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I am interviewing for a faculty position at R1 university. I get to the process of scheduling on-site visit but all of the sudden, the department told me they canceled the position I am interviewing for. How common is this (canceling a faculty position during an interview)? Or is it just a "polite" way for turning me down instead of saying that they decided not to interview me?

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    Given Covid and budgets, it does not surprise me that positions can be cancelled. Happens all the time in industry - hiring for a job, the project changes/is cancelled, and the search is abandoned.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 19:01
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    Back in Spring 1988 I applied to many community colleges and high schools throughout a 3-state region in the southeast U.S., and drove 100 miles to an on-campus interview that had been scheduled at this school, and when I arrived I was told someone had "dropped the ball", forgot I was coming for an interview, and they had already hired someone a couple of days before. Interestingly enough, 10 years later the person they hired wound up being my colleague at another school over 800 miles away. (continued) Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 19:24
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    They were extremely apologetic, and as I had nothing better to do (I had planned to drive to my parent's house later anyway, about 35 miles further from where I was then living), they graciously showed me around -- I sat in on some math classes, got a free lunch, and got some useful insights about teaching at this type of school. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 19:24
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    Be sure to ask for reimbursement for any expenses already incurred (gas mileage, hotel, plane ticket). Universities are generally quite willing to compensate people for interview expenses, especially in a situation such as this. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:11
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    This happened to me in 2008: The housing market had just crashed and a large state University froze its hiring budget a week before I was supposed to fly out to interview there. They very nicely offered to still host me and keep the interview on file so that I could restart the process quickly when funds opened up. That seemed very reasonable to me (although I wound up accepting a job somewhere else anyway). It might be worth trying something like this. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 17:31

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Or is it just a "polite" way for turning me down instead of saying that they decided not to interview me?

Assume that people say what they mean, and that they mean what they say. You were told that the position no longer exists and that they are canceling the interviews. There is no reason to assume that the interview was canceled for any other reason—assume good faith, and move on.

How common is this (canceling a faculty position during an interview)?

That is a very hard question to answer, and I cannot (in 10 minutes of Googling) find any scholarly work on the subject (but I'm a mathematician, not an economist or sociologist or whoever studies these kinds of things, so my Google-fu is weak). However, there are a lot of reasons why a position might be canceled anywhere along the way:

  1. The funding might vanish (e.g. the position is funded through an outside grant which dries up; the budget might have been tanked by COVID; and so on).
  2. The position might change (e.g. a department might start off looking for a "faculty of instruction", then determine that they really need to be hiring research faculty; the requirements of the funding grant might change).
  3. The position might be filled (e.g. it sometimes happens that a position will be advertised internally first, then advertised more broadly; an internal candidate might rise to the top after the search for an outside candidate gets going).
  4. The bureaucracy might fail (e.g. the hiring department is gung-ho, but the relevant division or college fails to sign-off on the position, but paperwork gets lost in the shuffle).
  5. Not enough candidates agree to an interview (e.g. an institution might schedule interview for three candidates, then have two of those candidates decline—in this case, the hiring committee might choose to cancel the search).
  6. And so on...

A faculty search is a long and complicated process. There are a lot of places where things can go "wrong", and a search might fail at any step in the process for any one of a huge number of reasons. I don't know how common an occurrence this is, but it definitely happens.

Again, your best bet is to assume good faith, operate with the understanding that the search was canceled for some reason having nothing to do with you, and move on.

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The most polite thing to do when an open position is no longer open is to inform any candidates for that position immediately, such that they no longer exert effort towards it. Sounds like that's what happened to you.

I can't say how common this sort of thing is, but it could be caused by all sorts of factors outside of your influence and outside the influence of the hiring committee: it could be that funds for the position no longer exist, it could be that the position was created as part of a venture that is no longer happening (such as a new course/set of courses; a new research program; a specific industry collaboration), it could be part of a broader freeze on hiring not associated with the specific position, it could be that steps to open the position were not correctly followed according to some internal procedures.

Overall, it's likely better for everyone that this happened no later than it did.

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    In some other comment I've made on this site, I noted a grad school colleague who interviewed and was hired into a research group, pending finishing their thesis. Well, as he was finishing up the company altered their strategy and dissolved the research group, cancelling his (accepted) job abruptly. He got a compensation check, went back out to interview again, got a different job, finished the thesis and all was well. Had he just moved there and bought a house...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 21:33
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In my (limited) experience, nobody I know would feel the need to be dishonest about why a faculty search is ended. If the search is cancelled then they'd tell the candidates that. If the search is ended because the position is filled, then they'd tell the candidates that. If you have a burning desire to know, you can always ask why the search was ended.

Everybody in the process understands how messy the academic matchmaking process is. Everyone on the market has their own hidden motivations and preferences, and every search is run by a committee of people who have their own hidden motivations and preferences. Then you throw in time pressures, "gettability," and the normal unpredictability of life. That's just the system we have. The result of any search is at best only a partial reflection on the candidates- just as important is just being in the right place at the right time.

Being dishonest about a search would be a fool's errand anyway. Academic hiring decisions are inherently public knowledge, because if you end up hiring someone then they're pretty quickly going to show up on the school's faculty list. Being caught in a lie would look worse for the department than whatever they'd hope to gain by being misleading.

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