Thursday, November 15, 2012


Friday Fragments

The Girl: I don’t think I’m going to write my autobiography.

Me: Why not?

TG: Because, where would I start?  


I have to give Colorado State University credit: application fees for job candidates is a new low.  (Hat tip to William Pannapacker for highlighting it.)

According to its site, applicants for a faculty position in painting have to pay a fifteen dollar fee to submit applications.  

Putting on my “evil bureaucrat” hat, I’ve been trying to come up with a justification for a job application fee.  Fifteen dollars presumably doesn’t come close to covering the cost of staff time, so it’s probably not about that.  And the negative publicity -- you’re welcome! -- should more than offset any piddling revenue gain.

The closest I could get to a rationalization would be to keep the number of applications down.  Presumably, folks who know they’re longshots would think twice about applying if they had to pony up some cash.  Since art is one of those fields that usually has a surfeit of interested people, the main concern may be keeping the size of the pile down.  That’s why colleges charge students application fees; if they didn’t, the theory goes, there’d be nothing to stop the driven ones from applying to thirty places.

But job candidates are in a different position.  There’s nothing unusual about candidates applying to thirty or a hundred different places.  And for entry-level positions, the candidates are often pretty broke.  

I hope CSU rethinks this fee.  It just adds insult to injury.


This is one of those “laugh or cry” articles.  The Wisconsin Technical College system is looking for a new chancellor.  Apparently, enrollments have grown forty percent since 2004, to the point that the system now has a 12,000 student waiting list.  But state funding for the system dropped 30 percent in a single year.

So, good luck with that search.  Enrollment up forty percent, funding down thirty percent, a hostile Governor, and a five-figure waiting list.  Wisconsin is actually making California look good, and that’s saying something.


If you haven’t yet, check out Lee Skallerup’s piece in IHE this week about trying to maintain her human dignity in the context of some pretty dehumanizing institutional practices.  It’s thoughtful, ambitious, and humane.  It’s clear that she knows where to start.

College students are also broke. Granted, I'd hate to have to pay an application fee in my chosen profession, but your parallel to the college student application fee is actually quite good.
The pressures on Wisconsin's technical colllege system are great, and maybe this leadership change will highlight the need for the state's high schools to turn out students who don't need so much remediation in basic math and reading/writing skills. Students who sleep-walk through their high school years bear some of the responsiblity too.
In the current tight academic job market, in which there are literally hundreds of super-qualified applicants for every job opening, we are likely to see more efforts like this that are designed to reduce the number of applications to a more manageable level.

Another way to stem the flood of job applications is to make the list of requirements for the job so detailed and so lengthy that no mere mortal could possibly satisfy them all. You will see things like “must have numerous publications in top-ranked refereed journals”, “Must be able to teach a wide variety of different courses,” “Must have a demonstrated ability to bring in external grant support,” “Must have at least two published monographs”, etc, etc. This would discourage all but the most determined applicants. Those who do apply might say “Hey, maybe I don’t satisfy ALL of these requirements but I do meet SOME of them, and perhaps even though the ad says they are looking for a god, they might be willing to settle for a mere mortal.”

I see a lot of this in the IT job market, in which a lot of the job ads say that the applicant must have job-related experience in a whole bunch of different operating systems and several different databases, and must have obtained certification in all sorts of computer applications. The job ads often have so many acronyms in them that it look as if someone spilled an acronym dictionary on them, and unless you have expertise in all of them, you shouldn’t even bother to apply. I suspect that some of these ads are an attempt to justify shipping the job offshore or to hire an H1B visaholder who will work for a lot less.

The article by Lee Skallerup on dehumanizing institutional practices struck a chord. More and more, we teachers in academe are being treated as fungible and expendable commodities in an increasingly competitive job market. If we falter or fail, there are dozens of people eagerly waiting to take our place. We can be replaced as easily as one replaces a burned-out lightbulb.

Here at Proprietary Art School, our corporate management has become more and more bottom-line focused, with the goal of the institution being simply to “meet the numbers”, rather than to satisfy the academic goals that the institution is presumably there to serve. It has gotten so bad that some academic administrators have quit in disgust, concluding that academic standards at the school are being unjustly sacrificed in an attempt to improve the bottom line.

The only humanizing remedy that we seem to have is our sense of humor, where we tell crude jokes about what is going on, while waiting for the next shoe to fall. We have developed a sense of fatalism, fearing that our jobs might not last for much longer.
I am an adjunct among 70 adjuncts in my department. Each month the birthdays of cc staff, faculty, and administration are listed. Adjunct birthdays are never listed although we are listed in the directory.

Listing my birthday would be nice.
At my compass-point state university, the adjunct pool is growing. In my English department we have 50 FT faculty (many with a reduced teaching load, for various reasons), and 49 adjuncts. Guess who teaches the writing-intensive gen ed classes? If the campus really wants to improve student retention, treating ALL the gen ed faculty as professionals--and paying us a living wage with medical benefits so that we don't have to spend half our day at a second job--would be a good start. Even our mailboxes are segregated from the FT faculty.
Actually, I'm fairly sure the CSU fee is at least partially a SlideRoom (third-party host) fee.

I'm currently applying to art professor positions, and about 1/5 of the jobs use a third-party host for submission materials like SlideRoom or Interfolio and all of them charge to apply ranging from $10-$20. I was discussing this with a professor at my current university, and she was surprised to find out applicants paid to apply if the university used third-party hosting, despite the fact that our university just completed two job searches and used SlideRoom.

I think because art requires submission of ~40 jpg images that often even moderately compressed can run 1MB each (portfolios) and because these third-party hosts advertise and market themselves well to the job providers and may gloss over the applicant's pay-to-use requirement, some universities just go the easy route. I also think it's easier to rationalize on the artist's end because we often have to pay entry fees to submit work to juried shows (and we then normally have to pay to mail our work to and from shows we've been accepted into). Which is not to say that I think using a third-party host is lazy on the university's part and financially limiting for the applicants.

I really appreciate the 4/5 of jobs that do the hosting through free-to-me software run on their website or which request online or emailed versions. And even the old school mailed applications cost ~$6 to put together.
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