Job Placement Numbers for the 2020-21 Season (several updates) – Daily Nous

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PhilJobs’ “Appointments in Philosophy” lists 30 tenure-track, 7 fellowship, and 5 “other” placements for the 2020-21 job market season, according to a write-up by Charles Lassiter (Gonzaga).
As he observes, “2021 is trending way below average”:

Professor Lassiter clarifies:
You might notice that there aren’t any placements for visiting positions in 2020 or 2021, but we know that there were visiting positions advertised. What does this mean? We know that, as of November 2020, there were only 5 visiting positions advertised. We also know that PhilJobs is a source of information about the job market that is timely but gappy: not everyone posts their placements on PhilJobs or PhilPeople. Given that there were so few visiting positions advertised for this year, it’s not surprising that there are no posts for VAP placements.
What should we think about this data, together with the low number of jobs advertised this past season? Among other things, Professor Lassiter remarks:
You can read his whole post here.
UPDATE 1: There’s some chatter online about hires that haven’t made the PhilJobs Appointments page, suggesting that the above may be a little overly negative. To help us all get a clearer picture, people who have been hired / placement directors / departments that have hired should communicate the relevant details to PhilJobs. Thanks. Placement directors, take note: “PhilJobs: JFP makes available a dedicated system to assist placement officers in maintaining their department’s placement record.”
UPDATE 2: Professor Lassiter has agreed to keep an eye on changes at PhilJobs and provide an updated summary next week if warranted.
UPDATE 3 (5/13/21): Over the past week a few more hires were posted to PhilJobs, so Professor Lassiter updated his post. He says:
I was really hoping for a dramatic change, but the number of TT placements went up to 41 (from 30) and fellowships up to 10 (from 7). I suppose a 33% increase is pretty substantial, but when compared to historical trends of posting… it’s still not awesome.
Here’s the updated version of the above graph:

You can check out Professor Lassiter’s new post containing this and related information, as well as some discussion why placement posting numbers are so low.

For what it is worth, I cannot help but wonder how often the failure to report new appointments on the PhilJobs page may be due to past cases of ‘CV vetting’–that is, cases where people (usually in anonymous online forums) openly debated who they did and did not ‘deserve’ the particular jobs they got. I say this because I have heard, at least anecdotally, that some people have avoided reporting their new appointments on PhilJobs for precisely this reason.
If this is indeed the case (and the more or less consistent drop-off in reporting in Lassiter’s charts since 2015 suggests it may well be), then one lesson to take away from this (which I would have hoped people would have known already) is that gossiping and CV-vetting are bad not only because of the negative effects they have on the objects of such gossip (which are very real), but also bad for all of us by deterring people from reporting important data for understanding job-market outcomes.Report
Marcus I’ve never heard of this sort of gossip before (honest I haven’t, and I’m not too far removed from graduate school). Do you have any sense whether this sort of gossiping is real and systematic or is it the *fear* of this sort of gossip (real or not) that’s deterring people from posting things? Note: I avoid most kinds of social media so if this sort of thing is happening on Twitter or F-book, I’ll be completely ignorant about it.Report
My recollection is that it used to happen quite a bit on the various iterations of the ‘philosophy metablog’ and ‘philosophy metaforum’–which, perhaps not all that coincidentally, began closing in 2015 and all of which closed up shop in 2018 (due to their owners being threatened with exposure).
I don’t think it happens anymore, as these forums no longer exist. But my sense is that the damage is done. I’ve had several people tell me in person that they didn’t post their appointments to PhilJobs because they didn’t want to face that sort of thing. Hopefully now that those forums no longer exist, people will begin to feel more comfortable sharing their appointments.Report
This happens on the job market reporting thread on your website. I imagine you moderate a lot of it out, but some still gets through. You can find an example on, e.g., page 7 of the thread for this year’s market (someone complaining about specific candidates getting a postdoc and tt offer) and on page 6 where people are again scrutinizing a specific candidate alleging, falsely it seems, that they were an ‘inside’ candidate.
