Put yourself in my place: you’re a young woman on the academic job market for the first time. You’ve been flown across the country to interview with an English department at a Southern Baptist university. You’ve had the best of all possible interview days so far: your teaching demonstration was an obvious success, and you’ve had great interviews and informal conversations with the provost, students, and faculty. The English department faculty even told you over lunch that you are their first choice.
They also revealed to you that they lack academic freedom and that female faculty are not always treated well at this school, but those things don’t fully sink in because YOU ARE THEIR FIRST CHOICE! You, a young woman who is just finishing a PhD program. You, a poet who is hoping to find a full-time faculty position so you can support your family and pursue your vocations of teaching and writing.
You’re feeling great about your first-choice self when you head into your final meeting of the day: an interview with the president. You walk into his large, lovely office, shake his hand, and take a seat across from him on a firm couch. He’s holding your curriculum vitae.
“It says here,” he says, “that your major area of study is Women’s Literature and Feminist Theory. How is that compatible with teaching at a Christian university?”
What do you say? Go ahead and come up with an answer on the spot right now. Make sure you’re still smiling and speaking professionally. You need a job.
[Insert your answer here.]
Here’s what happened with me. I stayed in polite, hopeful interview mode and responded immediately:
“Well, in all things I look to Jesus as an example. He seemed to think that women were valuable and worth his time, and I also think that women are valuable and that their lives and writings are worth my time and attention.”
The interview was clearly finished from the start, but we continued.
I recall two other “highlights.” He asked me if I had ever published anything even though he was holding my CV in his hand and pages 2-3 were filled with my publications. He also told me that if I were to work at this school, I should never say anything inside or outside of the classroom to contradict the Southern Baptist Convention. He noted as an example that they do not ordain women, and he asked me what I thought about that.
Still in polite interview mode, I replied, “That’s not something I agree with, but I think it’s important for Christians who disagree to be in community with each other.”
I walked quickly from his office to the parking lot, where I found that I was shaking violently. I hadn’t let myself feel frustration and anger in the moment, but I was increasingly furious as I walked and replayed this final interview in my head. I called my husband from the car to tell him that we would not be coming to this school. A few days later, I got a call from a confused and apologetic English department chair. The department wanted to hire me, but they’d been told by the administration that they needed to continue their search. They had no idea why.
Initially, I enjoyed telling this story so I could see the shocked and angry responses it elicited. I wanted confirmation that this president was ridiculous and that this thought-suppressing university was not legitimately academic or Christian.
Now, two years later, after I had the privilege of choosing between two job offers that spring, I’m in a full-time faculty position at an evangelical Christian university that was originally founded by women, that values women faculty and staff, and that actively prepares women for all sorts of life pursuits, including ordained ministry. From my new position, my reasons for telling this interview story have shifted.
I’m haunted by my words. They came to me on the spot—a result of quick thinking? An answer to prayer? I don’t think those options are mutually exclusive. It would be easier for me to just dismiss the Christians who disagree with me, much like this college president dismissed me. I feel the urge to mock him and others like him who try to hold women back, but these words in my own voice keep echoing in my mind, calling me toward something better, something that looks more like Jesus.
“In all things I look to Jesus as an example. He seemed to think that women were valuable and worth his time. I also think that women are valuable and that their lives and writings are worth my time and attention.”
“It’s important for Christians who disagree to be in community with each other.”
I graduated three years ago from just such a university as you described. I pursued my liberal arts degree and ideals under the direction of wonderful faculty who I can imagine would have loved to have you as a colleague. When the administration at Oklahoma Baptist University, my alma mater, decided to pursue an agenda of academic censorship and theological litmus tests to present and incoming faculty, I felt the anger and fear from the faculty and from many in the student body. The picture of your interview day fits perfectly with what I know of my alma mater’s administration, and if this occurred at my school I am deeply saddened for you and embarrassed by the school. There are those of us who are fighting for academic freedom and the equal voice of women in our alma maters. I hope its not a lost cause.
Hi, Caitlin. My experience was not at your school, but I recently heard an account that sounds very much like yours from a friend at another Baptist university, so I suspect this is a larger trend. I’m glad you had a good experience with your faculty, and I hope post-college life is treating you well. I think academic freedom and equality are worth pursuing even (maybe especially) in the most hostile places.
