Saturday, February 07, 2009

Advanced Interviewing; or, My Favorite Martian

"Dear Professor Radical," wrote a longtime lurker who had finally decided, in desperation, to reveal hirself. "You told us about the job letter. About the phone call. About the conference interview. About wardrobe -- even though you obviously know nothing about clothes: everyone knows you wear nothing but black and grey trousers from Banana Republic, complemented by matching T-shirts. And yet, right on the brink of crossing the finish line, you have abandoned us. WHAT ABOUT THE CAMPUS INTERVIEW, DAMMIT?!?"

Well, I'm sorry. This has been quite a dilemma for me, in part because we have been too busy interviewing at Zenith for me to attend to any of my professional responsibilities, much less write blog posts. But I had an ethical problem as well: should I actually be giving advice about campus visits when we, in the history department at Zenith, were interviewing eleven candidates (for three jobs) this spring? I decided no. There are too many people out there who claim that they take my advice. My fear was that I risked actually appearing to be giving directions for how to get a job in my very own department at Zenith. If I were Drag King of the World, that would be all right, but actually I have upwards of twenty other colleagues who (tiresomely, I know) also have a vote in these decisions, and they may have different quirks than I. In fact I know they do.

So in lieu of giving bad advice to candidates, I thought I would give advice to those people who were doing the interviewing instead. And it's a particular kind of advice: how not to look like a fool when interviewing what we now call a "diversity candidate." Now for the sake of brevity, let's say the candidate is either a man or a woman (technically all women are diversity candidates), but may also be either of color or queer (technically queer people are never diversity candidates. Unless they are -- for some other reason.) Because these categories are too internally various, and because in fact there is surprising overlap in some of the ways you could possibly offend the people who occupy them, let's call them: Martians. And we'll assume for the sake of clarity in what follows that "you" are not a Martian, and that "I" am. Are you ready? Let's begin.

1. Do not tell irrelevant stories about your friends who are Martians, or that your daughter decided to come out as a Martian last year and how great you feel about it. I understand that you are doing this to make us Martians feel as though we are among friends, and to demonstrate your absolute lack of Martianophobia or your committed anti-Martianism. I appreciate that. Really, I do. But you know what? It suggests just the opposite. It suggests that the Martian in your presence, who is me, is making you uncomfortable, and that you are bravely overcoming it. We Martians are used to being in the minority, but it makes us impatient to have other people remind us of it all the time -- in the name of pro-Martianism, no less. So we will all do better during the interview if you stick to scholarship, teaching and what the actual requirements of the job are.

2. Do not take me to a Martian restaurant for dinner. First of all, a Martian restaurant that is not on Mars, or in a place with a significant Martian population, is likely not to be any good. It will serve Martian food cooked to the taste of the non-Martians who populate your planet. So I will find this depressing. But furthermore, it suggests that I, as a Martian, am in danger of feeling alienated on your planet because I may not be able to access my "culture." Though a Martian, as a scholar and an intellectual, I probably feel I am a little more cosmopolitan than that.

3. While we are at dinner, stay away from topics that betray how invisible the other Martians on campus or on your planet are to you. Telling me that I may wish to live on the planet one light year away because it has a larger Martian population is one way of conveying this, as is: explaining that retaining single Martians is so difficult because it is so difficult to meet and other, marriageable, Martians on your planet; or announcing that, incredibly, there is a Martian Episcopalian church that serves the entire planet right in your canyon! So even though there aren't many Martians on campus, there will be a terrific community for me. On Sundays. (Did I say I was religious? Did I?)

4. Admit it if your college does a crappy job of recruiting and serving the needs of Martians. Most colleges and universities that are not on Mars do -- it's not up to you to apologize for it. As in (1), don't tell me about the one Martian who graduated Summa and won the department prize twelve years ago. And although there may be serious Martian politics on campus, don't assume that I share your view of what it means to be progressive on these issues, even -- or especially -- if you are a fellow Martian.

5. Refrain from hinting to me coyly that there is someone I "really need to meet" but not telling me why. This is the most frequent way that people have of dropping a few hairpins that I am a Martian (duh), and this other person is a Martian, but being a person who doesn't really "see" or believe in interplanetary differences, you aren't going to say the word "Martian" (wink, wink.) Most Martians find this tiresome. We aren't at a job interview to meet other Martians: we're there to get a job. And if meeting another Martian on campus is important to me, I'll tell you so.