I understand where people are coming from, the job market really sucks. But it is still frequently cruel to do this kind of thing. It also may screw up the ability for the profession to collect the data it wants. But the cruelty seems worse.Report
Thanks for pointing that out. I really do my best to moderate that kind of stuff out, but yeah, it’s sometimes tough to catch everything (especially given that I try not to moderate with too heavy of a hand given the site’s moderation policy). Anyway, I’ll take a close look at those pages, as I don’t want the Cocoon to contribute to that phenomenon.Report
Marcus, just to say, your website is really an important resource for the profession and I can only imagine how much, frequently thankless, work you put into it. The sheer volume of posts you have to moderate often blows my mind.
So not trying to throw shade/you under the bus. Just thought I’d mention it precisely because you would actually care to look into it.Report
Thanks, I really appreciate that (and I do appreciate being held to account). I’ve already removed the offending comments.Report
I know we all mean to be sensitive to this. But it’s worth spelling a few things out. Just for comparison, we have: (1) a very large group of secure, mostly tenured philosophers every year running a battery of searches, where a non-negligible portion of those searches systematically exclude certain very qualified people from consideration, giving opportunities to others for questionable and potentially illegal reasons (i.e. pedigree alone, doing favors for networked friends, preferences for certain political worldviews/etc). All of this is done secretly, so that people fresh out on the job market have to slowly find out via a bizarre whisper network that these things do happen.
And then we have (2) anonymous commenters on websites–many suffering from chronic underemployment despite having fantastic CVs, and enduring all the terrible mental, physical and familial strain that goes along with that–suggesting that certain people did not deserve their jobs because those people appear to display substandard levels of academic achievement. Where should we focus our moral disapprobation, here?
If I were middle management in a company that regularly and demonstrably offered promotions for unfair reasons, and I heard the lowest-paid people out on the floor spreading the rumor that “X didn’t deserve their promotion”, my first instinct would not be to tell them to shut up or to silence their commentary. I would hope that I would say “I can understand why you think that, things are a little weird around here,” and try to get the bosses to change their bad behavior. I wouldn’t spend much energy punching down. This isn’t a perfect analogy but I think it’s instructive… blog owners can and should do what they want with their blogs, and we shouldn’t condone hurtful commentary by any means, but I often worry about where we as a field tend to focus our moral energy. Being the target of a spiteful comment sucks. It doesn’t suck *nearly* as much as being overqualified and suffering from chronic underemployment.Report
>regularly and demonstrably offered promotions for unfair reasons
Citation please. All human institutions are unjust in the trivial sense that we all have preferences and we all make decisions people will strongly disagree with about anything (especially values)…but a claim like this one needs some real evidence both to its regularity and also to the fact that it’s systematic (i.e., that it’s literally built into the structure). It’s easy to complain about job markets. Having been on both sides, I’ve seen some of my best friends, people whose CVs put my own to shame, not be able to find regular employment. I find this unjust, in at least some senses of that term (but only in the sense that good people who deserve a job don’t get one even though nobody has a right to a job).
I have never (in the now 10+ searches I’ve been a part of at more than one university) seen evidence that “unfair reasons” are regularly or systematically being used despite the fact that there have been many decisions a hiring committee I’ve been on has made that I’ve strongly disagreed with. It would be a very strange department that systematically and unfairly shared the same biases. Part of the beauty (and frustration) of having committees (instead of individuals) do this work is that we’re all checks on one another’s biases. Report
It doesn’t need a citation: it’s a hypothetical analogy. If something needs evidencing, it’s the claim in the first paragraph about systematic exclusion of candidates and unjust/illegal preferences.Report
I’ve been on many and chaired several tenure track search committees. I have likewise never seen anything I would describe as unfair or illegal criteria being used.
Departments don’t hire “objectively good cv’s,” they hire real people to meet (sometimes vague or ill-defined) departmental and university needs/preferences in a specific practical/political context (a context which is utterly opaque to candidates and outsiders).
I can say from experience that the candidates who look the best on paper don’t always perform best on the day, and the ones who aren’t first choice going into the interviews can outshine their competitors. This is just one reason people outside the search lack the appropriate information to judge whether the search was well conducted.
The decisions are made by committee, which is in itself a sufficient explanation of anything that looks inexplicable from the outside. No need to invoke nefarious motives.
Search committees are balancing so many criteria and difficult-to-judge factors that it isn’t at all surprising that people who were not in the room judge that they would have come to a different decision. But that doesn’t mean the committees’ decisions are wrong in some way. It is almost never a choice between good and bad candidates–it is usually a choice between different kinds and degrees and mixtures of goods.
