Job Seeker: Questions About Church Affilated Schools
September 19, 2011 — 12:54

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Uncategorized  Tags:   Comments: 10

A job seeker writes:

Though I am a participating member of a faith tradition, I had never considered the possibility of working at a denominational school. I didn’t attend a denominational college or university and, historical affiliations aside, I’ve never even visited the campus of one. Given the tight job market I’ve started wondering about the option of landing at such an institution. I was wondering if your readers could help answer some questions about these institutions?

  • Is it common from church affiliated schools to hire individuals from other denominations?
  • What’s the climate like for research and teaching? e.g. Is there protection for academic freedom?
  • Does tenure offer genuine protection? (It seems like I’ve heard stories of people being driven out.)
  • How does the campus climate compare to secular counterparts? (Are small Christian Colleges like other SLACs?)

I’m sure the answers come in a range, but since I’m operating in the dark and replies would be welcome.

Signed comments would be preferred.

Comments:
  • I don’t have personal experience with this job market, but I would urge you to investigate “forms of subscription” or anything else you might have to sign, committing yourself to their beliefs. I have also heard stories of people being driven out — I wrote about one recently, in fact. I think the real answer here is probably: it depends upon the denomination. Some faith traditions are more receptive to the idea of “academic freedom” than others, to put it politely.

    September 19, 2011 — 13:14
  • anonymous1

    I attended a college with a strong religious identity (Baptist officially, but in practice evangelical) as an undergrad, and later taught there as an instructor. Here is my experience.
    *Is it common from church affiliated schools to hire individuals from other denominations?
    Yes, to an extent. The Baptist college I taught at had a variety of Protestant denominations represented (slightly stricter considerations for Bible/Theology department). There were a few Catholics who taught. While I was there, a Greek Orthodox applicant was blocked by an administrator (since departed). So there is a sliding scale, I would say, with local issues playing a large role. If you are short-listed, it may be worth contacting a member of the department to find out what the local landmines are. For instance, if there is a Statement of Faith or Lifestyle Expectations, which issues are currently problemmatic for faculty?
    *What’s the climate like for research and teaching? e.g. Is there protection for academic freedom? Does tenure offer genuine protection? (It seems like I’ve heard stories of people being driven out.)
    There is some protection, but it is not true tenure at most places. My college had a five year review even for Full Professors. Many people were wary of discussing hot topic issues in evangelicalism (homosexuality, say) by stating their own beliefs, but it is not difficult to be suggestive with a little creativity.
    People can and do get driven out at colleges, particularly ones with strong evangelical commitments. There is some navigation that takes place. One’s willingness to perform such navigation is a good indicator of whether you would fit at a school with a strong religious identity. (Of course, many schools with a denominational affiliation are not particularly interested in whether their faculty ascribe to any particular set of beliefs.)
    *How does the campus climate compare to secular counterparts? (Are small Christian Colleges like other SLACs?)
    Mostly, they are very similar, with the exception of certain overt displays of religiousity by students and in fundraising. Things like Chapel attendance may be required or expected. You will occasionally have students who complain that course materials are not sufficiently “Christian.” (I received this comment in a course review from a student who complained we spent too much time in our Ethics class on utilitarianism.) But students are students, good teachers take an interest in their students, and it can be a wonderful experience engaging students with a somewhat homogenous background to understand the diveristy of the world and explore their own thinking critically.

    September 19, 2011 — 13:48
  • Kevin

    I’ve taught at two religious-affiliated universities, but have also interviewed at a number of others. The simple truth is: they vary widely.
    (1) Is it common from church affiliated schools to hire individuals from other denominations?
    For some, yes. At my first university, the fact that I was a theist was actually a negative to many people in my department (despite the religious heritage of the university). The administration didn’t seem to care whether or not I was religious, much less what denomination I affiliated with, so long as I was respectful of their tradition. My current school requires one to be a Christian, but ‘officially’ there is no denominational requirement for any faculty other than those in the theology department. As a matter of actual fact, however, there is a strong preference for denominational loyalty. And I’ve interviewed at other universities which officially require denominational loyalty as a condition of employment.
    (2) What’s the climate like for research and teaching? e.g. Is there protection for academic freedom?
    Again, it’s pretty varied. The exact answer will, to a large degree, depend upon a particular school’s position with respect to (3) below.
    (3) Does tenure offer genuine protection? (It seems like I’ve heard stories of people being driven out.)
    My previous university had genuine tenure and the academic freedom that protects (so long as one can affirm the mission of the university, which was taken in a pretty loose sense). My current university doesn’t have tenure, despite their saying they do. They have 5-year rolling contracts which offer more protection than year-to-year reappointment, but one would be wrong to thing that not having genuine tenure doesn’t impact the freedom that faculty feel.
    (4) How does the campus climate compare to secular counterparts? (Are small Christian Colleges like other SLACs?)
    I don’t think I have much to say on this one beyond what anonymous1 already said. I hope that the original inquirer, or others, feel free to pose follow-up questions if they have them.

