Monday, June 17, 2013

Even the CV is Political

Political views are, almost unavoidably, part of some humanities courses. You certainly cannot avoid discussing the political views of philosophers, economists, sociologists, political scientists, or many artists. Rhetoric and writing deal with educating and persuading, which some call political acts, even when you are entertaining readers.

How deep the political homogeneity runs was reinforced for me this week when a group of writing instructors was discussing how to place some political activities on CVs.

I cannot imagine placing my involvement in various causes on a CV. Even when I place "academic" and "research" groups on my CV, I wonder if they are too political or not. I want to avoid anything overtly "political" on my résumé/curriculum vitae. I've long advised students that doing so is ill-advised because you never know the views of the person sitting across from you. Personally, I want to be hired based on the quality of my work, not their political biases. I also don't want to be denied an opportunity simply because I have a different perspective.

My social and economic views are easy to determine, since I write on those issues. As a creative writer, my fiction addresses social issues via humor. The works are inherently political, and I suppose you could call me an "advocate" or even an "activist" via my plays, stories, and poetry.

Yet, the academic fields in which I work are overtly, actively, and often annoyingly political. For a group that claims to embrace open discourse and discussion, open disdain for opposing views is the norm. In online forums, on mailing lists, and at conferences, the active hatred for some groups reminds me that "critical thinkers" in academia often cannot see their own ignorance of others.

The "Special Interest Groups" within writing and rhetoric organizations convey their political and social advocacy in ways quite uncomfortable to me. Adding particular activities to a CV seems even more personal, something I don't really want following me into a workplace.

It was pointed out to me that my recent theatrical work was overtly supportive of LGBT rights. Yes, but I only list the title on my CV, and that title could be interpreted in various ways — or not at all. The same colleagues who might celebrate some of my plays would be offended by my other writings. I don't fit neatly into political categories, and I wish that "fitting" the norms wasn't required in my field. Yes, I would say "required" because publication and tenure rely on being embraced by colleagues.

Pretend you see two CVs for an academic post in rhetoric. One includes writing for CATO, National Review, and Reason. The other includes writing for Center for American Progress, The Nation, and Monthly Review. I can guarantee the second CV stands a better chance of receiving a job interview in rhetoric and composition.

Knowing this, I suppose it is logical for an aspiring professor to include his or her work with the "Occupy" movement and other causes on a CV. It is audience analysis: the job applicant knows that peers in our fields are more likely to embrace a progressive or socialist colleague.

There's no right or wrong when it comes to the academic CV. It is political, but how political is up to the individual. I'm increasingly ambivalent.