The University of Oregon is taking issue with an economics professor’s claim that a program developed to recruit more minority faculty members is illegal.
Provost Linda Brady and general counsel Melinda Grier said the program, which helps new minority faculty set up an office or lab, is legal and needed to help attract minority faculty in a competitive market.
Economics professor Bill Harbaugh has challenged the program, known as the Underrepresented Minority Recruitment Program, in e-mails to UO President Dave Frohnmayer. He calls it an “obvious violation” of the Constitution and Civil Rights Act.
Harbaugh declined to comment further.
The program provides up to $30,000 a year for three years to reimburse departments and colleges for the cost of “startup packages” used to attract new minority faculty members.
They also can support other incentives depending on the professor’s field.
The university spends about $500,000 a year on the program, part of its diversity initiatives that cost about $4 million a year.
Efforts to meet the university’s own broad diversity goals have triggered sharp debate over how to go about it.
Among them were debates over whether special treatment or incentives were justified to help attract more minority students, faculty and managers.
Harbaugh has been a critic of the diversity efforts and says efforts should concentrate instead on helping more low-income children prepare for college and ultimately increase minority scholars in the academic job pool.
Although comparisons are difficult, Harbaugh says the startup package for a new, nonminority faculty member in the economics department typically would total about $7,000 over the first three years. A faculty member in the minority recruitment program could get up to $97,000, he said.
Frohnmayer has since signed the affirmative action plan. Grier said the minority recruitment plan is separate and would not have been affected had Frohnmayer not approved the broader plan.
Other universities face similar controversies, and experts in the field say many use one similar to the one at the U of O.
An American Association of University Professors survey found the only related court decision, at the University of Vermont, ruled the practice legal if the availability of the money was not used in hiring decisions.
Grier said that doesn’t happen at the U of O.
The funds come into play after a selection committee has chosen a candidate and made an initial job offer. The funds then can be used to negotiate a final contract, she said.
The money goes to the professor’s department, not to the professor, she said.
“Dollars aren’t allocated based on race,” she said. “Departments get reimbursed for costs.”
Some opponents of affirmative action aren’t impressed.
Linda Chavez, chairwoman of the nonprofit Center for Equal Opportunity, said the fact that the program allocates money based solely on race makes it illegal.
“If that pool of money is available … only to individuals who happen to fit a certain demographic profile, it’s not legal,” she said.
Chavez said the center has been able to shut down some similar programs.
She acknowledged that by not giving money directly to the faculty member, the program could survive the Civil Rights Act or Equal Pay Act but said she still believes it to be illegal.
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