Two months ago I stopped reading the academic job ads after 14 mostly frustrating years: Scandy academic archaeology is not a meritocracy. But I still have a few job applications in the pipe, which I haven’t withdrawn. The pipe is typically eight months long. The other day I got a reply from Trondheim that was exceptionally weird even for this strange world.
I have had bad experiences with NTNU, the University of Trondheim. In 2015 I applied for two jobs there, and both were given to local people whose qualification levels were far below mine. As is the rule in Norway, the hiring committees were chaired by in-house people. Still, when another one of these sweet førsteamanuensis positions (40–50% research time built into your salary!) was advertised earlier this year, I applied. And one month ago the hiring committee delivered the report on its deliberations.
I was afraid to read the verdict. After all these years it still hurts to get trashed unfairly. So I left the thing unread for a while. Took a constitutional walk. Got back, downloaded the PDF, took a deep breath, opened the file, pressed CTRL-END. Because I’ve learned the hard way never to read what they say about me. Just check the ranking list at the end and get it over with.
Remember now, as per the Norwegian rules, the committee was headed by an NTNU faculty member. Here’s what their ranking list looks like.
2. Local Person A with not so great qualifications
3. Local Persons B and C plus Other Norwegian Person, all with even less qualifications
The hiring committee claimed that Local Person A was not very far behind me, which is factually incorrect, but they were very clear that number 1, that was me. This has happened only once before to me in 14 years. (On that occasion three advertised steady jobs disappeared due to reorganisation before anyone got hired. Including the one I was ranked top candidate for and had interviewed for.)
So I was, stupidly, somewhat optimistic for a few weeks. NTNU scheduled a preliminary Skype interview with me for last week. I was nervous, but it went really well as far as I could tell. I’ve sat through an adversarial interview or two, but this was friendly and constructive. I did neither better nor worse than in past interviews that have landed me jobs. The head of the archaeology department at NTNU’s Science Museum was kind of stony-faced and formal, but maybe that’s just his style, what do I know? The head of collections and the archaeology department’s administrative director were both quite charming. After the interview I got a letter informing me that test lectures and longer interviews would take place in Trondheim on December 11-13. ”Stand by for further info.”
Earlier this week I did receive further info. NTNU told me by means of a form letter on a recruitment website that they aren’t interested in hearing me give a test lecture or interview me live. Neither the participants in the Skype interview nor the HR department are willing to explain why. All I’ve received is a blandly formal note from HR that speaks vaguely of an ”overarching evaluation on the basis of applications, evaluation committé’s statement and the Skype interviews”.
And with me out of the running, the job will be given to Local Person A, B or C, or to Other Norwegian Person, none of whom has qualifications on a par with mine if you ask NTNU’s own hiring committee.
The unwillingness of the involved to communicate with me now is understandable, because they know that they aren’t just dealing with a job applicant. In a sense they’re dealing with the media. Specifically a blogger with a big readership who has recently been writing critical pieces about questionable hiring practices at Norwegian universities. Now, some might say that it’s unwise to hire critical public voices. (Not that it has deterred Umeå University or the Linnaeus University in my case.) Others believe that on the contrary, university faculty have a duty to speak out critically in public.
But consider this. If my blogging is the main reason that NTNU doesn’t want to hire me, then they will be hiring a poorly qualified local person instead of me because I have criticised Norwegian universities for hiring poorly qualified local people. ”We’re not going to honour your qualifications and give you this job, because you have said that you don’t think we’re going to honour your qualifications and give you this job.” And if a distrust of loud academics is not the main reason, then, well, it’s probably just the same old local favouritism.
Anyway, I’ve lost my last shred of faith in academic meritocracy. University archaeology in Scandinavia is a place where often quite poorly qualified inLASade people in managerial positions hire their friends, allies and protegées. And so the cycle is perpetuated. My advice to young archaeologists is to stay the hell away from academia, and if you do go there, learn above all to kiss ass.
In other news, I finished writing my sixth academic monograph yesterday. I’m not planning on writing any more of those.
Update same afternoon: Haha, this is awesome. I did some checking on the stony-faced head of the archaeology department. And it turns out that he was on the hiring committee in Oslo that gave those three steady jobs to local youth back in May! And he co-wrote a book with the youngest of the three in 2015. This guy has kept me from interviewing at two Norwegian university museums in 6 months! So great. Gotta love academia.
15 thoughts on “Yep, Local Favouritism In Trondheim Too”
Quite some time ago now (too long for me to have retained the link) John Hawks had a fairly lengthy and thoughtful piece on American Academia’s dislike of Academics who blog (which he does, obviously), and why they shouldn’t (dislike it, I mean). Meanwhile, he has gone off-topic on his blog on numerous occasions to speak out very loudly about Academic supervisors who sexually harass their students, particularly during field work. I imagine there are a fair number of them who don’t love him for that, but they can’t respond without incriminating themselves.
In this case NTNU seem to have taken a rather cowardly but unsuccessful way out in the hope of avoiding vocal public criticism.
These are ‘public’ appointments (i.e. I assume that government funding is involved in some way), and consequently mechanisms should be in place to give unsuccessful candidates the right to appeal decisions and have their appeals considered by independent arbiters. Evidently, they aren’t. So much for meritocracy, transparency and accountability.
