Cornell Arts and Sciences Job Posting: As Long As You’re ‘Underrepresented’ We Want You

You can’t make this stuff up.

A recent job posting by Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences indicates the college is “seeking to hire a tenure-track assistant professor in some area of the humanities or qualitative social sciences.”

Is this what Ezra Cornell really meant by “any person, any study”? I think not, and I would really like to know who in the sea of Cornell’s HR department gave this the OK.

The real kicker, though, comes in the next sentence, which in a wholly unsatisfying manner attempts to slim down an otherwise fantastically large applicant pool: “We are especially interested in considering applications from members of underrepresented groups, those who have faced economic hardship, are first-generation college graduates, or work on topics related to these issues.”

Justifying this hiring practice, Scott MacDonald, Cornell’s senior associate dean of arts and humanities, was quoted saying in a Chronicle article, “there’s a background need in the college, which is part of the explanation.”

The primary concern is the possibility that subpar candidates will be hired simply because they are “underrepresented” as opposed to more qualified candidates who are not underrpresented—whatever underrepresented means to the application review committee (take some wild guesses). Does this qualify as discriminatory hiring or affirmative action? While affirmative action hiring is required of federal contractors, hiring decisions based in part or in whole by race or gender are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time of writing a request for comment has been delivered to Mary Opperman, Vice President of Human Resources and Safety Services.

Update: Opperman responded to inquiry with the following statement: “As a federal contractor, Cornell University is obligated under federal law to take affirmative steps to hire women and underrepresented minorities. In other words, Cornell is an affirmative action employer.”

Cornell Job Ad Underrepresented

Regardless of the legal implications, I propose the following question to you: does this obnoxious job posting inspire any confidence in Cornell’s administration ability to steer the University towards academic prestige and financial stability? Is targeted hiring of key personnel based on proven ability and potential future success the way forward, or is hiring whomever in whatever area based on the applicant’s physical characteristics the way forward?

In a rational world, one would expect the college dean to meet with department heads and assess hiring needs, with the dean and administrators then assessing those needs against budget constraints by taking into account factors such as the relative importance of the departments (in terms of current and projected student enrollment in the department’s courses). The fact that many introductory Arts college courses, such as those in economics and computer science—fields of important, practical study—are overflowing with 500+ students semester after semester, but that the Arts college hiring plan is to reel in whomever they can in whatever subject area so long as that person is “underrpresented”, is proof of general administrative incompetence and misguided priorities.

Cornell’s priority hires should be computer science, engineering, mathematics, finance, accounting, economics, medicine, and law professors, not those who study “underrepresented” topics, which we all know means courses with an enrollment of 5. Yet, interestingly enough, just last spring Arts college faculty were protesting slim budget cuts and the closing down of courses with enrollment less than six (unless the course was a graduate course or language course)

Not only does this type of hiring practice hurt those students who would like smaller class sizes, it is an affront to existing faculty, many of whom were hired based on their merit in a specific field (unfortunately, we can only assume this now).

1 Comment on Cornell Arts and Sciences Job Posting: As Long As You’re ‘Underrepresented’ We Want You

  1. Naekitsa Wong // October 3, 2015 at 1:06 pm //

    Ben Carson once said that he considers it an insult if his kids have a priority in college enrollment due to their race. He is right. We don’t want any favors, regardless of whether we are black or Chinese, we wish we to be held to the same standard as other races. The concept of “underrepresented” is just whites wanting to show they are superior to minorities by offering a help hand. Or they are just using us to their political gain.

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