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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Comments (21)

1. Posted by curious on June 23, 2005 @ 7:48 | Permalink

is it possible to access the earlier posts in your previous series? I just got transferred back to this main page.

2. Posted by Christine on June 23, 2005 @ 7:50 | Permalink

Maybe my view is too Pollyanna-ish, but I would think that you have to be true to yourself, even on the FAR form. The process is arbitrary, but for every appointments comm'ee member at X school who puts her foot down because you clerked for Thomas (and you can't leave that off the form), there's going to be an appointments comm'ee member at Y school who also went to Asia on his LDS mission. By hiding one thing about yourself on the FAR form to avoid alienating a fictional person at one school, you may be missing the opportunity to connect with someone at another school. You can't try to read the tea leaves; you just have to be yourself, be nice to everyone, and be open-minded. And expect that from everyone you meet.

3. Posted by Gordon Smith on June 23, 2005 @ 8:02 | Permalink

curious, The links in the original post should work now. Try that again. If you have difficulty, you might try right clicking on the links, then opening them in a new window.

4. Posted by curious on June 23, 2005 @ 8:25 | Permalink

actually, I was hoping to access Parts I, II and III. It says the website has changed and then redirects to your current main page.


5. Posted by Brett McDonnell on June 23, 2005 @ 8:28 | Permalink

Even before I reached the final paragraph of the post, I was thinking that the discussion rather precisely mirrors discussions I have had with other gay people on resume matters. The post spells out well the pros and cons of being out. My own instinct is like Gordon's, to avoid covering up, although in my own case there is no obvious bit of info to include in a resume to out myself. I'm not sure if Christine is right that the costs and benefits are symmetric, though--does one strong supporter help as much as a strong opponent hurts?

6. Posted by Eric Goldman on June 23, 2005 @ 12:21 | Permalink

In my case, it was my Jewish identity. Fortunately, anti-semitism in faculty hiring appears to have dried up substantially, so the decision to reveal a Jewish identity may not be as risky as being gay, Mormon or Republican. Nevertheless, I felt it was essential to put my identity on the table to avoid any future misunderstandings (or flush out where it might be a problem). Eric.

7. Posted by law student hoping to teach in the future on June 23, 2005 @ 12:59 | Permalink

I am religious and currently in law school, but I hope to teach one day. I plan to not put anything that discusses my religious beliefs on my application/CV. Religion will inform my scholarship and teaching, but unlike being Jewish or being gay, I just think being a member of my religion will be such a huge strike that I am uninclined to include it. For those who reveal religious identities, how do the identites come up?

8. Posted by Christine on June 24, 2005 @ 9:54 | Permalink

I'm not sure that most religions show through the FAR form unless you went to a religiously-affiliated school known to be more than nominally religious, did some sort of religiously-affiliated volunteer work or held a leadership post (two-year mission, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, B'nai B'rith/Hillel), or worked for a religious employer (Cathlic Family Services). I would think that most people's religiosity would not be as apparent from the FAR form.

The problem with religious views, sexual orientation, and even race is that most people know that educated people don't say, "I just can't hire someone who is gay/black/Southern Baptist." So, instead, they pick apart that candidate's resume in ways that they don't pick apart other candidates. You're always comparing apples to oranges ('99 UVa grad, S.D.N.Y. clerkship, one article in Mich. L. Rev. v. '01 Texas grad, Skadden fellowship, two articles in ASU L. Rev. and Cardozo v. '02 Harvard grad, Ph.D, dissertation ), so biased assessors can be pretextual without gathering a lot of attention.

9. Posted by Gordon Smith on June 24, 2005 @ 10:55 | Permalink


Sorry about that. We did, indeed, go through a website change. I found the earlier posts by using our search box. Here are the links:

Part I

Part II

Part III

10. Posted by Ginny on June 24, 2005 @ 22:09 | Permalink

From a curious outsider (but one who has seen the tension of some students around Mormon or Republican grad students in the liberal arts): Is Leiter's dsire to "out" Juan Non-Volokh & Juan's desire, since he doesn't have tenure, to remain anonymous an indication of how strong this sentiment might be? And indicate (like the gut reaction to Thomas's clerk?) how difficult both hiring and tenure might be?

And of course there is something alienating. We want to be transparent. And how can you work in a system based on objectivity, facts, and transparency - the ideal law system - if you feel forced to be opaque yourself?

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