Christian employers and the hiring process

I wasn’t sure whether I would share this or use it as an opportunity for comment. I’ve decided to do so, albeit with some fear and trembling. Somebody has to say things like this. If you think I shouldn’t have done so, or if you’re personally (or professionally) connected to the circumstances I describe here, don’t use the comments section to point this out. If you’re concerned enough, contact me privately.

A while ago, I applied for an academic job at a Christian college of higher learning. I describe it vaguely that way so as not to give any clues which college this was, but I’ll say that it was in New Zealand. Reading the job description, it looked to me like I was ideally qualified for the role, and given the profile of the college, which was not as high as some, I thought I might even have stood a good chance. I was interviewed, but I didn’t get a the job. That was a bummer, but it happens. I figured I would just keep doing what I do, doing my time in my job that I had always said I would just keep doing until I landed the sort of job I was looking for, trying to squeeze out of the rest of my schedule the time and space to work very hard at raising my profile to improve my chances of getting this sort of job.

Some months later, a first hand account got back to me about my application, and there is no question mark over the authenticity of this account. This is what happened. The person behind the advertisement in this small college had promised the job to a friend. Then, to make sure that things were done “by the book,” the position was externally advertised and applications were invited. As a person who has invested a significant chunk of his life preparing himself to step into a role just like this one, naturally I applied. As the person behind the hiring process put it – they were now in a really difficult position and weren’t sure what to do. Here’s why: The job had been promised to a friend who was now expecting to move to the country and start the role, but now that applications had been invited, they had received an application from someone who in their view was clearly more qualified for the job. That someone was Glenn Peoples. What were they to do? The difficulty was resolved by giving the job to the friend to whom it had been promised. I should say that nobody has specifically said that I certainly would have gotten this job were it not for this promise made to a friend.

I’m glad that I found this out. If nothing else, it at least reassures me that my applications are as good as those of others. I trust that from the details given above you can see why I’m not naming any person or any college. Very few know that I applied at the college in question. I trust you can also see why I was unsure whether or not it would be appropriate to comment publicly on this. Some would simply call it whining or sour grapes. Ultimately I can’t change the way people read this, but I thought some comment would be appropriate nonetheless, both because of the general principles that it highlights, but also because I’m aware that a number of professional academics read this blog, some of whom may from time to time be involved in the hiring process, and some of whom might also teach at Christian colleges like the one in this example.

If I were on a hiring committee where I learned that the whole screening and interview process was faked, and that the applicant had already been chosen – and that all the other applicants were simply wasting time and hoping for something that was literally impossible, I would remove myself from the hiring committee immediately without a second thought. I’d like to think that I would have the personal integrity to resign from my position as well unless the process changed right away, but the reality of needing a job might delay that somewhat.

It was a college that specifically emphasised the impact of the kingdom of God in the world, emphasising lives being permeated by the power of the Holy Spirit, the advocacy of justice and the church serving as a transformative influence. The sad irony of it!

It’s particularly egregious that in the example that directly affected me, the college was a Christian one. It was a college that specifically emphasised the impact of the kingdom of God in the world, emphasising lives being permeated by the power of the Holy Spirit, the advocacy of justice and the church serving as a transformative influence. The sad irony of it! To proclaim this sort of message while engaging in this sort of corruption and even deception is a real indictment. I can never again look at their proclamation of “lives transformed,” “social justice” and the like in the way that they might hope, because their actual conduct suggests that whatever role these catch phrases might have in their curriculum and advertising material, it hasn’t quite permeated through to the way that they conduct themselves.

It’s difficult to state just how unethical this all is. I don’t know a lot about employment law or disputes. But I cannot imagine any employment authority looking favorably on a publicly advertised job vacancy and a screening and interview process that was in reality not genuine, where applicants had literally no chance at all of success, and where the position had already been promised to somebody else. But of course, somebody like me isn’t going to make a scene about it and get “authorities” involved because doing so would make my future prospects anywhere else even less likely.

There are people who have lived their lives, made their plans, obtained their education and made personal and family sacrifices of significance so that they will be qualified for roles like these.

