Job adverts put college in court

July 9, 1999

A university in the Canary Islands is being taken to court over allegations that its practice of advertising jobs at the height of the holiday season discriminates against external candidates.

The Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (AACTE) in Spain has accused the University of La Laguna of fixing its appointments procedures to favour internal candidates over the past two years.

In 1997 and 1998, the university advertised 140 permanent posts during August, when many institutions shut down for holidays. The advertisements appeared early in the month with a 20-day deadline for applications. As in the rest of Spain, the candidate must deliver all documentation in person, something more difficult in the case of an island university more than 1,000 miles from the Spanish mainland.

"We consider that this practice substantially limits the number of academics who can compete for these posts as everyone is on holiday," said Ruth Rama, AACTE treasurer and vice-rector of Madrid's Institute of Economics and Geography. "Universities do this in order to inform only a small number of pre-selected candidates," she said. August is not considered part of the academic year because La Laguna does not allow students to hand in doctoral theses during this period.

AACTE also found that 12 of the 1998 posts had extremely narrow teaching specifications that did not correspond to any subject taught at the university. "To all intents and purposes, they are the titles of the theses of the candidates who are going to be awarded the jobs," a lecturer at the college said.

But La Laguna's legal adviser, Juan Manuel Rodriguez, believes there is no case to answer. "The constitution requires we publicise these posts, but cannot stop us doing this in August," he said.

The extent to which Spanish universities favour internal candidates has been hotly debated over the past six months. Antonio Ferriz Mas, a researcher at the Canaries' Astrophysics Institute, is taking Salamanca University to court for appointments discrimination. "In Spain, your personal contacts are more important than your curriculum vitae," Dr Ferriz said. "Making an investment such as going to study abroad is equivalent to professional suicide when you return."

While some academics dismiss the issue as unimportant, the government is starting to pay attention. Jorge Fernandez, secretary of state for universities, referred recently to a report by the Universities Council in 1995 that estimated that 90 per cent of posts in Spanish universities were filled by internal candidates. "To deny that is common is to deny reality," he said. "One problem we have to resolve is the limited mobility of lecturers that leads to practices such as these."

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