An old email from my first year in grad school

This is an unsolicited email I received from my first year in grad school. There had been a facebook debate on a controversial issue on my facebook wall, and I (and my co-posters in the comment thread who shared my views) had just been called hateful, vitriolic, unbelievable [not in a good way], etc., etc. I cried, didn’t retaliate, and figured I’d get an apology when tempers cooled. Instead, this private email then appeared in my inbox the next morning from one of the debaters who also happened to be a colleague.

That was years ago. Reading it now, I can see how the email is well-intentioned and kind. At the time (in conjunction with several other messages I received at the same time) it hurt bad and I was so ashamed/in pain that I wasn’t able to eat for 10 days or have a normal conversation with my colleagues for several months. I felt like the scum of the earth, and would sit alone in my apartment. Yes, I was a wimp, but that was how it felt.

Names have been changed of course.

Hey [Chubbic],

Sorry if things got a little heated on your facebook wall, but that has spurred me to write this email. I think you may want to consider altering your posting habits. Please don’t misconstrue this as an attempt to censor you, I’ll defend to the death your right to freedom of speech, but there are certain other things that you should be aware of. It is worth considering (and weighing the benefits of) that your posts on extremely controversial topics (and the inevitable threads that spawn underneath them) are working against your best interests. They have the effect of alienating your colleagues and quite potentially harming your chances of future employment. I know that you are at least astute enough to recognize that voicing your ultra-conservative beliefs in public can be detrimental to your career, as evidenced by the fact that you make a point of steering clear of such topics in face-to-face interactions with your peers and professors. At this point in your life facebook should be no different. You’re not in college anymore, where freedom of expression and individuality are valued; you’re in the professional world where major deviance from the norm (except in academic achievement) is not looked upon as a good thing and can in fact harm you. While it is true that [this university] is a particularly conservative school, when you are applying for jobs odds are that you will not find employ at a similarly conservative institution. The vast majority of people in the country, and academics especially, do not hold to your stances on such contentious topics and that can work heavily against your favor when you’re applying. Institutions do look at facebook and other social media outlets before making hiring decisions. Although technically it is illegal for employers to discriminate on such grounds, it happens anyway and is impossible to hold them accountable for it in a court of law. On the colleague side of things, these are the people you will be interacting with for the rest of your career, and word of mouth can work for you just as easily as it can work against you. As [Prof. XYZ] mentioned in the talk a month or two ago, don’t give employers any reason to think that you are not normal; in an interview, if they order a drink, you order a drink, if they decide to get a cheap entree, then you get a cheap entree. Although he was talking about an interview setting, the same goes for all aspects of your professional career. I won’t be following your feed anymore, so you don’t have to worry about me tearing up your wall if you decide to continue posting on controversial and provocative issues. I just thought you might want to know that these habits can be detrimental in the long run. Facebook is not a private forum; at this point in your life you should not be getting on any soapboxes there that you would not be comfortable getting on in the lobby of [history building].
Just food for thought,
I’m posting it now, years later, because I have often heard people say that there is no bias against non-liberals in Academia, and that non-liberals are only imagining that they are persecuted. They say we non-liberals are disappearing in Academia (I think we are in the percentage of single digits as teachers at universities now) just because we are ignorant and stupid and incompetent. There is no program to force us out, they say. But I have seen so much personal evidence to the contrary, both in my own experience, and in the experiences of people I know personally. While this programme is denied publicly, in private you (as a non-liberal) will be warned by liberals to hold your tongue or pay for it.

So you either change your beliefs, or become unemployed. Consequently, the universities teachers are 95% liberal and growing. This leads to dramatic polarization, as non-liberals huddle together and places of intellectual enquiry become positive-feedback-loops where people who all think the same get together and bash on the “idiots” who don’t think like them, after a generation or two, the “idiots” are now viewed as stubborn idiots and then they become enemies of the people and all that.

They mean well: they just don’t know any better, because that is all they know. It is easy (or inevitable) to hate and misunderstand people you do not even know. So dissent has long been silenced, and myopicism then leads to well-intentioned bigotry. So the institutions set up to teach the next generation become dominated by one ideology. And a university education is viewed as socially mandatory. Consequently, this mandatory ideological formation is no different than any other fundamentalist society throughout history. Winners write history, and the writers of history become the winners.

But nobody really wins. You just have a lot of divided people, hating what they will never understand, all in a lot of pain.


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