Memo to the appointments committee: how to interview minority candidates

by on November 6, 2009  •  In Uncategorized

The hiring conference for entry-level law professors, known universally and grimly as the meat market, starts today. Having survived my one year as a candidate and many years on the hiring side of the table, I herewith pass on the following advice from a non-lawyer, but similarly experienced, historian, my friend Claire Potter, aka the Tenured Radical:

…[I]n lieu of giving bad advice to candidates, I thought I would give advice to those people who were doing the interviewing instead. And it's a particular kind of advice: how not to look like a fool when interviewing what we now call a "diversity candidate." Now for the sake of brevity, let's say the candidate is either a man or a woman (technically all women are diversity candidates), but may also be either of color or queer (technically queer people are never diversity candidates. Unless they are — for some other reason.) Because these categories are too internally various, and because in fact there is surprising overlap in some of the ways you could possibly offend the people who occupy them, let's call them: Martians. And we'll assume for the sake of clarity in what follows that "you" are not a Martian, and that "I" am. Are you ready? Let's begin.

1. Do not tell irrelevant stories about your friends who are Martians, or that your daughter decided to come out as a Martian last year and how great you feel about it. I understand that you are doing this to make us Martians feel as though we are among friends, and to demonstrate your absolute lack of Martianophobia or your committed anti-Martianism. I appreciate that. Really, I do. But you know what? It suggests just the opposite. It suggests that the Martian in your presence, who is me, is making you uncomfortable, and that you are bravely overcoming it. We Martians are used to being in the minority, but it makes us impatient to have other people remind us of it all the time — in the name of pro-Martianism, no less. So we will all do better during the interview if you stick to scholarship, teaching and what the actual requirements of the job are.

2. Do not take me to a Martian restaurant for dinner. First of all, a Martian restaurant that is not on Mars, or in a place with a significant Martian population, is likely not to be any good. It will serve Martian food cooked to the taste of the non-Martians who populate your planet. So I will find this depressing. But furthermore, it suggests that I, as a Martian, am in danger of feeling alienated on your planet because I may not be able to access my "culture." Though a Martian, as a scholar and an intellectual, I probably feel I am a little more cosmopolitan than that.

3. While we are at dinner, stay away from topics that betray how invisible the other Martians on campus or on your planet are to you. Telling me that I may wish to live on the planet one light year away because it has a larger Martian population is one way of conveying this, as is: explaining that retaining single Martians is so difficult because it is so difficult to meet and other, marriageable, Martians on your planet; or announcing that, incredibly, there is a Martian Episcopalian church that serves the entire planet right in your canyon! So even though there aren't many Martians on campus, there will be a terrific community for me. On Sundays. (Did I say I was religious? Are you sure?)

4. Admit it if your college does a crappy job of recruiting and serving the needs of Martians. Most colleges and universities that are not on Mars do — it's not up to you to apologize for it. As in (1), don't tell me about the one Martian who graduated Summa and won the department prize twelve years ago. And although there may be serious Martian politics on campus, don't assume that I share your view of what it means to be progressive on these issues, even — or especially — if you are a fellow Martian.

5. Refrain from hinting to me coyly that there is someone I "really need to meet" but not telling me why. This is the most frequent way that people have of dropping a few hairpins that I am a Martian (duh), and this other person is a Martian, but being a person who doesn't really "see" or believe in interplanetary differences, you aren't going to say the word "Martian" (wink, wink.) Most Martians find this tiresome. We aren't at a job interview to meet other Martians: we're there to get a job. And if meeting another Martian on campus is important to me, I'll tell you so.

6. Try to police your references to Martian stereotypes, whether social or intellectual. Don't ask me, for example, why I ended up a historian and not a flight engineer; don't tell me that the special barber I need to cut the hair around my antennae is in the next town over (we don't all have antennae, ok?); and don't, for heaven's sake, if I am interviewing for a Renaissance Literature position, reassure me that the Martian Studies program is very welcoming. Don't put the chair of Martian Studies on my schedule without asking me, if I am not interviewing in Martian Studies, or set up lunch with the one other out Martian to talk about how I might like to work up a Martian survey course once I get a firm grip on the courses I am actually being hired to teach.

And last of all — if you make any of the above errors, please forget about it and move on — don't embarrass all of us by dwelling on your faux pas and trying to repair the damage. Martians are used to being in the minority, and we can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.


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