Blogs > Cliopatria > A violation of privacy?

Jan 5, 2005 5:26 am

A violation of privacy?

A friend of mine, thrown into the academic job market whirlwind, has reported to me an experience that strikes me as outrageous. My friend applied for a post at a certain university (I will not name the institution, but it is located in Middletown, Connecticut). My friend did not get the job. To its credit, rather than ignoring the application or issuing a belated rejection notice, as is too often the case, the department in question sent an e-mail form letter turning my friend down. However, listed on the recipient list were the email addresses of all the other applicants for the post.

It seems to me a terrible violation of privacy for the university to reveal through its actions who had applied for this job (the owners of the other addresses, largely graduate students and young professors, were generally identifiable from them). This action appears all the more cruel since it is so easy to suppress a recipient list. I do not know if there is any way to censure the department in question. I wonder what all you Cliopatricians think of this.
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Ralph E. Luker - 1/5/2005

I have notified the chairperson of the department which appears to be in question here about this discussion and invited him to respond.

Julie A Hofmann - 1/5/2005

Or, in the interest of giving the benefit of the doubt, someone could perhaps drop a line to the search committee chair asking if they'd realized that was how the rejections had gone out? or maybe just a link to this? Shouldn't the sledgehammers come out only if they have to?

Robert KC Johnson - 1/5/2005

I would recommend his forwarding the email to AAUP. Since the addresses went to multiple people, there'd be no way of knowing who filed the complaint.

This wouldn't be the type of thing that would get a censure, but a letter from AAUP to the Wesleyan provost would, at least, make sure this didn't happen again.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/5/2005

In the event that I'm wrong, which is possible, the main route for censure would be through the AAUP (I think that's right) which investigates non-standard hiring procedures. Schools under censure are so noted in many professional job listings.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/5/2005

Some institutions, as I recall, are bound by open access rules, and allow candidates to opt-out of having their application be public (but last-round candidates have no choice).

I'm sure that candidates have some right not to have confidential personell materials distributed, but merely the fact of having applied doesn't seem to me to fall into that category.

Nonetheless, it was an easily avoidable gaffe.

Julie A Hofmann - 1/5/2005

I'm willing to bet that it was a mistake, but also think that the least the committee can do is to notify people individually. Job searches are arduous for all involved, and one never knows when simple courtesies will make a difference in how you're treated somewhere down the road.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/5/2005

Greg, Several of the other Cliopatriarchs are themselves on the job market right now and may or may not choose to comment about this. Unfortunately, the employment market is one point at which there seems to be little in the way of observed rights and responsibilities, except those mandated by federal law. Even there, I recall very clearly instances when candidates' civil rights were privately violated in departments in which I was a member. On a formal level, those rights are fairly closely protected. Informally, they are sometimes violated.
I can think of many instances in which common decencies and expectations were violated in job searches. I have seen full professors at major institutions not even given the curtesy of a rejection notice, when they applied for a position at another major institution. My guess is that the outrages occur most commonly at the entry level, simply because those are the most common searches.
The case you cite is undoubtedly a violation of privacy. It is _possible_ that it was done by a department secretary, without the search committee or search committee chair knowing that it was done in this way. It might be appropriate for someone on the list to file a complaint with the department chairperson at the institution in question. One of the problems in filing such a complaint, however, is that the person filing it might get labeled as a complainer. Even so, the damage is, of course, already done and there's no undoing it. I should think, however, that any candidate who could show that this incident did them some material damage has a case for a formal complaint. Unfortunately, job candidates are often treated badly and only formal complaints seem to make serious impressions and change behavior.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/5/2005

Yeah, it's a violation. Sounds rather like a mistake, though -- the kind that happens all the time. There's a funny and true story of a legal intern at a prestigious law firm in NY (the student is from Harvard Law) who sent an e-mail to his friend bragging how he wasn't doing any work -- and mistakenly sent a copy to each and every member of the law firm!!!

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