It is time to demystify “hiring for mission.” Faculty and administrators can be understandably uncomfortable about overt efforts to hire for mission. Faculty candidates applying for positions at Catholic colleges can receive conflicting messages about what “mission fit” means. All parties—candidates, hiring committees, and university administrators—deserve help in reflecting on how a prospective employee can engage, support, and advance a Catholic college’s mission.
Recent reflections in Commonweal make a solid case for the need of Catholic universities to hire Catholics. John Garvey sensibly explains that a Catholic scholarly culture presumes a population of Catholic scholars, and that, far from being contrary to academic freedom, this is analogous to many other examples of building excellent academic culture through selective hiring. Mark W. Roche offers practical advice, based on admirable firsthand experience, about effectively recruiting “mission hires.”
One obvious criticism of all this was well articulated in a response by David O’Brien (“Mission before Identity”): “hiring Catholics” seems like a glib answer to a complex question about discerning, articulating, and embodying the mission of a Catholic university. O’Brien’s criticism doesn’t so much undermine the arguments of Garvey and Roche as point to a different question: With or without “hiring Catholics,” how can a Catholic university genuinely hire for mission?
In fact, it is widely agreed that Catholic colleges don’t just want to “count Catholics.” Current and prospective faculty members, whatever their religious convictions, can contribute to the mission of a Catholic university in diverse ways, and different institutions will have their own ways of articulating mission fit and their own strategies of “hiring for mission.”
One thing is sure: institutions that take their mission seriously should do more than ask candidates vague questions like, “Are you comfortable with our Catholic mission?” or “How would you support our Catholic mission?” It’s only somewhat better if candidates are asked to engage with a Catholic college’s mission in a written statement, or at a designated stage of the interview process. Ideally, attention to mission should be thoroughly integrated with the entire process of recruiting and hiring. Instead of making sure to include “a mission question” somewhere in the interview schedule, hiring committees and administrators should use every stage of the hiring process to evaluate, at least implicitly, a candidate’s ability to contribute to mission.
A prepared candidate will find ways to display thoughtfulness in engaging mission even when that is not explicitly solicited. Broadly speaking, we can distinguish three areas of discernment about potential to contribute to Catholic mission, and how that can best be articulated in the application process. Because this is a matter of discernment, I formulate them below as questions from a first-person perspective—that is, as questions that candidates can ask to help honestly evaluate, and effectively articulate, their capacity to contribute to mission. But these questions could easily be reformulated from the perspective of a hiring committee or university administrator—not necessarily questions to pose directly to candidates, but at the very least questions for interviewers to pose to themselves about candidates, to help notice and appreciate relevant qualities in the process of interviewing and recruiting.
How well do I understand the fundamental relevance of Catholicism to a university’s academic mission? This is a general question, but it is important to reflect seriously on the ways in which Catholic mission can’t be thought of as something merely superadded to a university mission. Of course, every institution will have its own ongoing conversation about mission, and a suitable hire will be someone willing to join this conversation, learn from it, and help advance it. So a prepared candidate will understand first of all that there are different models and expressions of Catholic identity, that healthy Catholic colleges sustain ongoing conversations about mission, and that it is important to learn more about this particular school’s distinctive character.