Keywords: graduate preparation, COVID-19 impacts, hiring, labor, professional development, job market, interviewing, equitable practices, ethics of care
The Consortium thanks Dr. Karen Lunsford, Dr. Anicca Cox, and Dr. Jennifer Sano-Franchini for their leadership and extensive work on this statement.
The ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has had complex and wide-ranging effects on academic job applications and hiring. Faced with budget shortfalls due to falling enrollments, many postsecondary institutions implemented hiring freezes, mandatory furloughs, and salary cuts, impacting job availability as well as the working conditions of faculty who run academic searches. Advertisements for positions have often been delayed, as institutions approve hiring requests later in the year (http://rhetmap.org/market-comparison/). Different campuses have implemented different COVID mitigation processes as well, affecting the availability and conduct of campus visits. It is also important to note that academic hiring exists within a much larger ecology that includes but is not limited to graduate admissions practices, job preparation and professionalization support in graduate programs, hiring and labor conditions in and outside of academia, and infrastructures of new faculty support.
To be sure, many job-seekers have found opportunities in learning, teaching, and scholarly engagement online, but they have also faced disruptions: interruptions to their progress to degree; challenges in learning to teach, sometimes for the first time and in multiple modalities; limited networking opportunities as conferences have been canceled or moved online; delays in publication timelines; and limitations in travel. In addition, job seekers are disproportionately affected by a number of factors including but not limited to:
- various health risks,
- caregiver status,
- access to infrastructures of care,
- compensation and support,
- access to high-speed internet,
- citizenship status, and
- generational wealth, all of which can vary significantly from person to person.
These expansive contexts and variables need to be taken into account as we work toward responsive practices to support job seekers.
The purpose of this statement is to offer considerations for reflexive and care-based hiring practices and programmatic support for graduate students during COVID-19 and beyond. We call for faculty and administrators to be mindful of how job seekers have been impacted by COVID, and of the ways in which job searches can be made more humane and equitable. That being said, primary audiences for this statement are hiring faculty, graduate program administrators, department chairs, and graduate faculty—especially those who have some role in graduate program admissions, professional development, and job market preparation—who are committed to ethical and equitable hiring and graduate student support.
Guiding Principles for Hiring Committees
Those making transitions from one employment situation to another deserve care and consideration, especially in these precarious times. Here, we offer guidance for hiring committees in three broad areas: (1) application and interview processes, (2) communicating with applicants, and (3) assessing applicants.
Application and Interview Processes
- Continue to limit the number of materials required at the start of the application process. As outlined in the CCCC Statement of Best Practices in Faculty Hiring for Tenure-Track and Non-Tenure Track Positions in Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies, hiring committees should continue to limit the number of materials required to apply for their position. As the CCCC Statement states, “In most cases, a letter and CV will suffice” for the initial application.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to delayed approvals of hiring requests, and jobs being advertised late in the academic year. At times, this compressed timescale—in addition to hiring faculty being overburdened with other demands—has led to hiring committees requesting a greater number of more complex application materials from candidates upfront; however, hiring committees should continue to resist this urge whenever possible. These requirements demand time and energy from potential applicants to which not all have equal access, and hiring faculty should consider what useful information about an applicant’s ability to succeed in the position can be gleaned exclusively from such materials.
- Offer candidates the option to interview virtually for first round interviews, and, whenever possible, for campus visits. Providing this option increases access for those who are economically precarious, working multiple jobs, acting as primary caregivers, or are at high risk or vulnerable to COVID-19. Hiring departments should not require in-person campus visits, or require interviews at conferences, and hiring committees should be aware of how applicants might feel pressured to come to campus even if they don’t feel safe doing so.
- Provide flexibility and support for virtual interviews. Hiring committee members should familiarize themselves with the technologies necessary to conduct interviews smoothly and to manage the anxieties that job candidates may experience by providing support if/when possible. This might include offering multiple open times for interviews, spacing out meeting times, and offering substantial breaks for second-round (“campus”) interviews.
In addition, because not all candidates have access to time, space, or resources to approximate the setting for an all-day or multi-day virtual “campus” interview, hiring departments can offer to fund the cost of a hotel room, which will ensure that all candidates have a quiet and uninterrupted space for the interview.
- Consider a variety of ways to provide candidates with information about your program and area that they might have gotten from an in-person campus visit. Hiring committees might offer virtual campus tours, or send welcome/care packages that highlight the regional or local community to candidates ahead of time. In addition, hiring committees can offer, when institutional policy permits, to fund a visit to the area where candidates are not required or expected to interact with people if they do not feel safe or comfortable doing so. Job seekers need as much information as possible to field offers and make decisions.
