Wednesday, September 17, 2014

End the Conference Interview, Take 47

On Chronicle Vitae, today, I will have a new essay about ending the conference interview. In it, I offer ways to make the shift into a positive rather than a surrender to austerity.

Listen. The conference interview is, in fact, already dead. Video interview technology is getting better and better, funds are limited, and like all traditions this one is going to fade away. It might take 20 years. But it's not going to last forever. The question is whether we, as faculty, manage this transition or whether it is eventually simply done to us by cost-cutting administrations.

Some background.

  • I wrote these two blogs on the topic last November. They were by far not the first pieces pointing out the flaws in the system.
 For example.
Not long after I wrote my blogs, though entirely unconnected to them, the issue thoroughly exploded as a result UC-Riverside's job offer which promised to offer all-of three days of warning to candidates they wanted to interview. Rebecca Schuman's wrote an anti-interview piece, there was a backlash to her tone, then a backlash to the backlash, and so forth.
 Ok, caught up?

After all this was over, last February, I thought to myself. Next fall, early in the semester, I will write another piece on the conference interview. I will really think about how I might persuade skeptics and holdouts, people who believe the interview does more good than harm, people who are not bad or callous, who understand the financial issues, but who just are resistant to change.

Today's piece in Vitae, exploring how we might take control of funds once used to send people to the conferences for interviews, and re-purpose them, is my attempt at that.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about and listening to reasons that the conference interview is good. To my mind, they boil down to the following:

1. Skype sucks.

I deal with this in my piece. Low-rent skype using lousy hotel-room wi-fi does, indeed, suck. Professional video conferencing is pretty reliable. And as I describe at the end of this piece, face-to-face interviews, whether in the cattle call room, the hotel-suite sitting area or (NO NO NO!) on the hotel-room beds, have their problems too.
I try to think of it like math. Video interviews - free vs Conference interviews - thousands of dollars. There's no way that equation doesn't work out for video conferencing.
2. Going to the conference shows that we, the hiring department, are serious.

In this age of precarity, no department needs to prove they are serious. There is no school that will not have plenty of qualified candidates for any position. There are other ways to indicate your seriousness.

3. Conference interviews provide networking etc. to young PhDs.
I believe this can be true. Graduate training programs should budget in sending a senior grad student to their disciplinary conference, and then conferences should build programming designed to serve this population. In fact, they already do, but imagine of they were just there for the conference, not amid the interview madness. The experience will be so much better.
4. We've always done it that way

Well, not really, it was in the 60s and was a good thing too, as it helped break the "old boy's network." Before that, people just called up friends and asked them to send over a graduate student.
That time has passed. Moreover, video conferencing will do just as good a job and keeping the process "honest."
My next step is this - I am going to start calling search chairs that state they are going to hold interviews at conferences. I will ask them why. I will offer them anonymity in exchange for honesty.

I will publish the results, both here and, if interesting enough, at Vitae.

As I said almost a year ago - we can't fix most of the problems in higher ed very easily. They run deep, they tie into big issues in our society, and they involve millions of dollars.

But this one just takes an act of will. We can solve it tomorrow. Let's solve it tomorrow.


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