Post Academic

Great Employment Opportunity! #1: The ethnic lit catch-all

Posted in Housekeeping by Arnold Pan on August 29, 2010

Now that we’re so close to the start of the academic job search season, I thought it would be good to begin a recurring series of posts highlighting the ridiculousness of job ads.  Mind you, the new “Great Employment Opportunity!”–herein abbreviated as GEO!–is not meant to point out what are the plum positions, which, anyway, depend on the eye of the beholder.  Rather, we’re gonna parse the rhetoric of job calls as best we can, though with the disclaimer that my track record on this front hasn’t been the greatest.

"Old Main, St. Olaf College" by Calebrw (Creative Commons license)

Our first example is a personal favorite of mine, the ethnic lit catch-all.  Here’s the posting, courtesy of whoever posted the St. Olaf College position on the Academic Job Wiki:

“The Department of English seeks an individual with teaching and scholarly expertise in the area of twentieth- and twenty-first century American literature, with emphasis on post WWII multicultural literatures such as Latina/o, Native American, African American, Indian American, and Asian American literatures. Desirable secondary interests include film; transnational literature; and generic, cross-cultural, and cross-disciplinary approaches.”

So basically, this ad *could* appeal to pretty much anyone who works in 20th c./contemporary American literature, which is, like, half the job market.  Indeed, the best thing about the ethnic lit catch-all is also the worst thing about it: anyone can apply.  It can boost your spirits when a specific specialty has a dearth of openings in a given year, but that also means that the pool becomes insanely large.

The problem is that you might read the position as appealing to anyone, when, in fact, it might have a more specific target, but won’t commit to anything in the job ad.  Here, I’d read into things and suggest that Latina/o takes priority and so on down the line to Asian American, because there’s no particular rhyme or reason as to why the different racial groups are listed the way they are.  Of course, the vagueness of the ad also leaves it open for a strong candidate in any of those other ethnic lit fields to apply, so you might as well give it a shot.  If you can work in multiple ethnic fields, your chances would probably tick up, too.

But even if the dept does want someone in a specific field, though won’t reveal it for whatever reason, it’s likely that whoever holds the winning ticket will be teaching in many of the fields vaguely alluded to, since the school (especially a smaller one with fewer faculty) obviously needs someone to fill those gaps.  So in the end, I guess the job posting is accurate in what your teaching responsibilities will be, but only after the fact!

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