Thursday, February 03, 2011

Target of Resentment?

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.

30 comments:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Around here a "target of opportunity" (officially call a "target of excellence") is a way for a department to hire someone they really want even though they haven't been given a slot to recruit for. Our department has tried a few times to get the faculty we deserved that way, and even succeeded once.

The reception for the new faculty was far from a "you didn't go through the hell we did" reaction. It was more like "I hope all those trips to give invited talks the first year aren't hints that they're thinking of leaving so soon".

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of 3 situations I was in:

1) When I was in grad school, a certain STEM department (not the one I was in) hired its first female faculty member. A female student remarked matter-of-factly that this professor was hired because she's a woman. I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I said "I thought she was hired because she's really good at [her research area]." The student said "Yes, she is good at it, but they wanted a woman from that field." I wasn't privy to the faculty deliberations, and I didn't know if the student had inside info or was just making assumptions, so I changed topics.

2) As a faculty member, I was in the meeting where a senior administrator, one who is in a position to know this, said "Oh, so-and-so should definitely apply for [an internal grant targeted at junior faculty], because as a woman in [STEM field] she'll definitely get it." I wasn't quite sure whether he was saying something good about the school's commitment to equity, or if he was being patronizing by not saying anything about her qualifications, so I said nothing.

3) Finally, I was once at an event where somebody said very matter-of-factly that minority students will have an easier time getting into grad school, so we actually don't need to do as much to help them in certain respects. I wanted to disagree with her, but from her name and appearance I couldn't quite tell whether she was Italian (in which case it would be safe for me to disagree with her) or Hispanic (in which case I'd better keep my mouth shut) so I kept my mouth shut.

Any suggestions on what to say or not say when one hears that a person got or will get something because of gender or race?

Anonymous said...

Here in Canada NSERC used to have a program called University Faculty Awards (UFA), which provided substantial part of the salary for a minority professor during their tenure-track years (it was ended a couple of years ago).

It was not uncommon for me to hear senteces like "you're not an UFA, you must be really good, since the university hired you for real" or (speaking of a female prof who didn't get tenure) "well, you know, she was hired with an UFA..." or (a female UFA professor referring to another professor without a UFA) "she's a real professor, unlike me".

Well, you get the idea...

Arlenna said...

I have my position because my dean and provost were willing to pony up extra money to hire me when I applied to a search for which my research didn't quite "fit" but they otherwise loved me and I was eligible for "targeting." I have experienced absolutely no adverse effects from this, although that might be more an illustration of how good my colleagues are compared to some environments.

As Zuska and others I know online and in physical space have said: how many dudes and white people are in their positions because of less overt "targeting?" MANY is not ALL of them. So there is nothing shameful in accepting some leveling of the old boy network, and if you then demonstrate your awesomeness by getting grants and publishing papers, the naysayers (who maybe are just insecure that your targeting reveals that almost all hires are the result of special interest lobbying of some kind or another) can kiss your butt.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that our department recently did a targeted hire to remedy our embarrassingly low number of female faculty- I think the faculty have all welcomed her with open arms, for she truly is a stellar scientist. In fact, many in the rest of the field are shocked to find we could recruit someone as good as she. It helped that she was given an endowed chair position...

Anonymous said...

Wow, timely topic! I will admit that hires like this worry me a bit personally, but not for the reason you might think. I am a young female who would like to someday try for a tenure-track position in my current department, but am ineligible for our current female-oriented "target of opportunity" hire because I don't work in the targeted subfield. In an ideal world I'd still manage to get a job here one day and enjoy whoever joins the faculty through this hire as a fellow young colleague. However, I do worry a little that the attitude will become "hey, we just HAD to hire a woman...why waste a normal hire on one when we can get them through target of opportunity hires??", and that getting hired through traditional means as a woman will become even more difficult here than it already is for the next several years. Do you think this could become a side issue for a department conducting hires like this, or are these situations too rare for that to be a dominant issue?

However, from the day-to-day climate in the department I don't get the sense that there would be major issues with resentment or superiority toward this new hire. The reception sounds like it would be "hey! We've now got a total bada$$ in subfield X, go us!" (a few crotchety sexist grad students aside. Yes, *grad students*; the older faculty and us postdocs seem to be pretty enthused!)

Anonymous said...

What Arlenna said!!

Anonymous said...

The people who will resent you are bigots who would have resented you anyhow. After all if they were motivated by true principles of fairness and natural justice they would resent all those old WASP professors who got hired at a time when segregation was alive.

Have you ever heard any of them say: sure Richard Feynman was great but let's face it, he never had to compete against the african-americans for his coveted Caltech position?

