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Friday, September 02, 2011

Should Applicants for Teaching Positions Remove Their Religious Affiliations From Their CVs?

Thanks to Colin for his post linking to Bridget's interesting post, and the especially interesting comments, about the worst things for teaching applicants to put on their CVs.  I'd like to focus on another piece of her post.  One thing she includes on the don't list is "religious affiliation or membership."  That provoked an immediate feeling of discomfort for me, as I'm sure it did for others.  Why did Bridget feel this belonged on the top ten list of things not to do?  What exactly did she mean by it?  Do we agree?

I think it depends.  The fairest reading of that very brief remark--and I assume this was her meaning--was not to list one's religion as, say, a separate line on the resume under the heading of "Religion," just as one wouldn't have an entry for "Marital Status" or "Race."  That seems like pretty unobjectionable advice to me.  But some might go further--have, in my experience, gone further--and say that an applicant should not give any indication of one's religion or religious affiliations, just as one should not give any indication of one's political affilliations.  So, for instance, if you've done significant work for your church, you shouldn't list it in a section detailing your service activities or community involvements, if you have one; if you were the head of the Law School Republicans or Democrats, or actively involved in a political campaign, you shouldn't list that either.  If you were the head of the law school chapter of CLS, forget about it.  

I think there are perfectly reasonable arguments that the first kind of listing -- the straight-out listing of one's religion as a primary entry on the CV -- is improper, arguments that religious and non-religious people alike may share.  The argument for not including any trace of one's religious involvements strikes me as more of a prudential or pragmatic argument: why bother including something, whether it involves your politics or your religion, that might hurt your job chances?  I'm not sure I faced this issue, because I didn't really have prominent involvements of either kind, so the question of whether to put them on my CV didn't come up.  But I say, to hell with the prudential argument.  If you think these activities are worth listing, list them.  Period.  And certainly there is nothing more objectionable about listing relevant activities that signal one's religious affiliation than listing relevant activities that signal one's political allegiances.  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on September 2, 2011 at 09:59 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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I'm a tenured econ prof known for getting in trouble because of intolerance of my conservative political views. One of the early comments made the point that untenured profs are too scared to live a normal life because they fear revealing unpopular views. I believe that too, but I'd distinguish it from being prudent in interviews and vitae's. The difference is the cost to you and the benefit to others.

Cost: It's easy to cut some lines from your vitae and bite your tongue in an interview. It's arduous and self-corrupting to do the same for 6 years on the job. (And if you're willing to sell your soul, why ever would you do so just for an academic salary?) Also, while the editing does reduce, say, your Christian witness slightly, it has hardly any effect--- just a quick glance and an adept toss to the garbage can. Your restraint on the job, though, stops others from benefitting from knowing you are both a smart person and a Christian, forestalls their asking questions if they genuinely want to know more, kills evangelism, and prevents your injecting your particular knowledge and views into discussions and scholarship that would thereby become more productive.

Benefit: By editing your vitae, you prevent a hiring committee from illegally (and contrary to the true interests of their employer) denying you a job. This could easily have a huge impact, since everybody's looking for an excuse to rule out job candidates and make decisions easier anyway, and illegal discrimination is easily concealed at this stage. (The same goes for lateral hiring of senior people.) At tenure time, on the other hand, outspoken views have much less impact than junior faculty think. To be sure, there will be almost as many people who would like to block you as there were at the hiring stage. ("Almost", because usually people discriminate less against people whom they know personally, having recategorized them mentally as exceptions to the general rule that Christians are fanatical yahoos.) But it's very hard to block a solid tenure case, unlike a solid resume. There's more room to block a marginal tenure case, but it still takes a lot of effort. The discriminator has to invent arguments, and there has to be discrimination at multiple levels of the university. Finally, your self-suppression will probably fail anyway. The intolerant will, if they really care, figure out who you are and hate you for it, though they'll consider you less threatening than if you "knew your place".

