The American Historical Association needs to figure out a way to start imposing sanctions on departments that do what I just witnessed at the annual meeting’s headquarters hotel.
In the section on interviewing in the Association’s Guidelines for the Hiring Process, point #4 reads: “Interviews should take place in a professional setting. The AHA strongly urges institutions interviewing at the AHA annual meeting to use the facilities provided through the Job Register.”
The last time I checked, a table in the hotel lobby Starbucks at 8:00 a.m. with about 30 people standing in line and watching is not a “professional setting.” I have no idea which history department was guilty of forcing some poor graduate student or recent PhD to humiliate herself by answering questions about her research and her teaching while dozens–dozens–of people looked on (all of us trying not to look). If it wouldn’t have made a bad situation worse, I would have insisted on a business card from one of the people involved so that I could name them and thus shame them.
Over the years I have seen interviews take place in hotel lobbies or in restaurants off site, but never, ever in the lobby coffee shop during the busiest hour of the day. Whoever those two historians were who were conducting that interview were doing one of the most unprofessional things I’ve seen in more than 15 years in this business.
Sanctioning departments is not easy for professional associations that depend on paying members to finance their budgets, but I submit that the AHA has no business allowing members to use the platform of the annual meeting to engage in such unprofessional conduct. If I had a magic wand, I would bar that department from participating in the annual meeting, or any other AHA sanctioned activity (including publication in the American Historical Review or Perspectives) for one year.
One might argue that to sanction an entire department would unfairly penalize others in that department who were not in attendance at the meeting. My response to that is that departments share collective responsibility for their hiring practices and so should suffer the consequences of the choices they make.
Everyone who has been through the job market in history knows how chaotic, irrational, and stressful it can be. To suffer the humiliation I just witnessed, though, is simply beyond the pale.