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Thursday, August 09, 2012

(Quasi-)Achievements by Declination or Proximity...

It's roughly FAR time now, and I'm up in beloved cottage country in Canada, stealing a few moments while the boys are napping and the wife's away. So, a quick question for prawfs that was raised by some folks as they head out on to the rookie and lateral market: which, if any, *declined* honors or awards or invitations or opportunities do you think one should list on the academic cv? Relatedly, what do you think about near-misses?

I had a recollection, which I recently confirmed, that the cv belonging to one of our connoisseurs of prestige, separately twice listed honors that were declined by him. I've also seen numerous other people list "near-misses" such as Rhodes Scholar finalist. I am curious to hear to what extent those on hiring/tenure committees would welcome such information. (I am also interested to learn what the views of others are too, including those deliberating whether to include such information). 

My own sense is that since the CV is used by committees to do a lot of screening, some information about this stuff would be helpful. For example, if a person was a single mom/dad but had twenty faculty workshop invitations that s/he declined because of caregiving responsibilities, I suspect that would be useful information to know--at least insofar as such workshop invitations are a signal (perhaps a noisy one) of prominence in the field. As for those who are aspiring prawfs, they typically have slim academic cv's and it might be useful to know about the verifiable close-calls or opportunities they have had to turn down in the past as they try to get to where they are.

I reckon lots of people will disagree and view this as largely further evidence of the decline of manners in our ceaselessly debased civilization. [Others clearly believe that including near-misses or opportunities declined dilutes the brand of the achievements that are on there already.] Not sure if this would mollify both sides, but perhaps there should be an appendix/codicil to CV's where one agglomerates these unaccepted honors and invitations or near-misses, and then those who care about them can pay them heed and those who don't care about them just disregard them, with some sympathy to their inclusion based on the always available (though perhaps untrue) reason that his/her mentor (or Dean) must have suggested that's a good idea! Poor thing.



Posted by Administrators on August 9, 2012 at 04:20 PM in Blogging, Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Circling back after a few days, here are some reax:
Christine's suggestions of outsourcing to references only works for entry level rookies, but not for laterals. Remember, app-comms are scouting your webpages for current CV's, and not calling up references at the scouting/early screening stage.

Responding to Lesley/anonfemale: no one is suggesting that one disclose the reasons why one had to decline an invited presentation or some other comparable honor. And the fact that men might also list the declined honors/invitations would allow there to be strategic ambiguity.

The concerns mentioned by Anonprof (or others) about listing declined job offers I get, and I would probably think that those should not be listed, though again, I could imagine that some circumstances might be such that it would make some sense, and the value of the signal might be non-trivial to both, um, buyers and sellers. In short, I'm quite sympathetic to the reasons Brian adduces in favor of declined invitations/honors.

Btw, one friend on FB said, who cares about declined invitations to speak at faculty workshops--all it shows is that the person has friends in various places. She put stock only in invitations to present at peer-reviewed entries to conferences like ALEA. My sense is that the "friends at other schools" discount is inappropriate in some cases. After all, if someone brought a friend in to speak and the person was a total dud, that reflects poorly on the person who brought in the person--at least it might have some repercussion at the water coolers about that person's academic judgment.

Last, those kinds of invited presentations are looked at as one of many different kinds of useful signals at my school, and perhaps others.

Anyway, fun diversion--and thanks for the interesting comments. My son's just woken up from nap, so time (for me) to move on for now...

Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 19, 2012 3:50:00 PM

Sorry to be late to the party. I think the best advice to someone whose resume isn't as sparkling as it could be due to extenuating circumstances (attended less prestigious school on scholarship; foregone conferences/workshops; declined offers to visit or lateral; offers from prestigious journals after accepting other offers) is to have references mention this for the candidate. Though this may be putting manners over substance, it generally sounds better for a recommender to say "and Candidate X could have a workshop a week/could be at Fancy School B/etc." if it weren't for caring for children or parents/geographical restrictions because of spouse/health issue/etc.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Aug 15, 2012 12:49:46 PM

The problem with listing declined job offers is that it signals unsavory things about a person's character. Schools don't just make offers out of blue to unsuspecting candidates. There is always an understanding that a faculty candidate is acting in good faith, seriously considering the school, and is not merely using the appointment process to build up their resume, get raise at their current school, or trade this offer for a better-school offer. Appointments processes take significant institutional resources, and candidates who use these processes inappropriately cause damage to the profession.

