Why we can’t have nice things

In the last six months, a similar situation has arisen for me twice when dealing with fellow academics. They will invite me to something — in one case, it was a lecture; in another, a job interview — and I will accept the invitation. They will then follow up by saying that actually they were just checking to see if I would accept and that there is a further filtering process.

There are several things that bother me about this behavior. First, it’s insensitive. All things related to academic status are anxiety-producing for young scholars, and this bait and switch toys with one’s emotions. It also weirdly reverses positions — particularly in the case of the lecture, it weirdly turned me into the “applicant” even though I was initially approached by them.

Even more, though, what bothers me is how completely gratuitous this is. It could’ve all been avoided if they’d just thought it through a few minutes more. They could’ve just said, “We’re considering who to invite for this lecture/interview, and we wanted to gauge your interest and availability.” Simple! Inoffensive! There is literally (as in, literally literally) no advantage to be had from misleading the person in this way; it is a huge unforced error.

In the case of the job situation, obviously I held my tongue, because that’s what one does (also, I was only informed of the “switch” after being eliminated anyway). In the case of the lecture, however, I did write back to their “switch” message and say that though it was no big deal and I was still interested, they should aim for greater clarity next time. I ultimately did not get invited to give the lecture; in fact, I didn’t get any response whatsoever after calling them out.

All of which leads me to say: Encore un effort, academics, if you want to be professionals!

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