Communicating with Applicants
- Provide transparent, timely, and up-to-date communications. The shrinking availability of jobs and compressed timelines as a result of the pandemic can result in increased anxieties for job applicants. Frequent, transparent communications can help alleviate these anxieties. Hiring committees should, whenever possible, confirm receipt of materials, and provide timely information for candidates to prepare for interviews, status updates, and updated timelines at every stage of the process. Candidates should be notified directly and quickly if/when timelines change. Some committees may be prohibited by their institutional HR from providing updates before the search is complete; in these cases, committees can consider informing candidates about these constraints.
- Be aware of automated emails sent from HR systems. Doing so may help avoid the sending of conflicting information or unwanted messaging.
- Plan ahead to make the best use of limited time. Given the compressed timelines and the challenging working conditions of existing faculty who are often overburdened as a result of widespread cuts to faculty and staff positions, it can be helpful to keep assessment concerns in mind from the start and throughout the hiring process. In other words, committee members can ask themselves how each interaction with candidates will contribute to their understanding of candidates’ potential and capacities as pertinent to the stated requirements of the position. There may be less time spent with candidates and hiring committees can plan accordingly to be strategic and efficient in their process.
- Keep in mind that candidate CVs are affected by differential access to resources and working conditions. COVID has affected applicants in a variety of ways described in the introduction above, and hiring committees should keep in mind how these impacts as well as other structural inequities affect what applicants are able to list on their CVs. As a result, committees can take a broad and inclusive approach to reviewing candidates’ potential for success in the position. For example, given the limited access to professional development opportunities during COVID, hiring committees may consider the value of a broader range of activities, i.e., the kinds of research and scholarly engagement required to redesign and update courses, and how advocacy on committees or in peer review of articles can function as a form of teaching.
- Hiring committees should consider how they will fairly assess candidates across different modalities, if different modalities are offered to different candidates. Providing applicants with a choice of interview mode and medium is an accessible practice (Dadas); however, committees must also be aware of how different modalities might affect their assessment of candidates across modalities. In an effort to work toward equitable assessment across modalities, committees might return back to the job description, and consider how interviews reflect each candidate’s ability to meet or exceed the required and preferred qualifications for the position.
Guiding Principles for Graduate Student Preparation and Support
In addition to amended hiring practices, these complex times require responsive support for graduate students who are preparing to apply for professional positions. In this section, we offer guidance for graduate faculty and administrators in terms of professional development, support for diverse career paths, material support, and graduate student recruitment and admissions during the pandemic and beyond. We additionally suggest reading this report that outlines some of the impacts we are just beginning to see on graduate students during COVID.
- Offer, and share, accessible opportunities for professional development. Conferences in writing studies since Spring 2020 have been canceled or have been offered only in online formats. While access may, in some ways, have increased for graduate students in online formats (less funding required to attend, asynchronous delivery modalities, etc.), the opportunities for face-to-face networking, social relationship building and presentation opportunities have changed significantly. As editorial schedules have slowed, graduate students may have fewer opportunities to gain experience in scholarly publication. As funding and budgets have become constrained, graduate students may lose opportunities for research and applied learning. Graduate programs should offer alternative opportunities for professional development in this context or encourage and support students seeking alternative modes of professional development.
- Provide support for diverse career paths (faculty, staff, industry, etc.). As economies shift and tenure-line appointments continue to dwindle, graduate programs in writing studies need to prepare students for a wide range of career paths, including academic staff and industry positions, as well as teaching in online and hybrid formats. Graduate programs should pro-actively seek to address these needs by developing training, networking, and support for graduate students who seek work outside traditional, tenure line faculty positions. COVID has hastened the urgency of this need. Those interested can connect with the CDPRC which has been having conversations and engaging in resource-sharing about this issue.
- Provide material support for graduate students in the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we do not have data yet on the precise number of job seekers unable to find employment because of COVID (a result of canceled searches, budget cuts), we know that this is and will be the case for many. Graduate programs should advocate for and seek to provide additional years of funding or employment opportunities for graduate students until the economic effects of the pandemic have abated. Graduate programs should work to offer ongoing material support for those who may need it because their progress-to-degree/job searches have been delayed. Graduate programs and mentors should, additionally, anticipate and plan for ongoing mentorship of graduates of their programs as the pandemic continues.
- Graduate program recruitment and admissions in the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduate student recruitment and admissions practices should take care related to admittance of new students. Those can include providing overviews of COVID-response at the graduate institution, simplifying application materials whenever possible, and prioritizing an ethic of care for applicants including clear, transparent, and regular communication, flexible or extended deadlines, and recruitment events offered in alternative/online formats.
Programs should always fund their students fully, only accepting those who they can support with living wage stipends, healthcare, and professional development monies. Additionally, programs should consider reducing the number of acceptances during COVID-19 until the long term impacts on job markets are clearer.
AFT/AAUP Principles for Higher Education Response to COVID-19
CWPA Labor Resource Center COVID-19 Resources
CCCC Statement of Best Practices in Faculty Hiring for Tenure-Track and Non-Tenure Track Positions in Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies
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