Good faith is hard to define, and some offers are indeed declined in good faith. But when a person declines more than a couple of offers, you can't help concluding that they are, ahem, not playing honestly with others.

Posted by: anonprof | Aug 13, 2012 8:04:08 PM

What Lesley said.

Posted by: anonfemalecandidate | Aug 12, 2012 9:03:17 PM

Ugh. That should read "prevent."

Posted by: Lesley | Aug 12, 2012 8:45:40 PM

I would be very surprised if women would benefit from disclosing that family obligations preventing them from accepting more invitations. I suspect it would do more harm than good.

Posted by: Lesley | Aug 12, 2012 8:44:35 PM

I think listing offers (particularly something like competitive fellowships) declined could provide useful information. The norm against it in law and in favor of it in PhD disciplines both seem plausible, neither obviously superior.

But again, the near misses thing is generally silly.

Posted by: anon | Aug 11, 2012 12:18:40 PM

Fellowships offered and declined are not "near misses." We can agree that "near misses" are not relevant. The rationale, I take it, for the existing norm in the PhD disciplines is that certain awards and fellowships are competitive, and receiving them is a mark of achievement, whether or not one takes them up. One pertinent difference in law is that because most law schools have competitive leave policies, law faculty apply for relatively few of these kinds of fellowships (witness, e.g., the paucity of law faculty who ever win NEH, ACLS, or Guggenheims).

Posted by: Brian | Aug 11, 2012 8:26:05 AM


If you're asking what the norm should be, one pretty strong reason for the current norm is that there is no way of knowing what kinds of "near misses" or declinations are worthy of consideration and no way of knowing if the claims are actually true. A 1-page resume could turn into a 20-page list of near misses and declinations of questionable relevance and uncertain veracity.

Your suggestion that the norm benefits white men strikes me as incorrect. First, I've never heard of the number of workshops a person has given being considered in the hiring process. Second, both the hiring process and the process of picking workshop speakers already account for the race/gender questions you identify.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 11, 2012 1:06:40 AM

You seem to be of different minds concerning whether there is a social cost to this: "Importantly, the putatively existing social norm discussed by Orin or Eugene tends to benefit white men, although not exclusively" vs. "if it turns out that men and whites are more likely to be comparatively freed from either kind of domestic/institutional workloads." Why not just assume that every CV norm reifies the power structure, as it plausibly does, and applaud all departures? Except in this particular case, I think it's also possible that the powers-that-be offer honors, awards, etc. in a pattern that favors their kind, just like everything else, such that the blessed would bet blessed-er if declinations or near misses could be reported.

I do agree that claiming this as the norm is hardly conclusive as to whether it should be the norm. For me, at least, reciting declinations shows insufficient regard for the rejected offeror and for the person who got the table scraps -- in addition to promoting a kind of gaming that can have pernicious effects, especially when it comes to positions. So I think the norm is defensible, albeit subject to reasonable exceptions. And I doubt that younger folks are well advised to deviate from the norm absent some field-specific basis.

I feel less strongly about near-misses.

Posted by: Me | Aug 10, 2012 4:05:48 PM

I figured this topic might raise some reactions, and I'm still trying to figure out what I think.

