Reader JP asks a question:
The reason I am writing to you is because of something that recently happened in our department. I would like to ask you and the other academic bloggers their opinion regarding this incident.
We currently have an ongoing search in our dept. for a social scientist. Out of the four excellent candidates invited for campus interview, almost everyone in the dept. liked a female candidate who was undoubtedly the most qualified and had the most potential for funding. This female candidate was accompanied to dinner by two faculty members from our department. Both faculty members are Caucasian males, one is a US-born social scientist (let's call him X), the other is a foreign-born, multiple-minority from a STEM field (let's call him Y). Here is the problem: Y thinks this candidate was guilty of extreme stereotyping about various issues related to race and gender during the course of dinner conversation. However, X does not think that's true as social scientists are used to talking about uncomfortable topics related to race and gender. Since there were only two individuals present who do not agree with each other, this has led to an unpleasant situation where members of the search committee are now being forced to take sides. Most people believe X (maybe because they desperately want this superstar in the dept?). However, I strongly feel that being an underrepresented minority, Y has a certain perspective that X doesn't possess. What do you think?
JP gave me more details than I am presenting here, but does not want them shared. Still, I think it's important to at least get the flavor of the comments that the candidate made. I don't have the right to comment on whether something is racist or not, but I do have the right to comment on whether something is sexist or not. What the candidate said that is supposedly sexist is a boring cliche that I often use when I don't want to engage in a conversation about kids or their tantrums. It's silly and uninspired, but I find it entirely benign. The supposedly racist comment was the candidate going out of her way to emphasize how she does not discriminate based on race despite having been brought up in a very "red" community and state; Y was ticked off because she talked about it too much.
The whole conversation seems to me as a case of a very nervous candidate with a bad case of logorrhea and acute "foot-in-mouthitis" more than anything else. But, because I am not a racial minority, I completely allow that I am not qualified to talk about whether something is racially insensitive or not. But here's the deal -- neither is Y. What bugs me the most about the whole incident is that Y, a Caucasian male, even if he has minority status otherwise, presents himself as the keeper of the well-being of women and racial minorities. This whole incident smells of deep-seated misogyny to me, which permeates pretty much every culture in the world and even otherwise liberal people can be profoundly sexist.
If we only hired completely enlightened people who have no trace of racism, sexism, or any other bias in them, academia would be a very, very desolate place. (A next-door colleague, who is on the search committee with me, reminded me today that women are indeed still viewed by some, perhaps many, as "diversity candidates" and not as "real candidates". When no specific diversity designation in given, of course we are supposed to select from among the men. I am still fuming.)
I hate to see a stellar female candidate dismissed yet again because she does not adhere to some unattainable criterion -- in this case complete and flawless social enlightenment -- that nobody around her fulfills anyway.
I personally would hire the candidate if she is the most qualified and her in-area people really like her. Once she is hired, Y, if he can will himself to be calm and objective, could certainly talk to her about the things that rubbed him the wrong way. She could also be assigned faculty mentors who are there to help her with her professional development; this could include addressing her verbal blunders.
What say you, blogosphere?