Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunt Lacrimae Rerum

I've just returned from a trip to the American Philosophical Association's annual meeting in Baltimore, where I served as a member of a search committee. We interviewed candidates for a new faculty position in the philosophy department at Ohio University. It was exciting to get to talk to some of the best and brightest up-and-coming young philosophers, but the excitement was tempered by the fact that, in the end, there is only one job to offer and some people are going to go home still looking for work.

But that wasn't the only thought tempering the excitement. The other excitement-tempering thought is a moronic administrative decree that constrains all employment searches at Ohio University. Check it out:
For full-time presidential appointments, there must be at least one candidate from an underrepresented group in each interview pool or the search will not be approved by the Dean, Vice President or planning unit head.
The expression "full-time presidential appointment" is just administrativese for any job that the president of the university has to approve before the hire is finalized, and as such it includes all new faculty hires. So the policy defined above requires that any and every faculty search must include a minority candidate, regardless of said candidate's qualifications relative to other candidates in the pool.

To see how idiotic this policy is, just imagine a candidate pool that consists of, say, 20 applicants. Imagine that three or four of the applicants are from "underrepresented group[s]". Imagine that, of these 20 applicants, you can only bring three or four to your campus for detailed interviews. Now imagine that the top three or four candidates are all white men. Suppose that the three or four minority candidates are all at the bottom of the pool in terms of qualifications for the job. The policy requires that you bring at least one of them to campus anyway, even though you know full well that you have no intention of hiring any of them.

This is not only a remarkably stupid policy, it is a cruel and immoral one as well. When one brings a candidate to campus for an interview, one must treat them like any other candidate: taking them to dinner, talking to them about their work, listening to their lecture, inviting them to teach a class, introducing them to the whole department and to the dean, giving them a tour of the town, etc. All the while it is entirely possible that the candidate will assume that there is a reasonable possibility of obtaining the job, and some candidates may even begin to make provisional plans about the future. And yet the whole thing is a sham, one that the candidate can never be privy to, for if you told the candidate the truth, said candidate would never accept any invitation to campus. If the candidate knew that it was a complete and utter waste of time and effort (not to mention money--the candidates and the department both incur rather substantial monetary losses during this process), surely the candidate would seek employment elsewhere. Indeed, any sane candidate would avoid accepting employment in an institution with such misguided and unethical administrative procedures.

Now it is, of course, fully possible that some minority candidate will be among the top three or four candidates, in which case the minority candidate will be invited to campus without any compulsion or coercion being applied to the hiring unit. That administrators think otherwise is further evidence of the banality of the administrative mind, and its prejudice and bigotry as well, since to put in place a policy that requires people to do what they ordinarily would do as a matter of course is to assume that people will do the wrong thing unless required to do the right thing on pain of punishment. Such paternalism would ordinarily be rightly shunned in academia, but for some reason it is endemic among certain university administrations.


Kalynne Pudner said...

This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, especially in juxtaposition to the ongoing flyback/no-flyback agonies chronicled in "A Philosophy Job Market Blog."

I found you through Amy Welborn and couldn't resist your blog title. I'm sure I'll be visiting regularly.

Best wishes!

Michael Tinkler said...

Be glad you're at a big school where all you have to do is prove due diligence...we're so small that the provost asks to see all the application files from minority candidates - and, we all suppose, is reserving the right to insist that departmental committees invite candidates to campus on the provost's recommendation. I haven't heard of it happening yet, but this is only the 2nd (or maybe the first?) year of the policy.

One of the many problems here is that 'underrepresented' can't be based on, say, illegal questions. Think of the poor female candidates named Whitney! Their parents condemned them to the sounds-like-a-white-male pile!