Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Bugaboo of Bigotry

"Losing My Religion," an article in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education, the psuedonymous author relates how he attempted to spin his CV to downplay his religious convictions, out of fear that hiring committees would reject him.

I find his claim that "[his] two years on the market have convinced [him] that, at the application stage, the fear of bigotry is worse than the bigotry itself" a bit dubious. I've seen the hiring process from both sides, and know that the peculiarities of the personalities making up the committee could easily create situations in which a Baptist (or Marxist, or Republican, or feminist, or kickboxer, or vegetarian, or whatnot) would have no chance of hire. By the same token, the same peculiarities could work in the other direction, nearly guaranteeing the applicant an interview. For example, a committee member might think, Look! He wrote a paper on the cultural poetics of Nascar. I love Nascar! Maybe if we interview him, I can pick his brain about it! Or, in the same imaginary example, the committee member might think, Ew, Nascar! My ex-husband liked Nascar. Do we really want a similar oaf around here? Insert the word "Baptist" in the place of "Nascar," and you see how religious bigotry could (and probably does) affect hires.

Nevertheless, this situation is completely beyond the control of the applicant. Indeed, from year-to-year it can change at an institution as the makeup of the hiring committee changes. As that is the case, better to be straightforward.

The wisdom of the article comes with the line, "At any rate, I couldn't see myself happy at an institution where colleagues secretly or openly believed that religious convictions made someone a less interesting and capable human being." I think that's exactly right. My own strategy was to be myself -- minivan and all. While being oneself might not be prudent in the short-term, in the long-term it leads to a happier career.

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