What “Recruiting” Means Today

Tenure-track faculty openings attract scores of applicants. Sometimes the decision makers look for the most competent individuals. Often, however, colleges “recruit” faculty members on the basis of ideological considerations that have nothing to do with true professional standards.

This first became obvious to me many decades ago when I was interviewed for an associate professorship at the University of Rochester in European history. In a conversation with a professor in early modern European studies, I was told that he had voted against someone who had been interviewed the week before because it was rumored the applicant was a republican.

At the time, I thought to myself that this speaker would go bonkers if he knew how far to the right I was. Then my interlocutor dropped this fateful line: “After all we’re only trying to recruit.”

As someone who for decades listened to academic administrations and faculties stress the virtues of “recruiting,“ I have tried to get to the bottom of this illusive term. Unfortunately, academic “recruiting” has become so ideologically loaded that a straight meaning of the word no longer applies.

This is what I used to think the term meant: If a department needs a faculty member to teach a legitimate academic discipline, then it proceeds to hire a suitable applicant. One might also assume that the teacher or scholar who gets the nod would carry out his assignments with the requisite knowledge and behave professionally.

I understand that there are sound reasons for having certain preferences. A traditional religious institution, for example, might not want to hire a loud-mouthed atheist who was devoted to overturning the established theological consensus.

Furthermore, there may be grounds beyond instructional skills that particular educational institutions might consider in hiring faculty, such as sharing a certain religious persuasion seen as suitable for teaching at a strictly denominational school. I readily concede the right of religious institutions to do so. This should be seen as an exercise of liberty and as a means of promoting true diversity in higher education, by providing prospective students with choices among schools.

“Recruitment,” however, has come to mean something entirely different. It involves making sure that all faculties everywhere are ideological clones of each other. Every faculty must have a fair share of lifestyle radicals and advocates for approved racial minorities, who are presented in the classroom as oppressed victims. This is not an attempt to introduce diversity, but an effort to make all institutions look the same and to insure that they are equally intolerant of dissent.

I have heard colleagues (and even more insistently, administrators) complain that their faculty looks “too white-bread” or “too sexist.” This means that the school does not pass muster as a politically correct institution; and unless decisive steps are taken to address this moral deficiency, a college accreditation agency will likely protest. Indeed this agency might gripe that the school is not “sufficiently diverse.” That gives rise to the claimed need for “recruitment.”

Usually, this means far more than hiring one additional woman or an “underrepresented” minority member. “Recruiting” also refers to advancing a cultural transformation, which goes well beyond arithmetic changes in gender or ethnic composition.

There were several faculty and administrators at Elizabethtown College, where I taught, who were thought to be lesbians, but who didn’t count as “diverse,” because they didn’t discuss their sexual orientation openly. (One was even rumored to be a republican.) 

In fact, someone doesn’t have to be a practicing lesbian or homosexual to be “recruited” as such. That person may have an ascribed identity, just as Elizabeth Warren created for herself a Native American identity which helped her land employment as a law professor. Warren’s assumed and possibly fictitious identity undoubtedly did wonders for her career after her graduation from a less than top-tier law school, Rutgers. In the recruiting game, realities can be reconstructed around the appropriate invented association, providing the candidate has the right politics.

One has to distinguish here between technical minorities and what faculty and administrators are after when they “recruit” “real” minorities. On the basis of that distinction, religiously conservative Africans I once taught wouldn’t be considered “black” and a lesbian woman who keeps her sexual orientation private and expresses traditional social views wouldn’t count in the recruitment calculus. All identity is determined in the new order by ideological suitability.

A colleague once told me that we “need real Jewish faculty,” presumably the kind of professional victims who might blame white Christian males for the Holocaust. Although I come from a Jewish family, only some of whose members were lucky enough to escape Nazi persecution, I didn’t qualify as “authentic” because I didn’t express the desired attitudes. Thus, I had not been “recruited,” as opposed to being allowed to teach at the institution.

All of these observations were confirmed for me when I served on a committee that was intended to consider authorized additions to the faculty.

In none of the cases was the candidate who gained the approval of the committee welcome to the administration. In at least one of these cases the provost, a zealous feminist, made her preference abundantly clear. We were supposed to hire someone like herself. That is what the hiring process was about.

The person we were meant to hire was a lady who was actively engaged in battling discrimination and who was, moreover, committed to changing the socio-economic structure. The appointment of such a person, I discovered, was the purpose of our recruitment. 

The young Ph.D. we finally hired instead, after quite a battle with the administration, proved to be a highly competent addition to the faculty—immensely popular with students in addition to being well informed in his field of study. I can’t imagine that the alternative that was shoved in our faces would have been even remotely as well-qualified. In this instance, the failure to “recruit” turned out well for the school and its students.

As a troublesome member of that committee, whose liberalism stops somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century, I made it clear that if the administration did not like what committee members did as an expression of professionalism, then they should have been willing to state that the appointment was about establishing ideological homogeneity. Our superiors shouldn’t have been hiding behind feigned concern about professional standards.

That may be a useful point to make in such situations.  

Unfortunately, younger faculty members tend to go along with the process, because of their own vulnerability and particularly owing to their fear of reprisal from above. This is a dangerous habit of submissiveness, and I have found in forty years of teaching at various colleges, that those who begin their academic careers by crawling, end their professional lives the same way. Sheeple don’t change their behavior on the day they receive tenure.