February 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 2

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ASA Forum for Public Discussion and Debate

Sociology, Discrimination, and Hiring Practices


Under what circumstances is discrimination based on religious belief acceptable? In a "country-club" type of arrangement, sociology seems to have come to accept that some private universities bar large swaths of our membership because of religious beliefs. This appears to stand in direct violation of our ethics, (see Section 5 on Nondiscrimination and Section 8.1 on Fair Employment Practices).

A number of religious schools have, for some time, discriminated in hiring practices. Oklahoma Wesleyan University states on job applications that it "require(s) all employees to be born-again Christians" with a Christian pastor as a reference. Perhaps more troubling are research-oriented and doctoral granting institutions that engage in discriminatory hiring practices.

Baylor University, a private Baptist, Carnegie-rated research university, offering doctoral degrees in the sociology of religion and applied sociology, states on a web link placed in its ad on the ASA Job Bank:

"Affiliation with and active participation in a congregation are required for tenure as part of the individual’s service assignment."

"[C]ongregation," is clarified later:

"The search committee will ask short-listed applicants about their affiliation and level of participation in Christian or Jewish congregations."(www.baylor.edu/content/services/

Further, Baylor University’s published statement on non-discriminatory practices states:

BU complies with all applicable federal and state nondiscrimination laws and does not engage in prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality or ethnic origin, sex, age or handicap.

The omission of discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation (both being included in the ASA’s code of ethics) speaks volumes to the statement’s subtext.

If such job advertisements do not legally bar many otherwise qualified sociologists from getting the job, it certainly lets them know that their place is not up front at the counter with the rest of the customers. Nor, it seems, is their place at the back of the bus. In fact, it would seem they are barred from riding altogether.

Do religious schools have the right to do such a thing? Under legal statutes, they do. Title VII under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 exempts religious organizations from its sweeping mandates, thus giving these groups legal coverage to continue to engage in practices that would be deemed discriminatory if engaged in by any other group. From an ethical standpoint, however, does the cloak of religion within the sociological community make discriminatory practices acceptable?

When compared to some of our cousin disciplines, our level of inaction is abhorrent. For nearly a decade, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) has required that job postings through their organization explicitly state whether an employer offers domestic partner benefits, and further mandates that ads include a standardized statement revealing whether the employer prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation/preference and gender identity/expression. While this does not speak specifically to examples of discriminatory religious hiring practices, considering historical discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community at the hands of religion, this statement certainly takes steps to curtail, or at least make more evident, such practices. The AAA, recognizing discrimination, compels the institution to indicate its discriminatory nature on any posted job ad.

With the AAA’s as our guide, at the very least, institutionalized discrimination within our ranks should prompt serious debate that may include but not be limited to:

  1. Is this a violation of our Code of Ethics? If so, how should sociology respond?
  2. What should the response of sociology journals be regarding articles from institutions that openly discriminate?
  3. What should the response of sociology be to the certification of sociologists by institutions that openly discriminate?

While sociology as a whole may not be engaging in discriminatory practices, support through inaction and enabling leads me to question the discipline’s duplicity in this structural discrimination. Sociology has simply turned the other cheek to some institutions’ clear victimization of our colleagues.

Until a full and open debate regarding what level of discrimination sociology is comfortable with, I propose that the ASA follow the lead of the AAA and require institutions that engage in discriminatory practices (especially when based on religion or sexual orientation) make note of this in their job ads. Such a practice, while far short of ending discrimination, at least raises awareness of what is happening at some institutions.

Keith Kerr, Quinnipiac University

Fieldwork Ethics and Confidentiality

"You know the book My Freshman Year," the reporter said. "I’m the person who broke the story that it’s Northern Arizona State University." I’m paraphrasing, but I recall that the reporter continued, "Your book is about the University of Connecticut" and then told me how he had deduced what, to him, was an important fact. I replied that I could not reveal the name of the university I had studied.

I know that learning the identity of the pseudononymous town or organization analyzed within an ethnography can give someone satisfaction. To me, the exact identity of Wannabe University, the research university where I conducted participant observation, is not so important. What matters is that it was a good choice to study because the university was experiencing two sets of pressures—a board and senior administrators consumed by ambition for the school and also the sort of financial woes that have beset public universities for the past few decades as legislatures have increasingly spent state monies elsewhere. In addition, Wannabe was an easy commute and I had access to potential informants. Of course, I had promised my Institutional Review Board that I would keep secret the name of the university that I was studying and would protect the identity of my informants.

Confidentiality is difficult today; the Internet transformed some aspects of participant observation. On the one hand, it has made it easy to find some types of documentation, such as a university president’s inaugural address or the difference between a university’s 1996 mission statement and their 2008 mission statement. But what do you do with the speech or the mission statements once they are retrieved? The ASA advises that published statements, presumably including inaugural speeches and mission statements, are in the public domain. It is ethical to quote them. Yet, in terms of confidentiality this presents a problem since it is easy for anyone to find them.

