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Sunday, June 04, 2006

The May 1 Deadline

In 1964 the Association of American Universities passed the following resolution setting a May 1 deadline for hiring away faculty from other institutions.
The sharp increase in the demand for teacher-scholars of high talent arising from our growing national needs in both instruction and research is now pressing against a limited supply of such talent in many disciplines. To assure the highest possible effect in each university in producing high talent to meet future national needs, sound and orderly planning will be required. When late and sudden, induced departures of personnel assigned to provide instruction to lead in research in one institution may well do more to impair the effectiveness of that institution than is justified by the gain to the institution extending the offer. This is particularly true at the level of tenure appointments where the institution has declared its willingness to undertake a continuing obligation and where there are most likely to be continuing obligations by the faculty member to graduate students and colleagues.

Therefore we consider it incumbent upon the administrations of both the prospective and current institutions of employment to call the attention of the individual faculty member to these obligations when employment changes, not accepted before May 1 for the immediately ensuing academic year, are under consideration. We believe that a responsible approach for both the institutions and the faculty members would be to consider offers made or pending on May 1, or thereafter, to be effective normally only after the intervention of an academic year.

In practice we are strongly discouraged from making such offers after May 1 but if say Harvard wants to hire away a professor from Yale after May 1 for the following academic year, the provost of Harvard makes a request to the provost of Yale and such requests are almost always granted.

Most fields finish up hiring early in the spring and the May 1 deadline reasonably blocks some last minute shuffles. But as the computer science hiring season often goes into June and junior and senior hires often compete for the same slot the May 1 deadline can create havoc in the CS recruiting process.

The high-demand low-supply of faculty in 1964 no longer holds true today. We need to reconsider whether a one-day-fits-all deadline really applies in today's diverse academic hiring environment.

6 comments:

  1. Lance, I must have completely missed your point. How would getting rid of the May 1st deadline benefit anyone (except possibly those senior faculty who are getting offers so late in the game)? Is the fact that the hiring season lasts until June supposed to be a good thing? And doesn't allowing senior faculty members to hold out even longer before making a decision only extend the hiring season even further?

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  2. The issue is structural in CS and relates to our heavily reliance on conferences as the major publication venues. With many of the major conferences having spring/summer schedules and late fall or early January submission deadlines, applicants often only have time to prepare their application materials late in fall or in January after they have completed their submissions. This makes it very difficult to have an interview season that begins much before February (unlike Math whose season effectively ends around that time).

    Moreover, CS regularly invests more in the interview process than fields like Math so it is hard to have it end before April. (For some institutions this is extended by the quarter system which cuts out interviewing in certain key weeks in March.) Once offers have been made, people need time to decide.

    Even without these structural issues, certain departments have regularly scheduled retreats at which these decisions are made (often only in early May) and that extends the time for everyone else.

    Unlike many fields (and completely unenvisioned by the AAU in 1964) we have a decent-sized industrial market for faculty which means that any agreement merely among universities would not suffice.

    So, as a field we have never effectively had a May 1 deadline. We have learned to live without it.

    Would you really rather have a faculty member around who really didn't want to stay and was trapped by the rule?

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  3. Would you really rather have a faculty member around who really didn't want to stay and was trapped by the rule?

    Depends who wants to leave :)

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  4. For me, the most striking aspect of Lance's post was its implicit contrast between 1964 and 2006.

    In 1964: "The sharp increase in the demand for teacher-scholars of high talent arising from our growing national needs in both instruction and research is now pressing against a limited supply of such talent in many disciplines."

    Compare with 2006: " The high-demand low-supply of faculty in 1964 no longer holds true today."

    On a planet as crowded as ours, afflicted with desperate levels of "hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos", why is there not an even more urgent need today, than in 1964, for "teachers and scholars of high talent"?

    Just to remind the younger folks of some history, the 1960s were a decade when leading mathematicians like Serge Lang and Alexander Grothendieck (see AMS Notices, parts I and II) were passionately engaged with the great issues of the day. Perhaps not to great effect, but still, these mathematical leaders were fully engaged!

    This passion for engagement was planet-wide, as reflected in President Kennedy's famous speech of May 1961 on Urgent National Needs. An audio excerpt is here.

    Kennedy's speech is still worth reading and reflecting upon today --- not with blind acceptance, but rather, as a challenge for our generation to do at least as well.

    As Lance's post makes clear, something is badly amiss with the modern culture of mathematics, science, and technology ... what is it?

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  5. I was unaware of this rule, which leads me
    to ask, Was it enforced? If so, how?
    Some kind of rule is a good idea
    (perhaps June 1), but unless it can be
    enforced its stupid. More generally, its
    stupid to have laws that you can't enforce,
    since people may try and fail and nobody
    quite knows what the rules are.

    bill gasarch

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  6. Re John Slides' comment:

    What changed from the sixties is not as much the scientific climate but the political one.

    First, Lance did not claim that there is no need for "teachers and scholars of high talent", he just claimed (correctly) that there is less demand for them. The baby boom generation hit college in the sixties, enrollments boomed, and there were not enough PhDs around. There was the perceived national emergency of a Cold War to be lost through insufficient technology and training, so there was ample funding for universities.

    The cultural climate was also different: there was much more optimism that intellectuals would be able to solve the big problems ahead. Then the best and brightest minds got the US mired in a mess in Vietnam: on the other side the dream of Marxism collapsed into a mess of Russian Mafia. Unthinkable atrocities happened in Cambodia, Rwanda, and in the former Yugoslavia.

    Cosequently people got more cautious and more cynical. Major scientists are less engaged, but so are students.

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