But legality aside, the injustice and lack of moral concern here is what bothers me the most. There are people who have lived their lives, made their plans, obtained their education and made personal and family sacrifices of significance so that they will be qualified for roles like these. I spent the better part of a decade getting my qualifications. During that time obviously I gave up the opportunity to get professional experience and the ability to earn a regular full time income. That’s a long time to live in voluntary poverty. Now that my degrees are behind me I work four days a week, so that I still have some time to work on various projects that will keep my scholarship “current” so that my education isn’t stale. My work ethic wouldn’t let me not work, even in roles that I find unrewarding and outside of my areas of skill or interest. Every now and then I manage to get something published, and I’m involved in a number of speaking engagements throughout the year. Of course, with little non academic professional experience, my job is somewhat entry level. Five or six evenings per fortnight I have to make sure I get home from work early so that I can hand the car over to my wife, who immediately goes to her (also entry level) job, working a short evening shift. It’s not an ideal situation for our family to be in, but the way we see it, the academic employment environment is a race. We’re prepared to make some sacrifices to be as competitive as possible, and the education and experience I have is what makes me competitive. As Paul put it in a different context, I have “beaten my body.”

I really do wonder if those who do this have any personal appreciation of how they belittle and undermine the pursuit of excellence.

Christian employers (and employers generally), you make education, personal sacrifice and commitment, effort, long nights, less time with family, travel, speaking, exasperation and frustration, worthless if you are going to conduct yourselves this way. You know as well as I do the Bible’s concern over showing partiality, its disdain for those who pervert justice, you might even recall the admonition of Proverbs 16: 30 that “Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things.” I look at situations like the one I described here (and I would be naïve to think it doesn’t happen very often) and think: It’s not a race. The outcome has nothing to do with dedication, skill and effort. What’s the point of continuing to do this? Why try? Why be good at this? I really do wonder if those who do this have any personal appreciation of how they belittle and undermine the pursuit of excellence, and how they sap the motivation of those who know what they are doing. You are also lowering the quality of your college when you do this. You literally don’t want to be the best you can be. You also insult those who do teach at your college who in fact are qualified and who did get there at the end of an application and interview process. They may have thought they were there because they are good at what they do. Now they have been shown that actually anyone can fill their shoes – if they know the right people.

I’d like to be able to say these things to you in a pastoral capacity, one of oversight where those who do this sort of thing might even feel chastened. As it is, some of you may well just look at this as the whining of a mosquito, something to ignore, an opinion of no consequence. But I’d ask you how you would respond if your senior did raise this concern with you after having discovered that this had been going on. Would you feel concern for your future with your employer? Would you feel rebuked? Would you feel the need to repent? Would you even be willing to consider that you had done something wrong? Guess what, Christians: Your boss saw you.

Look, if you want to give a job to a friend who might not be as qualified as a potential applicant, and you’d rather have a person you know and trust than a better qualified person you don’t know, then that’s your concern. Pick up the phone, offer them a job, hire them. End of process. Everything has been honest. If you’re going to advertise and accept applications, then do it – and do it honestly. Screen them, assess them, and choose the best applicant. But don’t do both. Some of us actually have our lives invested in this.

“Use honest scales, honest weights, and honest measures. I am the LORD your God.”

Glenn Peoples

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30 thoughts on “Christian employers and the hiring process

  1. Very dodgy behaviour! Try and think of it as a problem avoided. If this organisation is not able to behave in an open and ethical manner in the employment process, imagine working in that environment. Mistakes sometimes happen. Errors of judgement also happen. The measure of integrity comes in the response made to these however. Personally I would not want my name attached to a position there nor would I like to work in a system or environment where the rules are like quick sand under my feet.

    If I was the person who was appointed this way and I found out I would resign. Seriously I would. Imagine what that would do to your confidence, finding out that your were the second choice appointed by what is essentially a mistake.

    Who knows what opportunity will come your way now?

  2. Unfortunately this appears common in NZ Christian colleges, as you know I have had similar experiences myself on more than one occasion, and had similar experiences in the secondary sector as well. I don’t know if its just a small country parochial thing, or that some people simply don’t get the importance of things like excellence, merit and so on.

