This story was originally published in the Oct. 20 issue of Fourth Estate
Affirmative action policies play a significant role in Mason’s push for diversity.
In addition to following federal and state guidelines for affirmative action and diversity hiring policies, Mason has a non-discrimination policy of its own called Policy 1201.
“That’s our policy and commitment and legal compliance not to discriminate on the basis of any protected category,” said Rory Muhammad, the associate director/chief investigator and Title IX coordinator in the Office of Compliance, Diversity and Ethics.
He listed race, gender, religion, national origin and disability status, among others, as categories protected by Mason under this policy, which says that the university is “committed to providing equal opportunity and an educational and work environment free from any discrimination,” according to the University Policy website.
Mason’s faculty hiring process involves getting each job posting approved by the relevant department and by the Office of Human Resources and Payroll. A search committee is then formed to find, review and recommend viable candidates. At least one member of this committee is required to attend training offered by HR and the CDE.
In an email, HR Executive Assistant Hollis Colie pointed to professional or related experience and education as the criteria that Mason considers most important when evaluating possible job candidates for faculty or staff positions.
A toolkit assembled by the Office of Human Resources and Payroll for employee search committee members lists enthusiasm, interest in Mason, confidence and speaking well among the ideal characteristics for potential candidates. It also explicitly tells search committees to not include questions that directly relate to a candidate’s race, gender, marital or family status and disabilities in interviews.
However, this does not mean that Mason completely ignores diversity as a factor when looking to hire new faculty and staff.
Latashia Harris, the associate director for the Mason Women and Gender Studies Center, originally came to the university to be the center’s program coordinator and cites the job posting, which mentioned a particular interest in people of color and sexual minorities, as a key reason why they decided to apply.
“It’s a small diversity statement at the bottom,” Harris said. “But if you’re looking for it, it’s noticeable.”
According to Mason’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, Mason’s academic faculty in 2013 was 58.4% male compared to 41.6% female, numbers that are closely equivalent to those from the previous year. A breakdown of the same faculty by ethnicity shows 62.4% white, 15.4% minority and 6.2% non-resident aliens with the remaining 16% classified as unknown. This data comes from a total sample size of 1,431 faculty members.
Mason’s affirmative action policy, as well as those of other public colleges across the country, is primarily founded on Executive Order 11246, the federal mandate that established the first requirements for non-discriminatory hiring and employment practices for U.S. government agencies and contractors, including public schools. Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, this executive order prohibits discrimination based on “race, creed, color or national origin.”
According to Mason School of Business professor David Kravitz, Executive Order 11246 requires organizations to analyze their workforce in terms of race and gender and to compare their current distribution to the gender and racial distribution of “qualified people in the relevant labor market.” For example, if Mason was looking to hire a new physics professor, the relevant labor market would be limited to people with the necessary education requirements, which notably narrows the field of possible candidates.
If a review of the organization’s workforce reveals a significant disparity between its diversity and the diversity of the relevant labor market, it is then required to determine what the possible barriers excluding the underrepresented group are and to make an effort to recruit more people from that group.
“They’re supposed to use fair procedures to hire the best people,” Kravitz said. “They’re not allowed to use quotas. They’re not supposed to use preferences.”
This is an important distinction to make, according to Kravitz. He has conducted research on affirmative action and diversity issues since the late 1980s and early 1990s. He found that one of the biggest differences between those who support affirmative action policies and those who oppose them is the misconception that affirmative action forces companies to hire unqualified minorities to the detriment of qualified white men. He says that people who recognize that affirmative action is not about quotas tend to support it, though it is difficult to ensure that all companies are implementing their affirmative action policies properly.
Kravitz, along with professors Lisa Leslie from New York University and David Mayer of the University of Michigan, took part in a recent meta-analysis study that involved summarizing all research done on attitudes towards affirmative action. In addition to showing that perceptions of self-interest affect people’s attitudes, the study suggested that when employees know that their organization has an affirmative action policy, it can not only negatively affect their opinions of other employees who are part of an identity targeted by affirmative action, but it can affect how an employee who might have been hired through affirmative action policies perceives their own competence.
“[For] people who belong to an affirmative action target group, it’s sort of a catch-22,” Kravitz said. “Without the affirmative action plan, they’re not going to get a job, or they’re less likely to. If they do get a job, the presence of an affirmative action plan makes it hard for them to do a good job and causes other people to assume they’re doing a bad job.”
Mason’s Office of Compliance, Diversity and Ethics is responsible for enforcing the university’s affirmative action policy and for addressing allegations of discrimination and harassment.
“When you combine the allegations of sexual harassment as well as the allegations of discrimination around the various protective categories I mentioned, we get [complaints] on a regular basis,” Muhammad said, adding that his office addresses every complaint it receives regardless of severity.
CDE has two different methods for investigating discrimination complaints: informal, which is typically just a conversation or mediation between the parties involved, and formal, which can involve anything from training to a suspension or termination of employment. The determination for which course the office will follow for a particular case is often made by the person who filed the complaint.
Harris says that getting faculty, staff and administrators from all different departments involved in conversations about diversity is important to combatting discrimination and related workplace tension. The Office of University Life, which the Women and Gender Studies Center works through, hosts regular diversity workshops, where faculty can discuss conflicts they might have had with other colleagues and how they might be affecting each other.
“We have those spaces to come and talk about it all the time,” Harris said. “I think that’s…beneficial, because I don’t think that’s something a lot of universities choose to do. I think a lot of universities are like, we have these numbers, we have this much diversity, and they just leave it at that, but numbers don’t really mean anything if nobody’s talking about it.”
Illustration by Laura Baker