In the Fall of 1996 the College President called a meeting of interested faculty to discuss the topic of affirmative action (the meeting is discussed in Backdrop).
During the meeting an African American faculty member suggested that members of the psychology faculty were biased against minorities in hiring.
“It sounds like you are implying that the psychologists practice a kind of covert racism,” I commented.
“Covert! Ha! It's overt!” he attacked.
“That's a lie!” I shouted.
In a conversation after the meeting, the faculty member told me that he had learned from “an anonymous source” that the psychologists were requiring a Ph.D. in order to be hired. This was the basis of his charge of racial bias.
I told him this was false. I explained that among many other criteria we used in hiring, points were awarded for a candidate holding various degrees, to include the Ph.D. Yet we did not require the Ph.D.
He insisted that even in such a case, because proportionally fewer African Americans hold the Ph.D., this was discriminatory. I disagreed, pointing out that if this were the case then requiring any academic degree at all was discriminatory since fewer minorities hold college degrees.
Because we had been publicly and falsely accused of racism, and because our accuser failed to recant his accusation, three members of the psychology faculty (including myself) circulated a response among the faculty at large.
September 17 , 1996
Racism is a vile act. To be accused of having participated in it in hiring, and to be accused by a colleague at a public meeting, offends us deeply. We have been slandered and cannot let this matter rest. Public accusations of unethical conduct require proof. They demand public rebuttal; otherwise colleagues, strangers, and even students might assume that the charges are valid. Our reputations, our integrity, have been publicly maligned. This cannot simply slide under the rug.
At the September 12 meeting called by the College President to discuss issues regarding affirmative action and “diversity” on campus, a colleague alleged that the psychology faculty had used a criterion in hiring that, had it been in effect when they were hired, would have excluded even them. This, he insisted, was improper. The only psychology instructor present suggested that his colleague appeared to imply that the psychologists had practiced “covert racism.” Scoffing, the colleague charged, “not covert. Overt racism!” The instructor replied that he had been a member of every psychology hiring committee for the past twenty-seven years and that this was a lie. He invited any and all concerned to investigate the hiring practices of the psychology faculty.
In an hour-long conversation following the meeting, the colleague disclosed that an “anonymous” source said that we had required that a candidate possess the Ph.D. in order to be hired. Attempts to obtain the name of his source were futile. The colleague was notified that at no time has the psychology faculty set a Ph.D. as a requirement for hiring. He insisted, however, that any consideration of the Ph.D. whatsoever is a form of racism as it “screens out” minorities. The Ph.D., he claimed, is a “research degree,” but we are a “teaching institution.”
It appears to us that the accusation, though unclearly stated, breaks down to the following three charges—
1. The Ph.D. has been used by the psychology faculty as a requirement in hiring.
2. The psychology faculty has exercised not merely “covert racism,” but “overt racism,” in hiring.
3. Any use of the Ph.D. in evaluating a candidate for hiring at Grossmont College is racism.
To respond to the charges, one by one—
1. The Ph.D. has never been used by the psychology faculty as a requirement in hiring.
In every instance of hiring in psychology, the Master's degree has been the minimum requirement. The charge that we have done otherwise is false. The “anonymous source” peers through distorting lenses.
2. The psychology faculty has exercised neither “covert racism” nor “overt racism” in hiring.
Far more than the others, the charge of “racism” is the most offensive. Emotion-laden accusations, in particular regarding acts that repulse us all, must not be casually tossed into the air.
- If “overt racism” means that which is open to the public eye, the accusation is patently false because such action could never have passed the desk of the Department Chair, let alone that of the Dean, the District Affirmative Action Officer, or the College President. Here the reputations not only of the psychology faculty, but others in the administrative hierarchy, are maligned.
- If “overt racism” means that which is secretly planned and deliberate, the accusation is false, insulting, and incendiary. We never discussed race. We had no reason to do so. We had no access to information about the candidate's race or ethnicity, and we didn't seek it. Academic qualifications are relevant. Race is not.
- If “covert racism” means action which is not intended as such but which has a racist effect, then that should have been clearly stated. We are not misquoting our accuser. There are those present at the meeting who took careful notes and can attest that both “covert racism” and “overt racism” were the words used. We respond to the charge of covert racism below.
The charge of racism injures not only the psychology faculty but all others involved in the hiring process. We might add, parenthetically, that it flies in the face of our actual hiring practice. The latest addition to the psychology faculty—whom we are pleased to call a friend—is a Latina female. Several of us have served on full-time and adjunct hiring committees in which Pacific Islander and Native American faculty have been hired. Were we the racist archers depicted by our accuser, the College has nothing to fear from such ineffectual arrows.
3. In certain instances the possession of a Ph.D. may be one legitimate consideration, among many others, in hiring at Grossmont College.
