A FIRE friend replied to Greg’s post yesterday that had made the point that some of the disparity between liberals and conservatives in American faculties could be due to viewpoint discrimination. Our friend notes that he has been a math professor for many years and has participated in hundreds of hiring decisions and has not once heard a mention of an applicant’s politics. He goes on to say:
In fact, any participant in these meetings who attempted to bring up the political views of a candidate would face an immediate, incredulous, and hostile reaction. To do so would, even by subtle implication, be an immense faux pas. Insofar as it is possible to be sure about anything in such matters, I am dead certain that politics and ideology (in the usual sense, as opposed to “professional” politics, e.g., the functional analysts versus the commutative algebraists contending for the same line) has never been a factor in departmental personnel decisions.
I don’t doubt this professor’s account. In fact, I would be surprised if many math professors would tell a different tale. We truly would be far gone if math hiring conversations went like this: “His work in topology has been astonishing, but the man is pro-life. We can’t hire him.” However, I want to point out that while this individual has participated in hundreds of job interviews without seeing politics come into play, his experience is different from my own. As my bio indicates, I spent two years as a lecturer at Cornell Law School. During my second interview with the director of the program I was applying for, I was asked the following question: “I note from your CV that you seem to be involved in religious right issues. Do you think that you can teach gay students?” When I asked what she meant by the question, she elaborated by saying, “Many of our gay students are activists, and I’m concerned that there may be conflict.”
I wonder—how many gay applicants at Cornell have been asked: “Do you think you can teach Christian students?”