As everyone knows, Europeans, compared with Americans, are just plain good at certain things. Among them:
- building stuff
- making art
- wearing clothes
- eating and
- oh well, I’d better stop because it gets depressing.
But did you know that they are also much, much more efficient at conducting academic hiring processes? I’ve been on the market this year for university positions in British Literature both in America and abroad. Since my family is Italian, I have the option through jure sanguinis of becoming a citizen thereof, which I’ve just recently begun to pursue, meaning that, by Autumn, I’ll be permitted to work in any European Economic Area.
So, I’ve sent off a few applications to positions I’ve found listed at jobs.co.uk. I know England has her own scholars and that the European academics I’ve met are terrifically qualified, but since so many American academic jobs are given to them, I’m assuming the allure of the foreign works both ways.
But the difference between the processes could hardly be greater. Proper American jobs are announced in September, materials usually due in early November, interviews conducted at MLA in either December or January, campus visits thereafter in February or March, thence to salary negotiations, work release etc until in April sometime, one has an offer for the coming Fall. That’s the usual mode anyway, though it varies from school to school as budgets firm up and faculty lines are dedicated. To say the least, that’s a long and cumbersome process.
In America, I’ve submitted applications in November and heard nothing till February, by which point—since the MLA is passed—I assume I haven’t been shortlisted, but I don’t know for sure. Sometimes, I won’t hear anything at all. I spend weeks assembling materials, mailing them, praying, and just nothing. There are jobs I haven’t heard from that I find out via public rumor sites have not only shortlisted candidates, but interviewed them, and extended offers, all without sending notice to the applicants. One job I was a finalist for said nothing till the secretary sent a personal note saying she was sorry it didn’t work out. “Didn’t it?” I wondered, hoping for a clerical error, until I heard, 7 weeks later, from the committee saying they’d gone with the other candidate.
This all seems to me strange business. I’ve had nice interviews with folks, sent them a thanks, and then not been told either way how they felt. I don’t only mean the whole slush pile of 200+ applicants; they didn’t even send rejections to the shortlist of 15 whom they’d personally met. How hard would it be to have a secretary pen a form rejection? You can even set up a gmail folder to reply to all applicants with a “thanks, but no thanks.”
Contrast that with the European system. Last month, I sent three applications abroad: one to Switzerland, one to England, and one to Scotland. Within a week, I’d heard from all three. They were just short, but still very polite acknowledgments of receipt like,“Thank you for your application for this posting. We will contact you with the outcome in due course.” This from not one of the universities, but all of them. It was refreshing, just knowing that they had them in hand, that the systems hadn’t failed.
This is important because sometimes the systems fail. I’ve sent off applications, or thought I sent off applications, only to find them in my outbox a month later after the deadline has passed. Apparently, this can happen with large files transmitted electronically.
Within another week, I’d heard back (negatively, alas) from all of them likewise. One contained a personal note from the committee chair saying she’d personally found my research quite intriguing and was sorry the committee didn’t go forward with it. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the opportunity to meet with these people, but at least I knew quickly. At least I wasn’t sitting around for months thinking that I may be moving my family to Scotland next year, or Baltimore, or wherever.
It’s nice. And this process is agonizing enough without our adding to it prolonged anxiety. With so much competition and so much on the line, couldn’t we try to alleviate some pressure by adopting a few formalities from our cousins across the sea?