Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Death and the Blogmistress

As a partially-interested observer (and occasional commenter, both anonymous and named), I have to say the life-cycle of the American and Comparative Jobs blog has been of moderate interest; in the job season, it was a source of moderately helpful information, but the summer months have devolved into a rather nasty spree of backbiting and rather un-PC grievance-airing, leading the anonymous blogmistress to resort to comment moderation. We shall see if this is, as one commenter speculates, the “death” of the blog, or merely a speed bump. My sense is the latter, as the need for information (and strategic departmental leaks) will ultimately outweigh the loss of immediacy.

At the very least, now that I know (through a combination of the blog and disciplinary scuttlebutt) that one of the jobs I applied for last year had an invisible “white males need not apply” sign attached to it, I won’t be making the mistake of applying for any position ever advertised by that college again.

In terms of wider disciplinary conversations in the blogosphere, I think the truth of the matter is that there are some serious grievances about the discipline among political scientists that simply will not be aired in non-anonymous public fora. That inevitably means there is going to be some nastiness, as those with private agendas use anonymity to attack others. I am unsure what the proper balance is, but I do know that the same themes raised at the American/Comparative jobs blog are the subject of whispers in the hallways of conferences and other gatherings.

The bottom line, I think is that if we are going to have more “openness” and “reform” in political science, we are going to need some brutal honesty about issues beyond methodological pluralism in the APSR—things like overproduction of PhDs, hiring practices (including the fundamentally broken hiring process), the dominance of doctoral-granting departments on the boards of the APSA, journals, and regional associations, differing standards for what is considered “quality” scholarship among subfields, and more. And I think that brutal honesty is going to need people who are willing to speak up about these issues non-anonymously without the protection (not from outside interference as originally intended, but from our own colleagues) of tenure. Personally, I don’t see that happening any time soon, but I would love to see someone prove me wrong.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Dear Chris,
Your last paragraph is spot-on and very brave for someone looking for a job. As someone who is not looking for a job I can tell you the situation you describe has been like this for more than 20 years. I can only wish you good luck on your job hunt but I am afraid for you since I think many people will not hire an honest man.

Mark- Politicalman

[Permalink] 2. Michelle wrote @ Tue, 11 Jul 2006, 8:43 pm CDT:

Well said, Chris.

I, kind of, disagree with Mark regarding how ‘brave’ you are, in part because I suspect that many of the folks at places you would like to teach (i.e., teaching college/university, right?) would share similar sentiments to those of the last paragraph.

As long as your circumspect about these issues during interviews, I doubt many folks will dig deep enough into your online writing to find this post. And if they do, you’ll see it in your stats. And who knows, they may respect you for it.


Indeed, if I were “brave” I’d actually say what I think about these things, rather than obliquely raising the issues. ☺

The truth of the matter, alas, is that I’m actually quite ambivalent about most of these issues—for example, a few of the hardcore Perestroikans annoy the living crap out of me, but they often raise good points, just as there are a few hardcore “let’s find a substantive issue to apply my new cool method to” people who bug me (even though I understand and respect the need to develop better methods that relax/get around the OLS assumptions). Comparisons across subfields are apples and oranges a lot of the time; you want the top-tier researchers on the editorial boards (even though much of the sorting process that gets people into the “top tier” is broken). Ad nauseum.

I think the hiring stuff is really the only thing I get worked up about, in large part because it’s complete horseshit all around. Nobody likes the way it works at the hiring or seeking ends, with the exception of the top 3 candidates on the market in a given year (who are basically the only people it serves well), and the level of idiotic risk aversion by departments is absurd. Yes, firing people who don’t work out is traumatic, but that’s the way 99.8% of the world works already—deal with it.

Comments are now closed on this post.