June 23, 2005
The Politics (and Religion) of Faculty Hiring
Posted by Gordon Smith

Last year I did a series of posts on faculty hiring. (See here for the last in the series and here for the second to last plus links to the earlier posts.) Having served on Appointments Committees for six years, I get lots of questions about the process from prospective law professors. Yesterday, I received an email from a friend, who will enter the fray this fall. He asked me and various other law professors to comment on his application form and CV, both of which include several items suggesting that he is both (1) Mormon and (2) Republican. The following is one of the responses that he received:

There's no doubt that being a Mormon and a Republican are both negatives for a substantial slice of the professorate. That means that you will have a certain number of people who'll never support you and a larger number who start with a prejudice against you. Often this is a small number at a particular school, but at the preliminary screening level it's often the case that strong opposition from one member of the Appointments Committee is enough to knock you out.  I know of a case where one extremely strong candidate didn't get a call-back at a lower-tier school because one member of the Appointments committee said that she simply couldn't even consider hiring someone who'd worked for Justice Thomas.  It's obviously possible to overcome this bias, but you're starting with a handicap.

What follows from this? "[I]f your goal is to maximize the number of schools who'll talk to you in D.C., cut all the Mormon and Republican references from your FAR form."

There was a fair amount of pushback to this advice from other participants in the discussion. I have received similar advice more than once, always from well-intentioned people who did not hold these particular biases. I have always rejected this advice, but I can understand why someone would choose this strategy. Consider the context: with over 1,000 candidates in the pool -- most from top law schools and most with judicial clerkships and big firm or other experience -- the initial screenings can seem pretty arbitrary. And why include items on the form that are likely to be disqualifying for some members of some Appointments Committees?

On the other hand, isn't there something alienating about concealing certain aspects of your identity just to get an interview? Certainly members of racial minority groups can relate to this feeling (though being a racial minority is generally a plus in snagging interviews in this context). I assume that some homosexuals feel this pressure. Perhaps atheists should be concerned? In my experience, all sorts of prejudices become much less important during and after the initial interview. Once people meet a candidate, the individual becomes more important than abstract fears about religious or political affiliation. That said, and recognizing that no general advice will cover all situations, I wonder: should candidates conceal certain aspects of their identity on their forms?

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» Scholarly value and hiring biases from Pub Sociology ...
"I think most of us would agree that a person's politics and religion shouldn't matter when deciding ..." [more] (Tracked on June 24, 2005 @ 13:06)
» Thomas Clerks Need Not Apply? from The Volokh Conspiracy ...
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According to Gordon Smith at Conglomerate, another law professor relayed the ..." [more] (Tracked on June 25, 2005 @ 16:19)

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