CAA Conference 2007: Its own kind of misery
Post #957 • February 19, 2007, 9:08 AM • 62 Comments
So how did it go, I hear you ask. In reply, let me give some shouts out. To Prairie Dog Technical College, thank you for thanking me as I picked my package back up. You showed class. To Dastardly Beaver University, who seemed pained to take it in the first place, I have noted your snotty avoidance of eye contact for future reference. To my man at Remote State College: I had a great conversation with you, but you described your school's position as three hours outside Kansas City. Supergirl has condemned the very idea of moving there. I don't blame her. To the University of Wankonopee at Stagnant Water, an interview takes place when you show the slightest interest in my work, not when you arrange a time to sit me down, regale me with tales of the greatness of your program, and invite me to apply for a position there by mail. To the College Art Association staffer who made me hunt down a paper clip to attach a numbered scrap of paper to my application materials before he would allow me to set them down upon his sacred table: I'm a highly trained professional, you're a poorly trained monkey, and with that straightened out, bite me.
In summary, it was the usual clustersuck. The title of this post is quoted verbatim from the comments of a Massachusetts art historian whom I sat near on the train ride home. Who knows? I have outstanding applications that may yet return with groveling invitations to further interviews. Too, an interesting distance teaching opportunity came out of a conversation I had with one of the schools. Verily, throw me into the dungheap, and I will find opportunities for composting. But otherwise, the CAA clearly prioritizes the status quo. If it has any intention of making the hiring portion of the fair less painful for its members who are seeking work, it is doing so halfheartedly at most.
For those of you just joining the fun, I have long criticised the CAA for its lack of ethical ownership of the hiring portion. People call it the Meat Market; I heard attendees toss the epithet around this year just as I did the last time I participated ten years ago. In fact, this tradition of belittling job seekers goes back decades. You would think that an organization that describes itself as
committed to the highest professional and ethical standards of scholarship, creativity, connoisseurship, criticism, and teaching would strive to protect its most financially vulnerable and youngest members, but alas, no.
Last year, they decided to put up a blog about the conference. I said to myself, now you're on my territory, suckers. I abused them mightily. Conversations that ensued revealed a somewhat more attentive leadership. Last September, I approached them with the following e-mail:
Earlier this year I was in communication with a number of CAA officers, university educators, and art professionals in an e-mail exchange regarding reforms to the organization. Summer came, and this conversation trailed off, amidst what appeared to be some change of governance at the CAA. ... Prof. Mark Gottsegen at UNC Greensboro has decided to focus on introducing materials-oriented presentations at CAA. I am following his fine example by concentrating on my primary concern: reform of the Career Fair of the annual conference.
Even the CAA cites, in one of the documents below, "horror stories" regarding the hiring process. I think we can all agree that given the CAA's commitment to the highest professional and ethical standards in our field, it has a clear moral imperative to address the lapses that bring these horrors about. I have been warned, though, by the CAA itself, that the nature of the organization is to change slowly if at all. Therefore, I am asking that the following simple steps be taken in time for the upcoming conference.
1. Every interviewer and every candidate should receive, as part of their registration packets (or by whatever means assures that they all get them), the following documents:
a. the 1977/1992 CAA Standards for Professional Placement
b. the 2000 Etiquette for CAA Interviewers
c. an artist-readable, one-page summary of interviewee rights as guaranteed by federal equal opportunity laws, including an outline of inappropriate interview questions
2. The CAA should create a grievance procedure that assures the protection of the whistleblowers so that violations of the above can be addressed. I recommend that an officer be appointed for this position, and that this person's existence, authority, and contact information be made known via the materials described above. This person should have access to the organization's legal counsel, and guidelines on how to implement enforcement described in the Standards for Professional Placement. This person should be available on-site at the conference to meet with interviewers, posthaste, in the event that they breach the above standards or laws. Such meetings would offer to clarify the standards, explain the laws, and remind interviewers about the consequences for violating them. I also think that this person should be empowered to shut down an institution's interview process within the conference in the event of multiple or egregious violations.
I believe that these two steps address the most serious faults in a hiring process that is widely regarded as broken, but are simple enough to be implemented by the CAA in time for New York.
Please note that this is a good-faith effort on the part of a constituent who feels personally wronged by this organization, and who, for better or worse, possesses weapons-grade critical acumen and rather stunted conciliatory skills. While I think the above steps should be taken for their own sake, I'm watching their implementation for evidence that the CAA is serious about reform and responding to the needs of its members. For my part, I have requested my user ID and password for the purpose of re-joining the organization. I hope that it will decide to take long-needed action to apply its mission to the hiring process.
A productive-sounding conversation followed. One CAA staffer wrote:
I would like to add to [the director's] reply that we did bring up the issue of rude and unethical treatment of artist job-seekers at the last Board meeting. My understanding is that interviewers already receive some of the materials Franklin mentions, and the staff is working hard to make sure that applicants know their rights and that interviewers know their responsibilities.