  3. It does not only happen in colleges, christian or otherwise… it happens in ALL facets of industry.
    The old saying, “its not what you know but who you know” did not come about because there is no truth to it. Fact is, if you know someone you have a better chance to get the job – you might even get it over someone more qualified. Its not unusual – I have got jobs, missed out on jobs, got people jobs, etc… You work somewhere, its a good place to work, you have a mate who works hard who can do the job and is looking for a change.. you get him in (and often get a finders fee for doing so).

    There’s more to it than being “qualified” for a job anyway – often we’ll employ someone who is less qualified because we like them, and are prepared to invest the time in them.

  4. (oh, and I realise its not necessarily the “right thing”, but it is how it works.. and also, this place you mentioned… not only do you not really want to be in a “old boys” network like that.. but they are obviously dodgy – place best avoided imho)

  5. Geoff, as Glenn said, it’s one thing to choose to hire a person because you know them. It’s another to make that arrangement and then pretend to have a genuine application/screening/hiring process. That’s really disgraceful. Not only that, but the hiring process for an academic jobs is not like other jobs. For some positions it’s a lot more casual and the practice of “hiring a buddy” without any application process may be quite ordinary. In colleges of higher education it’s definitely not.

    Glenn, I’m so disgusted by what you’ve described that I’d like you to name the college. But like you said, doing that could have personal (and unfair) ramifications for you. But they should be outed. That is so inappropriate, both from a professional point of view and a Christian point of view.

  6. Christian colleges. High and honest standards. Notice how those two things don’t go together. I suppose we atheists should be thanking them!

  7. Come work for me, I’ll give you a position 😉

    Seriously though, if they behave like this, then they are only shooting themselves in the foot. If the best man for the job is not hired, then you have inferior staff (or not what they could be) and the role will suffer as a result. As an employer, I could not hire a friend over someone superior because I only make a rod for my own back – and I hate to micro-manage.

    I always tell my friends “sure, apply. But no guarantees.”

    I think for you Glenn, all you can do now is offer forgiveness to those that wronged you. That’s the better-man thing to do. And you are the better man.

  8. Name the college! This sort of behind-closed-doors corruption has to be exposed, Glenn. There’s a difference between forgiving what happened to you and actually enabling people to continue doing this sort of thing. Shame is sometimes perfectly appropriate as the catalyst for reform. Seriously Glenn, consider naming the college.

  9. @ Dicky P.

    I didn’t know their were atheist colleges?

    @Glenn
    That’s a frustrating situation, knowing you should have had the job based on your qualifications. Putting things on a positive note though, maybe you’ll get a job in the US, or maybe better yet, in California, then I could come hear more of your speaking engagements!

  10. While i agree what was done was dishonest and inconsiderate to the applicants, God has set your path… He has something else in mind.

    Our sin and the sin of others may be terrible, but the one good factor of it, is that God has better things in store for us.

    God Bless and in Christ– cheer up, persevere and endeavor to reflect Christ-like compassion and integrity.

  11. I don’t know anything about recruitment in academia, but have quite a lot of experience with both sides of the process in the business world.

    That experience has been that recruitment is often a lot closer to a lottery than you would like. If you have the luxury of personal knowledge of one or more of the candidates, even if that is second hand, then this will often weigh very strongly on the decision. Qualifications and inteviews can be very misleading when it comes to actual job performance.

    Obviously this can sometimes result in missing out on good people, but on the flipside can often mean that you dodge some bullets.

  12. I hope you entered graduate studies understanding the job market. You have been out of school for several years now with no job. When do you finally call it quits and get yourself a real job?

    You did your degree at a no-name university. When Americans from top-flight programs are having problems getting jobs, why would anyone bother with a degree from University of Otago? What do you expect? And what potential employer would hire you after reading the nonsense you post here?

    I think it’s time to drop the idea that you are New Zealand’s Bill Craig and move on.

  13. Mike – I think your comments betray an idea that graduate school is somehow just advanced vocational training. Plenty of people (even graduate students) think of it as such, so you’re in good (or at least plentiful) company. This isn’t the reason I’m in graduate school. Honestly, I just like studying what I study. If a university post comes out of my education, great! If not – well hey, at least I got to spend all that time learning cool languages and reading cool books and I can continue to do so now that I’ve learned how to.

