Thursday, April 28, 2005

Color Blind?

Having spoken yesterday about what happens when certain professors who have worked here a long time are honored, it occurs to me today to reflect on our seminary's process for hiring new professors. For reasons that are obvious to anyone who's been involved in a job search, much of this process is confidential. So much so that I don't dare go very deep even in a blog that's intended to be reasonably anonymous and location-neutral. However, I believe it's safe to say that one of the factors that our school is very concerned about is diversity. This is a subject that has meant many different things, depending on what background one comes from. If anyone wishes to comment, I'm confident that this fact will be borne out even here.

Suffice it to say that, for us, it's not enough to say that (as an institution I was connected to several years ago said) if two people of roughly equal ability present themselves, and one happens to be a minority (for us, that means a woman or an ethnic minority), we should hire the minority. While this goal is well-intentioned, it fails to acknowledge the potential contributions a candidate would make specifically because that candidate happens to be a minority. We, therefore, have decided that we need to be intentional about looking for minority candidates.

This raises the valid problem of hiring a less qualified candidate "to fill a quota," which is also something we'd like to avoid. It does not do any respect to the minority candidate, nor the ethnic group or gender the minority represents, to suggest to that candidate that we had to "lower the bar" in order to hire them. Indeed, to suggest such would be the vilest of insults.

Nor does our institution desire to hire no white males. However, we acknowledge that, in a society where white males make up only about 35-40% (an educated guess, not a hard statistic) of the population, to have a faculty made up of about 90% (also an educated guess-I didn't bother looking it up partly out of a desire to retain that vague sense of anonymity) white males would indicate that there is a systemic problem with our hiring process. Theoretically, the proportion of white males should be comparable to the proportion of white males in the surrounding population.

This is a problem that many institutions have to deal with, and while we're working on a system to address it, I doubt that there are any easy answers. But comments and suggestions are definitely welcome.

3 comments:

  1. One of the things I've been reflecting about over the last couple of days is how used I've become to seeing primarily white, primarily male professors -- after nearly a decade of on-and-off higher education in so-called "elite" institutions, I virtually expect the person standing in front of the class to have the same skintone and opposite gender of yours truly.

    At the same time, it's a self-replicating problem. One of my colleagues at my current school who happens to work with prospective students explained that when members of a particular minority attend a "prospectives" event and realize that they are the only one, or one of the very, very few of that color/gender/ethnicity in the room, they tend to not return. No one wants to feel like an oddity or an outcast.

    And where there's a lack of professors modeling for students that the career path they are contemplating is indeed one that has been walked before by people who share their various minority traits, it merely perpetuates the disparity in the student body.

    One of my professors was recently involved in a faculty search and indicated to her class that 90% of the resumes the team had received came from white males -- and that they had 'flagged' all resumes coming from those that didn't fit that profile.

    All that's to say, I'm glad that institutions are starting to take this issue seriously :)

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  2. And yet, as someone verbally commented to me yesterday, we seem to have no problem going through our whole childhood from Kindergarten to 12th grade having virtually nothing but female teachers. There seems to be a disconnect in our society that says that female teachers are okay for our children (who are at the most formative age of their lives!), and yet, for "adults," professors are so universally male.

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  3. If you want to see this split baptized and taken to a ridiculous extreme, a certain megachurch in my area gives female teachers the green light for kids up until they enter Jr. High -- after that, only male teachers are allowed to instruct groups that include boys.

    Even in the secular arena, there's all manner of bigotry floating about -- I've heard people theorize that women who get upset appear too "hysterical" to earn a class' respect (... whereas men who get upset appear entirely differently, of course, and certainly never silly or unhinged.)

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