So, pick your battles wisely, and make sure you're fighting some of the time or you're probably being too restrained.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Sep 4, 2011 10:00:45 AM

My experience when I was on the law teaching market was that committees have a hard time when they can't place you in a "box," and that is not necessarily a negative. For example, I attended a very religious and conservative college and law school, but my activities while in law school and my professional career thereafter make it fairly obvious that I have a strong liberal bent. I had a bunch of AALS interviews, including several with religiously affiliated schools as well as public/secular law schools, and this (perhaps) dichotomy was a great conversation starter about who I was, how I gained the perspective I have, and what I have to bring to my particular field that others do not. The school that I eventually accepted my offer from is a school that is not religiously affiliated, but that was very intrigued with my perspective as a "liberal of faith" (not sure how else to phrase that) - which is kind of amusing to me, as I and many others know that there are lots of such people out there, maybe not in legal academia per se but certainly in the world at large. So if you have information on your CV that might make you "controversial" for one reason or another - and you don't really have a choice to eliminate that information, since it's also the information that makes you a candidate for a law teaching job - that same information can be used in a way to help you stand out from the pack in a positive way.

Posted by: anon | Sep 3, 2011 11:59:44 AM

I went to BYU for undergrad, then have a nearly 2-year gap on my resume that can't be explained without making it obvious what actually happened--a mission for the LDS church. If I were still a devout Mormon, I'd have no problem leaving that on my c.v. But after the mission, I made a 180, and have been liberal and areligious for the past 10 years. I feel that the only possible employers for me are the very most openminded -- who wouldn't care if I were still the conservative religious person I might appear to be, and who don't mind that when they ask "So... BYU..." I respond by saying that choice of college reflected how I was raised, but not who I am now and have been for the last 10 years. Most people have no trouble understanding why a woman might choose not to adhere to Mormonism.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 3, 2011 10:38:12 AM

Ok, here's one variant of this that I'd like some reaction to. Should Mormons who spent two years doing missionary service put that on their resume, or should they leave it off?

I work in the Utah/Idaho/Arizona Mormon corridor, am responsible for the hiring at my office, and get asked that a lot by students I know. I usually tell them to either leave it off or downplay it, lest they inadvertently run into a hiring attorney who isn't fond of the guys in suits who knock on their doors. But some of your comments suggest that I'm overthinking it.


Posted by: Curious | Sep 3, 2011 10:12:42 AM

My religious affiliation is so obvious from my super-jewy name that mentioning it on the CV would be a waste of space. This is another reason not to include it--when it's obvious from the first line.

Posted by: 123anon | Sep 3, 2011 1:12:34 AM

I must say I feel very grateful lately for the wonderful commenters I've had. These have been very thought-provoking answers. Thanks.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 11:08:01 PM

In an interview a judge once asked me if there were any issues about which I felt so strongly that I didn't think I would be able to write objectively - and explained that he started asking that question after interviewing a candidate whose resume made it clear she was a devout Catholic, because he wanted to know if she would be comfortable working on death penalty cases. Personally, I think it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask (either of us), and the prior candidate must have had a good answer, because the judge had hired her. I suppose you could argue that leaving that material off wouldn't have raised red flags to begin with, but I tend to agree with Paul that if such things are important to you and to your sense of who you are, it's worth including them.

(That said - and with the caveat that I'm more familiar with the humanities than with the legal academy - I also think that professorial c.v.s are different enough from resumes that considerations of what to include might be slightly different for each.)

Posted by: yet another anon | Sep 2, 2011 10:41:44 PM

Re the dialogue between Glenn and Paul: I deleted from my c.v. the fact that I spent a year as head of the LGBT group at my law school after a lot of colorful experience w/ law firms and especially judicial clerkship interviews. I did not engage in this censoring for the Yoshino passing reason. (In fact, I was only willing to make the deletion on condition that, at the same time, I added other gay-themed items like an old paper presentation on a sexual orientation topic to make sure I wouldn't be getting a bigotry-catering benefit.)

I never intended the group affiliation to make any comment on personal identity in the first place (probably quixotic given identity-politics norms). It was more the fact that I had put in a huge amount of professionally-relevant work (for one semester, even spending more time on organizing panels of academics and practitioners than I put into my classes). I was starting from a premise similar to Paul's that it would be a compromise of integrity not to have it on the c.v.

After my extended experience, my mind was very changed and I made the deletion for Paul's first rejected reason of anticipating reactions (except that it was not mere anticipation). To use a religious term, I found that "OutLaw" was a "stumbling-block" (though probably much more so with judges than w/ firms or academics). I encountered one judge with an astonishingly bigoted reaction (who I had no desire to cater to and yet who gave me one of my offers). The more surprising and common reaction though was that a majority of the judges (sample size of 12 to 13 and from both parties) got very hung up on their view that such an affiliation meant I could be trapped in a fierce "advocate" mentality and thus incapable of the objective reasoning necessary for a clerkship (not something anyone would get from my physical presence). A couple of my interviews were almost entirely devoted to the question of whether a member of such an organization could be objective.