    As far as being out for several years – Peter Green, a world-renowned Classicist, did his Ph.D at Cambridge in the 40’s and then started writing historical novels, reviewing books, and working as a translator. Finally in the 60’s he took a job at the College Year in Athens. 3 years out is hardly a long time.

    The University of Otago, as I understand it, is NZ’s top university. I would say that calling it a “no-name university” hardly makes sense. While it’s true that loads of American students who are graduating from the top Ph.D programs in some fields are having a hard time finding jobs, I think 1) It’s not really as bad as you’re making it out to be (there aren’t recent Harvard Ph.Ds sitting in Harvard square with signs which read, “Will translate Ancient Greek for Food”) and 2) I have no idea what the American hiring climate has to do with Glenn’s situation in New Zealand.

    What do you think is on this blog that would prevent Glenn from getting hired?

    Did Glenn claim to be NZ’s William Lane Craig? I don’t remember that. Are you saying that anyone else who does philosophy/theology and is a Christian is now William Lane Craig or his poseur? Sorry, Plantinga, time to find a new gig – Craig now owns all of philosophy and theology.

    Lastly, even if everything you said were true (and it’s not, not by a long shot), why would you even say it? There are numerous stresses that come with trying to find an academic job. One does give up (voluntarily, of course) earning potential for several years in order to obtain a Ph.D. In the “good old days”, this pretty much secured a job for you somewhere – the risk of obtaining a Ph.D and not finding a job was virtually none. The age of graduating with your doctorate and your advisor calling a friend to get you a post at the university up the road is long gone. The market is flooded (and I can only imagine a market as small as NZ’s, at least small compared to the US, is very flooded) and that often means dozens if not hundreds of qualified people applying for a single position. It’s frustrating when an already broken system is circumvented in such a way that it makes it completely unfair. Giving someone the hope of landing a university job while knowing full well that you aren’t going to give it to them is mean.

  14. This is an interesting comment: “It’s particularly egregious that in the example that directly affected me, the college was a Christian one.”

    Is anyone aware of any empirical evidence to suggest that Christians behave in a more morally upstanding, empathetic manner than non-Christians? Just looking at the Kiva community standings and wondering.

    BTW, this story (if true) is repulsive.

  15. TAM, I’m aware of no such evidence. My comment was not that this is rare for Christian colleges – I have no idea if it’s rare or not. My comment is that the fact that this is a Christian college make it “particularly egregious,” given the claims that Christians make about following Christ, not wanting to be “worldly,” advocating a more just society and so on.

    I’m unsure why you added the barb, “if true.” That seemed a bit off.

  16. http://www.otago.ac.nz/philosophy/history.html#1

    Research Performance and the PBRF

    In 2003 the research performance of New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Institutions was assessed for the PBRF (Performance Based Research Fund). According to the resulting report (the New Zealand equivalent of the British RAE), the highest scoring research discipline in New Zealand is Philosophy, and the highest scoring department (beating Auckland by a nose) was the Department of Philosophy at the University of Otago. Thus the Otago Department of Philosophy was not only the top-ranking department of philosophy and the top-ranking department at Otago, but the highest-scoring research department of any kind in the entire country. In 2007 we improved upon this result raising our collective score from 6.6 to 7.5 making us for the second time the top-scoring department at Otago, the top-scoring philosophy department and the top-scoring research department of any kind in New Zealand. These results surprised some but not those connected with the department, for Philosophy at Otago has had a long and distinguished history.

  17. I’m sorry you went through this. It happens all the time here in the United States too. I know a number of cases (one was the preferred candidate), and about two years ago, I was rejected when I was more qualified than the preferred candidate. It’s extremely distressing.

  18. In this case I was particularly struck by the fact that the person hiring was so clearly aware of what was going on (i.e. it wasn’t merely some sort of Freudian slip), as evidenced by their comments to others about the awkwardness of the situation my application created.

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  20. Game on!

    Is this the point where people start writing letters… stating that they will never attend this college? Expressing dismay? Drawing the college’s attention to this blog post? Saying something else?

