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01/12/2021

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Tom2

I relate my own experience. I am a Democrat. I regularly contribute to Democratic campaigns, and I have written in support of liberal policies in both my philosophical work and in pieces for a popular audience.

I have also criticized aspects of the contemporary American left (self-described), or what might better be described as "woke culture". In all of my work, which I have published in reputable venues (i.e. not Twitter), I have done my best to be sober and well-informed.

I have been warned by several people--including my letter writers and members of departments where I was applying--that these "anti-woke writings" could hurt my chances at a job. I am sure that they have. I say this in part because I have also had the experience of having a search committee member tell me, after an on-campus interview, that the reason I did not get the job was one of these writings.

In the end it comes down to what is important to you. I myself do not take solace in thoughts like, "Do you really want to work with people who will discriminate against you?" I need a job. But at the end of the day, for me, it is more important that I speak honestly about these issues than that I have a TT job. I continue to write.

Fav

Struggling to see any real downside in *not* wading into the political issues du jour. Marcus mentions two drawbacks but I'd like to hear how either ends up materializing. Should we expect that search committee members are checking to see if an otherwise attractive candidate has failed to sign one or another open letter?

Outsider

Let me give my perspective. I am not an American, but I lived and worked in the USA for a number of years. I found American manners around politically "hot" topics generally very bad. They were often quite aggressive, and there was a lot of baiting. It felt like an American Thanksgiving with extended family. As I said, this was quite foreign to me. I did not like it. So, I think it is reasonable to go to a workplace and not have to listen to others' opinions on such matters, and not be pressured to divulge your own. So, to answer the post, I think one should feel free to hold back during interviews.
In fact, I witnessed a real ass in my department trolling around the internet looking for dirt on job applicants.

anon

The woke’s power within the profession increases every year. Most view quasi-illiberal mechanisms (e.g., weighing a candidate’s politics in hiring decisions) as good and just. Most view quasi-indoctrination (e.g., increasing students’ wokeness is a major point of the course) as good and just. Read Berkeley’s diversity statement scoring rubric. Berkeley may be an outlier as an institution, but there’s a good chance that hiring committees include at least one person trying to make their department’s hiring process more like Berkeley’s. They’re the person saying stuff like “my role here is to make sure we take diversity statements seriously.” Even if there’s only one of them on the committee, there’s no counterbalancing force (at most secular institutions). So, should you leave your social media as is and write your diversity statement honestly? That’s your call, but if you want to maximize your chance of being hired, you’ll need to project wokeness (including regarding what you did during the protests this summer). You’ll need it for the woke member’s vote and the other members probably won’t weigh it. Would the woke committee member search for job candidate’s names in the signatories of the anti-Stock and anti-anti-Stock letters? Maybe, but more troubling, they’d probably see doing so as good and just. Many would probably openly say such on Daily Nous. In fact, Justin should post an anonymous poll with several such items and see how many get significant support.

OP Here

OP here: thanks for all your thoughts!

One thing I find interesting: while I see frustrations about the job market on the side of those who think it's too 'woke', I actually bring frustrations from the other side. My politics can probably be characterized as super-lefty, but I still find conversations with academic philosophers about politics to be almost uniformly unpleasant, unhelpful, and unproductive.

I totally get that it's impossible to please everyone, and I guess my strategy would just be to do what feels right, natural, and authentic. Perhaps I'm just surprised at the level of vitriol I see being tossed around and wish it didn't seem so unavoidable.

I guess one last question to toss out: do you all think that most philosophers are actually (professionally) apolitical? That perhaps, when I see so much polarization, that is only because those who are quite political are also quite vocal about it?

Thanks again!

Fate

If someone in an interview asks you a baiting question designed to suss out your wokeness, your fate is already sealed.

(a) If you hold whatever the fashionable woke view is, you'll easily and naturally answer the question in an approved way (probably without noticing the whole ordeal).

(b) If you don't hold that view and try to fake it, you're almost certainly not going to know the must up-to-date argot, and you'll quickly be recognized as an outsider trying to fake it (or, at best, as a less-than-devout true believer out of their comfort zone).

(c) If you don't hold that view and simply say you'd rather not talk politics, they will automatically assume you hold the opposite views of what they want to hear.

Fate

Btw, that above goes whether you're talking about woke left activists or the hiring committee of a serious religious institution.

If people have an ideological test for you, they'll find a way to administer it, and your odds of faking your way through it are close to zero.