And occasionally deans or provosts override hiring recommendations–the committee might have preferred a different candidate than the one who was given the first offer. The dean/provost in such situations believes they have good reasons for doing so, usually in the name of some more general university-level good rather than specifically disciplinary merit, but always within the boundaries of the required and preferred criteria mentioned in the ad.
The deliberations of search committees are confidential, so any rumor you hear about the internal workings of a search should be automatically suspect since it is coming either from someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or from a committee member whose ethics and judgement are thereby shown to be compromised.Report
Three points in response to the “I’ve never seen any unfair criteria be used by a search committee” bunch:
I never denied bias JTD. That would be, itself, a paradigm example of the no bias bias. What I denied was its systematic nature as implied by Avalonian. CVs are a very messy proxy for the complex web of traits any one department is looking for any time they hire. It’s a serious mistake for anyone to look only at the CVs of those who are hired and come to the conclusion that something unjust or unfair has taken place.
Some people in the search committees I’ve been on have *seriously* cared about PhD prestige. I *seriously* don’t care about it. Some people care about whether you can teach courses connected to efforts or programs the department may be growing in, others may simply care about AOS. Some care about whether your research is consonant with their own views, others don’t. On a committee, these views are all aired (and they probably explain why you’ve heard that people care about prestige – THEY DO!). What I’m denying is that search committees systematically and unfairly have biases against more qualified candidates, as was claimed.Report
The deliberations of search committees are confidential, so any rumor you hear about the internal workings of a search should be automatically suspect since it is coming either from someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or from a committee member whose ethics and judgement are thereby shown to be compromised.
I don’t get this comment. When you claim anecdotally that you haven’t seen bias you are talking about the internal workings of the search committees you have been on. And this is not unethical because you are doing so without identifying a specific search so that people can see which individuals the anecdote applies to. Likewise, when someone says “on one of the search committees I was on several of my colleagues argued that we should favor a certain candidate because of their institutional prestige”, reporting this anecdote is not unethical because a specific search is not identified. So, you haven’t given us any reason to discount these kinds of anecdotes. Yet most of the anecdotes we hear are reported in this way.
In any case, the use of any of these unfair criteria by a search committee is itself unethical, and a more serious ethical violation than breaking the confidentiality of a search committee. Therefore, the “whistleblower norm” seems to apply. Normally, it is wrong to reveal to others the internal workings of a search. However, if those internal workings involve unethical practice then revealing them to others, especially those who have an interest in the search being conducted correctly, seems justified. For example, telling a rejected candidate that the person who got the job was favored over them on unethical grounds, and apologizing about such an unacceptable situation is a justified violation of the general norm of search committee confidentiality.Report
There is no way to decide between the typically large number of qualified or overqualified candidates that will appear neutral or unbiased or objective or ethical to everyone. Some people highly value “pedigree.” Some value teaching very highly, while some care more about research. Some grad programs allow or encourage their student to teach, and this might work in favor of their candidate for some given search. Is this fair to the candidate from a program that didn’t emphasize teaching?Report
“My recollection is that it used to happen quite a bit on the various iterations of the ‘philosophy metablog’ and ‘philosophy metaforum’…which closed up shop in 2018 (due to their owners being threatened with exposure).”
Wait, so the metablog’s owners’ identities are semi-public knowledge and they’ve never been held accountable for the rampant, rancid bullying that they hosted? Report
In addition to the metablogs, it happened on the Smoker (not as much as on the metablogs, but still).Report
I was a Lecturer at my school before getting a TT spot with them. The search was called fake on one of the blogs, maybe the Smoker. This was 10 years ago. The search was “designed for me.” Soon followed a couple of “why do they waste our time?” posts. I was not named but my school was. It wasn’t difficult to figure out who I was. There was no discussion of my CV and no one said I wasn’t qualified, but some felt I didn’t win the spot fairly.Report
Given the state of the job market for the last whatever number of years, I find it surprising that those who landed jobs would be too bothered by what was said about them on gossip blogs. Getting the job should trump that nonsense.Report
They might suspect that there’s some truth to it, or know that getting a job means that one was incredibly lucky, or benefitted from some irrational process, whether biased or not. It’s like being lifted out quicksand by a strange gust of wind, or something, and then high-fiving fellow unstuck people in front of all the other people stuck in the quicksand. That’s a bit like how I felt when the job was posted as an appointment and I got emailed congratulations. Sorry, weird analogy, but congratulations feel strange when it seems like, sure, I’m not *bad* at what I do, but that guy over there is at least as good, if not better, and I just got lucky, for whatever reason.Report
Congratulations for good luck are scarcely unusual.Report
Yes, that’s right. Maybe my experience is colored by the fact that a couple people also said “you earned it!”, perhaps to counteract the (at that time, typical) responses above. And well, I don’t know, in some sense I suppose most people “earn it,” but if that’s supposed to mean “this is the way things should be” it’s a dubious claim.Report
Yes, much comes down to pure luck, and perhaps this makes some people feel uncomfortable having their (lucky) successes publicized. And this might explain why some people don’t post their placements. But that’s a different concern than the one described above in this thread, which had to do with people not posting out of fear they’d be belittled on the gossip blogs.
