This is the first of a couple of posts about the American Philosophical Association. It is based on my experience as the Placement Officer for the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Pitt. I take this administrative function very seriously, and I spend a fair amount of time helping our students on the job market. My department has been very successful in recent years (our placement record is here), but our success is probably more the result of the quality of our graduate students than of anything the HPS department has done.
There is no doubt that in recent years the APA has been revitalized, and, with many others, its executive director, Amy Ferrer, is to be credited for this. Of note is the APA's effort to improve diversity in philosophy. True, some APA initiatives in this regard are controversial, but, in my opinion, the APA has been a force for good. The APA is also to be credited for promoting philosophers' engagement with the broader society.
It's not all rosy, however. One area that the APA has so far been overlooking is the dysfunctions of the job market in philosophy. The increasing frequency of internet interviews and the less central role of the Eastern APA, commendable as they are, have a few regrettable consequences, which the APA has so far failed to address.
The timeline of the job market was organized around the Eastern APA, and as students on the job market, advisers, and placement officers know all too well, this is not the case anymore. This is regrettable in many respects. It is stressful for students and spreads the work of advisers, departmental staff, and placement officers over months (now nearly the whole year). Worse, some departments are trying to game the system by scheduling early interviews and by making early job offers with very little time to accept or reject them.
Concerns with the influence of biases during interviews have also led some departments to rely on a fixed set of questions during their skype interviews. Typically, in this type of interviews, interviewees' answers do not elicit any follow-ups, as would be the case in a usual interview. (The idea is to minimize differences between interviews.) Structured interviews are indeed a recommended method to maximize the utility of interviews and limit the influence of biases. However, first, it is unclear whether this form of interview is well suited to philosophy. Second, and most important, interviewees typically expect their answers to prompt some kind of discussion and exchange between them and their interviewers, and interviews may fail entirely when they are not told beforehand that interviewers will stick to a rigid set of questions without follow ups.
What could the APA do? I suppose it cannot compel departments to abide by a particular timeline or to make their interviewing practices known to interviewees in advance, but it could easily, and in my opinion it should, produce a list of best practices for the job market. (I have heard that something like this may be in the works.) If this is possible, the APA could also withdraw access to PhilJobs from departments that violate these guidelines. If this is not possible, perhaps the association between the APA and PhilJobs ought to be reconsidered.
A best practices list would include a specific period for internet interviews (e.g., between December 15 and January 15) and fly-outs, a specific period for job offers (e.g., not before January 15), a minimum of three weeks to accept or reject a job offer, and recommendations for interviews. To address the issue systematically, the APA may benefit from eliciting comments and suggestions from placement officers and advisers.