In my last job I did a hell of a lot of recruitment of professional engineers and geologists; several hundred. I failed more than 80% of all of the candidates I interviewed, and they were people who had all already been short-listed as ‘qualified’ on paper, in terms of academic qualifications, professional qualification, linguistic achievement and work experience. All candidates had the right to appeal against non-appointment and get a detailed response from me for why I considered them not suitable for appointment. If they were not satisfied with my response, they could request that they be interviewed again by a board chaired by a different person (this never happened to me, but I *was* requested to interview one candidate who had been interviewed by a different board chairman, who (as the board secretary told me in confidence) had verbally harassed and brow-beaten her so badly in the interview that she ran out of the room crying, and then failed her – I re-interviewed her and found her suitable for appointment on merit (which she clearly was), and she was subsequently appointed). And this was in a ‘Region’ that does not have Western style democracy. I’m not saying unfairness doesn’t happen here, it obviously does. But at least there are mechanisms in place to try to guard against it.
There is often a difference between perception and reality. Norway and a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China – who would have guessed?
Norwegian Universities and College recruitment system is more corrupt than Sweden as there is no appeal system at all. You are right they do not give unsuccessful candidates the right to appeal decisions and have their appeals considered by independent arbiters. Another important thing is they know they are doing unfair practices so even after your physical interview attendance they will not inform you at all and sit quietly for long time. When you ask them they will ask HR clerk to send you e-mail from HR system. They are shameless and being academic do not have dignity to fellow academics. There is NO valued to MERITOCRACY in Norwegian Higher Education Recruitment System at all exceptions! Good luck please continue inbreeding any way oil prices are not going up now
Salute you Martin! for bringing corrupt practices of Nowegian Universities and Colleges to the world. Society needs people like you who stand as a rock against cronyism and corruption! You are noble efforts are appreciated and hailed among academics. In general corruption, level is similar in Nordic or more like another place.
That the people involved are not willing to discuss details while the search is still officially open is not surprising to me, because in the US it is normal–typically, you are not allowed to officially know who the other candidates are, only the name of the person who accepted the position.
As it happens, my department has a faculty search open, and one of the five shortlisted candidates is internal. Since I am not on the search committee, I only learn the names of the candidates as the colloquia and seminars they give as part of the interview process are announced–so at this point I only know three of the five names under consideration (the guy who came last week, the internal guy who is giving his colloquium this afternoon, and the guy who is coming at the beginning of next week). This being a US physics department, I have no reason to doubt the qualifications of any of the shortlisted candidates. Other considerations come into play, such as “fit” with the department.
I don’t know whether work permits would come into play here, considering that Norway is not an EU country. That’s definitely a factor in the US–sponsoring a visa is often difficult (and I have heard anecdotally it has become even more difficult under the current administration), so hiring committees here will understandably tend to favor US citizens and permanent residents, for whom the visa issue does not arise. Our local candidate has a green card. The other two people whose names I know are, to the best of my knowledge, US citizens.
Not only are the names of the applicants public knowledge in Norway and Sweden — so is the entire report of the eval committee.
In DENMARK Higher Education system unfair practices are fully supported by state. They have all things CONFIDENTIAL from your application to Regret letter. They form one so called committee but University and Colleges send its report in trash. See this rule:
Regarding the email, I can see that due to an error you have not received it. I will resend it now.
Unfortunately, in accordance with the Access to Public Administration Files Act § 21 I cannot share information about the other candidates.
‘ “fit” with the department.’ Oh yeah, universities even have a special word for this nebulous concept – ‘collegiality’. I had to look that up. “Yeah, well on paper, and when interviewed on Skype, he’s the stand-out candidate, head and shoulders above everyone else, but we’ll decide to fail him because we don’t think he would be ‘collegial’ enough.”
To me, that’s just a concept included to enable employers to throw all of the other rules away and employ whoever the hell they want, regardless of merit. It’s unmeasurable and can’t be disproven. I suppose I could be wrong, but the minute I saw that, I thought “Uh oh. Yep, that’s the get-out.” It has the merit that, in some cases, it could well be true, and there’s no way for an independent external auditor to determine whether it is or not.
Your views are correct. In Nordic system they can reject however bright and brilliant you are with top profile lacking ‘collegiality’. Who cares for MERIT and another psychology works among Academics around the world they do not want to admit superior person in the department. HAVING SAME FEATHERS FLOCK TOGETHER! 🙂
NTNU is another name of Nepotism Till Neck , Only NEAR & DEARS NEED apply rest are good enough to make a sample size.
It is exactly the same in Norway, specifically NTNU ends each and every of their job ads with
“In the evaluation of which candidate is best qualified, emphasis will be placed on education, experience and personal suitability, in terms of the qualification requirements specified in the advertisement”.
This “best qualified” part of the evaluation is thus up to the committees discretion and, in the same way as you described above, “personal suitability” is inevitably always used to cover up the lacking in other departments while at the same time it’s used as the only criterium to cement candidate’s suitability for the role.
Funnily enough, while you may have the right to see the interview or recruitment process documentation regarding yourself and shortlisted candidates, you are not entitled to any information or answer to why the chosen candidate is considered better qualified than the rest. Thus every body gets to employ their protegees without having to answer for it.
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In practice the academic republic is often just a banana republic.
PERFECT QUOTE OF THE YEAR! THEY HAVE JUST MOTTO “CARE AND SHARE FOR NEAR AND DEARS”! MERITOCRACY SHOULD GO TO HELL!
“I don’t know whether work permits would come into play here, considering that Norway is not an EU country.”
Right, it’s not, but to first order, the Nordic countries (5, of which 3 are EU members) have a similar common market to that of the EU.
Paramount is NEAR AND DEARS in Nordic Higher Education Recruitment System. So there is no problem of work permit and language at all. It will solve problem automatically 🙂
No surprise at all! As Norway is most corrupt country in Nordic in all ratings from 2013 onward. From recent year report says: Norway has once again ranked as being one of the world’s least corrupt countries, but wound up as the most corrupt country in Scandinavia and the Nordic area. That may be because all of Norway’s biggest companies, in which the state government owns substantial stakes, have faced corruption charges.