate with them. And I get it. If I ever get an academic job, I know I would want to shout it from the rooftops. And in some cases, these announcements can be powerful affirmations of achievement. For instance, when someone from a marginalized group gets a tenure-track position, making an online announcement can be an important political statement, particularly considering the barriers they have overcome. But, I do think the time has come to talk about ethical considerations and best practices for these kinds of announcements.
Historically speaking, there used to be a kind of “cone of silence” around job searches. Hopefuls would submit their applications, and unless they were selected for an interview or a campus visit, wouldn’t hear back for months. With the advent of websites like Academic Job Wiki, much of this process has been demystified. However, online job announcements can still come as quite a shock for other applicants. This is especially true for candidates who were interviewed. While some departments ask successful candidates to wait until they have notified the other applicants, this is not always the case. While this has never happened to me personally, it has happened to people that I know. And I can only imagine how distressing seeing this news can be.
The second issue is that these announcements can be somewhat insensitive considering the state of the job market. Approximately 7,000 new PhD graduate enter the job market per year. Only about 20 percent of these people will end up with a full-time or tenure-track position, even though only two percent of jobs outside of academic require a PhD. No matter how much we wish it were otherwise, academia is not a meritocracy. The success or failure of job candidates is often based on factors on that are beyond their control. There are many talented academics who remain in precarious positions through no fault of their own.
Finally, as scholars like Gill Frank have noted, these announcements fail to recognize the fact that our profession exploits the unpaid and underpaid labour of precarious academics and graduate students, and successful job candidates are joining the ranks of individuals who benefit from this exploitation. It is important to keep in in mind that with declining budgets and increasing student populations, Canadian universities now depend on the labour of sessional instructors to function. Sessional instructors are paid significantly less than regular faculty members (and don’t have benefits), under the justification that they are only responsible for teaching. But anyone who has been a precarious academic knows that sessional instructors rarely ever “just teach.”
I don’t claim to have all of the answers, nor do I think that online job announcements are going to go away anytime soon. But I do think that as online job announcements become increasingly common, we need to start talking about how to handle them in a way that is respectful, ethical, and responsible. One way would be for institutions to more broadly adopt a policy of asking successful candidates to hold off on making announcements until the other candidates are notified, as I mentioned above. One other idea that I like, and Frank has advocated for, is for the announcer to explain what they will be doing to help precarious folks and make the profession less exploitative. If you need ideas, Aimée Morrison has a fantastic list, including suggestions like advocating for more stable contracts for precarious workers, pushing for more diverse hires, and work to ensure the continuation of tenure lines. Just to give you one example, I particularly liked was my fellow historian Whitney Wood’s announcement when she announced she was joining Vancouver Island University:
Thrilled to officially announce that I have joined @VIUniversity as Canada Research Chair in the Historical Dimensions of Women’s Health. Looking forward to working with new colleagues in @VIUHist and across campus, and to exploring Nanaimo and the Island! https://t.co/RMUlhUxUBn
— Whitney Wood (@whitneylwood) July 17, 2019
What are your thoughts on online job announcements? Do you have any suggestions on how to make them more ethical/responsible? Let me know in the comments below.
This piece is based on a series of conversations that took place with several friends over the years. Special thanks again to Krista McCracken, Gillian Frank, and Whitney Wood for their comments on a previous draft of this paper and to Whitney Wood for providing permission to quote her.