Last year about this time, Kris McDaniel posted some important questions about the nature of the hiring process in philosophy, particular with respect to APA interviews. I’d like to resurrect one of Kris’s questions for a new round of discussion as well as add another.
My first question is similar to Kris’s: what, if anything, is the value of conducting interviews at the Eastern APA? I strongly suspect that hiring committees go into these interview sessions with a rough ranking of their 12 or so interviewees, with a distinct and agreed-on top tier. What I’m curious about, now that most interviewing departments have extended invitations to their top 3 or 4 candidates for campus visits, is whether or not these initial rough rankings (at least in the top tier) changed much, if at all, from your pre-interview stage (where folks went from being in the top tier to being out, or being out of the top tier to being in). If so, what drove such change? Was it the interview itself, the smoker, other informal discussions, or something else? If not, do you see any genuine value to the interviewing experience, at least a value worth preserving in light of the significant costs to your department or institution in terms of flights, hotels, travel time, and the psychic toll of leaving one’s family for several days in the middle of the holiday season? Why not, instead, just bring the top tier to campus?
Second, consider the campus visit. There are several puzzling elements to this event as standardly practiced, but I’ll focus for now on the main event, the “job talk.” The typical job talk involves the candidate reading or presenting a paper for approximately an hour, followed by Q&A for an hour. A typical condition is that the paper be a work in progress (so not previously published) and new to the department, i.e., not also submitted as a writing sample. What, however, is the point of this format and these conditions? What information relevant to the needs and desires of a philosophy department looking to add a colleague will be learned in this two hour performance with such preconditions?
Yes, these are typically the conditions for a conference presentation (only of a rarified sort, though—APA colloquia papers, and many other conference papers, are only 20 minutes long, and include commentators and only 20 minutes of questions). But that’s a very different environment, and anyway the goals of someone evaluating whether or not to hire the speaker are (or ought to be?) very different from the goals of an audience member in a conference.
One thing I suspect most people want to learn is whether or not the candidate is a good philosopher, where this includes the abilities to work on interesting and philosophically valuable projects, to situate one’s projects in the relevant literature, to have a command of such literature, to construct good arguments, to write clearly, to defend one’s ideas from various objections, and to have genuine publishing potential (and surely there are others). If this is the general goal (and here I set aside the possibility of different and really puzzling goals like “it’s meant to be a trial by fire”), then why is this centerpiece of the campus visit conducted in this way? Is the ability to think quickly on one’s feet to address an objection one hasn’t heard before one of these conditions? Surely it’s not necessary to see whether or not the candidate can read aloud for an hour, so why use the first hour for that when one could instead get the paper in advance and then just use that time to discuss the paper (that the audience members ought to have read) in more detail? And what is the point of restricting the types of papers that can be presented in the ways already mentioned? If one wants to evaluate the best work the candidate has to offer, why not allow the candidate to submit a published piece? Or his/her writing sample? These latter two suggestions would make particular sense when evaluating a candidate fresh out of grad school, for he or she may simply not have many presentable papers just yet. Requiring him/her to present a new and unpublished paper will often produce a rushed and weak effort (typically drawn from a later, more sketchy portion of his/her dissertation), which is likely to present an inaccurate picture of his/her writing and publishing potential or general philosophical talents.
I’m looking, then, to see what defense is on offer for these longstanding industry practices. Feel free, however, to add into the mix other typical aspects of hiring procedures you find puzzling.