Friday, November 16, 2007

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

So here's an ad from October's JFP:

*153. MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY, Starkville, MS. Contingent upon funding. Asst. or Assoc. Prof., tenure-track. 3 courses per semester, usual non-teaching duties, research and publication expected. AOS: Open, but the department has special interests in aesthetics, bioethics, philosophy of religion or history and philosophy of science. AOC: History of philosophy. Applicant must be a member of PBK, able to teach full range of introductory--

Wait. What? Applicants must be a member of Phi Beta Kappa? You might think, what the fuck for?

In fact, that's exactly what I did think when I read that ad. Now, via a trusted friend of PJMB comes word that, yes, applicants must be members of PBK. Apparently
Mississippi State's got some initiative going where, for god knows what reason, they're trying to increase the number of faculty who are PBK members. So get this: the line is contingent on the new hire being a PBK member.

Now get a load of PBK, with real class, bragging about how exclusive they are:

Only about 10 percent of the nation's institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

Only about 10 percent of the arts and sciences graduates of these distinguished institutions are selected for Phi Beta Kappa membership.

What does this mean for Mississippi State's search? It could be worse, I suppose. The line could be contingent on finding someone who was in their junior high audio/visual club. And who knows? Maybe they'll be able to find a good hire. But I'd bet they'd make a better hire if the search was wide open. I can't help thinking the department knows that too. I sort of feel a bit bad for them.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had a very memorable job interview there several years ago. Five men sat at a table and tried to convince me, (as it happens, a female), that I would really love the two hour bus ride to the remote outpost where I would have sole responsibility for teaching 1 intro per semester because -- get this -- the bus had a tv!

Kenny said...

Yeah, that was a weird ad. I feel sorry for the department - I figured it had to be some sort of university requirement, because no department would care about something like that.

Mike said...

I saw that add as well. I had two thoughts: first, I know that some undergrads don't have chapters of PBK. I know in particular that very few historically black colleges have chapters. Second, I'm no legal expert, but a provision like this seems to be completely unrelated to how a person would perform the job. (Religious Statements are likewise unrelated to job performance, but they are constitutionally justified). What justification could one give for this that would not be better expressed in another requirement? As such, I wonder if this requirement violates employment law. I also suspect (though I can't find demographic data for PBK) that using PBK membership are a requirement disproportionately impact members of certain "suspect classes" along racial, gender and probably also religious grounds.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. I was offered PBK membership as an undergrad but declined because I needed to pay to get in and (according to my own common sense and on the advice of one of my professors, who was a PBK member himself) philosophers didn't really give a shit about PBK. I got into a little hot water with the dean of students over that decision. So yeah, it's probably an administrative requirement.

juniorperson said...

Doesn't this automatically exclude from consideration people whose undergrad. work was not in America?

I share mike's worries about the legality of this. And, of course, everyone else's worries about its sense!

Anonymous said...

actually, i have spoken with members of the department about this particular ad. apparently, the funding for the job is itself predicated on the person being a member of Phi Beta Kappa...something about getting a chapter in Starkville, or some such. The person with whom I spoke admitted that it was a fairly peculiar requirement, but that they (as a department) were assured of not getting funding for the position unless the candidate met the requirement. In fact, said person noted that background checks for membership would have to be performed, and that candidates who failed to meet it would (as a matter of necessity) be discarded.

there is no worry regarding the legality of this - insofar as the funding for the position is predicated on this. apparently, in order to get a chapter, the university must have a certain number of faculty who are themselves PBK.

Mike said...

there is no worry regarding the legality of this - insofar as the funding for the position is predicated on this.

I'm not sure what you mean by this - I see two possible interpretations. The first is that there is some external donor who has set aside funds for hiring professors who are members of PBK. I've heard of this being done regarding chairs in particular fields/sub-fields. The other possibility (and I think this is the case in Starkville?) is that the President wants to start up a chapter of PBK and so he is really trying to get faculty members who can facilitate that. In either case, it doesn't really matter where the funds are coming from if the PBK requirement is irrelevant to the job duties listed. Since the standard would likely disproportionately impact many protected classes and it is not related to the "essential duties of the position," then it creates an undue burden on protected classes. The essential duties of the position are as follows:

"Teach three classes (9 hours) per semester at both introductory and upper levels in the Philosophy curriculum. Curriculum Development. Active research and publication program in area of specialization. Service to the department, university and public."

The job ad could have been crafted in such a way that a requirement of the position requires that one be an advisor to PBK (which I assume requires membership?), but it was not worded that way. The PBK requirement is an external constraint not relevant to the posted responsibilities or duties of the position. In which case, the job ad may be illegal if it turns out that a PBK requirement disproportionally impacts protected classes.

Like I said, though, I could very well no know how such cases play out in courts. I'm no legal expert/lawyer; though I have read a little bit about employment law.

Anonymous said...

