Brian Leiter Explains the Ethics of Hidden Hiring Factors

Academic Ethics: ‘Hidden’ Hiring Criteria

Any seasoned academic who has been involved with job searches knows there are two sets of criteria for some positions: the ones in the published ad and the "hidden" ones.

"The dean says we must hire a woman this time," reports the chair. Or the dean says: "The department’s lack of racial diversity is becoming a problem, you’ve got to fix that with this year’s search." Or the department’s star faculty member tells the chair, "If you don’t hire my spouse into a permanent line finally, we will take jobs elsewhere next year." All of those fall into the hidden-criteria column.

The published job ads connected to such searches reveal nothing of the underlying reality. For legal reasons, no job ad can say, "Only women should apply," or "This job is open only to spouses of very famous members of our department."

Sometimes there may be codes or signals that unmentioned hiring criteria are at work. Many applicants assume that a job ad for someone in "critical race theory," or "19th-century literature with an emphasis on gender issues," or "feminist philosophy" is, in fact, reserved for members of a historically disadvantaged race or gender. So, too, with a job in which the research specialty is defined very narrowly: "We seek a historian of the early-19th-century American whaling industry and its effect on families in Maine in particular." It is a reasonable bet that the department has someone in mind and will not be looking seriously at random applicants (were there any!).

Of course, every job search may involve considerations that are not part of the position’s public advertisement. Unbeknownst to applicants, the search committee may be stacked in favor of quantitative candidates in international politics, rather than theorists; or in favor of corporate-law experts, rather than public-law scholars. Even more commonly, members of the search committee take seriously only applicants from certain programs, or with certain recommenders — even though the ad says nothing about either.

So why should we be concerned about the hidden criteria in some searches but not in others?

Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education