It’s that time of year again, when hiring committees make their ever so wise and unfathomable decisions regarding who will gain access to the yellow brick road of the tenure track. But as many will discover, a Canadian degree won’t sparkle the committee’s eyes. Look at the list of faculty in your department. How many of them are Canadian profs with American or British degrees? Or simply look at this study from 2009, which appeared in University Affairs. A Canadian degree often won’t make the cut.
Of course, hiring committees can and should hire the best available candidate for every position. If hiring committees value candidates with foreign degrees, and they believe that these degrees are superior to Canadian degrees, then that is fine. I don’t think that forcing committees to favour candidates with Canadian degrees would be beneficial. The last thing we need is an explosion of “Can-con” scholars.
The reason the foreign-degree problem can’t be solved with nationalist affirmative action is because it is fundamentally a moral problem. Anyone who works for a department that offers a PhD program must recognize that it is morally wrong to sell something that you would never buy. Selling faulty or unusable products to unknowing or bewildered customers is a form of profiteering. If you reject this business analogy, then you need to reevaluate the nature of the PhD: what it is, what it offers, and why anyone should devote a substantial amount of money and labour for four or more years of their life in order to receive one.
You can’t sell unrealizable dreams forever. Retribution, in this case, will be the bursting of the PhD bubble, which will deprive universities of financially valuable or even financially necessary students. Decades of drivel masquerading as ‘research’ will be washed away, as the principled scholars of the nation recoil in disgust at the politicized nonsense that was used to prop up an exploitative system, and the university will rebuild itself. Or at least that’s what I dream of. There is no limit to self-deception, and it’s more likely that tenured profs will continue to convince themselves that they deserve all the money, resources and opportunities they receive–privileges that only exist because unwitting young scholars continue to sacrifice their money, talent and best years to the cult of the PhD and the dream of being a paid scholar.
If universities feel they are delivering an inferior product, they should scale back and concentrate on improving PhD programs, rather than on increasing enrolment or creating new programs. In the short term, this would require cutting the number of PhD programs offered and letting in fewer students. They should acknowledge the problems of finding academic work with a Canadian PhD–or any PhD–by providing extensive support services that inform grad students about non-academic career options, and they should keep track of how many of their graduates receive tenure-track work, and make this information public.
First, though, they need to think about the PhDs they produce and the PhDs they hire, and see if they can live with the immoral imbalance.