Race and Faculty Hiring

Jan 18, 2013 |  Nevin Montgomery

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Race and Faculty Hiring

Jan 18, 2013 | 

Nevin Montgomery

The discussion to date about Fisher v. University of Texas, the landmark case presently awaiting disposition by the U.S. Supreme Court, has focused on the use of race and ethnicity as a basis for admitting students to the nation’s colleges and universities.  That’s understandable.  After all, the plaintiff is a white student who was denied admission to the University of Texas because, she alleges, she isn’t black.

What is perhaps more important, however, is the impact that the Fisher decision will have on faculty hiring in higher education.  Although the Supreme Court held in 1986's Wygant v. Jackson that it violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause to prefer minority faculty over non-minority faculty in order to ensure faculty role models for minority students, academic institutions nevertheless strongly prefer minority candidates in their faculty hiring processes.  Indeed, race is used much more aggressively in faculty hiring than it is in student admissions, in large part  because there are far fewer faculty positions available than there are admissions slots.  Several conspicuous examples come quickly to mind.  They all involve law schools because, as a law professor myself, law faculty hiring practices are what I know the most about.

First, a friend of mine who teaches at a different law school copied me on the following email that he recently sent to a prominent civil rights lawyer:  “Our university has offered the Law School money for an extra faculty slot, but only if the appointee is black.  I know we’re not alone in this, but it seems even more obviously illegal than arrangements that give preferences to minorities.”

Second, the dean of a large public law school uses her law school’s faculty hiring process to advance her vision of “social justice,” a vision that her own faculty has criticized because it has led to the virtual disqualification of every white male faculty candidate since that dean’s tenure began.

Third, the dean of a small private law school (not the one at which I teach) informed me that he had “promised” the American Bar Association that he would hire only minority faculty for the next several years.  Both the ABA and the Association of American Law Schools strongly encourage law schools to hire minority faculty.

Fourth, and related to the third example, a different law school was criticized by both the ABA and the AALS for not hiring enough minority faculty, even though that law school had (a) invited every minority faculty candidate listed in the AALS faculty recruitment registry to interview with the law school at the hiring conference in Washington, D.C., (b) asked every minority faculty candidate who interviewed with the law school in D.C. to fly back to campus, all expenses paid, to interview further, and (c) offered a job to every minority faculty candidate who accepted the invitation to visit the campus.  In short, there was nothing else the law school could do to try to recruit minority faculty candidates—and what it did was illegal—but that still wasn’t good enough for the accrediting bodies.

There are, I’m sure, colleges and universities that don’t insist on using race and ethnicity in such a heavy-handed fashion, although I’m not aware of any.  Put directly, it is difficult to imagine a worse example to set for students, especially law students, than that involving faculty hiring practices in higher education.  The Court has assumed ever since the Bakke decision in 1978 that colleges and universities are administering their affirmative action programs in good faith.  It’s time for the Court to acknowledge in the Fisher case that assumption is incorrect.

To make the point another way, decisions about which students to admit and which faculty to hire are too important for the Court to do anything but forbid altogether the use of race and ethnicity as considerations.  As my father, a retired college professor, wisely put it after reading the email I quoted above, “The reason great schools have great programs is because they have faculty who have a deep knowledge of their area and also add knowledge in their area.  To hire faculty on any other basis is leading to the destruction of their own reputation and the quality of the product.”

As almost everyone seems to know, higher education in America is in crisis.  Perhaps the Fisher decision will be the first step in saving us from ourselves.

"Nevin Montgomery" is the pseudonym of a professor at an American law school.



Image: 08.16.MLK.MOW.WDC.23August2003 by Elvert Barnes / CC BY-SA 2.0

Tina Trent

| January 18, 2013 - 10:13 AM

I’m shocked to see that you use a fake name. 

Tenured professors who refuse to stand up to this raw injustice in the full light of day are as to blame for it as the legions of preening professors, administrators, and presidents who have blighted the careers of countless graduate students with this ugly, prejudiced regime.

What do you say to the student walking into your program who wishes to become a law professor but is heterosexual and white?  Ethically, you should simply tell them to go home.  They aren’t wanted because of their skin color and other identity markers.  Anything less is just feathering your own nests—sustaining a system in which you benefit but only so long as you keep your mouth shut in all the right places.  Right, Neville? 

Oh sorry, Nevin.

Stand up to this in a real way, or just don’t bother.  I know too many decent, intelligent, hard-working people who wasted years of their professional lives and spent themselves into debt flying to job interviews where they were just holding the line until any minority candidate could be found and offered the job.  Ditto gays—I don’t know many gay academicians who haven’t leveraged their sex lives into prejudiced advantage at the hiring table.

