A recent internal investigation into faculty hiring at the University of Washington reveals the exhaustive efforts that universities make to discriminate against white job applicants. After the university’s Department of Psychology identified a white candidate as best qualified for a tenure-track professor position in early 2023, the department’s Diversity Advisory Committee pressured the hiring committee to re-rank candidates in accordance with the methodology laid out in an internal handbook titled “Promising Practices for Increasing Equity in Faculty Searches” so that a black woman would receive the job instead. This handbook, obtained by the National Association of Scholars, spells out how to exclude candidates of undesirable races and ensure that candidates of preferred races get hired.

The handbook sheds light on past discriminatory hiring practices in the psychology department. In the 2020–21 academic year, the department hired only BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) candidates for five tenure-track positions. Delighted by its success in excluding all white candidates, the department’s Diversity Advisory Committee commissioned the “Promising Practices” handbook as a case study documenting its past manipulation of the hiring process. The handbook served as a how-to manual in the 2022–2023 academic year, ensuring that a BIPOC candidate would be hired for the department’s only tenure-track professorship that year.

First, the handbook advises recruiters to “prepare for success” by developing a strategy for how to hire based on race. To guarantee nonwhite candidates, recruiters should reach out directly to underrepresented minority (URM) candidates. The department’s search committee “sent over 100 personal emails, primarily to URM researchers.” The handbook carefully ranks favored minority groups, specifically “Black/African American, Latinx/Hispanic, or American Indian/Indigenous,” above less preferred ones, specifically “Asian American or Middle Eastern American.”

Next, the handbook recommends drafting job descriptions that match the resumes of specific minority candidates. That way, the applications will perfectly suit the job posting. It directs institutions to “[v]isualize your ideal candidates and work backwards from there to word your advertisement. If you could pick anyone, with an eye towards URM scholars, which current scholars in your field would be the best fit for this job? How do they describe their work and goals? Consider using similar language.”

A hiring committee should also refrain from evaluating candidate competence. Committees should “[d]econstruct how evaluating candidates” on their productivity, verbal communication skills, or leadership “may advantage privileged groups over underrepresented groups.”

The handbook offers another clue as to how the department had so much success in hiring minority candidates: if a URM candidate was rejected, the department simply reversed the rejection. Any “dropped URM candidates were automatically given a second look before moving on.”

To guarantee that minority status receives appropriate weight, the manual also suggests “placing contributions to diversity high on the list” or even making that “a criterion candidates must pass to make it to the second round”—for example, by “contributing to diversity” or “serving as a role model for URM students.” Since white candidates cannot “contribute to diversity” or “serve as role models” for students of different races, this guarantees that representatives of the correct races will get hired.

If, somehow, a committee still managed to hire white people or the wrong minorities, the manual suggests developing an audit process to identify criteria where “white candidates, male candidates . . . receive higher scores,” so that those criteria can be removed. Particularly, rigorous scientific practices like “publicly posting data, hypotheses and materials to guard against accusations of selectively reporting results or falsifying data” tends to “produce biased results”—namely, the hiring of white men. This was easily solved by “subsequently dropp[ing]” scientific rigor from “evaluation criterion” of candidate searches.

The University of Washington has apologized to the top-ranked white finalist who was denied a job in its most recent faculty search because of race. It also reports that it has taken as-yet undisclosed remedial actions and is updating institutional policies to “address areas where efforts to address bias may lead to violations of laws or policy.” But a slap on the wrist by an internal department and an acknowledgment of wrongdoing are not enough to stop discrimination. The university’s investigation focuses on the end result of one hiring process and does not investigate the racial discrimination in other hiring searches using the handbook. Moreover, it focuses on just one department—but  a department that felt emboldened to document such sophisticated racial discrimination and offer it as a practical framework for colleagues (in violation of guidance from university officials) is likely the tip of the iceberg.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discriminating against job applicants based on race. The documentation of such misconduct at the University of Washington opens the door for potential lawsuits by candidates of disfavored races. But individual lawsuits have yet to deter universities from committing civil rights violations.

Earlier this year, plaintiffs in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard detailed pervasive racial discrimination in the university admissions process, similarly in violation of the Civil Rights Act. Under Title VI, universities risk losing all federal funding. Still, even after the Supreme Court ordered universities to stop discriminating in SFFA, universities and administrators remain defiant.

The University of Washington’s investigation exposes how pervasive racial discrimination is on American campuses. The federal and state governments must root out this illegal racial discrimination. If they refuse, then the University of Washington’s how-to manual for racial discrimination will effectively function as civil rights law.

Photo: gregobagel/iStock


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