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Update on Job Guidelines

by Marc L. Kutner

June 1996

This is an update on the status of the Job Search Guidelines. While it was originally hoped that they would be ready for consideration by the AAS Council this June, some questions about legal issues have been raised. It will take time to address these issues, so we are now planning for adoption at the January 1997(Toronto) meeting.

A revised draft of the Guidelines has been prepared, based on discussions of Draft 1 at the CSWA sessions in Pittsburgh (June 1995) and San Antonio (Jan 1996), contributions to AASWOMEN and comments made directly to me. Many changes have been made emphasize the voluntary nature of the Guidelines . The revised draft should be available soon on the CSWA web page, and I invite your comments, suggestions and criticisms.

In the remainder of this article, I will briefly address some general questions that have been raised.

How Is It Intended That The Guidelines Be Used?

Once the Council adopts the Guidelines then they will be circulated as having the endorsement of the AAS. They would be available at AAS meetings and on the AAS web site. In addition, prospective employers and employees utilizing AAS job search services would receive a printed copy.

The AAS would also compile a data base, based on questionnaires filled out by employers after each search. This data base would be made available both on line, and a printed version would be at the Job Center at each meeting.

Why Do We Need The Guidelines?

For many years our job searches have been loosely guided by so-called "Affirmative Action" rules. I say "loosely" because most employers and prospective employees did not really understand what these rules meant. Also there was no effective mechanism to ensure that employers were adhering to the spirit or letter of these rules.

So, "Affirmative Action" never really provided a useable set of guidelines. Beyond that, "Affirmative Action" has become equated with "Reverse Discrimination" both in legal and political forums. Therefore, even as flawed rules, they are becoming increasingly less effective and may be repealed. It is important that this vacuum be filled with a clear set of guidelines that clearly encourage fairness by stating what constitutes fairness and by suggesting how it can be achieved.

Because jobs in astronomy are getting harder to find, the possibility increases that classes of people will be treated unfairly. Even a careless search will usually produce an excellent candidate because there are so many available. In short, it is a seller’s market. However, if we all agree in advance what constitutes a fair search, we can stick to those guidelines even under difficult (for candidates) search conditions.

Who Will Use The Guidelines?

Among prospective employers, there is a full spectrum of intentions, from those who want to conduct a truly open search, giving careful consideration to a wide range of applicants, to those who have no particular interest in making the effort required for a fair search. For those who want to conduct a fair search, the Guidelines may be telling them things they already know. However, when time gets tight, it is helpful to have these Guidelines written down. Having a definite set of Guidelines, endorsed by the AAS
may help members of search committees persuade recalcitrant administrators to provide the resources needed for a fair search.

For those who are not inclined to carry out a fair search, having a set of Guidelines endorsed by the AAS should give them some incentive to make their search more open.

The Guidelines will also be useful for job applicants. They will have a better idea of what to expect. They will know if certain types of questions (e.g. about a spouse) are proper. If prospective employers are following the Guidelines then prospective applicants will be able to get useful information from the job ad and from members of the search committee. Such information will help the applicant to, among other
things, more effectively target her application to the needs of the department. (And then the department will have better information on which to base their decisions.) There will also be a data base with statistics of participating employers’ previous searches. Based on this information the applicants can make decisions on which jobs to give the greatest effort.

How Will The Guidelines Be "Enforced"?

As the name "Guidelines" implies, these are not absolute rules with strict enforcement. They are suggestions. Each employment situation is unique. In some cases the Guidelines can be closely followed; in other cases a loose adherence will be appropriate.

We ask employers to agree to follow the Guidelines as closely as is practical in their situation. There would also be the reporting mechanism, so that employers could submit their statistics. Reporting statistics is a chance for employers to show that they have conducted a conscientious and fair search, this should only benefit their institution.

A Concluding Thought

Some of the criticisms of the Guidelines seem to stem from misimpressions about what they actually say. It seems that this arises when people have preconceived ideas about what is in the Guidelines , or remember things from the first draft, which have now been deleted or changed. So, in looking over the current draft, I hope people will realize that they are a modest set of suggestions, and they require no policing or judging by the AAS.

Marc Kutner is Visiting Scientist at National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Campus Building 65, 949 N.
Cherry Ave., Tucson, AZ 85721, mkutner@nrao.edu.

Editor’s note: If you want to see the current draft of the guidelines, see http://www.earthlink.net/~kmead/ and click on job guidelines. (If that doesn’t work, send e-mail to mkutner@nrao.edu)

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