Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Conservative Arts Strike Again: Little Jack on the Job Market

I just got off the phone with my friend Jack, who looks like and acts like Julia-Louis Dreyfus, btw. Jack is an astronomer on the job market. She called to share her latest adventure with the application process, which I couldn't resist writing about here.

Upon receipt of her application at a very small liberal arts college, the human resources department sent Jack another set of questions for her to answer. Thinking it was the usual "what is your ethnicity" type card, Jack opened the letter and found, instead, a long list of questions, most of which are forbidden questions in job searches. In addition to asking for information she already sent along (teaching statement), they ask for her SS#, why she is leaving her current job, and then start inquiring about her spiritual life.

McSchool wanted to know what her religious affiliation was and they wanted to her to write a brief statement on what role religion should play in higher education. To help guide her in this endeavor, McSchool suggested that she study their mission statement, which clarifies that they are indeed a Christian, liberal arts college.

Jack was reasonably flummoxed. She had no idea what her religious affiliation had to do with her ability to be an astronomer. The second question that occurred to her is "has anyone in the physics department gotten an NSF grant"? (Namely, does affiliation with McSchool violate guidelines for getting Federal dollars?)

So, Jack calls up the department chair to ask some follow up questions about this questionnaire. First off, she asks for advice about how to answer the religious affiliation question.

"I don't have a religious affiliation. The last time I attended a religious fellowship was the Unitarian Universalist fellowship," says Jack. She follows up: "Everyone knows that UU is just code for Wiccan."


"Look, should I just put witch down as my religious affiliation?"

Knowing Jack, I have to imagine that the chair is rolling on the floor at this point. He answers: "Put whatever best captures your religious affiliation."

He goes on to tell her that the new President of McSchool had decided to make stronger ties with the Methodist church. While he did not say that these human resource questions came from the new administration's desire to vet the candidates, I have gone ahead and made this leap.

The chair advises that her religious affiliation and religious statement will not be a factor at the departmental level, but rather will come into play with administration. Jack presses about the NSF grant, and the chair mentions that he and his colleague are applying and, well, they will wait and see . . .

Finally, Jack asks: "Look, should I even bother applying for this job."

To which the chair answers: "I sure hope you do."