Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The academic job market

My wife is an academic and that has given my the dubious privilege of getting acquainted with the academic job market. It is absolutely appalling. Even my own field of journalism, with its spectacularly discriminatory hiring practices, is a paragon of fairness by comparison.

In the Japanese academic job market, things are very bad indeed. They like to hire well connected young things through gerontocratic patronage networks based around old school ties. Jobs are often not advertised and people will just appear in tenured positions without anybody even knowing the position was up for grabs. There is also a general practice of not hiring people to permanent jobs if they are over a certain age. Of course, this means those who are not in the patronage networks can never get a job and that women (who have babies, don't you know?) and people from non-privileged backgrounds who take round about routes through their educations are being excluded. Japanese academia is corrupted and cheapened by these practices.

But it isn't only Japan. I have written a couple of articles about racism and ageism in British academia. The ageism thing is particularly pernicious because it acts as a proxy for all sorts of other discrimination. It is still common to have research grants that limit their applicants to, say, being under 30, with was really only relevant to past age when everybody was a Bryll creamed young chap straight up from Oxford with spiffing references from old Toady. Of course, if you don't get research grants, you don't get up the ladder and never even reach the job interview stage.

None of this would matter if there weren't thousands of people trying to get by in the highly casualised and exploitative work environment of non-tenured academia. A majority of people don't get proper jobs until their late 30s. Many are still knocking on the door long past that age. They are often paid poorly, don't have pensions etc. and have no job security. It is almost impossible to do small things that people in other lines of work take for granted. For instance, buying a house.

Until today, however, I had no idea that academia, when it really tries, can get so much more discriminatory:

Hooray for the Mississippi State University for the "oddest job ad of the season".

(My wife, by the way, seems to be one of the lucky ones but is no more impressed by the situation than I am. A lot of academics hate it.)

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