My advice, let bigots be and take the opportunities as they present themselves.

To quote an academic source:

If you're going to let one stupid prick ruin your life... you're not the girl I thought you were. --Prof. Stromwell

Anonymous said...

In my department, we hired a black assistant professor as a target of opportunity. I think there is absolutely no resentment about him, on the contrary we're glad to have him. The situation was such that we did a junior faculty search that year, and shortlisted those candidates we'd like to hire. The black guy was among them. Since it turned out our department did not have funds to hire anyone, we made the case that the black candidate is a target of opportunity and obtained special funds from the provost. So he was hired because he was black, but he was as qualified as any of the other candidates since he had been shortlisted.

Generally, whenever we have special funding to hire a certain type of person, we always first consider if the person is "above the bar" for us independently of their special characteristics. I think this limits any resentment.

Anonymous said...

We hired the wife of a senior faculty member as a "hire of opportunity" (because she's a woman). She's just as mediocre as any of the senior faculty, so it's worked out well.

Phillip Helbig said...

One of the main accomplishments of society is appreciating people due to their own accomplishments and neither discriminating for or against them for reasons not related to the task at hand (like hiring someone). Being hired as a trailing spouse is really no different than a student being favoured for having sex with the supervisor: in both cases a person gets something undeserved as a result of a sexual relationship with someone more qualified. Even stranger is that many people defend the former as if it is a basic human right and criticise the latter with a vengeance.

Yes, there might be some discrimination, but affirmative action raises the issues mentioned above. Better would be to have candidates rated by an external commission and make their recommendations public, at least to all the candidates. This forces committees to be objective.

Arlenna said...

oops, my "MANY (is) not ALL of them" is supposed to be "MANY *if* not ALL of them."

Anonymous said...

I know of a married couple at Big Fancy U where within the department FSP is still known as MSPs wife. Outside of the department it is almost universally the opposite. Oh, MSP, I don't really know him but isn't he famous fancypants FSP's husband?

She is a member of the NAS, a Fellow of the Royal Society and so on. Him? Sorry, who is that again?

I don't why she puts up with any crap from her colleagues. Yes, they were resentful at being forced to give her a spousal appointment but, come on, she is awesome!

Some department problems are only solved through retirement.

Anonymous said...

in both cases a person gets something undeserved

Therein lies your mistake. Spousal hiring in most places assumes that the trailing spouse can show that they deserve it. It is simply a pre-established mechanism to find bridge funding to do a hire-of-opportunity. Most decent universities have a similar mechanism for other hires of opportunity, say, if a star candidate were to show up here tomorrow and asked for a job we'll find bridge funds for him/her until there is a faculty retirement.

At my home institution spousal hiring means that you get an interview, that's it. It is up to you to prove yourself. In several cases we only made an offer to one of the two couple members (in both cases the woman) because the partner wasn't good enough.

In a third case we offered the spouse a soft-money position and told him he could apply when a tenured position opened up. He didn't measure up and within a year transfered to a non-academic path.

Anonymous said...

One question to consider...how different is it to hire a faculty member from a targeted demographic than it is to hire one from a targeted research sub-area. Departments constrain searches all the time based on the need to balance their research and teaching expertise. A physics department may be looking to hire a condensed matter theorist and choose a narrow shortlist accordingly. That same year, there may be the world's best, future Nobel prize-winning atomic physicist on the job market. Does that mean the CM theorist that they hire is somehow less qualified because s/he was hired only for being a CM theorist?

If we start with the assumption that having a diverse faculty improves the overall quality of a department, then the fact that candidate field is narrowed by gender or ethnic heritage should not be a problem. Ultimately, the backlash is against the idea that diversity matters at all. And the *only* way to change opinions on that matter is to expose people to a diverse environment where they can experience the benefits of diversity.

Besides all this, as I once told a male post-doc trying to convince me that I didn't want to be hired through a posting for women, "I'd rather have a job and the opportunity to prove my capabilities than not have a job at all." Sexism continues to exist, and these policies level the playing field despite the fact that many will continue to believe that they tip it in favor of the minorities.

Anonymous said...

My husband was a targetted hire as a member of a minority group, for specialised work in a non university environment. From day 1 he got shit. Because the decision to advertise and appoint was made by higher up colleagues without the support of the immediate dept, he was deeply resented. A number of colleagues told him to his face that he was unwelcome. It was clearly very difficult for them to separate their feelings about the politics of the appointment from the person who had come to work in an area that they themselves were unable to work effectively in. While most treated him with superficial civility after the initial hostility, ongoing racism by the head of that dept resulted him in eventually leaving. It was a pretty unforgettable experience, and shocking in a country that prides itself on its openmindedness. and of course the real losers were the clients that needed his specialist skills.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lolz, Philip Helbig. I am looking forward to the day when our society accomplishes that.