6. Try to police your references to Martian stereotypes, whether social or intellectual. Don't ask me, for example, why I ended up a historian and not a flight engineer; don't tell me that the special barber I need to cut the hair around my antennae is in the next town over (we don't all have antennae, ok?); and don't, for heaven's sake, if I am interviewing for a Renaissance Literature position, reassure me that the Martian Studies program is very welcoming. Don't put the chair of Martian Studies on my schedule without asking me, if I am not interviewing in Martian Studies, or set up lunch with the one other out Martian to talk about how I might like to work up a Martian survey once I get a firm grip on the courses I am actually being hired to teach.

And last of all -- if you make any of the above errors, please forget about it and move on -- don't embarrass all of us by dwelling on your faux pas and trying to repair the damage. Martians are used to being in the minority, and we can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.


AndrewMc said...

Classic. Great advice, and well said. I always cringe when I hear some of my colleagues violate just about every one of those rules in the name of appearing pro-Martian and Martian-friendly.

I want to say "Why don't you also tell hir that some of your best friends of Martians? Maybe it'll help."

Ahistoricality said...

You forgot to tell them about Extraterritoriality: the Martian is allowed to ask about the Martian studies program, about Martian community, Martian restaurants or shops, support for Martian students, etc.

If you're interviewing Martians because they're Martians, you should know these things. If you're interviewing a Martian because you just happened to like their c.v. and you couldn't tell on the phone interview they were Martian, it's OK to be a little surprised and not have answers ready, I suppose.

GayProf said...

Well done, TR. History does have many problems assuming that all Martians must be interested in pursuing Martian Studies at some point in their career. "Sure," they think, "their current project is about Ancient Rome and all of their training has been done in a graduate program without any Martian Studies whatsoever, but the next project must be about Martian Civil Rights, right?" Alas, even other Martians can fall into this trap. The implicit message often being that, if the answer is "no," they are a self-hating Martian. This, I think, is why history departments are falling beyond other humanities units in terms of Martian diversity.

Nonetheless, when I interview on campus, I do usually ask to meet with the other Martians around. They often will tell a better story about life away from the homelands.

Anonymous said...

TR, are you ok with diversity hires? Shouldn't the "measure" of diversity be the candidate's scholarship and not their color, gender, and/or sexuality? Did Connie Chung "diversify" network news? Or was it just the same approach to reporting but with a different face? If alleged differences based on color, gender, and sexuality are superficial (and I believe they are) then in making these the measure of diversity are we not falling into the same hegemonic trap? After Foucault, how is it possible that academia doesn't realize it's own role in the production and sustenance of these subjectivities?

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

In the interest of helping those who really, really need/want campus interview advice, I'd like to plug another blog, if I may. The blog "Otherwise, Lightning" has great advice about the entire job process, much of which coincides with the fantastic advice given here. Thanks to both writers for being sensitive to the perils of the job market.

About Martians -- I'm guessing too that it would be silly to mention it if you're bi-Martian, but married to an opposite sex partner. If you're in an "Earth" relationship, then your bi-Martianism is probably irrelevant, unless you're in an open relationship. And who wants to know that sort of detail about your life over dinner?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thank you, TR. I want to refer my good friend, a Martian-American, to this post. We were hired in the same year, in different departments. His area of research is anthropology of Neptunian culture, specifically *on* the planet Neptune. Yet the Martian studies department continually hounds him to teach a course in their department on anthropological approaches to the Martian-American experience.

Proof that you don't have to be a member of the hegemonic group to be utterly clueless.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Anonymous 12:45:

In answer to your questions, in order:

Yes: I was a diversity hire, actually. And would be again if I got the chance. Like if Harvard decided it needed diversity in its history department, I would accept the challenge.

Yes (does not contradict first yes.)

I don't know -- can't remember much about the content of Connie Chung's broadcasts if that's what you are referring to.

I think question 4 is actually a rhetorical question, so I don't think it requires an answer.

No, because you keep forgetting about ongoing discrimination in the academy.

No -- I think its a big mistake to extend readings of Foucalt to the academic hiring process, particularly given how bigoted academic hiring often is.




I never met a Martian that moi didn't like.

Stay on groovin' safari,

Shane in SLC said...

So this is purely a hypothetical question, as it seems my department will never be allowed to hire again, given my university's dire economic straits (which make it quite insensitive of you to gloat about how busy you are at Zenith with interviews ;-). But re: point #2: what if your town is hopelessly culturally deprived, and has only 4-5 decent restaurants, and the best of the lot happens to be a Martian restaurant? Do you get a waiver?

Anonymous said...

While it may be presumptuous to assume that a Martian-American candidate is interested in Martian Studies, it's often nice to figure out whether pursuing Martian Studies for one's second book will be a tenure risk on any given campus. If one's first book (say, on Uranians in global diaspora) is a hit, that doesn't guarantee that departmental politics will look kindly on a Martian-American writing a history of Martian nationalism. How do candidates assess such matters wisely on a campus interview?

