Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What Not to Put on your "Faculty Appointment Registry" Form

Law teaching candidates who register with the Association of American Law Schools fill out a one-page resume (known by its acronym, "FAR"), that includes the option of indicating restrictions on "Geographic Locations" that the candidate will consider.  A colleague elsewhere calls to my attention this rather ill-considered listing by one candidate, who "listed that he would only accept employment in 'Blue States, Florida, and Virginia' and would not accept a position in 'Other red states.'"  I would think this a rather ill-advised thing to have included in the FAR for a variety of reasons:

First, it simply makes no sense:  the candidate singles out two "red" states that are acceptable, suggesting that his political concerns (about which more in a moment) can be trumped by other considerations that are not political.  (After all, why not mention Missouri, far more likely to go "blue" than, say, Virginia?)  But what are those considerations?  It's mysterious.  Moreover, if there are considerations that trump politics (as there must be given the inclusion of Florida and Virginia), then why rule out entire states which may include locales that meet the other considerations?  To take an example close to home (well, an example that is home!), if you teach at the University of Texas School of Law, you teach and live in Austin, which went "blue" (56% to 42%) by a margin few blue states match.  Examples like this could be multiplied (and also in reverse, since there are schools in very conservative locations in "blue" states).

Second, since the restrictions the candidate lists make no discernible sense, they serve only one purpose:  to advertise in a fairly crude way that the candidate really hates Republicans.  Since many law schools in blue states will have hiring chairs or members of hiring committees who are Republicans, or who, in any case, don't hate Republicans, or who may themselves hate Republicans but don't want to hire faculty who are so consumed with their hatred of Republicans that they feel the need to advertise it on their professional resume, the main effect of this listing will be to cost the candidate interviews and opportunities.

So some words of advice to teaching candidates:  if you have real geographic restrictions for personal, family, or health reasons, mention them; otherwise conduct a national search, and leave it to later in the process (e.g., when you receive convention interviews, or have fly-back offers) to decide, "Living in that place is not for me."  But don't use the FAR form to grind political axes.  You can always create a blog for that purpose!

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I serve on my school's hiring committee this year and have just completed my review of the first distribution of forms (approx. 650). On a lighter note, I suggest that a candidate who wants to note undergraduate honors should correctly spell "Phi Beta Kappa" or omit the reference entirely (general comment -- proofread your form very carefully for typos). On a more serious note, I suggest that a candidate seriously consider what courses to list under "teaching interests." A candidate that lists contracts, business associations, and evidence probably is more attractive than a candidate that lists jurisprudence, sports law, and international human rights. Nothing against those last three courses mentioned, but schools -- often on a tight budget -- will focus on filling core needs before turning to attractive electives.

Posted by: tim | Aug 24, 2005 8:18:55 PM

You write:

"Since many law schools in blue states will have hiring chairs or members of hiring committees who are Republicans, or who, in any case, don't hate Republicans, or who may themselves hate Republicans but don't want to hire faculty who are so consumed with their hatred of Republicans that they feel the need to advertise it on their professional resume, the main effect of this listing will be to cost the candidate interviews and opportunities."

I'm not certain that's the case. It is very likely that the outposts of academia that reward one's crudely expressed hatred of Republicans far outnumber those that penalize it.

Posted by: Keith L. | Aug 25, 2005 1:17:02 PM

While I am not "certain" either that my assessment is correct, I have seen no evidence--from many years of doing hiring here, and many years of helping place UT grads in law teaching jobs--that would support Keith L's supposition about what "is very likely." If anyone has evidence, it would be interesting to learn of it. (Note: that the academy is more heavily Democratic than the population at large is not evidence, for reasons that have been discussed at length on other occasions--but more to the point here, what we need evidence for is the proposition that flaunting your hatred of Republican actually helps a candidate. One can not infer that from the fact that someone is a Democrat.)

Posted by: BL | Aug 25, 2005 1:27:59 PM

You don't have to agree that "many" law schools will have Republicans on their committees, because at least "some" will, and it's often the case that a single vote on a committee will kill you. Unless it's necessary (like your current job is general counsel of NARAL or the NRA), avoid putting anything on a FAR form that's likely to tick off ANYBODY on a committee.

Signals on a resume that show Republican leanings are certainly more dangerous to a candidate than those that show Democratic leanings. But they're both dangerous. Avoid them at the FAR form stage, when people are doing the grossest kind of sorting.

Some people say that they wouldn't want to go to work at a place where their politics would get them knocked out. But remember that the way committees work at many schools is that, as noted, it may only take one bigot (who may not even have to state a reason) to knock you out at the early stage. And I suspect that every school has at least one or two. There might be 49 other people on the faculty who'd love you. It's time enough find out about how narrow-minded the faculty is when you actually go and visit them.

Posted by: Frank Snyder | Aug 25, 2005 3:25:02 PM

While there are no doubt some law schools in which one committee member can kill a candidate without giving reasons, one may hope those schools are few and far between (they should probably be closed!). I've addressed some of these issues previously about the hiring process and political bias here:

Posted by: BL | Aug 25, 2005 3:39:21 PM

From the referenced comments:

"It's true that, very very early in the process, someone can give a AALS resume a low mark without much explanation, and that may end things."

Maybe I'm confused, but I'm pretty sure that's what I said.

"If my colleague Professor Politically Correct wants to throw a resume on the trash heap, while my colleague Professor Free Market Utopian thinks the resume has come straight from Posnerian Heaven, then there is going to be a discussion, and arguments will have to be made."

Sure. The ones that people feel very strongly about will get discussed. The Scalia clerk who was first in his class and whom Posner says is the smartest student he ever taught is going to get discussed. But your basic Texas (or Northwestern/USC/Vanderbilt/NYU) Law Review guy, with a federal district clerkship, couple of years a big New York firm, one decent piece in a mid-level review written while practicing, with references from the 80% of the school's faculty you haven't heard of -- there are hundreds of those in the pool, with minor variations. That's the group that three quarters of the law schools will be interviewing. Small things make the difference between getting called and not getting called.

"[At Texas we start by] usually identifying 15-20 straight off that we have to interview, and another 30-40 whose work we need to read, whose references we need to contact."

Most schools have to go much farther down the lists than that. If you're reading this blog, realize that if you're the sort of candidate who needs to read advice about getting hired off a blog, odds are you're NOT going to get interviewed at UT-Austin.

"conservative activists and ideologues often wear these credentials on their sleeves . . . conservatives in law tend to have certain 'markers' that makes it rather too easy to spot the 'true believers.'"

And those on the left have ACLU, NOW, NARAL, Amnesty International, Open Society, Lambda Legal Fund . . . . There are indicators of activists and ideologues on both sides. On the off chance a candidate gets a right-wing bigot instead of a left-wing bigot on his or her committee, those things may work against a candidate, too. That's why I advise staying away from them on your FAR form unless it's really important to you.

Posted by: Frank Snyder | Aug 25, 2005 8:44:33 PM

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