"it doesn't really matter where the funds are coming from if the PBK requirement is irrelevant to the job duties listed. Since the standard would likely disproportionately impact many protected classes and it is not related to the "essential duties of the position," then it creates an undue burden on protected classes."

like you, i'm not legal scholar...but i see nothing illegal about a donor specifying the ways in which a donation is to be used, i.e., _if_ you get the funding, then the person to be hired must meet x, y, and z requirements. this sort of stipulation is the norm in, say, hirings in other federal areas, like publically owned museums.

and i can't really understand why such a requirement would, as you say, put an "undue burden on unprotected classes." Gimme a break. Is PBK pseudonymous for KKK - wherein all members are white males? I think not.

let me just say this: perhaps you're correct, and such a stipulation borders on the illegal. in which case i should simply assert my take on such a law: bullshit on stilts.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:54: so a position requiring membership in the KKK would be ok?

Anonymous said...

precisely. that's _exactly_ what i meant.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea what PBK meant when I saw that add. Ha! I suspect that will rule out 1 of the 4 aesthetics jobs for most people.

Anonymous said...

My undergrad did not have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, so I had no opportunity to enter the PBK guild. I did however, previously work at BK. That is, I was previously a Burger King employee. So I am somewhat PBK. But I doubt that makes me PBK enough for Mississippi philosophy.

Liberal Arts Prof said...

I, too, am PBK!
Post Burger King.
God, I hated that job.
My last day I spilled the the old fryer grease all over the floor because my bozo of a manager left the plug undone. I think I quit rather than spend my break cleaning it up. My god, what hellish memories you bring back.
Starkville would be much better.

Anonymous said...

I feel a *little* sorry for them if it's true that they're being strong-armed by the university administration, but I also think that they deserve to get a good deal of Burger King-related prank mail, just to remind them of how retarded their job advertisement is. Come on. After all this expense, what's one more stamp?

Anonymous said...

Ah, good: 'retarded' as an insult. Perhaps you want to add that their advert is so gay?

Anonymous said...

"like you, i'm not legal scholar...but i see nothing illegal about a donor specifying the ways in which a donation is to be used, i.e., _if_ you get the funding, then the person to be hired must meet x, y, and z requirements. this sort of stipulation is the norm in, say, hirings in other federal areas, like publically owned museums."

x = white

y = male

z = christian

surely, then, there's nothing wrong with this, just in case the funding of the position is contingent upon the candidate meeting x y and z conditions

Anonymous said...

Do I smell an AAUP possible sanction?

Anonymous said...

It's kinda dumb, given how many otherwise well-qualified philosophers are not PBK members, but I'm virtually certain that a legal claim based on this would get nowhere. It's not true that employers have to consider only factors that are relevant for employment. Certain factors are indeed protected nationwide, so you can't discriminate on the basis of sex, family status, race, etc. You're quite free to discriminate on the basis of other factors (body odor, smoking, obesity, taste in movies, etc.), so long as they're not manifestly and strongly connected to the prohibited categories. Since PBK is actually a pretty diverse organization (probably more ethnically diverse than, say, the Republican party -- and in most states *private* employers are not barred from political tests -- but I haven't heard of a successful reverse discrimination suit by a white Republican to the effect that what appeared to be a political test was in fact a racial test), I doubt the identity of the organization alone would be sufficient for a suit. And it's very, very difficult to establish that a single decision was racially motivated if the organization is not explicitly racist. Generally sanctions against an employer require a pretty clear *pattern* of discrimination. Since academic hiring is so decentralized, that might be hard to establish.

Mike said...

Anonymous 8:18:

Most of your comments about a history of discrimination, etc. are primarily relevant to a case of "disparate treatment" rather than "disparate impact." Disparate impact evaluates the effect that a particular requirement has on protected classes and their employment possibilities. It does not have to rule out every protected candidate for discrimination to exist, but if it rules out a significant percentage of protected qualified candidates (in comparison with those qualified for the actual job requirements, for instance), then it is actionable. The standard of proof is rather high in disparate impact cases - that is, one has to prove (a) that the standard is irrelevant to performing the job which is pretty easy in this case, and (b) the additional PBK requirement produces a statistical disadvantage for protected classes.

There was a nice discussion of disparate impact on Leiter's blog regarding discrimination on the basis on "sexual orientation" and "same-sex acts" when the Christian college and sexual orientation discussion came up earlier this year. That is, to discriminate on the basis of same-sex acts does not constitute disparate treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, but it does have a disparate impact on homosexuals and bisexuals since members of those classes are more likely to engage in same-sex acts that heterosexuals.

As for PBK being diverse, I wouldn't know. I know there are regularly criticized for their lack of racial diversity, but they apparently do not publish demographic statistics. I suspect that says something about their purported "diversity," but I can't be sure.

Anonymous said...

The following is not a defense of the ad, merely a possible explanation (other than sheer elitism) for why someone (external donor or university administrator) might require the successful candidate to be a member of PBK. My guess is that they're trying to get a PBK chapter at Starkville. Among other requirements for having a chapter, PBK requires that x% of the faculty be PBK members. I've been at institutions close to the required percentage where there is a "push" from the administration to more closely consider candidates who are PBK members.

Also, this requirement is the reason why there aren't many PBK chapters at HBCUs. Since many of the faculty at HBCUs have historically been graduates of HBCUs, they never had the opportunity to become members of PBK. And that makes it near-impossible for the institutions to get PBK chapters. (I have no idea if they actually want chapters -- I'm just pointing out the structural problem.)