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The Ethicist's Questionable Ethics

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The Ethicist's Questionable Ethics
The New York Times' Randy Cohen, aka "The Ethicist," argues for affirmative discrimination (and made me feel like I needed a shower after reading his reply).

Personally, I don't believe you resolve discrimination by discriminating. Furthermore, "minority candidates" who are qualified must find it pretty insulting to be assumed to be "affirmative action" hires. Here's the question:

I teach at a state university that offers financial incentives to hire minority candidates. A department receives $1,000 for completing a tenure-track hire but $5,000 if it hires a minority candidate. I’m concerned that colleagues will make recommendations based on the financial reward rather than pursue the “best” candidate. Should the institution offer these bounties? — DR. MARK E. CHASE, SLIPPERY ROCK, PA.

And here's "The Ethicist's" reply:

There’s nothing discreditable or even unusual about using financial incentives to prompt estimable conduct. Governments use tax codes to promote desired activities. Businesses offer bonuses to encourage certain kinds of job performance. (Full disclosure: I have a “financial incentive” to write this column. It’s called a “paycheck.”) Be wary of skewing your argument with a loaded word like “bounties.”

It is admirable of your school to acknowledge that some minorities are underrepresented on campus, that this is unjust in itself and that it subverts the school’s mission: it is important for students to encounter professors (and fellow students) of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. In pursuit of this goal, the school may try various things. There might be better ways to genuinely expand faculty diversity, but until such methods are on the table, and unless the danger you worry about actually emerges, financial incentives are worth a try.

Be comforted that hiring a new faculty member involves so many layers of scrutiny, so many opportunities for colleagues to weigh in, that the hazard you invoke is minimal. Remember: this tactic is not meant to lower hiring standards but to broaden the pool of people considered for the job.

For so long there has been so much social (if not legal) pressure arrayed against hiring such folks — in effect, incentives to hire white men — that it seems hypocritical to object only when incentives benefit minority candidates.

I don't know about you, but I prefer to judge people "by the content of their character," and their ability to do a particular job. Isn't the alternative racism? Even if it does benefit "minorities"?

Furthermore, aren't kids of all colors from families with financial hardship the ones who really have it rough?