Congress 2017: Challenges to the integrity of academic hiring practices

During Congress 2017, a session on the Challenges to the Integrity of Academic Hiring Practices in the Corporate University encouraged participants to ask themselves some difficult questions about the value of Canadian training in sociology. After a long and intensive discussion, members of the Canadian Sociological Association passed a motion to research hiring trends in sociology departments across the country. The motion followed a glut of anecdotal evidence that tenure-track jobs in sociology at Canadian institutions are going to foreign-trained academics (often from prestigious American institutions) instead of Canadian trained sociologists.

The panel was comprised of four presenters who explored issues such as activism in the academy, the role of corporatization in hiring, preliminary research about the de-Canadianization of hiring across the country, and stories from the job-search trenches). Most notable was an anonymous letter written by Canadian-trained sociology PhDs sent to the hiring committees at Canadian universities. The letter illustrates the struggles these unnamed academics face. It was powerful and resonated palpably with those in the room.

The letter outlines the experience of being part of the precarious working class and how precarious employment impacts personal relationships and family planning. It also details the discrimination faced by those seeking employment in sociology, where racial and gender bias perpetuate inequality.

The letter details the numerous sacrifices made by new PhDs pursuing tenure track positions, many of whom end up living below the poverty line into their 30s, watching friends and colleagues start families and buy homes, delaying social time, juggling multiple contracts and paid work arrangements, moving across the country to pursue post-doctoral studies, and seeing supervisors take credit for their work.

It appears that many of those being hired at Canadian institutions are American scholars with degrees from American institutions – the letter writers note that future MA and PhD candidates will likely take note of this trend, and may choose to pursue training outside of Canada to improve their chances of getting a job in Canada upon graduation. This is not just about employment, but about research outcomes as well. The lack of Canadian academics hired has a profound impact on the direction of sociology research in Canada as well. While many institutions include statements that prioritize the hiring of Canadians and permanent residents, it appears that this may just be lip service to the ideal.

The letter concludes by imploring hiring committees to change their approach to candidate evaluation. Questions about gender, race, marital status, age are not appropriate and the answers to these questions do not reflect on a candidate’s ability to be a good professor. By creating fair, coherent, and transparent hiring practices that ensure the most qualified applicants are chosen, these departments can improve the lives of aspiring academic sociologists.

Some believe that students who train in Canada are being prepared for professional rather than academic jobs – and therefore the training they receive may not be the best fit for their desired careers. Given the level and intensity of training required for PhDs, and the departmental commitment required to mentor candidates, if the jobs they are training for aren’t available, it is important to consider whether resources are being allocated effectively.

During the session, a lively debate ensued about the possibility that these discussions, lend themselves to insular, pro-nationalist sentiments. Some participants countered these concerns, highlighting their belief that the issue around hiring practices isn’t about birth place or nationality, but about where the training takes place, and whether there is a commitment to furthering Canadian research goals

It is clear that there are more Canadian PhDs than there are academic jobs in Canada. The playing field is not an even one for PhDs searching for tenure track jobs; the search criteria and hiring procedures are so labour intensive, opaque, and sometimes discriminatory. Need a concluding sentence or two.