Anonymous said...

wait a minute, are you saying you're a "martian?" If so I have to stop reading this blog because I'm not.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear kaufmak,

This is not a Martian nationalist space, or a Martian separatist space: you are welcome to stay as long as you like.



Plain(s)feminist said...

Well, it's certainly important to *me,* both as a scholar in bi-Martian studies and as a bi-Martian, myself, to get a sense of what the campus climate is around all of this, esp. given that this has historically been a Big Issue of Contention among feminists.

And TR, for what it's worth, if people perceive you as an Earthling and you aren't one, it can be frustrating to try to get the kind of information that obvious Martians are freely and offensively given.

Anonymous said...

Foucault's work on power-knowledge and subjectivities is entirely relevant here. The selective application of his work - the idea that he is somehow only relevant when we are talking about colonialism, prisons, or hospitals, and not academic institutions - is nothing short of hypocritical.

In any case, it is incredibly misguided and wrong to hire someone on the basis of anything but their scholarly prowess and teaching skills - NO MATTER IF IT IS DONE IN A WAY THAT HAPPENS TO PERPETUATE INSTITIONALIZED DISCRIMINATION OR IS INTENDED TO COUNTER THAT TENDENCY.

Hiring practices that attempt to "correct" or counter institutionalized discrimination unfortauntely almost always still operate within that very same discursive regime -they act only to shift around the values associated with different subjectivities rather than question those ways of thinking and acting in the world that are actually reponsible for the constitution of those subjectivities in the first place.

The point is that attempts to resist a regime of power-knowledge by responding in its own terms (rather than question the imagined subjectivities it actually brings into being) does nothing but contribute to its reproduction. It's a trap. The result is that diversity hires, for example, have the effect of perpetuating exactly what they are intended to eliminate.

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 11:34 --

I've never seen Foucault used to support cultural conservatism -- how interesting. I also think it is interesting that the mere mention of difference in a blog post has triggered the assumption that even mentioning diversity (and prejudice against subordinated groups plays a far greater role in how people are evaluated than affirmative action, buddy) means that I hire in a whole different system in which "merit" -- whatever that means -- is subordinated to political ideology.

This is why Martians on the market think it is always best to present as an Earthling.

Anonymous said...

I spent 3 years on the market, before getting my TT job (woo!). I am an Earthling in my field, although I would be a Martian across campus.

Anyway, this question of merit really misses the mark in this job market. There are many, many more people on the job market than there are positions. Who gets hired? Generally, the person that the search committee likes the most. How do they decide that where there are 10 meritorious applications for every 1 spot? I dunno, I haven't been on a search committee. But, let us assume that search committee members are primarily human beings (whether from Mars or Venus). Human beings, in my experience, recognize value/merit in a bunch of different ways. One of the ways they recognize value is when someone is like them, shares their interests and values. So, in a field with 3 candidates of roughly equal merit, is it hard to imagine that the hire will be the person that had the most in common with the search committee? And if the search committee is all Earthlings?

That's a long way to say: this has nothing to do with merit. Why do you assume Martians are not being hired on the basis of their merit?

Anonymous said...

Tee hee--I did something stupid like this, but not in the general sense. I was interested in the way a Canadian Earthling taught Martian things (he was studying an aspect of Mars), but started off with, I have a Canadian friend who was very surprised by the way Americans interpret Martian.....

This isn't working...I asked him how he taught race in Caribbean history to a room full of rural white US kids, given how differently race is understood in Canada, the US, and the Caribbean. Decent question. But, why oh why, did I have to start off the question, with I have a Canadian friend?? At least I did an eyebrow twitch and self-deprecating laugh before I finished the question.

Anonymous said...

I'm not using Foucult to support cultural conservatism. I'm a liberal. Nor am I denying that a "diversity" candidate may also happen to be a great scholar. Since you've clearly misunderstood me twice there's no need to keep beating a dead horse. Happy hiring!

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

TR (@3:03): what if the word "merit" were abandoned in favor of "demonstrated ability and estimated potential in scholarship, teaching, and service" (or whatever the criteria were for the particular position)? Even if "merit" is often used as a shorthand for "ability and potential...," it also connotes some inherent characteristic and I think it can lead to some unpleasant and useless casuistry.

I hope this comment doesn't constitute thread hijacking!

Anonymous said...

Who or what bureaucratic structures determine whether someone is a diversity hire? The affirmative action office? And do you know what happens with trans people whose "legal gender" is ambiguous (M on some documents, F on others) or contradicts their gender presentation?

Anonymous said...

as a martian I'm getting sick of martian politics. I can see why non-martians get fed up and plain dont care anymore.


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