This is not racism, covert or overt. The fact is that we were scrupulous to evaluate candidates by criteria that were as objective as we could make. Examining folder after folder—among the more than one hundred applications—we assigned points to match the job description. Points were given for course work that matched the assignment for the instructor, for letters of reference, for degrees, for the sample teaching lecture, and for responses during the interview. Each candidate was asked exactly the same questions by exactly the same interviewer. Points were totaled, and the top candidates were submitted to the College President.
It is true that as one among many criteria we assigned a few points for possessing the Ph.D. It is clear, then, that although the Ph.D. could boost the overall total it was not a requirement. In our judgment the Ph.D. in psychology is not at all necessarily a “research degree,” as claimed. Some who earn the Ph.D. are preparing to teach. Others aim for research, others for clinical practice, and still others for a blend. Even if the Ph.D. were a “research degree,” does training in research preclude excellence in teaching? A research emphasis in psychology strengthens critical thinking skills, behaviors sorely needed in the current debate. The preparation for the Ph.D. may well be one among many factors able to predict excellence in teaching. We assumed when we were hired that confidence was placed in us to be the judges of expertise and merit in our discipline. We would never think to inform colleagues in another discipline—biology, history, library science—what the degrees of their applicants mean or what their academic criteria ought to be.
This, of course, returns us to the issue of excellence in teaching. Are we to argue that when there are proportionally fewer minorities who obtain the Ph.D., awarding a small number of points for that degree (among many other factors) is racism? Why, then, is it not racism to require the Master's degree, or even the Bachelor's, of our candidates if the proportions of various racial or ethnic groups are under-represented among those with these degrees? Today almost three-quarters of the degrees in psychology are awarded to females (Clay, 1996). Is it time, then, to begin subtracting a few points from the female candidates in the elusive search for “diversity” and proportional representation in psychology? Shall we subtract points from a candidate possessing the Ph.D.?
We are back once again to the issue that so divides us on the theme of “diversity”—shall we lower our academic standards, such as the criteria for hiring, until at last we end up with a distribution in the pool that equals the distribution in the population at large? We argue no. The issue is not whether minorities or women are equal in ability to others. Of course they are. The issue is whether to force a matching of percentages in the work force to percentages in the population, regardless of the distributions of their availability among the best of the best. We are not racist. Those who seek to consider race must examine their own back yards. It is possible to become so wrapped in the banner of a cause that beneath the banner one's face has turned into that of the enemy.
It fascinates us that those like ourselves, who consider potential faculty without regard to race, stand accused—Orwellian fashion—of racism. Though we change the names to obscure the meaning, a tree is still a tree and racism still sticks in the throat. The question is quite simple: Are we for or against discrimination? We find it ironic that at a meeting occasioned, in part, by the refusal of some of us to engage in a hiring process that takes into account skin color, we become the ones to stand accused of racism. When we look for new faculty, we seek those who excel at academic excellence, who burn with a fire for their subject, who teach with skill and passion, who relate to and love their students. Should a student require a particular skin color in order to relate to a teacher who is sensitive and caring, we think that this is a problem for the student to work out, not an invitation for a teacher with matching melanin. It is strange, isn't it, to be accused of racism for agreeing with that American hero whose dream it was for each of us to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin? Some of us are trying to live out that dream now.
These accusations based on the claims of an “anonymous source” are ill-considered, inflammatory, demeaning, and false. Those of you who know us share our pain as we stoop to respond to them. Yet a serious public insult has been made. When we attend meetings such as that of September 12, we expect fair play. We give respect—we deserve to receive it. We had hoped that Grossmont College was not merely a community college but a college community. Should we suspect that a member of our community has engaged in such a repugnant act as racist hiring, why not seek accurate information from those who know rather than carelessly pitch angry words across the room? Why not talk with sources who do not skulk and whisper in the dark? Don't we owe this to one another as colleagues, as educators, as fellow humans? How can our students respect us when we trample on that virtue and show such disrespect for one another?
You will note that we have avoided names. We do this intentionally because we do not seek to inflict personal wounds. Those who attended the meeting know who was involved. In discussion afterward, though nothing was resolved, there was no animosity, no venom. Why can't we relate in this fashion in the public arena as well? Why the unfounded, irrational eruptions? Why fracture what before had been a cordial, even warm, relationship? Those who set themselves up as our moral police must be on guard lest they shoot themselves in the foot.
Some have argued that college faculty ought to be above epithets, unfounded accusations, and immature ventings. We expect these faculty now to rally vigorously to our side. Calm, deliberative reason, prompted by appropriate, restrained passion, tempered by mutual respect, could serve us well. Let us be fair. When one in our community is publicly assaulted with false charges, we are all scarred. Today we have been injured. Tomorrow one of you, our friends and colleagues, may have the misfortune to take our place. Should a similar shadow cross your door you may count on us.
Clay, R. A. (1996, September). Psychology continues to be a popular degree. APA Monitor, p. 53.