Of course their inference was ridiculous, and in responding w/ the deletion, you might say I was not leaning on the side of accuracy (not reflecting the relevant work I actually did and seeming to cater to ignorance). But, I infer that censoring my c.v. going forward made it much more accurate in what it got *across* about me given the priors of some readers and the very constrained nature of the c.v./resume medium. I bet many other things on a c.v. (e.g. Fed Society, ACS) could fall into this "stumbling block" pattern where one can delete for prudential reasons that are not craven.

Then again I'm someone who--while admiring of Paul's notion of a c.v. that expresses "who you are"--thinks of it as something that (unlike my scholarship) is as much about what others can understand w/o extended dialogue. It should be scrupulously honest, but it is hopeless to think that an advertising document can ever feel like authenticity. (A cover letter to a law journal may be a whole other dimension of 'alienation' where I'm willing to puff things I don't believe in like download counts.)

Posted by: another anon | Sep 2, 2011 5:16:31 PM

I do a fair amount of service for a nonprofit board that I suspect indicates, fairly obviously, my religion. I include it on my CV. I would not want to be in a work environment where my involvement on the board and my religion would be an overarching negative. Who wants to be in a place where the majority of your colleagues don't like you? I believe people thrive (or, at least, are more likely to do so) in environments where they can be honest. This is a privilege that many people do not have. How unfortunate, and sad.

Further to the point about Yoshino's covering theory, query whether the AALS/FRC process (for example) generates a collective cover-up. See:

Posted by: anon | Sep 2, 2011 4:33:46 PM

So I assumed, Bridget!

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 3:52:04 PM

For whatever it's worth, here is what I intended. I don't think it is ok to explicitly list one's marital status, race, religion, birthdate, or parenting status ("2 children: Jack and Jill") on one's academic CV. Or as Paul explained more clearly, I think it is inappropriate to "list one's religion as, say, a separate line on the resume under the heading of 'Religion,' just as one wouldn't have an entry for 'Marital Status' or 'Race.'" (Thanks, Paul!) As to listing activities/involvements/affiliations that tend to indicate any of those, I have no objection.

Posted by: Bridget Crawford | Sep 2, 2011 3:10:20 PM

Of course that's right, Rick. I've written about that plenty before, as has just about everyone else we know, and I didn't want to get sidetracked by it here. The shorter version is that sending a liberal signal will more often benefit one on the job market than sending a conservative signal, that I believe there are some institutions where sending a conservative signal may have a substantial benefit, and that the responses to religious signals will probably display great variation and often be poorly thought through by the people doing the reacting. I understand that this would tend to indicate to highly prudential individuals that they should err on the side of leaving these activities off the resume, but again I think that if you're proud of it or think it's highly relevant, you should lean on the side of being who you are.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 1:53:37 PM

Paul, you beat me to it. I had been meaning to post about Bridget's advice. A few thoughts: If we are talking about one's "trying to get a job in law teaching CV", then I would think that one could quite reasonably believe that information suggesting a "conservative" bent would, at most schools, undermine one's chances of getting a job, and therefore decide not to indicate, even indirectly, one's religious affiliation or beliefs (unless, of course, that affiliation is one that is not associated by law professors with a "conservative" bent). That said, my own CV includes, at the end, a short section about community-related activities, and that section includes the fact that I serve on my parish's Pastoral Council and on my parish-school's School Board. I guess I don't think this is "TMI", given that I've made the decision to mention other community-service-type activities.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 2, 2011 1:45:13 PM

And I think Glenn raises some nice issues as well. Obviously, some hiring committee members out there will read certain messages into various activities on a CV -- sometimes accurately and sometimes inaccurately, sometimes favorably and sometimes unfavorably. Sometimes, obviously, the CV writer intends to send such a message, and sometimes she doesn't. I suppose my general point is that there is a point at which one should simply list those things that one thinks are relevant or that one is proud of, without either becoming bogged down by trying to anticipate everyone's reactions or engaging in what Kenji Yoshino would call "passing" or "covering."

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 12:21:01 PM

David, quite true. For what it's worth, I went on the job market more than once! I readily concede, as I did to "disagree," that there are costs to the position I am arguing for, although I think there are still reasons to support that position.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 12:17:01 PM

For professors advising your students on their CVs: DEFINITELY include religious activities on applications to small firms. Church/synagogue/mosque is where we find our clients. If you're involved there, you're a potential rainmaker.

