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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2004

'Star' Search Skews Hiring Process

Christine Daigle
In his President's Column (Bulletin, February 2004), Victor Catano raised a number of important issues related to the crisis that awaits academia as more and more professors retire in the coming decade. In particular, I want to address one specific aspect - the shortage of qualified candidates/ faculty. This concern has surfaced now and again through various media sources and in corridor talk. It creates a continuing strain on hiring committees. However, this concern is a myth unsupported by hard statistics.

Speaking from my own turf, the humanities (specifically philosophy), I have come to the conclusion that there is no such "shortage of qualified faculty." I have met many well-qualified unemployed Canadian scholars. If there are ample scholars on the job market, there must be another factor in play.

My suspicion about this grew when I read the 2004 CAUT Almanac. The numbers further substantiated that, at least in the humanities, there is no shortage. There are more than enough well-qualified Canadian scholars looking for positions. In 2000, Canada's universities "produced" a total of 444 doctorates in the humanities (55 in philosophy). In the academic year 2000-2001, postings for jobs in the humanities amounted to 65 long-term appointments and 236 tenure-track positions (five long-term and 36 tenure-track in philosophy).1 Where is the shortage?

If there is an abundance of scholars who hold doctorates, from where does the concern arise? One can conclude there is a shortage only if one considers that a person with a doctorate does not necessarily make a well-qualified candidate for a position. Perhaps it isn't a matter of degree, but a matter of qualification.

Surely much more is taken into consideration in the hiring process than a mere doctorate. The number of presentations, the number and quality of publications, and awards received are among the accomplishments relevant in the selection of candidates to be hired.

In the past years, the bar has been constantly raised so that departments are searching for "stellar"2 candidates only. We are no longer looking for promising scholars. Instead, we are looking for candidates who already have a well-established research agenda. But where does this leave candidates who already have books published and extensive teaching experience but who get turned down at selection time? Raising the bar can be seen as unjustified when hiring committees are turning down promising scholars. We are too demanding and may be unclear about what it is we are really looking for in a candidate.

In an article about the double cohort in Ontario, a university president commented on the competitiveness of university admission.3 He humorously concluded most university presidents and administrators would not even make it through the university doors given the new standards for admittance.

Could we not say the same of those soon to retire and sitting on hiring committees? Surely many of them would not qualify if interviewed today for a position. I am in no way implying they weren't qualified when appointed, only that the notion of "well qualified" has changed since then. One could be promising then. Today, one needs to be stellar.

An increasing number of departments have turned their gaze outside Canada to find these stellar candidates. There seems to be a favourable prejudice towards any doctorate produced by prestigious (or even not so prestigious) institutions abroad. I wonder what this says about our appreciation of our own capacity to produce high quality graduates.

The myth of the shortage of qualified candidates and the aforementioned prejudice provide a justification for hiring practices that end up disregarding well-qualified promising Canadian scholars. These scholars are forced to take on contractual jobs that leave them overburdened and drained. They have no time to further their own research record. Hence they remain promising but cannot advance to being stellar candidates.

It is imperative that we rethink our hiring practices. This could be part of the solution for the projected shortage of faculty in the face of large retirement numbers. By revising our conception of a well-qualified candidate, we will make room for young, promising Canadian scholars. This will help revive our university system and make it stellar.

Christine Daigle is an assistant professor in the philosophy department at Brock University.

1 CAUT Bulletin, Careers, September 2000-June 2001.

2 A term used by a former colleague to refer to top-notch young scholars.

3 Maclean's, November 10, 2003.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of CAUT.