This is the second post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.
Oh god, more title clickbait. I’m going to lose this guest blog gig if I’m not careful. But please, allow me a moment. Like the “campaign” slogan that I’m riffing on, I’m sure this title makes you wonder things like, wait, what exactly do you mean by “great?” And when exactly was the C.V. ever “great?” We should probably be answering those before we get to this “again” nonsense. And, like supporters of the referred-to campaign slogan, you’d probably be hard-pressed to come to any sort of consensus about when and why and where were the salad days of the CV. For many of us, I suspect, the CV is one of those taken for granted bits of technology, that more or less unreflexively (except when we’re being hounded by the furies of the career center or harassed by the specter of The Professor is In) gives a sense of who we are academically. And if we’re to follow Rex’s thematic, it probably always sucked in one way or another. Moreover it’s the thing that presumably allows a hiring committee to make a snap judgment about whether any particular person will get more than a fleeting review before joining the party in the trash can.
So, against this natural- and normal-ness I’d like to suggest that the CV as it currently works allows for two things that are anathema to open scholarship: a privileging of authority and seniority; as well as a credentialed elitism. I’ll also suggest a “Short-form C.V.” that should mitigate some of this. And again, yes, the C.V. is a bit player given the larger structural problems of the academy: the over production of Ph.D.s and the conversion of the academy into a majority non-tenure-track work place to name two. But the C.V. is the place at which we tell the professional story about ourselves which we think our colleagues should know. Perhaps for this reason, the not-so-humble C.V. deserves at least a blog post.
This post isn’t just another lament about the sorry state of the job situation in the academy. The US is undoubtedly undergoing a crisis on that front, accentuated by the huge increase in the numbers of people completing PhDs in liberal arts subjects and the scale of student debt. The effects of this crisis spill over into what is now a global market in academic jobs. This is clearly evident in the UK where the numbers of applicants for academic posts in anthropology frequently reach well over one hundred, compared to perhaps fifty or sixty only a decade previously.
The problem is partly structural- the mismatch between numbers and posts on the one hand, and the impacts of selective shrinkage in the University sector on the other. But demand is also a factor. People continue to study at graduate level because they are motivated by research as much as anything. Doctoral study isn’t only about entry into formal academic employment, in any discipline. And, while the casualization of higher education is a concerning trend, in the US and beyond, it’s not the only issue. It’s hard to imagine under what economic system there could ever be sufficient secure jobs in the university sector for those with higher degrees at a time when it seems that more people than ever are pursuing postgraduate research.
This doesn’t mean giving up and not trying to get a university post, if that’s what you really want. But it does entail a healthy dose of realism combined with the practical career building tips of the sort offered so eloquently by Karen Kelsky aka The Professorisin whose site I wholeheartedly recommend. Having been on the other side of the job process over the past year, as a search committee member and chair of a department, I’m going to offer a few of my own. The first is optimistic, if you are an anthropologist at least.
Isn’t it normal for academic anthropologists to change their research interests over time? Usually we are hired into departments to fill specific ethnographic and theoretical slots. Department course offerings in smaller universities especially are built around these varied areas of expertise. It can therefore present a problem when faculty depart from their university or retire, leaving courses in a planned curriculum menu untaught.
But what happens when faculty are still in residence but no longer have the same teaching and research interests? Are the consequences from this shift different for particular types of faculty, and is this one of the hidden areas where power relations in a department come into play? One sees many instances in which, say, a person is hired as an expert on Thailand but once they are tenured will only do research on tourism in Southern California. Or, hypothetically, a biological anthropologist is hired because of his research on hominid fossils but later decides he will only do primate observations at a local zoo. Is the pressure on junior faculty to stay within a narrow slot hindering their development and creativity? Is it justifiable for senior faculty to use “departmental fit” as an argument for tenure denial when they themselves mange to justify their own radical retooling?