Publication Date

April 1, 1994

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

In her article, "The Academic Marketplace and Affirmative Action," Professor Nell Irvin Painter (Perspectives, December 1993) misuses data, misrepresents facts, and makes scurrilous assumptions. She takes the number of advertisements placed annually in Perspectives—599 in 1993—to suggest the large number of academic positions open to recent graduates, almost one job for each applicant. But the number of jobseekers is far higher because of a vast army of unemployed Ph.D.’s from years past, which floods the market. Painter contends that with blacks and women representing a minority of job applicants, “the main competition of white men in the history profession continues to be first, other white men. …” A closer look at the EIB job listings in the December issue of Perspectives reveals a different picture entirely.

The issue has 152 ads. The important figure is not the total number of ads, however, but the number of desirable positions open to recent Ph.D.'s. Of the 152 ads, 25 are for offerings at the associate level or higher, unlikely to select a recent graduate unless it is a coveted minority applicant. Six Canadian schools openly seek Canadians. Two schools ask only for minority students. Four positions are for nonprofessor jobs. This leaves 115 positions.

I contend that in the field of American history, for white males seeking teaching jobs the competition is staggering, largely because of preferential hiring practices in a contracting job market. The very numbers Painter uses bear me out. Continuing the survey of December's listings, only 47 of the remaining 115 openings are for U.S. history. Of these, 18 are for African American, Native American, Asian American, or women's history. As Painter herself admits, "[history] departments will not hire nonminorities for such positions," nor, for the most part, nonwomen to teach women's history. Consequently, white males have almost no chance to receive an offer for these 18 positions. That leaves 29 openings in American history for which recent white male graduates can effectively compete. Of these 29, only 20 are tenure track, the rest being limited appointments, nontenure track, or not identified. Five of these 20 tenure-track positions are still subject to budgetary approval and therefore liable to be canceled. Thus, out of 152 ads, only 15—or 9.9 percent—are funded, tenure-track jobs in American history that recent white male graduates have a reasonable chance to be considered for. Now here's the clincher: Universities offering these 15 jobs openly seek women and minorities just as desperately as those advertising positions in women's and minority history.

Let's extrapolate these findings to annual statistics. The 599 advertisements for jobs in 1993 reflect in fact far fewer jobs because this total includes repeat ads. Even disregarding this point, if 599 jobs were advertised and only 9.9 percent are desirable, tenure-track positions for recent graduates in U.S. history not specifically targeted to women and minorities by virtue of subject, that leaves 59 jobs. The number of minority scholars in 1992 (10.8 percent of 725, according to Painter) was 78. Not all of them, of course, are American history specialists, and some will fill the specialized minority-history course positions. But in the current climate of diversification, it is unlikely that a minority student will not be offered a job; minority candidates will gain teaching positions at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. In addition, some schools postpone searches if no minorities apply, further skewing the odds against white males.

The "old-boy network," Painter states, "never received the calumny that has been voiced against affirmative action." As long as she is using anecdotal evidence, she should gather more anecdotes. A more inclusive approach would reveal that academics complained loudly and vigorously against "this older pattern." But her comparison itself implies that two wrongs make a right.

"The fear is that women, particularly women of color, will be hired before white men," Painter states. "I have no figures regarding the employment rate of minority women. . . ." This is precisely Painter's failing, for if she sought such figures she would doubtless find that minority women (and men) are virtually assured positions upon graduation, or even before. The reality—and not the fear—is that minorities are now hired before whites.

Painter's use of psychological language to dismiss the complaints of unemployed white males is obnoxious, insulting, and misses the point. Rather than confront the legitimate concerns of unemployment and underemployment faced by white males, she belittles these people as "obsessed with the job market," overwhelmed with "fear" and "anxiety," and—in a word she uses three times—filled with "paranoia." Is it paranoid to fear for one's job or career? Painter paints a Hofstadterian world in which white males are suffering from "status anxiety" and nothing more. Such a consensus, however, no longer exists. The next time Painter picks up her pen to assuage the irrational fears of white males, I hope she can at least get the facts straight. Otherwise she will continue to pretend to see what simply isn't so.

Maplewood, New Jersey

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