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Why you should fill out the Presidential Search Survey

I want people to have three takeaways from this article:

(1) Go fill out the Presidential Search Survey emailed to all faculty, students and staff by Joe Hargis last Friday and express support for diversity goals if you believe they’re important. The survey must be completed by next Thursday, November 19. 

(2) Read Chapter Seven of Beverly Tatum’s book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”—all students and everyone with access to Carleton’s library resources have access to the online version of this book. 

(3) Follow the email updates of Carleton’s Presidential Search Committee and continue to speak up about what criteria should be used to select Carleton’s next President. 

I don’t claim to be an expert on affirmative action after reading the chapter in Beverly Tatum’s book called “White Identity, Affirmative Action, and Color-Blind Racial Ideology,” but I don’t need to be an expert to see that we are right now at a critical stage in the search for Carleton’s next president. I think that a lot of noise from the Carleton community within the next week has the opportunity to significantly shape the Board of Trustees’ choice of Carleton’s next president. 

Here is, briefly, why we should be invested in this. For one, statistics tell us that after President Poskanzer, we will probably have another white, male president. College presidents are overwhelmingly white men. Inside HigherEd explains that the demographics of college presidents have changed little over the past 30-40 years and, surprise, continue to be older white men with a doctoral degree in education. In 2016, 70 percent of presidents were men, and 83 percent of presidents were white, while only five percent of presidents were women of color, Inside HigherEd reports. 

We as a Carleton community need to not only counter this trend, but also advance the diversity goals of Carleton. Do you remember the resounding call from 2,000 Carleton alumni over the summer for a 10-year strategic plan to address racial equality and equity on campus? It is Carleton’s President who will have the option to create new strategic visions for the college (this is part of a question on the email survey!). Poskanzer is vacating a key administrative position that we can fill to continue to advance change on campus, and if more students and faculty really have opened their eyes to systemic injustice after the nationwide ‘racial reckoning’ we have seen in 2020, it doesn’t make sense to choose a (white male) president who does not prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Shaping the search committee’s selection criteria is how we push Carleton to have a fair hiring process for our next President and at the same time advance diversity goals at Carleton. I pull heavily from Tatum’s work to illustrate this. The key is what constitutes a “fair” hiring process: “Despite attempts to ensure a fair process, without the clarity of a clear set of institutional diversity goals to guide their decision-making, too often well-intentioned search committees find the ‘best’ person is yet another member of the dominant group,” Tatum writes. In other words, when employers like Carleton rely on a process-oriented approach to affirmative action (a.k.a. equal opportunity employment practices), they often replicate the same discriminatory practices they are seeking to avoid; even with processes in place such as standard interview questions and evaluation criteria, racial bias still consistently and significantly affects multiple stages of the selection process (see pages 217-219 in Tatum’s book).

The solution is not for members of Carleton’s Presidential Search Committee to commit to reducing their implicit bias—which just may not be possible—but rather follow Tatum’s and others’ suggestions for how to set up a process in which committee members’ subjective judgements about candidates can’t affect the hiring decisions being made.

Tatum writes, “In a well-conceived and well-implemented affirmative action program, the first thing that should be done is to establish clear and meaningful selection criteria. What skills does the person need to function effectively in this environment? How will we assess whether the candidates have these required skills? Will it be on the basis of demonstrated past performance, scores on an appropriate test, or the completion of certain educational requirements? Once the criteria have been established, anyone who meets the criteria is considered qualified.”

In addition, Tatum writes, “If one candidate meets the criteria but also has some additional education or experience, it may be tempting to say this candidate is the ‘best,’ but this one may not be the one who moves us toward our diversity goal. Because the systematic advantages that members of the dominant group receive, it is often the case that the person with the extra experience or educational attainment is a person from the majority group. If our eyes are on our organizational goal, we are not distracted by these unasked-for extras… If it is not part of the criteria, it shouldn’t be considered.”

According to the process outlined by Tatum, once selection criteria have been established, candidates either are or are not qualified for the position—there are no “moderately” versus “highly” qualified candidates. From there, an institution’s top priorities should guide the process of selecting a final candidate.

This means two things for the Carleton community: we must unambiguously prioritize our diversity goals going into the presidential search process, and we must express support for selection criteria that are likely to be met by people of color as a way to fulfill such diversity goals. This can include criteria such as “experience working in multicultural settings, the experience of being supervised by managers of color, experience of collaborating in multicultural workgroups, of living in racially mixed communities, fluency in a second language, or substantial college coursework in the study of multicultural perspectives.”

The desired experiences listed on Carleton’s current survey include one or two, but not very many, of the above criteria; in addition, the survey contains many criteria which I do not feel are particularly important for our future president to fit, but which may present a barrier for people of color (who experience systematic disadvantages in our society) to meet the selection criteria. For instance, a question about desired experience on the survey asks respondents to check their top five desired experiences for candidates, but only includes two characteristics related to experience in multicultural settings (“Record of supporting inclusion, diversity, and equity efforts and initiatives” and “Experience in a global setting”), while it goes on to list about ten characteristics that are explicitly or implicitly concerned with a candidate’s previous leadership experience.

Essentially, there are many places to add comments on the survey, and it is vital that the Carleton community engage with this: go create the criteria that you think is important for the next President to fulfill. The survey is open to faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and community members. This is our opportunity to speak directly to the search committee, and it matters: the criteria that the search committee establishes after this phase of work should ideally guide the entirety of the hiring process, up to selection of the final candidate—so spread the word and speak up!

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