Jobs site hopes to lift lid on ‘opaque’ academic hiring

ProfHub plans to let applicants rate universities – and allow anonymous leaks – about the academic selection process

December 3, 2018
Peeking over the top of a wall
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Academic job applicants will be able to rate how well they are treated during the selection process as part of a proposed new platform that promises to “open up the black box of academic hiring”.

ProfHub aims to force universities to be more open about how and who they recruit – although it needs sizeable donations to get off the ground.

Guy Geltner, a historian at the University of Amsterdam who is helping to create the tool, said that “opacity” in academic hiring “serves a small group of well-connected institutions” to the exclusion of others.

A mock-up of how the site would work shows applicants to a particular job discussing whether they had heard anything back after the deadline, departmental star ratings for response times, communication quality and diversity policy, as well as applicant breakdowns by gender and country.

With enough data, ProfHub should be able to tell applicants “how likely is it that this institution is hiring a person of colour, or someone from the global South?” Professor Geltner said.

Asked whether this information could put some applicants off more homogeneous institutions, he said: “You want to know what your environment is going to be like.”

ProfHub could also reveal whether a university or department was likely to hire a PhD candidate who had not yet defended their thesis, he said, saving applicants from submitting a futile application.

It even had the potential to be used anonymously by insiders to leak that a search committee already had someone in mind for a position, he said, although Professor Geltner stressed that “we don’t want it to become a bitching-fest” for venting anger.

It was “inevitable” that moderators would be needed for anonymous comments, he said, while search committees were also free to hit back at any comments on the site, and let applicants know how the search was progressing.

Academics “fight the good fight about transparency and anti-corruption” but “we don’t really know” how many scholars got their jobs, Professor Geltner said.

He insisted that the platform was not about telling universities “how to hire”. But it would shed more light on whether they “talk the talk” when it came to being open to all applicants.

The next challenge for ProfHub is to raise about €90,000 (£80,244) in order to build a functioning site.

Funding has proved a challenge for ScholarlyHub, a linked project announced last year that was still “nowhere near” raising the €500,000 needed to build a not-for-profit rival to academic social networks like ResearchGate or Academia.edu, Professor Geltner admitted.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Finding a job can be a frustrating process, but I don't see how a website like this could help. If a job looks interesting and up your street, apply for it. If the institution doesn't want you - for whatever reason, sensible or not - you won't get hired and if you're lucky they'll make up an obvious piece of baloney to explain why! Most people make an honest attempt to get the best person for the job and someone is always going to be disappointed... and there will be the professionally offended ready to rush in and say that it's because they are [insert label here] that they lost out, not that someone else was a better fit for the position. Nobody likes to admit that!
It's entirely possible most people make an honest attempt to get the best person for the job, but often their procedures and/or criteria for shortlisting are influenced by implicit biases that don't tend to upset the status quo. In any case, the idea behind ProfHub is to improve communication and clarity, and reduce *unnecessary* disappointment for those who seek academic employment. It's also meant to hold institutions accountable to the norms they profess to foster.

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