Forget the Bean-Counting

There’s an article in Inside Higher Ed today (“Bringing Them Back”) that begins:

Increasing the ranks of women faculty members in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines has become an area of intense focus for academe in recent years, and attempts to boost these numbers have focused on everything from probing the barriers at individual institutions to encouraging more girls, while they are still in school, to consider careers in these fields.  The organizers of the On-Ramps into Academia workshop taking place Monday and today at the University of Washington have taken a different approach: encouraging and coaching talented and accomplished women to leave their positions in private industry and return to campus.

To which I have appended this comment:

I have a problem — and federal law has a problem — with the premise of this article, namely that universities ought to be hiring and promoting faculty with an eye on sex (or race or ethnicity).  The reasons for such discrimination are bogus and legally insufficient, as discussed here.  Just hire the best individuals, regardless of skin color, what country their ancestors came from, or their reproductive organs.  Anything else is unfair to the other applicants, divisive for the faculty, a disservice to the school and the students — and illegal.

IHE is not the only offender in this area, BTW.  Here’s a letter I wrote to the Wall Street Journal last month:

April 11, 2011

To the editors:

Someone reading your April 11 Journal Report on “Women in the Economy:  A Blueprint for Change” would never guess that it is illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to hire and promote individuals on the basis of sex. 

Time and time again the participants in your “Executive Task Force” call for businesses to be held “accountable” through “metrics and scorecards” for achieving their “targets” and “goals for diversity”; for “incentivizing managers” to meet these quotas by making this “a part of [their] bonus and other incentive structures”; and for ensuring female “representation” on corporate boards and on down.

It cannot be plausibly argued that this is not a call for discrimination based on sex.  Suppose the shoe were on the other foot, and a company were revealed to be doing all this to increase the number of men.  Everyone would laugh, and rightly so, if the company claimed that such policies were nondiscriminatory.

Discrimination against men OR women on the basis of sex is unfair, and it is unproductive for less qualified people to be hired over more qualified people.  But even if someone believes that this preferential treatment is somehow fair and somehow makes business sense, it is appalling and irresponsible for the Wall Street Journal to devote an entire section to advocating such discrimination with no acknowledgment – not one word – of the serious legal problems it raises.  Journal readers deserve better.

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