Anon at 2:02, here are my suggestions to your situations:

1. She's really outstanding. We were lucky to get her!

2. Yes, she's really outstanding. She deserves it!

3. Then why do we have so few minority students in our own graduate program? (I don't even need to know your field to feel comfortable assuming it is not diverse).

Anonymous said...

In my department - strong one in strong R1 university - I have seen a couple of diversity target of opportunity hires. In all cases the person hired was strong enough to have potentially been hired anyway, but the slot wouldn't have been there. Everyone was very glad to have that mechanism to get someone we couldn't have gotten otherwise. I have seen people hired through other questionable means that generated resentment, but this isn't one of those.

Now though, we are going through just such a one, trying to hire a senior female as Target of Op. There is only one woman on the senior faculty now (another one junior, and she is very sane, but she doesn't get to vote on this). The current senior woman is insane and is trying to kill the hire, which all the senior men are in favor of, for all the normal obvious reasons (the person is good, we need someone else in the area, etc.). There are no spouse issues - this is not a two-body hire. Insane woman's motives are very unclear, she has not said anything that makes sense to explain it (thus, insane). People have speculated various things - jealousy over various things new woman would get, "pull up the ladder syndrome" etc. I don't know, I just know it is very frustrating...

Anonymous said...

I am a little tired of the so-called Queen Bee syndrome.

Even Queen Bees deserve some slack. How many of us have insane *male* colleagues? Or male colleagues who fight tooth and nail against a candidate for no discernible reason? In my department, I've seen it in every single search. And yet, I've never heard anyone attribute it to their maleness.

EngineeringProf said...

Our department has made a target of hire, and it's wonderful.

It probably helps that we had to go to our Dean begging to hire this person. It probably helps that we all agreed that any person had to be above threshold. It probably helps that we weren't given a slot to recruit for, but we found some great candidates, and this was the only way to recruit them. It probably helps that the entire department has to vote on hiring. In this case, the vote was 100% unanimous in favor.

Anyway, we're delighted to have successfully recruited this new faculty member, and I don't expect problems or issues of the type mentioned in the blog post.

Phillip Helbig said...

in both cases a person gets something undeserved

Therein lies your mistake. Spousal hiring in most places assumes that the trailing spouse can show that they deserve it. It is simply a pre-established mechanism to find bridge funding to do a hire-of-opportunity.


Even if that's the case (and often it is not), this still means that someone is getting an interview and at least the prospect of bridge funding because, and only because, they have a sexual relationship with someone more qualified. An equally qualified person would not get the same chance. So it's still unfair. Many people leave the field not because they are not good enough, but because they have a family to support and can't afford to hang on via a string of soft-money positions. These people need bridge funding more than the trailing spouses (who, by definition, have a spouse with a job, which means that their situation is not that dire) and they get the shaft. And that's supposed to be fair?

Anonymous said...

Anon@7:57, this is anon@5:28.

FSP's post was about target of op hires that generate resentment. As I am going through a target of op hire that is generating resentment in my department now, I shared that. I didn't attribute insane woman's behavior to her gender, but did report that pull up ladder/queen bee syndrome was one explanation that had been offered by people I have discussed it with (it was a woman who said it for whatever that's worth). It's too much of an elephant in the room not to mention.

It does seem relevant to me though that insane woman has never acted up this way for any male hire or promotion case, although there have been such that were quite controversial in her immediate subfield, where the men were fighting. She kept entirely silent in those cases despite that her opinion was actually wanted and requested.

Yes, of course, some men also behave insanely. When that happens, it causes me to lose all respect for any opinion those men have in future. I will have the same response to insane woman now. It is all the more reason I want the current target of op hire to go through, so that we have more than one senior female on the faculty and our senior female faculty contingent will not be 100% insane, only 50%.

Regardless of whether we give anyone slack or not, I believe queen bee/ladder syndrome is a real phenomenon at least in some cases and worthy of discussion. It is not just a gender thing, it is more general human phenomenon than that. I have seen multiple times senior foreign-born scientists from certain countries pass harsh judgments on junior people from their own countries in a way that I have never seen them do with anyone else. Obviously not all (not even most) foreigners/women/etc. do this. It is a symptom of insecurity. Blame whoever you want but it's a real thing.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who has been on hiring committees: I have long suspected that the idea of "fit" can be far too close to the idea of "fitting in", ie being like the dominant group (male, white?) in the Department. FSP indeed suggests that minority candidates may not have been given equal consideration over concerns about "fit", and I have myself wondered if it's been a problem for me as a woman in a male-dominated field (particularly when I was asked questions at interview about my family situation, children, what my husband does, whether I'd seek a spousal hire and so on). Anyone have any experience? Ideas what could be done? I'm now based in the UK, where hiring committees have external members who oversee the process, and my sense is that it's a much more open and fair process here partly for that reason ...

