During the last hiring cycle, the administration’s involvement in the law school’s hiring process may have crossed the threshold of discriminatory behavior.
Hiring practices at the law school have come under fire recently as university administration has begun exercising an unprecedented influence over faculty hires. Earlier this semester, Professor Johnny Parker of the law school circulated a memo detailing issues he noted during the hiring process of new professors occurring from last fall through this semester. The memo notes how central administration, namely Provost George Justice and President Brad Carson, inserted themselves into the hiring process to a far greater degree than precedent or standard would suggest. This influence, as Parker identifies, came at the dispense of recommendations from the faculty hiring committee.
Worse, Professor Parker details how the preferential treatment shown among five ranked candidates could create grounds for a discrimination case. The hiring committee ranked five candidates in order of preference from one through five to fill two job openings, with the top ranked candidate being a white woman and the second ranked candidate being a black man. Candidates three through five were all white men. Soon after the committee ranked these candidates, administration approved the hiring of all five candidates. Just under a week before Christmas, central administration asked the committee to consider making tenured offers to the second and fourth ranked candidates; the committee approved only the second ranked candidate, noting how he had held a tenured position elsewhere in the past whereas the fourth ranked candidate had not. Jan. 9, after the fourth ranked candidate had declined his offer, Justice advised further deliberation on the tenure aspect for the second ranked candidate and suggested the candidate undergo external review, a feature alien to the law school’s standard hiring practices. The candidate ultimately received, against the wishes of the committee, an offer without tenure.
Additionally, the order in which the candidates received their offers of employment may contribute to accusations of discriminatory hiring practices. From what Professor Parker could find prior to the release of his memo, the third ranked candidate declined prior to Dec. 24, the fourth ranked candidate received an offer on Dec. 13 and declined Jan. 2, and the fifth ranked candidate remains unknown as the central administration left the law school dean out of all dealings with him. All three of these candidates received offers of employment from central administration. The top two ranked candidates, however, did not become privy to their offers of employment until Jan. 20 in conversation with the law school dean and never received any contact in this regard from central administration.
In the world of higher education, prolonging offers of employment, even just a week or two, can prove catastrophic, as other institutions less hesitant may claim candidates under consideration — and candidates needing to confirm employment might not be able to afford the time to wait for another offer. And normally, disparity in offers of employment would not even reflect on administration: this right has in the past fallen to the dean of the school hiring. This hiring cycle, however, President Carson usurped this right from the dean, sending the offers himself.
The apparent discriminatory hiring practices reflect a more fundamental issue that has arisen this academic year. President Carson and Provost Justice have inserted themselves into the hiring process of the law school to a greater degree than their positions have held before, and other colleges on campus worry that this new level of influence may infect their own hiring practices. The typical hiring practice is a faculty-oriented one, letting colleges and departments determine who best fits their needs. The president and provost then hold a minimal role, with candidates usually holding a brief, informal interview with the provost before receiving a contract and usually never interacting with the president as part of this process. But now, all hires meet with the president, including even non-faculty positions.
In an interview, Dr. Maurer helped to detail some of the problems with the administration’s new role in the hiring process. While the law school was the first to have problems broader than a sense of shared governance surface with the accusations of discrimination, it is not the only college on campus feeling the encroachment of administration in the hiring process. Whereas before, the dean of any given college would approve lists of candidates to interview and to hire, this role now belongs to the provost. A tension now exists here in that the move, according to Dr. Maurer, may suggest a lack of trust. Faculty committees and the dean no longer suffice to determine interviewees and hires, but the provost must oversee all decisions — the fact that the provost is always the most unfamiliar of all these actors to the circumstances of any given college or department only exacerbates these tensions. Worse, the current administration has struggled to implement new and changed policies in any written form, relying mostly on word of mouth, especially in small or one-on-one meetings. This causes problems as faculty members often find themselves privy to current expectations only once they have breached them.
With the discriminatory practices accusations, however, Dr. Maurer suggested that, at best, they are symptomatic of a broader disregard for diversity initiatives on campus. Last November, in a meeting with all faculty in Arts & Sciences, Provost Justice mentioned that the administration would no longer allow diversity statements to appear on applications. In asking more about this decision, Maurer discovered the decision had allegedly occurred in September, but the Arts & Sciences dean at the time Karen Peterson had not heard of it yet and, worse, Maurer got the news in the meeting before Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Kelli McLoud-Schingen knew. At McLoud-Schingen’s request, Provost Justice did agree to hold a meeting to speak to concerned faculty, albeit during the Monday of Thanksgiving break and only advertised through word of mouth — with no paper trail at all to suggest that it would happen.
These concerns also arise in the same year that Dean Oren Griffin of the law school overrode the Student Bar Association’s (SBA) denial of a charter to the Christian Legal Society (CLS). SBA members cited reservations about the oath members must take if they wish to become officers, which includes a line affirming a belief in marriage existing between one man and one woman. Dean Griffin, mentioning consultation with the university president and provost, bypassed SBA to grant the charter to the organization and became himself the adviser for the organization.
As the president and provost insert their own influence into hiring practices and other areas typically alien to their control, the question becomes to what extent, if any, they should exercise this influence. In just the first year that this has appeared as a potential new norm for administration, faculty have already begun to express reservations as to whether or not they welcome any newfound administrative role in hiring practices. Worse, administrative influence has resulted in what some faculty and staff on campus perceive as a negative impact on diversity efforts. Diversity statements will no longer appear on applications, which may impact the university’s ability to secure diverse candidates; administration has received accusations of discriminatory hiring practices, displaying apparent preferential treatment in the law school’s hiring process; and, in the name of diversity of opinion, CLS received a charter, despite the fact that SBA denied it on the basis of discriminatory language within the charter. It remains to be seen to what extent the administration will continue to insert itself into faculty hiring practices and how it will address DEI related concerns.
Provost George Justice declined to comment on the memo Professor Parker circulated.