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10/23/2017

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Untenured

I assumed that hiring departments wanted transcripts just as defeasible proof that you actually have a Ph.d. I assumed they did not care about your grades at all. (I didn't even receive letter grades in graduate school.) Does anyone who has served on a hiring committee want to confirm or deny?

Nick

Four points. 1. I would be surprised if committees had time to read transcrits. 2. Committees are aware of grade inflation and would probably account for the grade curve over time by appealing to it. 3. If they don't want to hire folks whose PhDs are not recent they can easily find other ways to do so. 4. I still think they should not ask for transcripts until they want to make an offer, or at least later stages of the selection process. There's just too much variation across places—more than over time—in grade curves, standards, etc. For instance, my foreign transcripts mean nothing to HR and committees. Even translated they can't figure out what they mean.

Shelley

Untenured and Nick, thanks for your comments on the post. My response follows.

A search committee chair once told me that the committee he chaired requested undergraduate and graduate transcripts in order to see if "there was anything unusual in applicants' academic history." (I should note that this department consistently requests undergrad and grad transcripts in every one of its postings.) This rationale is worrisome for a variety of reasons. For example, students may take breaks in their degrees due to disability, lack of accessibility, financial issues, family problems, etc. Is one expected to explain these circumstances in one's cover letter if a transcript is supplied?

Yes, of course, Nick, there are other ways that departments can discover whether or not one is a recent PhD. CVs are the obvious mechanism with which to attain this information. Notice that I did not say that committees request transcripts so that they can identify recent PhDs. I should like to point out furthermore that many job postings explicitly encourage recent Phds and graduate students who haven't even completed their degrees. That practice, too, I think, is a dog-whistle for ageism.

Elizabeth Henning

>For example, students may take breaks in their degrees due to disability, lack of accessibility, financial issues, family problems, etc. Is one expected to explain these circumstances in one's cover letter if a transcript is supplied?

Yes, exactly. Using transcripts as a way to screen out "nonstandard" candidates is just as bad as using "unexplained gaps." There's no job-relevant information contained in a transcript which can't be obtained in some other way that doesn't leave a candidate vulnerable to numerous forms of discrimination.

Untenured

Do transcripts usually contain information about academic dishonesty? If I were to charitably interpret the chair's comments, that could be what he meant. And also, contra Elizabeth Hennig, this would be job-relevant information that wouldn't be able to be obtained in some other way. I know that academic dishonesty stays "on a student's record", but I don't know if that record includes their transcripts.

Anecdotally, I have heard from faculty at some small colleges who simply will not hire ABD's because of the chance that their chosen candidate will not finish their PhD in time and then they will lose the line. That was why I thought committees might just want some defeasible proof that the job candidate has completed their PhD. Candidates and letter writers lie, after all. Another possibility is that they want some sort of objective account of a candidate's coursework. Having seen some of my grad school mates' CVs, I know that candidates lie about the courses they "audit".

Elizabeth Henning

If a search committee has specific questions, such as whether a candidate did in fact take a particular course or has a notation about academic dishonesty, then these questions may be directed to the institution's records office as part of the vetting process. The discrimination arises when committees go fishing for unspecified "irregularities" in a candidate's record.

Untenured

Right, but that would be a very inefficient process: getting to the point where you are at the vetting process until you check these things. By the time when a committee has reached the point where they are "vetting" candidates by contacting the records office of a university, they have reached or passed the final round of interviews. Suppose such vetting turns up dishonesty. The department has already invited people out for final round interviews. Many won't have the resources to invite more candidates. Alternatively, the vetting and records requests could take place at the first cut of applications. However, this would be a massive time sink that most professors and administrators do not have the time to do.

By requesting everyone's transcripts in the application, a search committee can avoid problems like these.

I have given an account of "irregularities" that might warrant a transcripts request that would not entail any sort of discrimination. I have now given an explanation about why these requests are prima facie more efficient than doing a records request during a vetting process. While it seems possible that some committees might request transcripts to discriminate against older candidates or disabled candidates, I find little reason to suspect that this is what is normally behind such application requirements.

Shelley

Untenured, you wrote: "While it seems possible that some committees might request transcripts to discriminate against older candidates or disabled candidates, I find little reason to suspect that this is what is normally behind such application requirements."

I certainly didn't say that departments "normally" request transcripts *in order that* they can discriminate against older and disabled applicants. I indicated what a search chair told me in response to Nick's speculation that committees likely do not look at transcripts. I offered an example of a department in which transcripts do get taken into consideration. I then suggested that the rationale I had been given for why the department does is worrisome. The fact that transcripts may (arguably) be useful for legitimate reasons does not eliminate the fact that their use may (also) have pernicious effects.

Untenured

Fair enough. Yet I see little reason to think that the fact that they might have pernicious effects should entail a commitment to a policy of no longer requiring them on job applications. To establish this latter claim, I would like to see some reasons to think (a) that the possible pernicious effects are actual, to a significant extent, and (b) that such pernicious effects, if they were actual, would be outweigh the positive effects of using transcripts on job applications for legitimate reasons. Of course, many would reasonably disagree that it is necessary to show (b) to establish the latter claim, but I think most would agree that it is reasonable to establish (a) before accepting the policy proposal.

Shelley

Untenured, if I understand you correctly, you think that the positive effects of requiring transcripts far outweigh their possible pernicious effects. I'd like to ask you why you think most department don't require/request them, at least not at the initial stages of their searches. Do you think these departments simply haven't recognized the benefits of transcripts to a search committee? Or is there some other reason? I did a quick check at PhilJobs and found that of the 22 most recent job postings (not counting the APA posting), only 3 of them requested transcripts.

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