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 But I still have a few job applications in the pipe, which I haven’t withdrawn.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.