We are well aware of the difficulties with the Interview Hall and are addressing many of his concerns at the New York Conference Career Fair. The guidelines and standards have always been offered at the Mentoring Sessions at the conference. We have also offer guidelines and standards at the Orientation Meeting, the Interview Hall, and are in the CAA Newsletter Career Fair Guide.
I have the Career Fair Guide in front of me right now, and this last assertion, that it contains the guidelines and standards, is false. The orientation took place on Tuesday, and thus previously to the arrival of most of the attendees. The mentoring sessions required advance appointment, which is reasonable from a logistical standpoint, but does not make these guidelines widely available. And of course, the CAA ignored both of my recommendations.
It went like so: the CAA rented tables to the schools, where faculty would accept dropped-off applications, interview candidates on the fly, interview candidates by appointment only, promote their programs, or some combination thereof. In a new development, it also rented semi-private booths - tables enclosed by makeshift walls on three sides. (
We encourage you to conduct professional interviews at a booth or table in the Interview Hall, says the Career Fair Guide.
We do not recommend conducting interviews in a hotel room for professional, legal, and safety concerns. These remarks bear closer scrutiny. The booths are indeed an improvement over the hotel room interviews, which, in this litigious age, strike me as insane. But notice that they don't say to the interviewees,
Because of professional, legal, and safety concerns, we recommend that you decline interviews that take place in hotel rooms, which is really the point, just like you should probably decline an invitation into any stranger's hotel room. Such is the reluctance of the CAA to take a stand on behalf of the interviewees, to whom the implied message is,
We've asked faculty not to bring you into their hotel rooms for interviews, but if it happens anyway, we know you're too disadvantaged to refuse, so lie back and think of England. Bottom line, the CAA knows who's buttering its bread.) The booths were in an area blocked off by the Paper Clip Guy. While schools renting booths, for the most part, only wanted to interview candidates by previous appointment, some of them were accepting application packages. But how to get one to them? See the remark above.
Outside the hall and variously around the applicant area two floors below, the CAA posted charts listing the schools with tables or booths at the conference, in no discernable order. For some of them, it listed the position that they were seeking. For some of them, it listed whether they were accepting dropped off applications. They put up a separate list of schools in attendance at the conference, with and without rented space. They expected applicants to go online, get a list of potential positions, compare it with the available lists to see whether the school was in the Meat Market or floating around the hotel, discern from incomplete information whether they wanted dropped packages, and somehow get one to them. I tried, but couldn't figure out how to manage it. Instead, I went in, looked around, asked people what they were looking for if they hadn't posted it at the table themselves, and dropped off about fifteen packages. By Friday, I got two of them back. The rest of them are either en route to a search committee somewhere, or lying in a dumpster on 56th Street.
Supergirl accompanied me on Wednesday, when I arrived. I'm an artist, so when I see a mess like this, I grumble. But she's a former meeting planner. She possesses a gene that screams with rage in the presence of malformed logistics. She asked, rightly, how they can get away with it year after year. I had only the simplest answer: because they can, and they don't care to do otherwise.
I was too worn out from the Meat Market to attend the sessions. Some of them sounded interesting, insofar as they offered alternatives to the usual blather of postmodernists partying like it was 1995. But by Thursday, I could bear it all no more, and I hit the Spanish painting show at the Gugg. Saturday, I purposely missed a panel discussion with Jeffrey Deitch, the Rubells, Jerry Saltz, and Peter Plagens. The topic was
A Faustian Bargain? Emerging Artists, Critics, and the Market. Instead, I accompanied my cousin and her family to the Asia Society to take in a lovely show of Sassanian art. As I said to Supergirl, I might as well spend my hours on this earth in the presence of good people, looking at beautiful things, given a choice. Faust sold his soul. I'll hang on to mine, thanks.
So even in the statistically unlikely event that long-term work comes out of my attendance at the 2007 conference, I see that you, dear CAA, remain as committed as ever to rearranging the furniture in your little chamber of horrors. You've had 96 years to figure out how to do this right. What are you waiting for? Someone serving you with a subpoena over a conference inteview that violates federal law? Angry candidates disrupting the conference sessions? The Paper Clip Guy going home with his jaw wired shut? I leave it to you - just make a note that someone already tried reasoning with you. The idea that it is impossible to implement an efficient, respectful hiring event just baffles me. That this idea is fact in your world tells me that your ethical compass is demagnetized. As I said, I was looking for evidence as to whether the CAA is serious about reform. I now have my answer.
If anyone out there is looking for teaching work, and if for that reason alone you're thinking about going to a CAA conference without an interview lined up beforehand, I'd recommend against it. The conference is not likely to expose you to any full-time opportunity not already available through the listings on the CAA website, and you could spend those many hundreds of dollars on your art career, or even just stay busy in your studio, to better effect. Don't squander your resources, your time, or your humor, as the CAA will gladly do for you. Take it from me: they giveth not the posterior of a rat.