Friday, December 02, 2005

Mediocre Affirmative Action Candidates


Conservatism and the pursuit of excellence

At our last dinner table conversation, my husband wondered why Bush nominated Harriet Meiers when it was so predictable that she would go down in flames.

This one is a no-brainer: the aim was to discredit affirmative action and make it politically feasible to appoint a white male. We do this in Academia all the time.

Faced with a hiring decision, colleagues piously proclaim that we will of course do everything we can to find a qualified woman. So, e.g. on one occasion we decided to open the search to candidates with an interest in philosophy of law as well as business ethics since, as one colleague noted, this would be more likely to attract women ("because, you know, you think of women more in connection with, like, LA Law and Allie McBeal than with business").

Then we sort through candidates' files and conduct interviews, carefully weeding out the strongest female candidates on the grounds that given affirmative action policies they can get any jobs they want so we don't have a chance of getting them. Then we make the final decision, considering the pool of mediocre female candidates left and a few slightly better than mediocre male candidates. We bewail the fact that in spite of all our efforts to get a good female candidate we just have the "usual roster of weak women."

At this point, we congratulate ourselves on having tried our best--tailoring the job description to "feminine interests" and interviewing a preponderance of female applicants (except, or course, the ones with whom we wouldn't have a chance). We have the paper work to show that the female candidates that got to the interview stage are, by any criteria, less qualified than the male candidates and, crying crocodile tears, offer the job to a white male.

Let's face it, my male colleagues say: women are just mediocre. Where there's smoke there's fire--that's why you see so few women at the top, as CEOs of fortune 500 companies or in prestigeous academic positions, and why with all the affirmative action pressures we've been under for the last few decades you still don't get women at the top. Look at us: we did everything we could to get a qualified woman but the women we interviewed were just not competitive.

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