    September 19, 2011 — 15:57
  • Hello,
    While I don’t know much about your situation, perhaps I can offer some useful information. I teach at an SLAC that has historical affiliations with a rather large Christian denomination. However, the denomination doesn’t exercise administrative authority over the college, the two merely recognize their historical relationship.
    At this school it is common for the school to hire individuals who aren’t affiliated with the denomination, or any denomination for that matter, but that is because the school is not governed by the denomination.
    At this college the climate for research and teaching is very collegial. The college doesn’t attempt to stifle discussion or research on the grounds of denominational conformity. Tenure
    Compared to the secular schools I am accustomed to religion is much more freely discussed, and the campus minister sends a weekly email homily to the faculty and staff. However, the student body is quite diverse, and there are no stipulations on denominational affiliation for attendance or employment.
    Essentially I believe the academic freedom of the university, as well as its potential for hiring outside of its denominational affiliation depends upon whether the denomination exercises governance over the school. Direct governance or funding by a denomination will likely lead to stricter control, whereas a more loose affiliation may mean the university is free to hire those unaffiliated with the university.
    I hope this helps in some way! Feel free to ask me more questions, either here, or through my blog where I may become aware of the question sooner.

    September 19, 2011 — 16:12
  • 1. “Is it common from church affiliated schools to hire individuals from other denominations?”
    Yes. There tends to be a modest advantage to being from the same denomination, but typically individuals from other denominations will be hired. More depends on the precise combination of the candidate’s denomination and the school’s denomination. The following notes are rough and anecdotal, and directly applicable only in the U.S.:
    – Catholic schools are very open to non-Catholic candidates (typically even including non-Christians and atheists); official Church documents require that Catholics at Catholic schools be faithful to the Church’s teaching and that non-Catholics be supportive of the school’s mission, but few Catholic schools enforce this in any significant way
    – Protestant schools tend to be quite open to hiring Protestants from other denominations, within some broader or more narrow doctrinal parameters, sometimes but not always set by a statement of faith (and schools vary in how much one’s interpretation of the statement of faith
    – many schools (and that goes for Catholic and secular ones, I expect) will be informally hesitant about hiring a young-earth creationist; there may be similar hesitation in some schools about someone with traditional views in sexual ethics
    – a few schools will explicitly require some form of creationism
    – a theologically conservative school may care more about getting a theologically conservative candidate than about exact denominational match; for instance, a theologically conservative Protestant school may prefer a theologically conservative Catholic or Eastern Orthodox candidate to a more liberal Protestant, even one ostensibly from the same denomination
    – a few Protestant schools are not open to Catholic candidates; I don’t know what the situation for Eastern Orthodox candidates is
    – some Reformed schools require Reformed candidates; some non-Reformed schools are probably uncomfortable with Calvinist candidates
    2. “What’s the climate like for research and teaching? e.g. Is there protection for academic freedom?”
    My experience is limited to Georgetown and Baylor. In both cases, the academic freedom in the Philosophy Department is excellent, but one heard the occasional story of problems in other academic units. Based on these two cases, I would have a bit more of a worry if one were going to be in a Department that isn’t specifically a Philosophy Department (e.g., Religious Studies and Philosophy) or if the Philosophy Department is too tiny to shield one from larger school politics.
    Of course, every school has its individual character and issues. But if you fit without strain the religious criteria set out formally and informally by the school, I think you are likely to do fine.
    At some schools, you might face problems if you change religious affiliation. For instance, Baylor requires on-going regular church or synagogue attendance of faculty, and this is a condition for getting tenure.
    3. One final piece of advice. If the job ad says to do something, do it or don’t apply. For instance, if the job ad says to respond to a statement of mission, or include a statement of personal faith, do that. (This is obvious, but surprisingly a number of candidates don’t do that.)

    September 20, 2011 — 9:00
  • One more piece of advice: When applying, and especially before an interview, have a look at the school’s website, see how they describe themselves. For instance, a school that describes itself as “in the X tradition” is likely to be rather less committed to Xism than a school that describes itself as “a Xist school”. See what they say is important.
    But then remember that the Philosophy Department may be quite different from the rest of the school (not that the rest of the school can be ignored, especially since they are likely to be involved with hiring at a smaller school).

