Not a Coincidence

Glenn Ricketts

At least, that's what the actual title of an article - More Than a Coincidence? -suggests rhetorically in today's Inside Higher Education. The "coincidence" or lack thereof, as author Allie Grasgreen all but concludes, centers on the tenure process at DePaul University in Chicago. Nothing, mind you, like the international uproar attending the denial of tenure in 2007 to controversial historian Norman Finkelstein, but enough to make critics, including the AAUP, think that DePaul's tenure process is loaded against minority candidates. Just look at the numbers, they say, and see if you don't think it reeks of racism, white, heterosexual male privilege, classism, etc. as one of the commenters concludes. Not so fast, says the Center for Equal Opportunity's Roger Clegg in his own response. Without access to the actual documents relevant to the rejected candidates' applications, it's hard to know just what the results indicate. Now it could indeed be the case that the tenure process is discriminatory; that certainly can't be ruled out in advance. But neither can the possibility that many minority hires, given the lengths to which some schools seem willing to go in pursuit of "diversity," have been given a lower bar of competence than the one "non-diverse" applicants must surmount. If that's the case, then perhaps it's not surprising that the former are less successful when they face the more rigorous standards of the tenure process. Clegg doesn't claim to know if this was actually what happened at DePaul. But as a veteran of many faculty searches myself, I think it's more than plausible, having experienced first-hand the heavy breathing of administrators determined to "diversify" the faculty. In one search of several years ago, as the hiring committee sought to select a pool of finalists for a position in American history, we suddenly felt some extraordinary pressure to include one of the rejected candidates in the final group. Why? "Diversity," of course. We were astounded: this particular applicant had been eliminated at the initial cut since, although a practicing attorney, he did not possess any academic qualifications or teaching experience relevant to the subject for which we were hiring. But the administration, you see, wanted "diversity;" couldn't the committee look beyond its narrow fixation with such non-essentials? After all, didn't life experience or a "diverse" background weigh at least as much? No,we said, still astonished that they were actually serious. Like Roger Clegg, I don't know what the specific details are at DePaul. Unlike some of the critics, I can't believe that my own experience wasn't fairly typical of what probably goes on pretty routinely in contemporary academic faculty searches.

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