Anonymous said...

And that's supposed to be fair?

Fairness doesn't mean equal outcomes or even equal opportunities 100% of the time. It means for example, as kids soon learn, that if one day Jimmy gets a candy treat then some other day Jane gets a (possibly different) treat.

What fairness means is that Jimmy doesn't get two treats for every treat that Jane gets.

In the case of two body couples they have the advantage that one gets an interview for the other but by the same token they have the disadvantage that they cannot pick up and move like most regular couples can, given the dearth of professorial positions.

So it all balances out, and in answer to your question, yes it is is fair.

Anonymous said...

I wonder about this because I was told by my department chair that I would get hired for a TT job just because I am a girl.
I said, "I don't want a job because I am a girl. I want a job because I am that much better than anyone else."
His response was something along the lines of it just not being about that.
I think in some departments it is possible to have people treat you with resentment because of your gender or ethnicity.

Anonymous said...

I was the first woman hired in a small department. (We're not a big enough/wealthy enough school to have "target of opportunity" hires; we can only hire if there's a need to teach more classes than possible with the current faculty.)

Because of the age of the department members at the time, it looked like the position that I filled would be the second-to-last chance to hire a woman for a couple decades. They hired me (though they interviewed both men and women).

I still hear, every now and then, that I was hired because I'm a woman. It's true, but it gets old.

Anonymous said...

the trailing spouses (who, by definition, have a spouse with a job, which means that their situation is not that dire)

I gasped in shock and disgust when I read this statement by Phillip Helbig. This is the same sort of thinking that in the past led to the big gender pay gap: why pay women equally, when they already have a husband that provides? Get a grip Mister. I have a career in academia not for the salary. Women have careers (not jobs) for the same reasons that men: personal ambition, drive to accomplish certain things in life, thirst for knowledge, societal responsibility, or because it's just what you want in life.

To suggest that a woman in a dual-career situation "does not have it so bad" because she's just a second income is deeply offensive.

Alex said...

Look, the strongest argument for spousal hiring is not the needs of the hire (everybody else needs a job too), it's that the institution has an advantage in recruiting, because many faculty are married to faculty. In addition, since female academics are more likely to be married to other academics than male academics, it helps the institution achieve diversity.

If this were just about the faculty member's needs, yes, to be blunt, somebody married to an elite professional probably is less (financially) needy than somebody who isn't. Look at the apartment that I live in (with a wife who makes less money than even a lot of the adjuncts), and look at the houses that most of my colleagues live in (most of whom are either married to academics or at least people who make more than my wife) and then we can talk about need. So, if spousal hiring is presented as being about the needs of elite professionals married to other elite professionals, I'm prepared to say "Get the **** over yourselves, being married to an academic doesn't make you more worthy of a job."

But that isn't what it's about. It's about the institution's ability to hire good faculty, especially female faculty. When a lot of academics are married to other academics, they'll be looking for spousal hire packages, and the institutions that can do that will have an edge in the competition for talent.

When people fool themselves into thinking that spousal hiring is some sort of Moral Virtue that academics are entitled to, they're dead wrong. When they view it as a boon to the institution, they're exactly right.

Phillip Helbig said...

"In the case of two body couples they have the advantage that one gets an interview for the other but by the same token they have the disadvantage that they cannot pick up and move like most regular couples can, given the dearth of professorial positions.

So it all balances out, and in answer to your question, yes it is is fair."


This is so far from reality it is pathetic. Most couples cannot just "get up and move", especially not to another country, as often happens in academia. Most scientists with a non-scientist partner have a partner who cannot just find a job easily wherever scientist partner happens to get a job.

Phillip Helbig said...

"I gasped in shock and disgust when I read this statement by Phillip Helbig. This is the same sort of thinking that in the past led to the big gender pay gap: why pay women equally, when they already have a husband that provides? Get a grip Mister. I have a career in academia not for the salary. Women have careers (not jobs) for the same reasons that men: personal ambition, drive to accomplish certain things in life, thirst for knowledge, societal responsibility, or because it's just what you want in life.

To suggest that a woman in a dual-career situation "does not have it so bad" because she's just a second income is deeply offensive."


Note that I did not mention the sex of either spouse. I think you have some deep-seated prejudices you need to address.