So while scanning the list of Academics for Ron Paul, I noticed that one of the signers had interviewed and been rejected for a job at my university several years ago. Given the recent squabbles here about liberal bias in academia, the story of that job search seemed like an interesting supplement to David Maranto’s anecdote about being rejected from a job once (or so he believes) because he professed his allegiance to the Republican Party. Obviously, I won’t divulge any specific details here, but the candidate in question came very close to actually receiving the position in spite of some gross flaws that had nothing to do with his/her political views.
Like most state schools these days, my university operates within conditions of great material scarcity (at least where faculty and staff are concerned; our administrative expenses, by contrast, are scandalously bloated). As a result, this particular position needed to be filled quickly so that students in several different programs would not be delayed in their progress toward graduation. We needed someone who could teach virtually all the courses within his or her discipline, who could be counted on to do his/her share of university service, and who would be able to publish some articles or a book before going up for tenure. After our dream candidate withdrew to accept an offer at another university — something that happens with nearly every job search here — we were left with several backups who appeared acceptable on paper. Campus interviews proved those appearances wrong, as one candidate after another delivered miserable job talks or teaching demos, until we were left with the future Ron Paul supporter.
Long story short: S/he interviewed capably and gave a teaching demo that was well received by comparison with the efforts of previous candidates. In the end, though, the committee rejected her/him because in every “non-performance” situation — that is, during causal conversations, meals, drives about town, and so on — this person indicated that s/he probably would not be an acceptable colleague, mostly because the candidate seemed interested in nothing beyond his/her own research and its arcane theoretical underpinnings. Again, for discretion’s sake I’ll spare the details, but I’ll simply note that political views never came anywhere near the surface of conversation, because we were too busy trying to have conversations about the job itself.
And therein rests my beef with most of the complaints about “liberal bias” in higher education. To read the standard accounts, one would assume that American universities are institutions of vast material privilege, where employees actually have time to hatch deliberate, exclusionary plots or fulfill unacknowledged fantasies of an ideologically pure faculty. They’re not. I’d venture that most departments are happy to find colleagues who can share the burden and won’t turn out to be complete jagoffs. In our case, we rejected the candidate because we’re a small, resource-starved, teaching-centered campus with overworked faculty who serve a diverse student body, many of whom are first-generation college students from rural areas of a remote state. And while it would certainly have been in our short-term interest to hire someone — anyone — who could fill an empty spot in the classroom, we couldn’t risk hiring someone who showed little understanding of what it meant to be a good “university citizen.” Sure, we could have added a Republican to our faculty, but really — outside of every other consideration, what good would that have done?