Also, it’s ok to be happy that one got lucky, though of course how one expresses that happiness should differ from a happiness in which one has good reason to believe that luck played a smaller role.Report
I’m not sure how to square this with the fact that job ads, while lower than in previous years, aren’t this low relative to previous years. Two things would account for this: this year had an abnormally high amount of jobs that went unfilled, or people are posting appointments less on philjobs/not posting them yet. I also wonder if, as Marcus suggests, there’s been a trend of increasingly not posting appointments, or perhaps people are less likely to post appointments in tough years.Report
I know that there are some institutions cannot post their jobs on philjobs for ideological reasons. For example, some schools are sponsored by or affiliated with religious institutions that for theological reasons oppose same sex marriage. Given the current job market, it seems a travesty that many young philosophers will never learn about these jobs. Especially at small Christian Colleges where young philosopher may be able to have a substantial influence for good. When Philpapers sanctions philosophy departments in this way, it hurts young philosophers and their potential students–and does very little to hurt the institutions whose ideologies Philpapers has chosen to publicly oppose.Report
Presumably it doesn’t hurt young philosophers on net, unless these institutions can’t fill their jobs at all.Report
I see your point. I guess I was imagining this as being analogous to a case where there are 50 jobs, but 20 of those jobs are kept a secret except to a very small minority of candidates. Suppose all 50 are filled. Doesn’t it strike one as plausible to say that those candidates who were not privy to the 20 secret jobs, and therefore had lower chances of getting a job, are less well off? And given that the institutions that provide those 20 jobs are *in fact* very interested in posting those jobs publicly so that the information about those jobs is well-known, it seems that Philjobs is primarily to blame for making all of the candidates who do not have the secret knowledge worse off.
(I may be overstating things in some ways. For one thing, at the institutional level of any given university, they probably have no idea whatsoever that Philjobs has sanctioned them. More likely, and ironically, it will be the specific philosophy departments who will feel the squeeze. Ironic because they may be the very departments who are most opposed to the institutional policies at their universities that Philjobs condemns. For another, it may be that there are only 2 “secret” jobs. But, I have no idea, they’re secret.)
I’ll admit this isn’t a case of profound moral outrage. But, it’s a case where things could be made slightly better for those graduate students who are facing a grim job market that is unprecedentedly slim on opportunity. Many particular young philosophers will have less of a chance on the job market at getting a job than their (very few) peers who will hear about these other job opportunities. And while this may not merit widespread public outcry, it does look unjust.
And to be fair, I suspect this sort of thing didn’t enter into consideration when Philjobs decided to sanction certain institutions. Who could have foreseen a job market as dismal as the one we currently have? It must have seemed like the more important thing was to wield what small power Philjobs has for moral good: to advance justice in some small way by taking a political and moral stand.
The point is this: Philjobs is discriminating, not only against institutions, but also against young philosophers. On the whole, young philosophers are not less well off. But many particular young philosophers are.Report
Perhaps a factor in low reporting this year: Everyone is freaking tired. I know in my own life, optional things have been mostly falling by the wayside.Report
I would love to have a more serious discussion about the ethics of failed job searches in this current environment. How many searches were failed because faculty couldn’t agree on the perfect candidate? How many searches were started without guaranteed funding from administration? What should departments do ahead of time to ensure that their searches do not fail?Report
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