Now up at Inside Higher Ed:
The basic argument against the conference interview is straightforward: It imposes considerable costs on the interviewees at a time in their lives when they are likely to be painful to absorb. Professional membership dues, conference registration, airfare, and lodging can easily run to $1,000 or more. Most job-seekers are, naturally, people without secure jobs: graduate students, lecturers, adjuncts, and postdocs. Only the latter (and occasionally the first) are likely to have a support budget from their university to attend the conference, meaning that for most the money will come, in whole or in part, out of pocket. Candidates are sometimes only notified if they will have an interview a few weeks — or, in egregious cases, just a few days — before the conference begins.
For a graduate student, $1,000 probably equals a month’s salary; for adjuncts and lecturers, it still represents many weeks of labor: money that they will be forced to spend on a kind of grotesque parody of an actual vacation. To this might be added the environmental costs of flying and the difficulties imposed on families, especially those with young children, and you have an institution that would seem to have little to recommend it. If it were not already a tradition, and someone proposed that candidates hoping for tenure-track jobs should have to pay a four-figure dollar amount simply to be eligible for possible employment, it would be considered an unconscionable form of pay-to-play. Yet because it is already the norm, it is accepted.