Posted by: arthur | Sep 2, 2011 12:01:14 PM

"Finally, there are lots of law schools, and even if one would (wrongly) ding you for noting that you're an active Republican or Christian, say--and why work there?--many others won't."

Some candidates, including some who go on to very distinguished careers, only get one offer.

Posted by: David Bernstein | Sep 2, 2011 11:58:16 AM

Disagree, I appreciate your longer response. Let me say that one danger of posts and comments like mine is that they may suggest that I am sternly condemning anyone who makes a different choice. I stand by my views, but I'm not trying to be especially high-horsey about them, and I agree that the situation I'm describing is not some make-or-break moment. As a father of two and the spouse of a wonderfully talented woman, I'm probably especially susceptible to the point that you have a family of your own and other peoples' interests to consider. Let me add a plea, one that doubtless does not apply to you but that may be relevant to others. When you get your teaching job, write about whatever you feel called to write about (with the caveat that one should only write about what one is qualified to write about, and that one should have some humility on that question), even if you believe or have been told that you would be better off writing about more anodyne subjects and saving the other writing until after tenure; and be willing to stand up for matters of faculty governance that you feel strongly called to stand up for (with the caveat that you may not feel called upon to speak strongly on every issue that comes before the faculty), again even if you have been advised to keep your mouth shut until tenure. As you say, there are times to stand on principle and times when it's acceptable to be more politic; but I worry that some junior faculty out there think that time comes only after tenure, and that some senior faculty out there encourage them to think that way. I don't mean to seem melodramatic about it, and I don't think it applies to you in particular, but I do see evidence that some people out there take this position, and it disturbs me.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 11:34:55 AM

Long ago (and not in academia), I was advised that if I included my religious group activities or my middle name on my resume, I would increase my prospects among Jewish employers, and decrease my prospects among anti-Semitic employers. I was also warned that the latter category was significantly larger than the former in my field and region. I decided that including the information would be a win-win.

Posted by: arthur | Sep 2, 2011 11:26:36 AM

I’m liberal and not religious. I suspect my views won’t hurt my job prospects.

My current CV was designed with one aim in mind: to help get me a job at the AALS conference. If I thought a “liberal” activity on my resume would hurt my job prospects, I would not include it. There’s a time to stand on principle. In this context, I do not see this as that time -- both because I don’t think the ultimate principle is all that important (trying to avoid subconscious or conscious bias) and because I would really like to become a law professor, given that I enjoy teaching and writing. And while you’re right that the risk isn’t really all that high, it’s still there. This is true even for people (I hope like me!) who are “plausible candidates.” Because I have a family, I would not only like a job, but I’d like a job in a location that gives my significant other the best chance at having as many career options as possible.

Posted by: Disagree | Sep 2, 2011 11:10:20 AM

Nice post (as usual) Paul. I think there are also some interesting parallels regarding descriptions of LGBT groups or cause related activities on the teaching CV.
I tell my students when they are applying for practice jobs that they ought to list it if they played a significant role in the organization.
When I was a student, though, amusingly a friend who had such a significant role in our LGBT group at Harvard and listed it ran into a problem that everyone assumed she was a lesbian and how to signal otherwise, when in fact she was happily dating a man and about to get engaged....

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Sep 2, 2011 11:10:16 AM

I would say "easier," not easy. I didn't face this particular issue, but it's not as if I'm unaware of it or never faced situations in which I could either be honest or prudent. I should point out a couple of things. First, anyone in this situation who is really a plausible candidate for a law teaching job already has plenty of possible options, so the level of courage demanded here is not especially high. Second, as I've said before, in the long run tenure ought to go to those who not only meet professional standards but are actually capable of demonstrating some independence and integrity even without job protections. If our default rule is "timorous until tenure," then I think we're setting our sights too low. Third, I'm talking about listing *relevant* activities that mention one's religion, not irrelevant ones. Finally, there are lots of law schools, and even if one would (wrongly) ding you for noting that you're an active Republican or Christian, say--and why work there?--many others won't.

Still, I agree that I didn't face this particular situation. (Although, when asked, I told a committee that my most interesting case involved defending against claims for slavery reparations. I didn't get a call-back, but I can't say I regret giving an accurate answer.) But enough about me. Can you say more, beyond "it's easy...," about your own views?

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 2, 2011 10:46:05 AM

It's easy to stand on principle when you have nothing to lose.

Posted by: Disagree | Sep 2, 2011 10:19:21 AM

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