Jamal Khashoggi and the Ethics of (Not) Being “on the Market”

Disclaimer: Serious times call for serious posts, and this one has nothing to do with neuroscience—though a lot with brains and academia.

People keep asking me if I am “on the (job) market.” I tell them that I’m not, but that I’m applying for jobs.

There is a crucial difference between seeing oneself as an agent (and being treated as such) and being a good “on the market.” Whoever came up with this terrible formulation anyway? The only humans I am aware of who have been on a market (to be sold) were enslaved people. Do we really want to talk like this about ourselves, in my case, a middle-class-raised white German soon-to-be graduate of an Ivy League university?

It makes me sick (!) to hear the “on the market” phrase over and over again from my peers, teachers, and role models. Talking as if we were on a market to be sold means great injustice to those who have been—and still are—actually enslaved, and it diminishes our own power as discerning agents and excellently educated individuals. Is this way of talking (and acting) an indicator of the fact that political correctness and its enforcement are really more of a shallow habit rather than an honest concern of ours? (I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole now.)

So, no, I’m not on the market. And I’m fully aware that up to 45 search committees for jobs and postdocs that I have applied for might be reading this. Hello to you, and thank you for reading my blog.

Back to my point: What does this have to do with Jamal Khashoggi?

A lot. Three incidents in the past few weeks have made me choose not to apply for seemingly attractive jobs in Saudi Arabia.

First, someone who shall not be named (a male doctoral candidate in the sciences) has recently been offered a job at a university in Saudi Arabia, which also shall not be named. The pay would have been great, but this someone chose to reject the offer for conscientious reasons. They do not want to receive their paycheck from (or contribute to the fame of) one of the institutions of an absolute monarchy that rests on exploiting the Earth and its inhabitants.

Second, the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals posted a job ad for an Assistant/Associate Professorship in History in July (open until filled, now expired), and they re-advertised the position in September. I chose to follow the good example of the aforementioned scientist and didn’t apply. But one of my peers (anonymous) chose differently. She invested, presumably, several hours in tailoring her application and uploading her files to the University’s application system. (If you don’t know how confusing and time-consuming those portals can be, let me tell you that I am almost happy to pay for Interfolio services, and that I love job search committees that ask to receive applications via email.)

Here’s what said applicant posted to the Academic Jobs Wiki yesterday:

I applied and received an immediatie refusal because…. I am a woman.They dont accept women, despite they dont say anywhere in the ad. I complained to them (and jobs.ac.uk) but still they didnt do anything. Curious to know if someone had a different experience.

Sure, someone had a different experience: the male scientist I mentioned earlier. Good for him that he did not waste his time on trying to support a discriminatory regime by accepting a position at one of its universities.

Third, I watched this during lunch today. In my opinion, the Saudi-Arabian government and any of its institutions should not be given the opportunity to increase their wealth and power because we (i.e., job applicants) are too blindfolded by the “laws of the market” to resist their doing so.

For similar reasons, I did not apply for a position in Siberia and several positions in other rogue nations.

Even in the U.S., there are good reasons not to apply for certain jobs. Another quote from the Academic Jobs Wiki:

Metoo alert on Kennesaw State job [link added, T.C.]. Chair of language department has history of sexual harassment/assault attempts at previous positions.
• Bless you for this (x5)
• Read comment #7 by user “grand forks”: https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/tenure-appeal-at-u-of-north-dakota-puts-spotlight-on-collegiality/67855
• What are tenured faculty and search committee members doing to protect applicants?

Good question. Nobody has answered it thus far, although search committees frequently engage which questions directed at them in the Wiki.

I wonder: If I and like-minded individuals choose not to apply for these jobs for conscientious reasons, then who will end up getting them? And how will this affect another generation of students in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Georgia, and the rest of the world? These are sincere questions. Leave a comment if you want to share your opinion.

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