Here’s what reporter Kevin Carey wrote in his blog in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

[The book] Wannabe U, by University of Connecticut sociologist Gaye Tuchman… purports to be the study of an un-named university’s quest for status. All the characters have pseudonyms and the author says some of the details of their jobs have been changed. … [On] page 14, the book quotes President "Whitmore" as saying, at his inauguration, "Nothing is more important to the quality of life in this state than educational excellence." If you Google that phrase, exactly as written, in quotes, you get only two hits. One is from Wannabe U. The other is from the actual inaugural speech of former University of Connecticut President Philip E. Austin.

Familiar with reporters’ practices, I had gone off the record to tell the first journalist that I was bothered about how Google could reveal who had made what public statements. (He had Googled some of those statements, but had made the ethical decision not to use them.) Given the unfortunate revelatory potential of Google, I had been concerned with how to protect the identity of people who had confided in me. Accordingly, I changed titles, genders, and names. I promoted some people; I demoted others, and for good measure, I was, on rare occasion, accurate. Carey would say that I raised "the problem of making stuff up." How could he know how to evaluate a quotation if he didn’t know whether an associate provost, a dean, or the head of enrichment programs had made the statement? Should he know that? Does it matter? Certainly he (and I) might want to know the views of the of the board of trustees head.

I had solved one aspect of this problem by not interviewing the head of the board, president, provost, associate provosts, and deans. :By not interviewing these high-level managers, I could quote their public statements; I did not have to "make stuff up."

Frankly, I don’t think that the fictionalizing in which I engaged harmed the ability of the reader either to interpret my data or to decide whether my generalizations were justified. However, I do worry about my failure not to fictionalize more. Should I have rewritten every newspaper report that I quoted? Should I have paraphrased the minutes of meetings that I found on Wannabe’s website? The Internet enabled me to find some data; it potentially permits readers to find institutions and informants. What is our responsibility as researchers and ethnographers here?

Gaye Tuchman, University of Connecticut

Search Committee Etiquette and the New PhDers

From elementary school to a doctoral education we are confronted with rules of ethics and codes of conduct. In the profession of sociology, in most instances, new PhDers (i.e., a doctoral candidate on the job market) learn these rules from their mentors, seminars, and/or ASA sessions. There is even a code of conduct for the seemingly simple task of commenting on the ASA message board. However, the rules of engagement and codes of conduct for search committees and new PhDers are invisible or at best blurry.

During the current economic crisis, tenure-track lines have disappeared, endowments and budgets have been slashed, and job offerings have diminished to numbers that seasoned sociologist have, rarely if ever, seen.1 The empirical evidence of how the economic crisis has impacted the profession of sociology can be found in the ASA’s 2009 Annual Meeting employment service. In 2007, 92 employers listed 126 sociology jobs and approximately 1, 835 interviews were scheduled.2 In 2008, 117 sociology jobs listed by 70 employers and approximately 1, 631 interviews were scheduled.3 At the annual ASA conference in San Francisco, there were 10 sociology jobs listed by 7 employers in the annual conference employment service.4 There are a number of possible explanations for the decline: ASA recently revamped its employment services site and the country is experiencing an economic crisis. Regardless, the decline is staggering. The number of candidates who participate in the employment service has remained fairly constant, 437.

In most instances, when new PhDers get the e-mail or call for an interview, by phone or on-campus, there are weeks or days of preparation, including, researching the department, making travel plans, and emotional preparation. The preparations are not confined to the candidate; others are usually involved including the department, committee members, other graduate students, friends, and family.

In the current economic crisis, do search committees need to reevaluate how they engage new PhDers? Which rules of engagement and codes of conduct should be included? The following suggestions, are based on what I have witnessed or experienced and countless conversations with other PhDers.

In conclusion, ASA is the premiere organization for the field of sociology and should do more to assist departments with guidelines on how to engage candidates, especially new PhDers. I implore ASA to form a task force to determine strong suggestions for how departments can generate new jobs and postdocs for new PhDers. ASA should pressure Congress, foundations, and organizations to create more research sociology positions to deal with society’s social issues. Currently, when new PhDers are faced with some of the above situations, they have no recourse. In this economic crisis, with institutions reevaluating how business is conducted, I hope that the field of sociology will begin to reevaluate how they can improve their rules of engagement when it comes to new PhDers.

Ruth Thompson-Miller, Texas A & M University, rkthompson@tamu.edu


1 This is based on several conversations with professors at Texas A & M and other institutions.

2 www.asanet.org/cs/root/leftnav/meetings/2008_employment_service

3 www.asanet.org/cs/root/leftnav/meetings/2009_employment_service

4 es.asanet.org/es/Candidates/Home.aspx?CandidateID=237

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