Committee re-ranked white, black candidates to avoid ‘bloodbath,’ investigators say
The University of Washington Department of Psychology violated a non-discrimination policy by putting “inappropriate” emphasis on applicants’ race in a hiring decision earlier this year, a university investigation found.
The report by the university’s Complaint Investigation & Resolution Office found the department altered its hiring process “to provide disparate opportunities” for a black candidate whom a hiring committee ranked lower than white and Asian candidates.
The public university prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and sex. The decision also violated a state law banning affirmative action practices in the state of Washington, watchdogs say.
Hiring committee members told investigators they faced intense pressure to re-rank candidates for the faculty position based on their race, with one expressing fear of a “bloodbath” if they did not offer the position to the black candidate first.
“The UW is committed to diversity — and committed to equal opportunity in hiring — while upholding University policy and state and federal law,” spokesperson Victor Balta said in a statement provided to The College Fix this week. “Our students and our state benefit from a faculty whose knowledge and understanding represent the diversity of Washington state.”
Balta said the psychology department “inappropriately considered” candidates’ races in its hiring process earlier this year – even after being told “such considerations are inappropriate.”
As a result, he said, the department is prohibited from tenured faculty hiring for two years. He said they also are launching a comprehensive review and revision of its hiring practices.
John Sailor with the conservative National Association of Scholars, who has followed the issue closely for months and filed a public records request to gain more insight, reported that “Washington State law, though not mentioned in the report, is no doubt also relevant to the incident.”
He cited a state ballot initiative adopted in 1998 that “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or groups on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
Here's a comment from a University of Washington search committee member, editing an official hiring report.
"I advise deleting the statement below as it shows that URM applications were singled out and evaluated differently than nonURM applications (which is not allowed…)" pic.twitter.com/fRV77jSNtm
— John Sailer (@JohnDSailer) November 1, 2023
The investigation was launched thanks to an “internal whistleblower,” Balta told Inside Higher Ed.
The violation involved a search to fill a “Diversity in Development” faculty position in the department earlier this year.
On Feb. 28, the hiring committee narrowed a group of 84 applicants down to three viable candidates and ranked them based on the university’s hiring rubric, the investigation report states. Unanimously, the committee put the white candidate first, Asian candidate second, and black candidate third, according to the report. The candidates’ names were redacted.
Following this decision, however, the department’s Strategic Planning Committee asked the hiring committee to “prepare a paragraph justifying why they selected a white candidate for first offer,” according to the report.
The department’s Diversity Advisory Committee also refused to approve the hiring committee’s recommendations, with one member saying they believed the white candidate may have been ranked first due to “undetected/unacknowledged bias,” the report states.
The diversity committee was given power to influence the hiring committee’s decisions based on an unadopted “case study” document, the investigation found.
The “case study” required the hiring committee to consider candidates’ racial identity throughout the application process – and to request the diversity committee’s endorsement before offering jobs to candidates, the report states.
“The document created by members in the Department – referred to as a ‘case study’ – was determined in the review to contain hiring guidance inconsistent with University policy, and will no longer be used in hiring processes,” the university said in a Oct. 31 statement.
In March, however, after multiple meetings with the diversity committee, the hiring committee agreed to change its recommendation and rank the black candidate first, the Asian candidate second, and the white candidate third, the report states.
The university investigation found hiring committee members felt pressured to do so because of “DEI” efforts and not because they “changed their minds about which candidate is most qualified.”
The hiring committee “conceded” the change of order for the following reasons, according to the report:
“So as not to create a ‘bloodbath’ at a faculty meeting;
“So the Developmental Area is not accused of ‘not prioritizing DEI;’
“Because they were worried junior faculty will hear a lot of ‘nasty stuff’ said at the faculty meeting and wonder if they were hired simply because of their races;
“Because they thought it would result in a failed search; and
“Because it was creating personal stress on them, to the point that [redacted] stated, ‘I wish I could quit this job’ and [redacted] wrote, ‘I cannot condone this search process and do not want to be asked to speak about it in person.’”
On March 16, the Department of Psychology approved offering the position to the black candidate first and, on April 17, the candidate accepted the position, according to the report.
A month later, Dianne Harris, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, asked the Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office to investigate the situation.
Published Sept. 22, the investigation found the department violated Executive Order 31, the university’s non-discrimination policy, by explicitly considering “racial identities” in its hiring decision.
The university responded Oct. 31 by requiring law and policy training for all Department of Psychology members, taking steps to update its hiring policies to specifically address non-discrimination, eliminating the “case study” and prohibiting tenured hiring in the department for two years.
Harris and other university leaders also apologized to the affected candidates, according to the university.
“The successful candidate is unquestionably qualified, and we are proud to have them as a valued faculty member in the department and at the University,” it stated Oct. 31. “They had no knowledge of the concerns raised and have our full support and respect, which we have communicated directly.”
IMAGE: University of Washington