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I am a contract-limited faculty member in the United States. My subfield is small, but known for its warmth and intimacy.

A friend of mine in a different country recently sent me a job posting advertised by another institution in the United States. I have absolutely no idea where he found it. I didn't even know that this school had a department in my field, frankly. The deadline is in three weeks, but the job posting has not made its way to the central repository of job ads in my field, nor hit any of the major mailing lists. Yet it's a coveted tenure-track position that seems legitimate, described in a Word document hosted on the webpage of the department in question (though not directly linked to from it, as far as I can tell). I've never seen a job more poorly publicized. I suspect that this department is hiring someone in my subfield for the first time ever, so I can understand not knowing about the appropriate mailing lists, but beyond that it seems awfully odd.

Anyway, my question is about ethics and competition. The first thing I wanted to do was to send the job posting around to a circle of colleagues who, like me, are looking for long-term academic employment. Of course that brings with it the risk that the job could be given to someone who wouldn't have heard of it otherwise, but I just can't get comfortable with the idea of sneakily keeping it to myself. Not when the support of my colleagues is one of the major reasons I was able to get to this level. I'll probably apply for the job, of course; but if I don't get it, I want people I like to be in the running!

Or is that utterly foolish and naive?

I guess I'm trying to figure out where the line is between being helpful and being so generous that I'm shooting myself in the foot. In this case, I can't find it by intuition alone. Would appreciate input. Thank you!

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    This seems like more of a matter of personal values than academic etiquette. I can't see how answers would be anything but personal opinions. – ff524 Oct 5 '16 at 23:49
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    I think there is nothing wrong, in any moral sense, for you to keep it to yourself. You should not feel obligated to share this information to others, if you feel you can benefit from it. However, if (and this is a big if) you feel too uncomfortable keeping it to yourself, then you should consider sharing, to the extent that it would make you feel better about yourself (although, again, I see no reason at all you should feel bad). – Lentes Oct 6 '16 at 1:03
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    You should also consider that it may have deliberately been badly circulated as they have a preferred candidate in mind already. – Ganesh Sittampalam Oct 6 '16 at 5:53
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    Everything you write rings multiple alarm bells to me. No good department is that amateurish in their hiring by accident. I would assume that the position either does not really exist, is already planned for somebody, or will be a hellish nightmare to actually work at. – xLeitix Oct 6 '16 at 6:13
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    Is it possible that the department had in mind a particular person they wanted to hire, but rules forbade them to do that without first advertising the job, so they did the minimum necessary to comply with the rules? – Michael Hardy Oct 8 '16 at 2:05
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You are not obligated (unless by your own moral principles) to facilitate the distribution of job ads.

You could take a broad self-interested perspective. In this case, you decide whether and how much you want the job and get a sense of your chance of getting the job without further distributing the job ad. Then, you think about how much you value others you care about getting the job and how much you value the profession as a whole making a better selection decision, and how much more likely that is to occur if you were to distribute the ad either to colleagues or to broader mailing lists, and also a sense of the cost in terms of your chances of not getting the job. From there, you can see what most aligns with your values and goals.

In general, I would think of job applications as a domain of life that is often governed by the principles of fair competition. By fair competition, I mean the idea that it's okay to focus on yourself. You shouldn't go out of your way to hurt other applicants, but that equally there is no expectation that you will help other applicants also (especially when you are competing for a single prize). Thus, if you learn information that might help your application (e.g., interests of the employer, what they're looking for, etc.), you are under no obligation to share this with other applicants. If you know about the job, and others don't, you are under no obligation to share it. The assumption here is that it is a domain of life where the ethics of competition operate. The assumption is that other "competitors" in some sense are also operating by these rules.

Anyway, these are two perspectives. My sense is that if you're very keen on getting the job and you think that you have a reasonable shot at getting it, that it would be reasonable to keep it to yourself.

  • Okay, so this was both tremendously helpful and just downright fascinating. Thank you so much for the input. – trikeprof Oct 7 '16 at 14:33
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My own thoughts, having recently obtained a job by similar means (albeit a lecture position): if the posting exists somewhere, opportunity exists to find it, and unless it is an emergency posting from a rural or small-city college, websites are going to be checked by someone, e.g. a newly minted graduate wanting particular areas to work or faraway professor with family nearby.

Additionally, your friends may themselves have connections you may not have that they aren't revealing - a colleague in the know, or a friend similar to yours, for example. So, unless you and your friends have some kind of pact to play the field equally with respect to one another, then go for it.

In almost a decade of experience, including being on hiring committees, positions sometimes aren't posted to the usual websites intentionally, if there's an internal lecturer or adjunct they're looking to "bump up," especially for states who require posting the job for a set time regardless of whether the department has someone in mind beforehand (but, again, I'm not at a tenure-track higher education institution, so take this with a grain of salt). The lack of broadcasting the job on the usual channels may indicate that they have someone internal or orbiting the college in mind, or, worse, indicate a scrambled or weak administration, so be circumspect if you do land an interview, and watch for signs of significant need for improvement in the institution's administration.

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    "The lack of broadcasting the job on the usual channels may indicate that they have someone internal or orbiting the college in mind". That's the first thing to suspect. The other possibility is that the job offer doesn't exist and you just found some kind of draft hosted in the web server. – Pere Oct 6 '16 at 9:22
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    Thank you so much for this - majorly helpful perspective in multiple ways. My post stopped (barely) short of outright suspicion about the circumstances since I didn't want to start off by assuming deliberate sneakiness, so I'm very glad to have the heads-up that doing so might well be reasonable! You and xLeitix both pointed out that either way, it's not reflecting very well on the department that the job ad came from, which is a conclusion I hadn't quite reached myself. Possibly because 'JOB IN SUBFIELD!' has a way of making an early-career faculty member a little starry-eyed...heh! – trikeprof Oct 7 '16 at 14:39
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Apply for the job. Do not spread the word, partly because you want to get the job, and partly because you're not even sure if the job really and truly exists.

When you are well established, you can be altruistic and share job leads.

This is similar to the instructions given on airplanes: in the event of a loss of air pressure in the cabin, put your own mask on first, and THEN put the mask on the child.

  • That's a misunderstanding of the oxygen mask instruction reasoning. It is very likely that if one is trying to help put on a mask on someone who cannot while one does not have a mask on that one will fail and neither will end up with a mask. If one puts one's own mask on first, one then has more time and oxygen to help with the other. This is a very bad comparison. – JoshuaZ Feb 27 at 1:03
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    @JoshuaZ - What you explained about the reason the adult is instructed to put on their own mask first is exactly the reasoning I was using. How do you see this analogy as not applying? I see it applying because when you are well established, you can be altruistic and share job leads. I'm interested to understand your point of view better. – aparente001 Feb 27 at 17:38
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    This is not at all the same. In the job example, everyone can potentially benefit from the job advertisement but only one person can end up getting. In the airplane mask situation there's a difference of what order the masks are being put on which maximizes benefit for everyone. The situations aren't similar. – JoshuaZ Feb 27 at 18:02
  • @JoshuaZ - Thanks for explaining your thinking. I can see that you feel strongly about this! I would suggest that you post an answer laying out your own thinking (unless one of the other existing answers already covers the ground that you would). – aparente001 Feb 27 at 18:13

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