Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Some Brief Thoughts on the Now-Famous “No Olds” Ad at CSU

with 7 comments

Chad Black and Scott Eric Kaufman (1, 2) have done a great job publicizing the now-famous “No Olds” ad at CSU English, to the point where the ad has now been revised and the MLA Executive Council will take up the matter for discussion at its next meeting. What I hope won’t be lost in all this is the extent to which—regardless of the actual, unknowable intentions of the CSU search committee, and the thorny question of whether this particular ad meets the legal standard for age discrimination—explicitly posting the criteria by which the decision will be made can easily be seen as a kindness to applicants from a search committee that knows how bad the market is and wants to be as honest and transparent as possible.

From this perspective the real “crime” of the CSU ad looks like Žižek’s ideology—the crime is not in doing the thing but in accidentally admitting it, saying it out loud. The crime, in other words, is really at the level of the utterance, and the “punishment” (such as it is) is being forced to retract the utterance.

But nothing has happened that will stop CSU or any other search committee from continuing to make decisions on any secret, unpublicized criteria they like, legal or illegal; what has happened is that committees will be less inclined to be similarly honest and transparent about their decisions and their real criteria in the future. That’s not much of a victory if the process ends here, because it encourages more mystification, not less, in the market.

So my hope is that when the MLA Executive Committee takes this up they do so at a level that pierces mere utterance, and attempts to gather real, concrete, material data about actual hiring practices, including this and other “secret criteria” for jobs that are being enforced without being announced. Then we can begin to talk with real specificity about what’s going on, and the consequences of this arcane and mystified process for the profession as a whole.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 13, 2012 at 9:16 am

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The problem is not stating the actual requirements. Rather, it’s that those requirements do not have any conceivable justification. Semenza’s Guide to Graduate School in the Humanities mentions an English Dept. (prob. his from the way it reads) that would not hire anyone who had not published two articles and taught ten classes. I’d have no problem with them stating those requirements in the ad, though the language would never get through.


    September 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

    • The problem is not stating the actual requirements. Rather, it’s that those requirements do not have any conceivable justification.

      Oh, I agree completely. My point was just that search committees are currently free to make decisions based on criteria that have no conceivable justification however much they like, as long as they don’t make the mistake of admitting it. And stopping the investigative process here encourages that.


      September 13, 2012 at 9:30 am

  2. Gerry– I completely agree. And said much the same thing in my last update on that post two nights ago. As for punishment, I think an appropriate punishment would be for every scholar of “American Literature pre-1900” in the country to send CSU an application.


    September 14, 2012 at 10:50 am

  3. […] A week ago, no-olds was a novelty; today it is one of the profession’s most cherished traditions. I’ll just recycle my […]

  4. […] more on the no-olds ads from Timothy Burke and Kelli Marshall. Share […]

    Testify « Gerry Canavan

    September 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: