Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Thirsty on Christian Colleges. (I Know This Should Be a Sunday Thirsty, What With the Spiritual Angle and All.)

Six years finished with my doctorate, I have struggled badly to find work. Three of those years I've taught part-time at four different institutions, one more than 60 miles away from my home. The other years I've done a variety of jobs similar to the ones I held in high school.

Now two jobs have popped up on my radar exactly in my field - one seems to have been written right for my stupidly narrow disciplines.

And both schools have lengthy disclaimers about being Christian colleges.

I'm not anything, really. And it's not some super-confrontational thing either. I guess I'd be most likely termed an agnostic. If there were more information available, I could believe just about anything. It seems impossible for any of us to know.

I grew up in a Christian home. I count mostly Jews among my closest friends, or others like me.

I want a job. I really want a job. I want at least a CHANCE of a job.

Are Christian colleges really adamant about this thing? I'm a good person. I'm not going to teach the students anything in my field that would make them doubt their own beliefs. (It's not really a field where any of that ever comes up, actually.)

Q: Do I apply? Do I fudge the truth? Do I ask about it pre-interview (if I'm lucky). Do I get the job and then tell them. Do I get the job and go to a Lutheran church once a week to fake it?


  1. In my experience, they want a statement of faith along with the rest of your application. I guess you *could* fudge a statement of faith, but I'm pretty sure they'd also expect you to go to chapel and stuff. So I guess the question is, how comfortable are you being forced to act religious for the rest of your career?

    1. That's a good point, and the request for a statement of faith always ended up being the deciding point on whether I applied to a particular school. Although I can write a statement of faith (in fact, I've had one, periodically updated for various purposes, since I joined church at the age of 13), I've yet to find a self-identified Christian college which would be happy with my statement of faith, mostly because of the way I read the Bible (see below).

      If they ask for a statement of faith, then the next step is to look for a "what we believe" section or similar on the website, and see whether there's any chance you might fit in. Given your self-description, the answer is most likely that you wouldn't, but there's always the possibility that the trustees (or whoever) insisted on language in the job ad that isn't fully carried out in day to day practice.

      But given the situation (a really good fit otherwise, and a tight job market), it would be worth taking a closer look at the web site (including faculty in departments where you might expect to see some religious diversity if the college accepts religious diversity -- e.g. who teaches in the religion department? Are there chaplains, associations, etc. for students of non-Christian faiths, or even non-Protestant Christian denominations?), and, yes, maybe even a quick question to the department or search chair. Yet another option is to work your network(s) to try to identify somebody who knows somebody who works there, and can give you the inside scoop (whether any of your Jewish friends, or their friends, would/could work there is probably a pretty good barometer of your own likely success/comfort).

    2. I agree with CC on this: look closely at what they expect of you.

      I decided not to apply for a couple of jobs at evangelical schools and but to put in for a couple at Catholic schools (Jesuit, at that) not withstanding that the church I'm not in most Sundays is definitely a Unitarian Universality one.

      Because the Catholics would be happy with my living their doctrine in public (easy enough since the my better half and I finally formalized our arrangement), not undermining their teaching in the classroom (I teach a quantitative laboratory science), and attending the big important masses a few times a year (I could do that standing on my head, and I even like the music).

      The evangelicals wanted a commitment to spreading the word which is not something I'd be comfortable with.

  2. Hmm. . .if they're Lutherans, I wouldn't worry too much. You'll probably be fine. But it would be worth checking out the exact denomination (or synod, in the case of some Lutherans); others may be able to provide more detail, but it's my understanding that the Missouri Synod is the most conservative (e.g. they don't ordain women). Somewhat confusingly given present associations with the word "evangelical," the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the more liberal denomination, in full communion -- meaning they can exchange ministers, including female ones -- with the largest bodies of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. in the U.S. While many mainline Protestant denominations are in flux/conflict over a number of issues (e.g. ordination and/or marriage of GLBT people), ordination of women is still a pretty good barometer of how they read the Bible; basically, at least in this subset of churches, denominations that ordain women are likely to recognize that the Bible is a document that arose in a specific historical context, and that that context needs to be considered in discerning its message for Christians today. There also tends to be a recognition of genre (not everything is read as a literal account of historical events).

  3. I"m one of the super-confrontational ones, so this would be a deal-breaker for me: a statement of faith? Really? How is faith connected to the weaving of hamster fur?

    Anyway, I think the biggest question is not 'can you get the job' but 'is this a job you really want to get'? Not just having to fake faith, but being steeped in a culture where everyone is monocultural and defensive about it might be a turn off for you.

    Or maybe not. What do I know?

  4. In addition to what everyone else has said, pay close attention to the code words in the ads. For example, "social justice" = liberal Catholic or mainline Protestant institution that will probably be fine with people of different faiths or no particular faith at all, as long as you're not actively teaching stuff that goes against the college's religious affiliation. Conversely, if they use terms like "Christ-centered" or "vibrant Christian commitment" they are probably hard-core evangelical, and may not be interested in non-evangelical applicants at all.

  5. Are Christian colleges really adamant about this thing? you ask. But I don't think it's possible to generalize about all Christian colleges because they are a fairly diverse lot. If they ask for a statement of faith or other religious affirmation as part of the application, that answers your question. Personally, I wouldn't lie about that sort of thing. If you do get hired, it could backfire and create unwelcome obligations.

    If there is no specific faith-based requirement listed, and you can't find any documentation of onerous faith-based requirements online, then you might as well apply.

