While the University of Louisville’s search for an assistant professor in its physics department began with the boilerplate requirements – “a Ph.D. in physics or a related area, a strong research record and a passion for teaching” – in its online solicitation, one passage stood out to many readers.
“The Department of Physics and Astronomy,” the post advertised, “announces a tenure-track assistant professor position that will be filled by an African-American, Hispanic American [sic] or a Native American [sic].”
Blatantly writing off white and Asian applicants, critics opined, not only reeks of the ethnic hiring biases of bygone generations, but very likely violates the law.
“Any first year H.R. assistant knows that ad was discriminatory and illegal,” one Inside Higher Ed reader wrote, adding “someone in H.R. messed up big time.”
Another detractor declared: “I guess MLK got it wrong: clearly we SHOULD take the color of one’s skin into question and not weigh the content of their character (or in this case their academic credentials) when evaluating them.”
It was not just casual readers who found the restriction problematic. According to American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity President Marshall Rose, such an ad appears to be in direct violation of the very civil rights laws that led to affirmative action efforts.
Rose cited relevant sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit “exclusion from participation in, denial of benefits of, and discrimination under federally assisted programs” – as well as a job – “on ground of race, color or national origin.”
Legality aside, plenty of others wondered how such controversial language made it through the department’s editing process. The department chair who drafted the ad, C.S. Jayanthi, was among them.
According to Jayanthi, she had no idea what she was doing when she wrote the ad, noting that it was her impression that the only way to attract minority applicants was by explicitly stating that fact.
“Everybody’s in an unusual situation,” she affirmed. “Nobody knows how to handle this. How we do increase our diversity is not clear at all.”