I enjoyed reading this. I’ve been given a task to counsel women not from psychological studies , but from biblical studies. I’ve had a Christian organization pretty much tell me good luck with that!
I wondered was I going about it the wrong way, but Jesus lead me to the book of Luke, a Physician’s account, who shared in his gospel Jesus’ love and high esteem for women. So I continued my quest and have began training to become a biblical counselor.
Starting May 1, at 10 am I will begin a group study (and every Thursday thereafter) over coffee called UnPlug & ReCharge more information is on our nonprofit site http://innerbeautyministries.webs.com. God is showing me how important we are to Him and how effective our Ministries will be if we trust Him and not man.
I love the Junia Project and I’m encouraged by the triumphant testimonies. Katie I look forward to following you, and wish you good success.
God bless ladies!
Thanks for your response, Victoria, and blessings on your counseling ministry.
Katie, Thank you for sharing your story. Light is always the best disinfectant. You should send him a letter of thank you for the rejection. Clearly that school values adherence to its doctrine higher than the academic and teaching excellence of its staff. Their loss is APU’s gain. I think your responses were outstanding. Grace moves more hearts than argument ever will.
Thank you for your kind words. I need to remind myself of this often: “Grace moves more hearts than argument ever will.” Well said.
Thanks for getting this story out there and for standing up for all women.
Thank you for reading and responding!
Kate! Ohhhh!!!!! So frustrating that someone could be so closeminded and broken that he sits in his ivory tower, commanding all he surveys, without any capacity to think through the repercussions of his actions to the very college he has responsibility for.
The fact that he didn’t reject you because you are a woman, but because you are a woman of different opinions! That’s the dangerous thing about his decision. The greatness of our faith lies, in part, with our capacity to disagree agreeably, but when narrowminded legalism reigns, there is no room to disagree. That’s a very dangerous state of affairs. I have no idea of the college you are talking about, but God help them!
So glad you have been given the position you so obviously deserve, and I thank God for women and men like you who determine every day to live for Christ, no matter what the provocation.
Thanks for your response, Bev. I also have a hard time seeing how critical thinking skills can be taught in such a controlled environment, but I have no doubt that some professors and students there still ask hard questions and think “forbidden” thoughts.
I looked carefully. And I never saw the author’s name on this post – maybe I’m looking in the wrong place? Because clearly, everybody else knows it was Katie Manning. WELL DONE, Katie – well said, well spoken and thank God you didn’t end up there where you’d be fighting inside yourself all.the.time. But this piece serves to underscore the strong presence of misogyny in Christian academia. Hard and so very sad.
Hi, Diana. Her name is in the author bio box at the end of the post. Sorry it’s not more clear! And those of us who are at APU are very glad she landed here!
Hmmm…sometime this afternoon the images on the posts under the menu heading Blog started showing up very, very tiny, including the author bio boxes. If you read the post on the Home page the image and bio information is normal-sized. Sorry for the inconvenience! I have no idea how to fix it 🙁
Thanks for your affirmation, pastordt. I’m also thankful that I’m in a place that suits me better!
What I find intriguing is that the departmental faculty did not realize your area of study was going to be an issue for the president. Talk about a disconnect! I think both faculty and student applicants should be aware of a school’s theology of women before applying. Something we don’t often talk about when making these kinds of choices. Thanks for sharing this eye-opening story!
It’s hard to believe the department faculty didn’t realise – but maybe they didn’t realise the full extent of the blind prejudice, that someone would be rejected because they had a different opinion. It’s interesting that the person who apologised to her was also expressing an opinion that was different to the college! Ugghhhhh……
Yes, it was shocking to be written off for the first line on my CV during the last step in the interview process! The department members were great–clearly thoughtful scholars and caring teachers. It seems that administrators shift more frequently than faculty, so it makes sense that a disconnect could occur between them.
I appreciate the charity in your response during the interview and in this post! I also really appreciate that you are still telling this story, because I sometimes struggle to figure out how to remain in community while not remaining silent about these types of issues. I think we need to know that (some) presidents of colleges don’t see how feminist theory can be part of a Christian’s scholarship not to shame them but to understand the scope of resistance to feminism.
Also, from another survivor of the academic job market in English in the last few years, congrats on finding a position that seems like a much better fit!
