Historian calls for the abolition of job interviews at the AHA

Historians in the News
tags: AHA



My department plans to conduct first-round interviews at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in January for the open position in my department.

I would like to apologize for this waste of everyone’s money and time, but most of all, I must apologize to the most junior, poorest, and most vulnerable members of our profession, who will feel compelled to spend money they may not have in order to book a flight to New York City, a hotel room, and pay for their own meals in the hopes that they can advance their candidacy to an Assistant Professorship. Because of course the people who most need jobs don’t have travel budgets or expense accounts!  (Not that ours is that generous, to be perfectly honest.)

I have made these points repeatedly in department meetings, and have only succeeded in killing the convention of AHA convention interviews when I’m on the search committee. For some reason, some of my colleagues believe without evidence or reason in the superiority of the annual trek into the basement of various hotels in icy, snowy northern North American cities in January, when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’m on sabbatical and out of state this year so I can’t jump up and down and scream about this at Baa Ram U., but you can bet that I will after I climb out of this palm tree, starting next fall and every year after that anyone tries to fly a search committee to Chicago, New York, or Boston again.

I never liked the call to muster for an interview back in the day when I was unemployed, but it was a different world in the late 1990s, when gas was $0.89 a gallon and tickets to Chicago-Midway could be had for $99.  Round trip!  And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never liked conducting job interviews in “the pit” as a member of a search committee.  We are at the point now both in terms of the technology for videoconferences or Skype calls, and in terms of the precarity of the academic humanities, that senior scholars like myself must take a stand against this abusive system. 

The whole convention of “the convention interview” was, at the time it was established, a progressive reform. The American historical profession wanted to move away from the old boys’ networks that organized the job search process. This process–such as it was–involved a department Chair calling his old advisor or friend from grad school, and saying, “We’re hiring in X field this year. Do you have any likely candidates?” One would get the nod, and frequently would get the job offer without any open search, screening process, or even a single interview! I’ve heard this “process” described as the way that 1) my former advisor got his job at Penn in the early 1960s, and 2) most of my now-retired colleagues were hired into my department in the 1960s...




comments powered by Disqus