A reader wonders whether accepting a faculty position that was specifically identified as a "target of opportunity" for hiring a person from an underrepresented group is a bad idea. Would a targeted hire be forever treated differently?
I wondered about just this issue a few years ago.
This reader is particularly concerned about finding herself in a toxic environment of resentment and disrespect if she is hired based on characteristics unrelated to her qualifications.
I don't know exactly what it would be like to be in a targeted hire situation, but in some ways, faculty in these targeted positions are similar those of a "trailing spouse" who is hired for reasons other than (or in addition to) her or his academic qualificiations. So, to the extent that I can extrapolate from the point of view of having been hired as a "trailer" and from having seen departments make (or fail to make) targeted hires.. I will give my current opinion on this issue.
In the best-case scenario, when a new hire is made, the rest of the faculty will be happy from Day 1 to have a new colleague. They will have enough experience with searches to know that you are as qualified for the job as any other candidate, even if an additional criterion was used to make the hire. They will know that decades of disqualification of women and minorities from serious consideration for faculty positions has been part of the reason for the underrepresentation of certain groups in science and engineering departments, and are glad to be doing something proactive about fostering the career of a highly qualified person who also brings diversity to the faculty. They will wonder why they overlooked talented people like you in the 17 previous searches owing to concerns about "fit" with the rest of the department.
OK, so that is unlikely, but a scenario that is possible is that some faculty will initially wonder if you are good enough, and will not think of you as their peer based on the fact that you didn't go through the rigorous selection process that resulted in their being hired based entirely on their awesome intellectual prowess. But then, eventually, once they get used to having you around and once they see that you are a serious, productive scientist/engineer, they will forget that they ever thought of you that way.
This is what happened to me, so I know it does occur. I have written before about how I left my first tenure-track position at University 1 to move to University 2 when U2 created a tenure-track position for me as part of their attempt to hire my husband. They came up with an offer for me once U1 offered my husband a tenure-track position, so hiring me was the only way that U2 was going to get my husband.
Although I was essentially a "trailing spouse" at U2, I thought of myself as a reasonably good catch because of my research and teaching record (I had a CAREER award etc.). Nevertheless, this optimistic view was not held by most of my new colleagues when I first arrived. Some of them ignored me entirely (the thought of my contributing a valued opinion at a faculty meeting was in the realm of the absurd), and others thought it appropriate that I do more teaching and service than just about anyone else in the department (because I was lucky to be there in the first place and should make myself useful?). I felt respected by my colleagues outside my department, but longed for the days when I was respected by colleagues within my department.
This grim situation did not last. I built a research program, I got grants, I got awards, I advised some excellent students, and I established my reputation as a serious scientist and a valued colleague. Some of the oldest faculty retired. Other universities started sniffing around, making moves to recruit me from U2. I am by no means a superstar in my field, but I am definitely good enough to be a productive and respected faculty member at U2.
Academia is constantly being resurfaced: faculty leave and are replaced, students graduate and are replaced, postdocs move on after a year or three and are replaced, and there is turnover in the staff. Maybe there are some older faculty who can never forget that I was hired in an unconventional way, without having gone through the traditional search and interview process (although of course I did that successfully at U1), but this has no effect whatsoever on my daily life in my department today. The way in which I was hired is ancient history.
Some of my older female colleagues in other male-dominated science and engineering departments did not have such a positive experience. They have always felt as if they are relegated to an inferior class of faculty. There are surely going to be some departments in which this occurs, even today. Perhaps you will be able to get a sense for this type of issue during an interview. What is the general departmental view of doing a targeted hire?
If a department has to make a targeted hire owing to a problem with extreme underrepresentation, there are likely to be challenges related to being the targeted hire in that department. Nevertheless, to anyone considering applying for (or accepting an offer of) such a position, I say: go for it anyway. If you are at all interested in being at that institution and in that department, don't let some potentially difficult aspects of the position discourage you. It's a job, and you will likely be given a fair chance at building your research and teaching program. And it might turn out to be a great place. And if it's not, maybe you can leave for a better place later.
2 months ago