open discussion

Niranjan S. Karnik (nkarnik@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU)
Thu, 3 Mar 1994 08:11:35 -0600

Well, I have patiently listened to the ongoing discussion around faculty
hiring, racism, political correctness and everything else related to these
topics. Now I will throw my two bits in.

In my mind, the central issue is - How do increase a diversity of
perspectives in a system which is designed to propogate itself? As much as
the tenure system was designed in part to protect minority views and enable
faculty to conduct work in any area free of the fear that their job will be
cut - it does not do this. Tenure is on average between 5 to 10 years away
from hiring for most faculty and it is during this point in time that they
are most threatened.

People naturally feel most comfortable around people like
themselves and people who hold similar views. This is one reason why it
has been so difficult for minorities and women to break into academia.
There is nothing really wrong with a middle class white male perspective
but it is not the only perspective. Faculty hiring committee composed of
white males are not likely to see the value of gender or racially based
analyses. This is not to say that all white men are bad. Much to the
contrary, there are many white men in academia who have tremendous
sensitivity and understanding of topics related to race, gender and

Conducting research is not the only function of faculty. It is at
this point that having minority faculty is vitally important. Faculty
often serve as role models to students. While white males may be excellent
role models, it is often difficult for students to empathize with people
who they believe do not understand them. Having minority mentors is one
key to encourage younger minority students to seek academic positions. If
they don't see people like them in faculty positions, they may believe that
these professions are inaccessible for them.

We should not view policies which encourage the hiring of minority
faculty as being discriminatory or unfair. They are a balance which
encourages search committees to hire people with differing perspectives and
views than their own. They do not discount the qualifications of the
candidates but simply say that minority faculty may have different
qualifications which also have as much merit as the traditional academic
paths followed by many.

Perhaps the best questions people pondering this issue should
consider is: Would you be willing to hire your nemesis? Would the people
on opposite sides of this argument be willing to hire the people they are
arguing with? If the answer is "no" then we have the justification for
policies which encourage us to make this decision "yes."

thanks for listening


Niranjan S. Karnik
Dept. of Sociology and Medical Scholars Program
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
326 Lincoln Hall
702 South Wright Street "Medicine, the only
Urbana, IL 61801 profession that labors
incessantly to destroy
email: the reason for its own
tel: (217) 351-1660 - home existence"
(217) 333-5225 - fax - James Bryce