My point, however inartfully advanced, was to interrogate why we have a norm (assuming we do) for not including declined invitations/honors or near-misses. A bunch of the responses here were just re-stating the norm and the conventional justification, which i find somewhat wanting. If one goal of the CV is to see whether it makes sense to invite this person to interview (or to give a raise based on past performance or to promote to tenure or to full professor or to a chair etc), then there is useful information that might be undisclosed out of fear of the violation of the social norm. Contra Eugene, it seems if there are various honors (distinguished lectureships or invited workshops) that one would think relevant to whether to hire someone, then all the more reason why those should be included. I don't think a hiring/promotion committee or a dean cares about the *experience* you had while giving the Fancy Lecture at HLS. They care that folks at HLS thought you were a worthy.

Importantly, the putatively existing social norm discussed by Orin or Eugene tends to benefit white men, although not exclusively. As I explained on FB, my sense, which may be wrong, is that certain people might have substantial demands made on them by home-life and/or their institution. Let's say, e.g., you're invited by 12 schools a year to come give faculty workshops but b/c of these competing and undelegable demands on your time, you only go to 2 of them. If an app-comm (or a promotion/tenure committee or a dean assessing whether to give raises) were to evaluate the cv in part by looking at how many invited presentations you did, and saw you only did 2, that might signal that you're not as in demand as you actually are. And since stature in the market is a good, it means that the distribution of prestige might be distorted somewhat if it turns out that men and whites are more likely to be comparatively freed from either kind of domestic/institutional workloads.

Near-misses are also more interesting than what is given credit for here, though I'm inclined to agree that near-misses are more trivial--though, let's face it, all this (just about everything on this damn blog) is silly first world problems stuff, but we discuss and find it relevant or interesting sometimes. With respect to near-misses, magna is a near miss of summa, and cum laude is a near miss of magna. Of course one should use judgment in deciding which things to include, and there is a risk of dilution as well. FWIW I don't list near-misses or declined honors/invitations. But if someone were to do so, I could see more significant reasons for doing so, especially at the beginning of one's academic career. And if law is out of step with other parts of the academy on either or both of these issues, as some comments here and on FB suggest, then we do well to wonder whether that's a good thing or not.

All that said, this remains a trivial diversion, and the best measure of assessment is looking closely at the writing, the teaching, etc. and getting as full a picture as possible. Unfortunately, time is limited and so the question raised by this post is what heuristics or short-cuts in the economy of prestige are desirable/permissible, and why.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 10, 2012 3:36:03 PM

Both "declinations" and "almosts" should be excluded. This is a resume we're talking about, not an autobiography. There is some notion that a CV is a list of experiences that qualify one for the desired position, not simply evidence that one is smart. Something one did not do is not an experience.

We never know what would happen in alternate realities. Lets say one did accept that prestigious political position - and left after a week in disgrace. Or botched a job so badly as to be embarrassed to list it. So there is a difference between doing something and being asked to do it. Moreover, there is plenty of room in other kinds of evaluative materials - interviews, recommendations - to convey any particular idiosyncratic circumstances of the kind Dan mentioned. Visits are the biggest area where this seems to arise: people note "offer extended." Pu-leeze; if someone is worried about a pattern of visits, they can just ask; but this has little relevance on a general-purpose CV posted on one's website.

CVs invariably paper over much of the messy reality of life, but that is the point: a concise statement of external (visible) phenomenon. Finer detail leads to a slippery slope, and in this regard near-misses are much more ridiculous than declined offers. Why not report raw law school exest scores (almost magna cum laude), or

Posted by: Eugene Kontorovich | Aug 10, 2012 12:20:21 PM

I would defer to Brian's advice for JD/PhD candidates, save to note that it relies on the presence and inclination of someone within that discipline to explain the convention to hiring faculty not in the discipline . . . assuming the issue surfaces at all, as opposed to going unobserved, or being observed but taken solely into private account by those voting.

Really, I think it is best done, and even then for unclear objectives, by someone in his position. Unless I am wrong in reporting the more general convention in law.

