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Professor Zack neither thrilled nor honored to get UO’s MLK award

Last updated on 01/21/2016

UO Professor Naomi Zack (Philosophy) is talking today at 12:00 at the ceremony in the Ford Alumni Center. She asked me to post this Eric Kelderman report on her thoughts about the award, in the Chronicle here:

…  Ms. Zack said she was skeptical of some of the measures underway at the university because they rely too much on decisions at the department level, where people are too inclined to hire those like themselves. To prevent that, she said, the hiring process needs to be directed more from the administration.

“It’s human nature to hire people who are the students of your friends,” Ms. Zack said in an interview. That’s not necessarily racist, she said, but “the problem is that it works against excellence.”

“These hires need to be conducted by people who are required to look at the good of the institution as a whole,” she said. “We need something top-down here.”


  1. Dog 01/20/2016

    This assumes we would have a competent and objective top down approach. Seems unlikely to me. I do agree that Peer evaluation often has lot of problems. But if there is proper oversight some of those problems can be corrected

  2. Anas clypeata 01/20/2016

    The Human Resources department at the UO has never been tasked with looking out for the good of the institution as a whole. Every time I have asked them about a situation of vastly differential treatment of employees between schools and departments (e.g. compensation, evaluation, contract renewal), they have explained that individual departments and schools have control over these decisions. Professor Zack highlights a few of the negative consequences of this lack of institutional guidance and consistency.

  3. Thanks UO! 01/20/2016

    Another year with no classified employees getting recognized for anything.

  4. Dumpster Fire 01/20/2016

    Professors are great at identifying problems but absolutely terrible at solutions. And worst of all, they don’t realize it. Top down faculty hires is perhaps the worst idea I’ve heard.

  5. awesome0 01/20/2016

    The easiest way to address this issue is to do a better job of educating our best and brightest minority students with Oregon ties, send them off for Ph.D’s, then recruit them when they graduate. Better research support for UO professors, and funds to help them employ minority RA’s would help.

    Just my two cents.

  6. Hippo 01/20/2016

    Someone should let Professor Zack know that not all departments are as disfunctional as the philosophy department. If she would prefer to have central administration make decisions for her department, she should make that happen; I’d prefer to stick with the crazies in my department (and there are many) than the ones in Johnson Hall.

  7. honest Uncle Bernie 01/21/2016

    “the hiring process needs to be directed more from the administration.”

    A stupendously, absolutely, insanely bad idea. There’s more than enough interference as it is.

  8. Concerned PI 01/22/2016

    I think there is middle ground for involving administration in faculty diversity. They should keep an eye on the big picture. Dr. Zack stated that there is only one Full Professor in CAS who is a woman of color. On the face, that seems shocking. CAS (except sciences) is not low in women faculty and many departments are not terrible in overall diversity, so I don’t expect the pipeline to be as horrid for CAS overall as it is in certain areas. This is the type of statistic that administration could keep an eye on. If numbers are surprising, someone should look into it and possible institutional avenues, such as mentoring programs. These things can be done in consultation with, rather than against, departmental autonomy.

    • Kitten 01/22/2016

      What also happens, of course, is that faculty of color who are really good–thus full professors–are sought out by other institutions, including those better than we are. There is a lot of competition across the US for the small number of PhDs of color coming out of a constricted pipeline. So I’d be interested in knowing whether we have only 1 here because other who might have stayed have left.

      • uomatters Post author | 01/24/2016

        If I was a minority professor, the convincing evidence that minority professors are more effective than white professors in mentoring minority students on to graduate school would be a strong reason for me to teach at a school with more minority students than UO, since my impact would be higher there.

        Since I’m not a minority professor, but believe that we’ll all be better off with more of them, I’d welcome a well thought out workshop on how professors like me can encourage UO’s minority students to go on to graduate school.

        Of course my definition of minority is more diverse than just race and ethnicity. I think we also need more low-income and first-generation faculty, especially given the general decline in inter-generational income mobility.

        The lack of political diversity is also a problem. Back in 2009 UO journalism student Dan Lawton published this piece in the CS Monitor, based on data I gave Dan, from matching UO professor’s names to publicly available voter registration records:

        Quoting Lawson:

        The University of Oregon (UO), where I study journalism, invested millions annually in a diversity program that explicitly included “political affiliation” as a component. Yet, out of the 111 registered Oregon voters in the departments of journalism, law, political science, economics, and sociology, there were only two registered Republicans.

        I also suggested that students working on right-leaning ideas may have difficulty finding faculty mentors. I couldn’t imagine, for instance, that journalism that supported the Iraq war or gun rights would be met with much enthusiasm.

        What I didn’t realize is that journalism that examined the dominance of liberal ideas on campus would be addressed with hostility.

        A professor who confronted me declared that he was “personally offended” by my column. He railed that his political viewpoints never affected his teaching and suggested that if I wanted a faculty with Republicans I should have attended a university in the South. “If you like conservatism you can certainly attend the University of Texas and you can walk past the statue of Jefferson Davis everyday on your way to class,” he wrote in an e-mail.

        I was shocked by such a comment, which seemed an attempt to link Republicans with racist orthodoxy. When I wrote back expressing my offense, he neither apologized nor clarified his remarks. …

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