When I was a grad student, I received an anonymous letter from a tenured faculty member asking me to expose the anti-white racism in a hiring committee he was involved in.  I was already on my way out the door for daring to criticize said policies—out in the open.  It wasn’t too hard to guess who the letter-writer was.  I have no concrete proof, so I won’t name names, but if I’m right, it’s a very familiar one among the elite of the courageous tenured and well-reinbursed “conservative” academics—those who make great salaries clinging to a system they know is morally perverse while raking in other wads of cash telling conservative donors how they’re courageously fighting that system. 

The least any of you ought to do is oppose this in the light of day.  Using your real names.  Anonymity is silly and cowardly.


| January 18, 2013 - 12:28 PM

It’s not just law schools that are discriminating based on race. I’m practically overqualified for a position I have been craving for years, and can’t get the job. This racism affects my life every day—I haven’t yet been able to get my dream job bc I’m white. It’s maddening.

The libs have taken over pop culture, academia, the media AND HR departments. Sad, scary fact.


| January 18, 2013 - 1:11 PM

Tina Trent, how do you know that the author has tenure?

Mark Roulo

| January 18, 2013 - 1:14 PM

“There are, I’m sure, colleges and universities that don’t insist on using race and ethnicity in such a heavy-handed fashion, although I’m not aware of any.”


Jason Keenan

| January 18, 2013 - 1:39 PM

The saddest aspect of this politically charged issue is that so many people who know better say nothing. How many students and/or aspiring professors have struggled through this system feeling like they are made to fight an uphill battle. What can they do? They have no proof—just a confused feeling that they are being passed over unfairly. And those who know what’s really happening, who see the blatantly corrupt and illegal behavior occurring behind closed doors, they have a responsibility to bring this behavior into the light.

Thanks for the (anonymous) article. Agree with the earlier comment that you should be more forthcoming and public, i.e., name names! But this is a start.

Thanks Instapundit, for linking.

Tina Trent

| January 18, 2013 - 1:52 PM

Hi Mitch, fair question.  I don’t know.  Perhaps he or she will tell us.

But I would add this—I am assuming that this person is a lawyer.  Not all law profs are, but it’s a reasonable guess.  And as a lawyer, tenured or not, he or she and his or her peers at other schools have an unambiguous professional obligation to report certain unethical practices being committed by other attorneys,such as the presidents of their schools. 

This raises some interesting issues, particularly in the cases of the law schools cited in the article where the president and deans and heads of hiring committees—surely lawyers too—were clearly breaking the law in their discriminatory hiring efforts. 

So we appear to have a situation where entire faculties at law schools are violating their professional obligations as attorneys, if not breaking the law themselves directly. 

I can’t say I’m surprised by this.  But the fact that nobody in any of these cases has had the professional integrity to step forward and report such behavior—- as they are required to do—including this author—speaks volumes about the culture of legal education.


| January 18, 2013 - 2:05 PM

Go Get ‘Em Tina,
            This country needs more people like you who will fight this blatant racism. The truly sick part is that I’m sure those who do discriminate against whites justify themselves with an anti-racism message.


| January 18, 2013 - 2:08 PM

“There are, I’m sure, colleges and universities that don’t insist on using race and ethnicity in such a heavy-handed fashion, although I’m not aware of any.”

Hillsdale College No question mark needed.

Micha Elyi

| January 18, 2013 - 3:25 PM


The Court has assumed ever since the Bakke decision in 1978 that colleges and universities are administering their affirmative action programs in good faith.
—Nevin Montgomery

The Court in Plessy made similar assumptions about the administration of separate but equal programs.


| January 18, 2013 - 4:39 PM


While I understand your anguish that a tenured professor would ask you to stand up for principles that he/she won’t,  I also understand that even a tenured professor is at risk when a system is so biased that blatant illegality is the norm.  Courage has been defined, not as the absence of fear, but as overcoming fear to do the right thing.  Your professor apparently lacked courage….

Tina Trent

| January 18, 2013 - 5:34 PM

Hi Steve,

I’m not really anguished, not for me at least.  More, disgusted.  I walked away rather than continue to engage in a fight I would lose, but at least I was cognizant that I was making myself available for a fight (though I did enter grad school believing I was just there to teach John Donne and John Updike and James Dickey—funny to remember now).

What makes me really angry is what happened to all the people I know who merely wanted a job teaching, and committed themselves to being rigorous, skilled professors, and did the scutwork the tenured classes throw at graduate students in order to enjoy their privileges, only to be thrown under the bus by two types—and I’m still not sure which is worse. 

There are the older tenured faculty, almost exclusively white males themselves, who really did benefit from racism and sexism at the time of their hiring, and who in consequence ever after blew their little tin horns of justice as loudly as possible. These types delight in pretending to have ushered in the brave new world of racial politics, when in reality they just screwed a generation of younger scholars in order to flatter themselves and avoid becoming the target of the consequences they piled on others.  You know who you are.

