Wasting Paper

As an applicant, I group academic job announcements into two categories: big and small. The small applications just ask for a cover letter, the names of three referees, and your C.V. The big applications want all that and more. They also want: writing samples, teacher evaluations, syllabi, and actual letters from your referees – not just their names. That adds nearly a hundred pages to the application, if not more. Multiply that times three hundred applicants and they’ve got over thirty thousand extra pages of documentation on their desks!

Now, I’ve sat in on job searches from the other side. At Temple, the graduate students had (collectively) one vote in job hiring decisions. I know for a fact that almost all of that secondary paperwork was unimportant for making the initial short-list of the twenty or thirty candidates that would be looked at seriously.

It really seems like such a shame to waste all that paper. You’d think anthropology departments would have more concern for the environment.

6 thoughts on “Wasting Paper

  1. History applications almost always ask for three letters of reference to be sent. The only exceptions I have seen are for jobs outside the US and a few post-doctoral fellowships that only require two rather than three recommendations. Getting three people to write letters of reference took me years. Now I have to regularly harass these three people to get them to write and send dozens of letters each month. I wish that history departments only asked for the contact information and the wrote the references if interested. But, in every single case of over 100 history jobs I have applied for in the last two years the university required actual letters.

  2. so far the worst has been dept. of communications for me. 82 pages of application. the best are information schools, ‘letter and vita with recommenders addresses’. then they ask for more later if it is tight. the latter is the best strategy for everyone. i’m not sure why people keep escalating the application problem. it seems completely counter productive.

  3. I have a vague impression that the amount of paper required is inversely proportional to how much money a school has. The large first-tier private universities seem to request the least amount of information.

  4. In anthropology it is the custom not to ask for letters unless the department is seriously interested–at the “long short list” stage. One reason is that it is not customary in anthropoology to use a dossier–a bunch of letters “to whom it may concern” which get sent out to every job. Partly this is because anthro jobs are more indivisual than say english jobs (eg a job might want someone who works on “medical anth or migration or anthro of science in east asia or the the carribean” vs say someone who does “the 19th century”). Partly it is just local semiotics: part of the job of a “good” letter is to index somehow that it really means what it says in semantico-referential terms–which it can do by such things as length or customization. My sense is that in English a dossier doesn’t by itself say “not really a candidate we think is good,” but it might leave that impression in anthro.

    True and interesting that the people who violate this are mainly small and/or obscure schools–is it because they only think about the process from the point of view a hiring not the point of view of recommendation–is it because their administrations are more insistant on local rules and less inclined to give credence to disciplinary custom–reflecting some more general difference between orientations of high-prestige/good schools vs others?

  5. actually, for me there has been no relation between money and paper. the relationship is between discipline and paper, which probably isn’t one that comes up if you apply to just one discipline. i’m applying to media studies, communications, telecomm, information schools, and sts programs. the best applications are information schools, letter+vita usually is what they want. communications almost always want the most. this year i have not applied to any schools, yet, that are not R-1’s.

  6. All that paper is devoted to minimizing the most serious risk to any department: the risk of a failed search. A failed search at a minimum means a whole year with an empty position (and consequent covering of courses, additional committee work, etc.). At the worst, the funding will not be available in the next year or possibly ever again.

    The highest likelihood of a failed search is if other schools make better offers to your short list candidates. So you want to make your short list decisions and interview as early in the spring as possible. This means getting all the materials from all the candidates so you don’t have to waste time in an additional information-gathering step.

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