  21. What a moral dilemma for the College to be in and what an easy way out. The College, be they a Christian one or not, has acted without integrity by calling for applicants and finding a better suited and qualified applicant, only to do an about face and not appoint the best person from the applicants, all because of a promise. Yes they behaved with loyalty by keeping a promise, but why then go through the process of advertising and interviewing if you were not going to appoint from the interview process. The incident has resulted in a less qualified person, filling the position which results in the short term in a lesser standard of work. This is a sure sign of inefficiency in a tertiary institution where resources are scarce anyway.
    Brigadier General Wakin USAF, Retired in his paper “Professional Integrity” (1996) noted that, “Often the obligations of professional integrity may be pitted against personal loyalties or friendships and where the stakes for the society are so high, professional loyalty should win.” The person making the final selection, it could be argued has personal integrity – a position was open, and was promised to another. A promise was made, and honoured. But not with the greater professional integrity expected by advertising for a position. Professional integrity is a reflection on the professional organisation of the people within. Which is what I believe Wakin was alluding to the quote. The people making up the professional organisation, who have certain roles, skills and joint expectations on them, are required to uphold the organisations integrity to a higher level than that which is expected of personal integrity. Integrity after all is about the moral compass of a person or organisation. If you or the organisation is prepared to take a short cut, and settle for second best, then they will never be the best that they can be. A College, or any organisation, is in an environment of competition; for students, for funding, for market share and to pass up the best qualified person for the position seems an unprofessional mistake to make.
    The three main Ethical theories of Utilitarianism, Kantian Moral theory and Virtue theory all value the concept of integrity. Utilitarianism, which is based on the greatest good for the greatest number of people, by appointing the best person to the position, the students receive the best lecturer/tutor available. The College receives a higher standard of teaching, which improves its funding potential. Kantian Moral theory, would consider the issue from one of helping people to respect their rational agency, to not treat people as a means to an end, but as an end, and the principle behind the action. For this College, the principle, was “doing things by the book”, but they failed to consider the possibility of a better applicant. The College has acted unethically by treating the applicants as a means to the end, when they had already decided on who would get the position. Virtue ethics considers a person of good character and practical wisdom, who acts on it. Integrity is a virtue, and the way the College has acted shows it lacked this virtue by conscientiously deciding to act against its own better judgement.
    If I was the person doing the appointing, I would be looking very carefully at my own integrity. Did I act with personal integrity and with the joint representation of Professional integrity?
    If I was the friend who was promised the job, and then found out what had transpired, I would be feeling very uneasy about my appointment and even of those of my colleagues. What level of integrity and values does this Christian organisation really have?
    In trying to understand why the decision was made, without knowing the background of the friend or the selector, it also should be remembered that although this is a Christian College, not all employees are Christian, and therefore may not share the same level of Christian values as Glen does, or even that most people would share, and probably expect that a Christian College would adhere to. Maybe the College sought to apply a form of affirmation action in the form of appointing a certain type of Christian person to the role. They may have felt that this would encourage others of the Faith to apply and achieve similar roles and could be likened to a breaking down of the glass ceiling. However if this were the case, it would be a clear violation of New Zealand law – Human Rights Act 1983 s21 (1) (c) (d)
    • For the purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are—
    o ( c) religious belief:
    o (d) ethical belief, which means the lack of a religious belief, whether in respect of a particular religion or religions or all religions:

    Maybe they felt that by appointing the friend, were they acting on strong affirmative action platform. In strong affirmative action, there are two candidates, both able to do the job, but the position is given to the less advantaged group, even though the other candidate is more able. While this is a possible reason for the appointment, it still does not show the College acting with a level of integrity.
    The College or any organisation, should as was initially posted in the blog, either offer the position to someone – following a “head hunt” or network sourcing OR advertise legitimately and select from all available applicants. Resources are scarce and humans deserve to be treated with respect and fairness as rational human beings. The way this was handled lacked integrity and ethical consideration.

  22. Wow… This was a few years ago now, but I got angry reading it just now all the same. Their loss of course – but yours too in terms of what could have been.

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