Thank you, Sarah. The charity is a struggle for me; cutting people off is much easier. I appreciate your response.
I hope you’ve found a position that fits you well too!
Katie, your response to this president was full of grace and truth–I don’t usually separate the two, of course. It is inspiring that you said what you said, even when you were under pressure to try to provide for your family. Great example.
Thank you, Tom. I really thought I was still in best behavior interview mode at the time!
Katie, I understand. Congratulations on your current position.
Thank you, Vicky.
I actually felt a little too upset to comment first time round. You weren’t even applying to teach theology! I’m flabbergasted. But you were a potential subversive influence.
I have degrees in English lit / French and Theology. I’m a member of an ‘independent’ theological research group in my country, but although my contributions are deemed worthy within the group itself, they decided to not publish my paper on women – too controversial. At our last meeting, I proposed a paper that would examine concrete examples of women preachers at the beginning of our movement – you can’t argue with history, right?
Still too controversial…
Many years ago, as a university student, I attended a Christian conference… I wasn’t yet an egalitarian. The leaders had two female university students come up and give their ‘great testimony’ about how they had both just been inspired to give up their English Lit degree programs as they were ‘incompatible’ with Christian thought and they felt called to become homemakers. It really confused me – why was giving up a hard-won place on a degree program, entailing great expense on the part of their parents, ‘great’? Why wasn’t it better to support these two students and teach them how to engage with secular ideas?
Is it wrong for women to THINK?
I’m afraid that, although I completed my degree, I did go on to be absorbed into the homemaker-only paradigm. Although I don’t regret being at home with my daughters (excellent students both!) when they were small, I do regret missing out on a career (so far!) because of Complementarianism – it causes me a deep sense of shame and embarrassment.
But by the grace of God, who (mistakenly?) gave me a very active brain, in recent years I have completed an MTh, started preaching alongside my pastor husband and have had one academic article published.
I’m also returning to my first love of creative writing – having finally worked out that I don’t have to write a specifically Christian novel but one that deals with the world as it really is, warts and all, and maybe some Christian characters will appear in it, or maybe not. I’ve completed the first draft and am preparing it for submission.
You handled those questions brilliantly, Katie – always be polite, but always be honest is my approach. You represented Jesus.
PS Have you seen a similar post over on the CBE Scroll?
Vicky, thank you for affirming me and for sharing your story. I didn’t see the CBE Scroll post, but I’ll look for it now.
Congratulations on finishing your novel!
Love you Katie! Eshet chayil!!
Thank you, and same to you, Ashley!
I’ve always loved APU, but I feel like I only grow more proud of my alma mater every day. So glad APU has you Katie, this piece is really inspiring. I had an incredible Lit Professor at APU back in the day, glad the students have another awesome roll model to teach them.
Thank you! I’m blessed to be surrounded by such thoughtful and caring students and colleagues.
I tend to think women are important too, Katie, and for the very reasons I think men are important as well. Jesus loves us all regardless of whether we’re a woman or a man, and calls us all to serve him.
I feel sorry for that college president who couldn’t see past your sex and evaluate your candidacy on your merits. It’s not only his loss, but a loss for his school. Glad APU is blessed to have you on faculty, though!
Well said, Tim, and thank you for your kind words to me.
Adding another comment so I can check the follow-up comments box.
Thanks for this.
Thanks for reading, Zoe.
Thank you for this report and testimony. I am sorry you were misused in this way. It is good that you have a better position now.
Re: “Still in polite interview mode, I replied, “That’s not something I agree with…”
I am unclear what you do not agree with. Do you not agree with the SBC ban on ordination of women, or do you not agree with the ordination of women? I presume the first, but this was not clear to me.
Ah, I’m sorry for the confusion. I can see how the “not” statements might get tangled there. You are right that I do not agree with their practice of NOT ordaining women.
I cheer for your strength in the moment to speak the words you did.
My heart aches that you went through this experience.
But I praise God for your sharing this trial with all of us.
Courage is a virtue only for this life, yet one given for that very moment where Jesus told us that “… in that moment, the Holy Spirit will give you the words you are to speak.”
God may give us the words, but we still have to open our mouths and speak them.
May God continue to use and bless you in all He gives you to do.
Thank you for this beautiful response, Lisa.
🙂 You are welcome.