Then there are the diverse beneficiaries of new prejudice.  If they don’t perpetually fertilize the system that hired them, they lose their very reason for existing in the dog-eat-dog world of victim-oneupmanship.  Their need to create ever-more ornate systems of affirmative discrimination results in the increasingly unhinged quality of the humanities.  I saw a very funny notice from my alma mater about the school’s commitment to being sensitive to chemical sensitivities at a sexuality conference they’re hosting—I suppose that means latex-free gloves for the S & M panel, and sign-language translation of the safety words. 

The more all of these people see themselves not as educators but as arbiters of justice, the more they viciously despoil everything in their reach.  Any conservative scholar who feels he or she can continue to hide is deluded.  There’s only one ending to the re-education fairy tale. 

But in the meantime, those who are currently profiting from this system ought to give a thought to the people currently ground up by it.  I’ve clocked enough hours in the adjunct broom closet to realize that the people joining me there are the ones who paid the real price for all this nonsense.  Do conservative tenured profs making comfortable salaries really need to anoint themselves the main spokespeople for negative outcomes that affect their un- or underemployed former students, not them (except in terms of social discomfort in the faculty lounge)? 

As someone who regularly speaks to citizen groups (mostly gratis) about the radicalized university, I’m sick of watching people with full-time employment and benefits sucking up all the resources for a conservative resistance that is really being mounted by folks who had the courage to speak out and thus never found steady work.  When tenured conservatives don’t even have the integrity to use their real names in the face of what happened to the rest of us, it’s disgraceful.  And conservative funders should take a hard look at who is really leading the efforts to salvage, not savage, education.

Mary Grabar

| January 19, 2013 - 8:52 AM

Tina makes some great points.  Over the years as I’ve worked as an adjunct and writer, I’ve met many academics who have been frozen out, who scramble in undignified working conditions just to cobble together a living.  As they spend time commuting, preparing, and grading they lose time they could be devoting to real scholarship (while their leftist tenured colleagues engage in thinly disguised activism).  We are seeing a “brain drain.”  I too have heard stories from them about conservative tenured faculty not even willing to pick up the phone on their behalf.  I’m not saying it’s anyone here on these pages, but it is a problem.  Perhaps we could put it in larger terms: Cowardice.


| January 19, 2013 - 6:14 PM

I am SO glad that I bailed on my youthful dream of professorship back in ‘84, when I recognized that I had found no mentor or allies and would probably face a slow uphill climb to nowhere right alongside Sisyphus. I’m sorry for those who stayed on, but have no sympathy at all for the Old Boys of all ages/genders who benefit from the current ongoing confidence game that higher ed has become. Do they think the respect and esteem earned by generations long dead will endure forever?

Glenn M. Ricketts, NAS

| January 21, 2013 - 8:46 AM

While I sincerely hope that our author is not one of those chicken-hearted conservatives noted by several posters here (and remember, we don’t know if he’s tenured or not), I think it’s useful to bear in mind how exceedingly few conservatives of any variety can be found in mainstream academic institutions. 

As I noted recently, (http://www.nas.org/articles/professoriate_tacks_left) the latest trienniel faculty survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute indicates that the professoriate -already well to the left ideologically, has moved significantly further in that direction.  Moreover, the small conservative minority tends to be concentrated in areas such as business, engineering or the hard sciences.  The humanities, social sciences or, for that matter law schools, are often ideologically one-dimensional, and conservatives are probably less common than unicorns. 

Personally, I’ve known a few brave souls who have pushed back as Tina thinks they should, usually with no effect.  Some were dismissed with a yawn and told to go back to Rush Limbaugh, others faced the wrath of vindictive deans or department chairs, along with isolation and ostracism from colleagues.  I don’t think it’s an accident that a couple of them have remained associate professors for the duration of their careers.

But to return to my point: we’re talking about an exceedingly small number of people and, as the UCLA survey figures indicate, it’s rapidly getting even smaller.

Tina Trent

| January 21, 2013 - 11:43 AM

The situation for conservatives in the university probably couldn’t be more dire, I agree.  But this is also an opportunity.  I’m definitely not advocating for politics in the classroom, but faculty can have a tremendous effect by providing professional service to student political groups outside the classroom.  And being that one voice can be very powerful.  There’s a built-in dignity to speaking up, and you do move the ball that way.  After all, what’s the alternative?

I’m on her board, so forgive me for giving a plug here for Mary Grabar’s new Dissident Prof book, Exiled.  It’s a collection of stories by conservatives in the university, tenured and adjunct.  And, optimistic and pessimistic.  She’s got some great contributors.

I finally “crossed over,” by the way, thanks in part to a few fellow grad students, and even one of my own students.  Reason and tradition are powerful arguments, once made.

Glenn M. Ricketts, NAS

| January 21, 2013 - 1:07 PM


No apologies ever needed for Mary Grabar’s work, which we salute and applaud.  She’s long fought the good fight, and I’m sure this book measures up.

Thanks also for your own comments, I hope that you’ll be a regular visitor.