    September 20, 2011 — 9:13
  • My first full-time job was working at Ave Maria College of the Americas, branch campus of what is now Ave Maria University: http://www.avemaria.edu/ I’m pretty sure that the administration would have agreed with Alexander’s statement above:
    “- Catholic schools are very open to non-Catholic candidates (typically even including non-Christians and atheists); official Church documents require that Catholics at Catholic schools be faithful to the Church’s teaching and that non-Catholics be supportive of the school’s mission, but few Catholic schools enforce this in any significant way”
    Ave Maria is determined to be one of the few that does enforce this. (There are others: the Franciscan University of Stubenville was our model). The institution was happy to employ non-Catholics, including some atheists, in many departments. However, there was a big worry about liberal Catholics – one of my colleagues, a protestant philosopher, said he felt much more secure as a non-Catholic than he would as a Catholic. If you claimed to be a Catholic, you were expected to live up to that.
    I did serve for a while on the Catholic Search and Scholarship Committee, which was responsible for distinguishing ‘faithful’ from ‘cultural’ Catholics. It soon became clear that some members of the committee had doubts about the fidelity of their fellow committee members. For example, one committee member suggested that anyone who denies that a foetus has a soul from the moment of conception was not really a faithful Catholic. Of course, Aquinas did not believe that ensoulment takes place at conception, but, it was argued, this precedent was now used mainly by Catholics who supported abortion and contraception. The Church has never officially stated that Aquinas was wrong, but a faithful Catholic would be the kind of person who would be inclined to disagree with the Angelic Doctor on this point. In other words, according to this definition of orthodoxy, it was not sufficient to hold that artificial contraception and abortion are intrinsic evils, one must also hold that ensoulment takes place at conception so as to leave no wriggle-room for liberal Catholics. The chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology pointed out that to set up a definition of orthodoxy that goes beyond the Church’s official teaching is in fact usurping the authority of the Magisterium. By making this point, he drew suspicion on himself. After one year, he was asked to resign as department chair, and he soon found another job. (I’m not trying to imply that he was asked to resign because of that particular comment – I just offer that as an example of the kind of discussion that took place).
    There was no tenure – all faculty were on one-year renewable contracts. That’s also the case where I currently teach – a branch campus of Florida State University in the Republic of Panama. As far as academic freedom is concerned, Ave Maria was looking for candidates who freely and wholeheartedly embraced the mission, which was stated in unequivocal terms. The decision to join an institution is one you make freely, and it should be made in full knowledge of the requirements.

    September 20, 2011 — 11:47
  • Eric Rasmusen

    One thing that’s important, morally, legally, and perhaps even self-interestedly, is to be honest about your beliefs when you are applying. At the campus interview stage, at least, think about whether to purposely bring up beliefs you think might cause trouble. If they don’t hire you as a result, taht might be a good thing even from your point of view. If they do, then if a dispute goes to court later, you have a good argument that they thought your beliefs OK when they hired you and your contract should be interpreted in light of that.
    On the other hand, if you are a feisty person, I don’t think it is immoral to refrain from bringing up some things, so long as you are ready to get into uncomfortable fights later on. You might, for example, want to provoke a battle later on with a liberal department in a conservative college that tries to fire you for thinking homosexuality is wrong. But you’ve got to have the right personality for that.

    September 28, 2011 — 14:01
  • Trent Dougherty

    Is it common from church affiliated schools to hire individuals from other denominations?
    I attended–briefly–one denominationally affiliated school–and taught at two Catholic and now at one Protestant school. All hired across a wide range of Chrisitan faith traditions and hired some Jewish people as well.
    What’s the climate like for research and teaching? e.g. Is there protection for academic freedom?
    I have had nothing but unlimited academic freedom. I don’t take not publically advocating moral positions contrary to the values of the school an academic limitation. There is no position I couldn’t take in a published article.
    Does tenure offer genuine protection? (It seems like I’ve heard stories of people being driven out.)
    Haven’t heard too many horror stories from schools that actually have tenure.
    How does the campus climate compare to secular counterparts? (Are small Christian Colleges like other SLACs?)
    I hate the term “SLAC” but the two that I taught at were great. I had tons of community respect just in virtue of teaching there.

    October 14, 2011 — 18:49
  • Allison Hepola

    Hi job seeker,
    Definitely consider applying to jobs at religiously affiliated schools, even if you are a member of a different denomination/faith tradition. I’m a practicing Catholic who just began teaching at a Baptist school (Samford University) this fall.
    When looking at job ads, keep in mind that schools that require a statement of faith or membership in a specific church, are required by the APA to explicitly state that in the ad. What’s more common (in job ads) are schools asking that applicants be supportive of the religious mission of the school/department. What is meant by this varies tremendously between schools. Always check out the school’s website – and look beyond just the general “mission statement” page. One often over-looked, but helpful, resource is the campus ministry website. While this will typically be geared towards undergraduates, it can still provide helpful information about the level of religious practice on campus, whether other denominations/faith traditions are represented at the school, and how closely the school promotes or adheres to the doctrines of its denomination/faith.
    Another piece of advice: if you’re applying to a school with a religious mission that you can and do support, talk about this in your cover letter! Show genuine enthusiasm for the school and its mission. Don’t use the same cover letter for every job, with only the name of the school changed. A school that mentions its religious mission in a job ad does not see itself as interchangable with other colleges and universities – applicants shouldn’t either.

    October 17, 2011 — 12:23