Posted by: Me | Aug 10, 2012 10:52:19 AM

It is normal practice in the humanities and social science PhD disciplines I'm familiar with to list all Fellowships and the like, including those one does not accept. In Europe, it even seems to be the norm to list job offers that one declined (I've seen that on some American CVs, but it is less common). A JD/PhD candidate should probably follow the norms for the PhD discipline on that score.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 10, 2012 9:36:16 AM

It is normal practice in the humanities and social science PhD disciplines I'm familiar with to list all Fellowships and the like, including those one does not accept. In Europe, it even seems to be the norm to list job offers that one declined (I've seen that on some American CVs, but it is less common). A JD/PhD candidate should probably follow the norms for the PhD discipline on that score.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 10, 2012 9:36:15 AM

As the above comments suggest, I think reporting either near-misses or declinations is exceptional. Entry types doing this will stand out, and you'll see few folks doing this other than those already in such a position as to make the inclusion of this information unnecessary and, at the same time, costless.

Why, exactly? I suppose near misses suggests nursed wounds, or something like that. Personally, I react more strongly to including information about declinations, which for someone I don't know would create a rebuttable inference about collegiality. Barring particular information of an "it's not you, it's me" variety, putting declinations in besmirches the offered honor/appointment and the awarding institution (is it likely that the offering party wants refusal disclosed?) and/or any person who subsequently accepted something second-hand. And it's also a tradeoff made for very slight value in terms of the person's own credentials. Precisely because this isn't widely done, reports of declined opportunities provides very little relative information.

So I would be wary of including this for any instrumental reason, unless you know what you're doing or others know you -- or if you view the CV as more of a historical record, in which case you can write your narrative however you choose.

Posted by: Me | Aug 9, 2012 10:51:03 PM

I fully agree with Orin. One can safely assume that some of the things that you didn't get were close (and some weren't), and by the same token that some of things you did get were close (and some weren't). People are judged on their actual achievements, which over a long enough haul will be representative enough that the near misses are beside the point.

The extreme case would be someone who put a note such as: "two half-grades from graduating magna cum laude, where I was the highest B+ in two classes," or similar. Maybe if you had 1 grade, your relative standing within the sea of B+ would be interesting. But after you graduate, you're either magna or you're not. A note on how close you were will likely come across as distasteful and desperate, at least to some.

"Honorable mention" seems fine, if there was actually a mention. "Finalist" might be fine, too, to the extent it's formalized and there is a norm of recognizing it.

Posted by: anon | Aug 9, 2012 10:25:26 PM

As David's story suggests, accomplished people often have several near misses and declined honors in their past. The social norm is not to put them on a CV. While near misses and declined honors can be signals, a CV is a place to lists experiences and awards bestowed--- and near misses and declined honors are neither experiences nor awards bestowed. (I'm assuming a "near miss" doesn't include something like the formal award of an "honorable mention", which can go on a CV.)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 9, 2012 7:54:40 PM

I accepted a DC Circuit clerkship that fell through for reasons having nothing to do with me. I took another, somewhat less prestigious clerkship at the last minute instead, but I thought it would be in bad taste to mention the other one on my c.v., and I never have.

Posted by: David Bernstein | Aug 9, 2012 7:39:55 PM

Maybe this is ridiculous of me, but I trust any practice Brian Leiter endorses as he is the arbiter for these things.

That being said there should I'd hope be limits on this practice.

Several thoughts:

- Everyone who applied to "safety" law schools is likely to have scholarships from those schools that they declined in declining the acceptance for a better school. I wonder if listing those would be a liability since it A. looks tacky perhaps? B. would associate their C.V. with schools that are less prestigious than the institutions they actually attended.

- I think it would produce rather perverse incentives for early career academics if you could list declined conference presentations! Since these are usually selective in theory (and sometimes in practice) but often do not require that much work to get an acceptance (like, just writing an abstract) there could be an incentive to apply to conferences that you don't think you'll really be able to attend (or even conferences that you know you won't attend). Lets definitely say that declined conference presentations don't go on your c.v.

- I wonder if someone declines significant awards in what looks like a pattern of either self financing their academic career or prioritizing non-academic lifestyle related things this could actually count against a candidate.

Posted by: AnonResearchFellow | Aug 9, 2012 6:04:47 PM

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