May 07, 2007
By David Darlington
We at the AHA spend a lot of time wondering about what happens after a job ad appears in Perspectives and the applicants and potential employers finally come together either at the Job Register or on campus. We do know from long experience and the occasional anecdote that search committees often do a poor job of keeping applicants informed about the status of their application and the search itself. This is one of the reasons behind the recent publication of the Guidelines for Job Offers in History by the AHA’s Professional Division.
The Academic Careers Wiki tackles the issue from a different angle. The wiki lists all open searches in the history field, divided by regional specialization, provides the latest rumors about the status of the search (has an offer been extended? who has been hired?), and offers an opportunity for candidates to submit their own job search news and report inappropriate conduct of search committees. Possessing the open and unpoliced nature of most wikis, the site provides a space for the quick dissemination of information about history jobs in a still-tight market. The communal knowledge of job seekers provides the site with the latest gossip, allows the site to get updates out quickly, and has the potential to hold search committees accountable for bad behavior (or at least warn other interested applicants). The site also, however, raises a good number of ethical and professional concerns. Setting aside for the moment the ethics of gossip and self promotion, there is the potential for misleading competitors for a position by promulgating false information on the site. One also has to wonder whether venting about inappropriate behavior by search committees on a web site will accomplish anything more than a momentary sense of vindication, when reporting such conduct to the dean of the school (or to the AHA) might actually remedy the situation and prevent future occurrences. Or consider the possibility of search committees monitoring and even participating in discussions. At least one search committee has already replied to accusations it sent “lame” rejection letters to candidates. With far harsher charges out there – accusations of inside job offers and search committees not even reading candidates’ materials – it’s easy to see how things could be even more explosive.
To be fair, many of these professional issues have been raised in the “general rants” section of the site and on other sites. The users seem to have made peace with the risks and rewards of anonymously posting and reading job news, and perhaps, in this job market, that’s what it takes to get the inside scoop on a good job.