A Conservative in Philosophy

"Do you really want to work with people who will discriminate against you?"

Bad question. Better question: Would you rather have a job and have your colleagues discriminate against you than have no job at all?

That's the real choice we conservatives face. Every conservative in philosophy (and probably academia more generally) knows that having a job where at least some of your colleagues don't hate you for your political views is not a real possibility. If you've made it this far (the job market) in philosophy, you're prepared to be hated by some of your colleagues.

So the answer to "Do you really want to work with colleagues who will discriminate against you?" is "Yes, definitely. Need job. Need food. Need to feed children."

TT faculty

I tend to think the most prudent thing (from a narrowly careerist perspective) for most job-seekers is to avoid statements on political matters of charged controversy in the discipline. I suspect anon overestimates both the number and zealotry of 'woke members' on search committees; most committees for most positions will not have someone who actively favors those who have expressed public stances on issues at stake in the 'woke wars'. I doubt, in particular, that the prospective opportunity cost of failing to gain the 'woke member's' favor outweighs the prospect . There is, for better or worse, likely a 'silent-majority' on the non-woke side of these issues. (Conversely, however, many committees may have someone 'woke' enough to hold at least some 'anti-woke' public sentiments against a candidate; so again, (prudentially) best to avoid controversial views on that side as well)

The exception to this would be candidates mainly pursuing positions where committees are likely to have more, more zealous, or more powerful 'woke members' - my (educated) guess would be that this would include, only, some jobs explicitly advertised in terms of philosophy about or by members of particular identity groups. I doubt it is true, yet, of the general ethics, political philosophy, or applied ethics markets, given that the fields are still numerically dominated by gen-x and boomer liberals.

None of this is anything more than a relatively weak prima facie argument against public political engagement. I would suggest, though, that job-seekers consider carefully whether they have reasons or obligations to sacrifice important, life-long interests in pursuing their vocation, in order to participate publicly on these particular political issues, in these particular ways and in at this particular moment. You may find that, on reflection, you are not required to make this sacrifice in order to make this particular (probably small and uncertain) sort of contribution to the cause of as the case may be-) liberty or equality.

Marcus Arvan

Sorry for comments going up late and out of order from when they were submitted. There's some strangeness going on with Typepad today. I'd encourage readers to go back through the thread to see if there are any relevant comments that you might have missed.

Fate

Re: "A Conservative in Philosophy": I think you're underestimating the weight of "discriminate". I take it that when Marcus asks whether you really want to be with colleagues who discriminate against you, the "discriminate" is often material --- e.g., after 5 yrs on the tenure clock, they literally will *discriminate* against you and not give you tenure in no small part because of your beliefs/writing/etc.

In that case, you may have bought yourself 5 years of income, but now you're older and less able to make a career shift, and so you find yourself in a worse position than if you had just left philosophy the first time around.

There are other ways this can go, too; e.g., once you have the job, you find it so miserable (due to the discriminating and lack of fit) that you experience clinical depression, possibly bad enough to keep you from being productive.

The "discriminate" dilemma isn't just about having your feelings hurt or having people not like you. It involves real material costs you have to weigh against the short-term gain of having employment for a few years.

I'm not sure what stage you're at, but to all those desperate recent PhDs out there looking for their first job: Know that it's a transformative experience. Know that on the one side it might look like any philosophy job is better than no job, but on the other side, when you have that job, you might find yourself genuinely wishing you had just gone and worked at Starbucks (or whatever).

... obviously this won't be everything, but it's some people (including me).

Karl

A related question: does it pay to sign petitions and such that I have no interest in just to impress search committees? Figure out where more senior people are signing, and sign there too?

No, Karl!!!

Karl! Don't go down that road!

NO NO Karl

No Karl! I repeat what "No, Karl!!!" says. Do not go there.
Next you will be wearing heavy make up because you heard someone somewhere likes that in a candidate. Then you will be eating french fries with hot mustard, because some accomplished philosopher with a lot of influence likes that. Then you will wear your trousers rolled, because some famous person did that.
Look where you will be: trousers rolled, heavy make up, fries with mustard, and signing petitions you do not believe in. Is that a life!?

