I haven't been blogging much about academia recently, since I feel so removed from it now that whatever I have to say about it probably isn't worth listening to. That said, I'd like to tug on your coat about something today. Talking to a friend this weekend about the academic job market gave me some bone-chilling flashbacks to the period between fall 2005 and spring 2011, which was spent looking to get an academic job or to get a different one. Beautiful fall weather is here now, and for the first time in years I don't have a fear-laden Pavlovian response.
Those who have endured it know that the academic job market is especially ridiculous and soul-crushing, combining slim chances with months of waiting and a painful amount of rejection. It also happens to be a lot of work. When I was on the market during September, October, and November I felt like I had a second job that mainly entailed retooling job letters and making a lot of trips to the post office. It wasn't enough for the application process to fill me with insane levels of anxiety, it also had to suck up all of my free time, too.
While we can't make a bunch of tenure track jobs appear out of thin air, we can at least reduce the workload drastically and easily. When I applied for jobs at private high schools, I was amazed at the ease of the process. It was simple, I just uploaded the necessary application documents to a centralized website where the schools would post their ads. (This is the NAIS careers site, for those interested.) I had to upload my CV a grand total of one time. I did not have to pay to have it mailed to 20 different schools by a service or print and mail it that number of times myself. When I wrote my specific job letters to the schools I was applying to, I just had to upload them via an online application. It saved me both a lot of time and a lot of money.
If departments at different universities or an organization like the AHA would cooperate to set something like this up it would drastically reduce stress levels for already over-stressed junior scholars getting chewed up by this awful process. It could also be tweaked in ways to help with other parts of the process. Rejections could be sent en masse electronically, making it faster for the candidates to know, or to even know at all. They don't need a form letter in the mail, this is not 1962. They do, however, ought to have the courtesy of a reply, which all too often is not granted. Schools could also standardize their requirements, and not expect more than a letter or CV at the start of the process. Expecting all 120 applicants to submit a letter, CV, recommendations, teaching portfolio, and writing sample is completely ridiculous. Save that for the second round. At least under this system system applicants could simply upload those bigger docs at the start and not have to pay for the expense of mailing a massive portfolio to a hiring committee that won't even look at it.
And here's the deal: universities do this already with undergraduate applications. Many have agreed to use the Common App, which also cuts down on busy work. They allow recommenders to just simply upload their letters. (I know this because I am now using this system to write recs for my high school system.) It is obviously a way more efficient system than I went through at age 18. If universities are already making it easier on their student applicants, why not their job applicants? They might reply that they want to reduce the number of applications to save them the time of sifting through, but in that case just learn to write better, more specific job ads.