CultureHigher Education

God and Dan at BYU: (Discriminatingly) On the Market III

Dan refuses to honor Brigham Young University with his application for a position because of its required policy for faculty to be hostile to non-monogamous, non-heterosexual life choices. How ineffectual!  Here’s what he should do instead. Apply to BYU.  Get himself interviewed.  Wow the entire faculty and get the job offer.  Turn it down.  (Do you know how expensive and how much work it is to conduct a job search, have it fail, and then be forced to do it all over again?  Bigotry ought to impose costs!)  Or…  Accept the job and then through the force of his magnetic personality and being the exemplary role model that he is, change from within the culture of BYU.  Nay, change the entirety of the Mormon Church to be open and embracing of all peoples!

Well seriously, Dan is right.  A job that forces you into renouncing or hiding who you really are as a requirement to get a paycheck, is not one you should apply for.  You’ll not change the culture.  You’ll have one foot out the door the moment you arrive.  And worst of all, you’ll just get more bitter and unhappy the longer it takes you to get your other foot out of there.

But there is an interesting follow-up question.  How contrary must the organization be to your principles, before you won’t even consider a job there?  An example would be any number of Catholic universities and colleges.  For many, you don’t have to be a Catholic (or even believe in God) and you don’t have to sign a loyalty oath or swear allegiance to the Pope.  But you may find it difficult to speak publically against church doctrine or be the next Richard Dawkins.  And if you strongly disagree on matters such a woman’s control over her own reproduction, are you enabling the opposition by working for such an institution?  Is an implicit show of ‘support’ for disagreeable policies (rather than BYU’s explicit requirements), enough to keep you out of those job pools?  Different people will very well come to different decisions.

The one thing I most strongly advise, however, is do not write off any potential jobs because of their geographic location.  A very personal anecdote here.  I almost did not apply to UCLA, because: (1) I’d never been to LA and all I’d ever heard or seen about Los Angeles was awful and ecologically devastated; and (2) I had just come from a horrid interview at one of the less well-known UC campuses.  I expected, therefore, that UCLA faculty would be even more self-involved and condescending!  Because I never expected to be interviewed, I still applied – for really no other reason than to get a letter of rejection with the UCLA logo!

To my great surprise, I was invited for an interview.  To my greater surprise, the faculty were fantastic, incredibly nice and warm, and they liked me enough to offer the position.  And finally, to my greatest surprise, I grew quickly to love LA and the surrounding regions.  I have become a lifer!  My wife is an LA lifer!  And my kids are probably, too.  It really is one of the 10 great places to live in the universe.

I’m sure everyone has preconceived notions about places where they think they could never be happy in a million years.  Take my birth state of Kentucky, which to listen to the news these days, seems like THE bastion of conservative, bible-thumping homophobia.  But take it from me.  Kentucky also has liberals, atheists, feminists, gays, Jews, etc…  The communities may be smaller than you would wish for, but they are there.  If nothing else, you can form a nice company of a drinking fellowship as the statewide elections produce another depressing result.

And think about it this way.  At UCLA, a liberal, atheist, feminist, gay, Jewish professor is basically – just another one.  In Kentucky, as a professor in any one of those categories you can be THE role model to whole generations of students who come to university having never met anyone like you (and probably having been told by parents and churches that such people are not trustworthy, moral or even decent human beings).  My Kentucky colleague, Jim Krupa, probably converts more creationist students to science in one semester than I have encountered in an entire UCLA career.

So don’t write off places because you’ve heard they are awful.  At least check them out for yourself.  Maybe Kentucky is just too ‘red’ for your lifestyle.  Or Southern California is too blue.  Know what you can and cannot tolerate.  Again from a very personal perspective; the one place I interviewed for job that I probably would have refused had it been offered was – surprise, surprise – Hawaii.  Yes, it is incredibly beautiful, but it was also a very long and expensive plane ride away from everyone in my family and, in reality, everyone on the planet that I knew.  It was also physically isolated from all my colleagues in my scientific field (who knew in those days what the internet would become).  It was also obvious that on a professor’s salary I would never own a house and, at best, would only be able to afford rent on small apartments.  And finally, the straw that broke this applicant’s back was talking to other faculty that had come from the mainland.  I, and probably any kids I might ever be able to afford to have, would always be “Haole”.  Outsiders and never accepted as real Hawaiians.  Now I cannot say that the last is true, but it was told to me by several faculty at Hawaii who were not happy people (foot-out-the-door types).  Perhaps some Hawaiian readers will disabuse me of my erroneous beliefs, but it was my life, my stress, and my decision – and fortunately the university was smart enough to offer someone else the job!

In the end, applying or not for a particular position is one decision you make that allows you to sleep at night.  Accepting or declining an actual job offer is one you have to be ready to live with.  Or at least be willing try!

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Peter Nonacs

Peter Nonacs

Professor of behavioral and evolutionary ecology at UCLA. I study the evolution of social behavior and cooperation, and anything that ants may do. And occasionally people, too.

1 Comment

  1. September 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm —

    You asked: “How contrary must the organization be to your principles, before you won’t even consider a job there?”

    I think part of the answer comes down to the phrase you used a the end — what “allows you to sleep at night.” But that might also include any number of particular issues, such as whether the moral stance of the institution allows you the health insurance that you need or meets any professional codes of ethics or standards required in your area of expertise. For instance, I once worked at one of the Catholic universities where the insurance plan refused to cover contraception, sterilization, or in vitro fertilization. Someone dealing with infertility might have had real qualms with that, although the restrictions on the health plan weren’t disclosed until after hiring. On an interesting note, the school changed the policy within a couple years after I left. One of the health plans available to faculty (not sure about the plans available to mere proles) paid for some forms of contraception — in part because of problems recruiting faculty.) As another example — I’m not sure the average law professor, no matter how desperate, would apply at a school where you’d have to affirm the precedence of biblical law over the Constitution.

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