Sam Duncan

I never had a search committee directly ask me about my political views. And the only time I even got the feeling that committees were trying to suss out my political views were in interviews at two pretty orthodox Catholic schools where I got the impression they definitely wanted candidates who'd take the Church's line on the big issues. I haven't been on a search committee myself but one point I'd make is that from I can tell from the outside looking in search committees are all about consensus, which might be a good reason to avoid saying too much about controversial issues online or elsewhere if you can help it (and really how much do you lose of any real value in life by not mouthing off in print about every single issue that comes down the pike?) At one of the schools I worked at it was widely known that the fact that the "woker than thou" member of the search committee loved a candidate was a mark against that candidate for the other members (some of whom disagreed with that persons politics and some of whom just didn't like that person's general abrasiveness). You probably need at least one person on a committee to love you to get a job but at the same time you will never get a job where any member of the committee hates you, though you may get a soul crushing interview where the person who hates you beats up on you for a bit. Also, I've never worked in any department where there was complete ideological uniformity and I'm betting most philosophers would say the same. It's undeniable that the average member of a philosophy department tends to be to the left of the public as a whole and there is more tolerance for extreme left wing views than extreme right wing views, but in every department I've worked in there has been a range in the faculty's views from Sanders style social democrats to center-right McCain and Romney style Republicans. Some have had more ideological diversity than that. Nozickian hardcore libertarians are hardly an endangered species in philosophy after all. The idea that departments are monolithically far left doesn't have much basis in reality. That's especially true when you consider the teaching focused departments at less elite schools, which are honestly where most of the jobs are.

Recently Served on a Search Committee

What TT faculty and Sam Duncan say strikes me as exactly right. I think it's really easy to overestimate the ideological uniformity of philosophers, especially for people who spend a lot of time on twitter/facebook. I think the recent "open letter concerning academic freedom" is instructive in that respect.

Also, because of this, I think OP is right to think being "woke" can be a liability, just as much as being anti-woke can.

Dice

I second what Fate on "01/12/2021 at 05:23 PM" said (and what they said a little earlier too). The severity of the discrimination will certainly make some jobs worse than no job.
I'd also like to point out: if you think you can safely keep a politically "silent neutral" façade consistently and you're just worried how others would respond to that, you already have it better than many others. Sure, some people will still judge your silence, whether fairly or unfairly. But silent neutrality isn't an option for a lot of us. Our very presence makes a political statement whether we like it or not (& whether we actually believe in it or not). Our only options are: keep quiet and letting people assume a position we actually hold, or go out of our way to present another position. Hopefully thinking of your competitors in this boat will help ease the anxiety :)

unknown

Whether you should be silent on political issues depends on your situation. Universities are well-known for being overwhelmingly liberal and the woke crowd has firmly planted itself into many philosophy departments (this is probably even worse in Europe). I'd say that if you were a hardcore conservative or libertarian or god forbid a trump supporter, then you should probably attenuate your position or try to be more moderate at least, but if you wanted to play it safe you should simply keep your views secret. No one wants to hire a racist after all. We simply don't live in a time of free and open discussion but one where disliked views are heavily censored, and those who hold them condemned rather than simply disagreed with.

Jonathan Ichikawa

It depends a lot on the details.

People sometimes don't believe this because the exceptions are more visible, but "broadly liberal but concerned about the excesses about the woke Left" is by far the dominant political orientation among philosophy professors.

Search committees will vary a lot, of course, but they certainly shouldn't ask candidates about their politics, and none of the three search committees I've been on has done so. If you have very conspicuous political stances that will turn up on your website or your first four or five google search results, people will probably notice. Within reason they shouldn't let it affect their judgments, but humans are obviously quite susceptible to that kind of thing.

If you look like you might be sufficiently active about your politics such that it could be a nuisance to less political colleagues who'd rather ignore it, I'd be upset but not shocked if this ended up working to your disadvantage. (I don't mean you signed an open letter or have a photo at a BLM rally, I mean you led the unionization of your university's grad students, or you organized a sit-in at the President's office.)

If you just have evidence that you have political opinions, and they're broadly within the academic mainstream — your politics fall somewhere between Mitt Romney and Bernie Sanders, say — I think it's unlikely that this would affect your luck on the job market in any predictable way. (By which I mean, such evidence would be about equally likely to help a bit as to hurt a bit, depending on who happens to be looking.)

For more extreme stances the situation is different of course. If the search committee is watching video of you storming the Capitol in a viking costume, I shouldn't be surprised if that's to your disadvantage on the job market.

A Viking

JI
That was not a Viking costume. I keep hearing that description. It is a "native American" or First Nations costume. Get your costumes straight.

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