    I know that applying is time-consuming, but if it could result in a job without any onerous faith-based requirements. It may also result in you having to decline the job if some faith-based requirement does emerge during the application or interview process. But there is still a chance of a job at a Christian college without faith-based requirements for faculty. Whereas if you don't apply, there is certainly NO chance of a job.

    So, assuming you find no onerous faith-based requirements, it's just a matter of which you prefer: some chance, or no chance, of getting hired.

  6. One of my earlier part-time gigs asked me to sign a statement of faith.
    They were in dire need of me (semester had started already) and I asked what they meant by 'following biblical teaching' - I gave them an easy example, you know the one where the Bible forbids me from playing Go Fish with may children (the evil of playing cards!!).
    To the credit of the dean, he said, the fact that I could ask that question meant that I had reflected upon my moral life sufficiently that he would hire me, whether I signed the "Declaration of Faith' or not.

    Or they were just desperate for someone to teach the course.

  7. I don't have that much to add except that I went to Catholic elementary, then Episcopal elementary/middle school, Presbyterian SLAC, law school at Catholic university (Georgetown), and grad school at big state R1. Of all of those, Georgetown law and grad school were completely agnostic. The most extreme was the Presbyterian, with a very active and pretty conservative religious community. But even there, lots of faculty and students had no involvement, felt free to be sacrilegious, drank, and generally did what college students and professors do.Free thinking encouraged, except in one philosophy class and my Old Testament class (and even those weren't really that restrictive). You've had great advice above. I notice that when people in my area refer to themselves as Christian, they usually are more on the fundamentalist side. Liberty University refers repeatedly to itself, its students, and the "foundation" it supplies students as "Christian."

  8. Pennsylvania PennyOctober 1, 2016 at 3:22 AM

    I agree with Slaughter that, if the place calls itself "Christian" with no other modifiers, it's most probably at the evangelical/fundamentalist end of the scale and unlikely to be the place for you. And having grown up in the Lutheran church myself, I agree with Cassandra that the only kind you'd really have to worry about is the Missouri Synod kind—but then, the other Lutheran varieties probably wouldn't be asking for a "faith statement" in the first place.

    We went through this same wringer back when my husband was applying for everything that came open in his field, year after year after year. The only jobs he refused to consider were the ones at Biblical-inerrancy-type schools, because we aren't that style of Christians and we doubted we could get away with lying about it for very long. He also stayed away from an otherwise enticing opening at a Latter-Day Saints college, where the faculty were expected to live like Mormons even in their own homes: no alcohol, no caffeine, no tobacco (he smoked the occasional pipe in those days), and no facial hair (he has a lovely beard and mustache). Some things just aren't going to work, no matter how badly you need a job.

  9. Excellent advice above regarding gauging how intrusive they will be in terms of your faith, practice and the required level of evangelical behavior (which would be impossible to fake, I'd think).

    But still, my first reaction was "go for it!!" nonetheless. How crowded is your field? Do you think this might be your only chance at a job for a while? Isn't it easier to get a job if you already have one? You've been looking for six long years. I look at resumes when we hire in my very crowded field. I can promise you that, if it comes to that (if you get the job), someone wanting to leave a Christian college after a year or two is NOT a turn off. We get it! So it's not like you couldn't keep looking. It's not like you aren't looking NOW while you are scrambling for work just to survive at the same time. You've been waiting seven years for a shot at something, anything.

    I was so affected, a while back, by Mirabelle's plight. It seems like she gave up, and I don't blame her. I mourn her loss, though. I really felt it. What a horrible thing, that there are so few opportunities out there.

    Do you think if it comes to that, and you get so defeated by the disgustingly poor treatment and the lack of opportunity that you decide to leave behind the dream of an academic life, you'll wish you had tried this, just to see? I think you should go for it. But of course, that's just me. As Three Sigma said, what do I know?

    1. Six years. Sigh. You've been waiting six years....

  10. If I were writing in 1994 (when I was young and did not know the word adjunct and the phrase assistant vice president, I might give different advice. Sigh...

    As the positions are in your field, apply--and know that nearly every application fudges in some way. You can always decide not to take a position if one is offered.

  11. My dean and another professor that I've seen a few times at parties and what not both taught at the same Christian University (deanie brought him over when HE came over in the '90s) and they vacillate between it being hilariously horrible and serious-as-cancer horrible. But always horrible.

    That's my only experience. I probably wouldn't fit in at a Christian university. My fiance and I have been living in sin for like seven years hahaha.

  12. The job wikis or Chronicle forums might also be helpful if you're having difficulty gauging from the job ad and website.
    Most Catholic universities, even non-Jesuit ones, welcome faculty of any or no faith except maybe in theology/RS departments, and some wouldn't care even in those departments, as long as your qualifications were solid. However, I had a friend not in one of those disciplines who did apply to a Catholic school (why not name it: Seton Hall) and a statement of faith was required AFTER UPLOADING ALL THE DOCS AND FILLING THE WHOLE APPLICATION. Terrible. This was in the past few years. So use all the tools available to you to see which type of college yours is.

  13. I worked at a Catholic college for 3 ish years with the understanding that I was not Catholic, but, as long as I did not shove it in anyone's face, we would all be polite about it.

    I also lived an hour away from the school which meant I was less likely to run into people with my partner. I brought up in the interview that while my extended family was Catholic, I was neither baptized nor confirmed. The president of the school was THRILLED to hire me: his last librarian had been fired for advocating religious positions that the local bishop was... not in favor of. My non-involvement with the whole mess of diocesan politics was actually a selling point. My standing orders were to say, "Hello, Bishop [ ], so nice to see you." and walk away. I worked there very happily until I found a full time job elsewhere.