5. Provost’s Policy Invites Identity-Based Discrimination in USD Promotion and Tenure Decisions

The USD Provost has issued a new memorandum encouraging identity-based discrimination in faculty promotion and tenure decisions. The memo is based on vague arguments about “implicit bias” that are backed up with little to no compelling evidence. The memo issued by the Office of the Provost also appears to plagiarize.

A new memorandum issued by the Office of USD Provost Kurt Hackemer on October 1, 2020 appears to call for female and minority professors at USD to be held to lower standards than their male and white colleagues, when it comes to promotion and tenure decisions.[1] Why is there a need to treat professors differently, depending on their gender and race? Apparently, according to the memo, the reason is that there is widespread “implicit bias” against women and minorities at USD—including among USD’s students and professors. This alleged bias is portrayed as being so great that it requires that the rules of the game be changed for select identity groups. Yet, the memo never provides any evidence that such widespread bias actually exists at USD.

For example, Provost Hackemer’s memo suggests that USD students are so racist that it is unfair to judge faculty of color using the usual student evaluations of their teaching. According to the memo, “standard course evaluations are biased against faculty of color.” So, instead of using student evaluations, the faculty members who sit on USD promotion and tenure (P&T) committees should probably use other ways of evaluating non-white professors, including “candidate self-appraisals” – that is, professors’ evaluations of their own teaching. No specific evidence of racism among USD students, much less widespread racism at USD, is ever provided. The only support that is provided for the idea that students in general are too racist to be listened to is a 16-year-old citation from an undergraduate-student-edited journal called the Seattle Journal for Social Justice. This does not sound like a reliable and unbiased source.

Again without providing specific evidence of a problem at USD, the Provost’s memorandum states that members of P&T committees should understand that “implicit bias” against a candidate’s “race, sexuality, or gender may affect the number, nature, and authorship of creative scholarship and scholarly presentations/publications faculty produce.” How are P&T committee members supposed to respond to a statement like this? Given that the memo never actually defines “implicit bias” or explains how it can be detected by P&T committees, the message seems to be this: If a female or minority faculty member has a below-average research track record, then just assume “implicit bias” is to blame and modify promotion and tenure standards accordingly. In other words, standards should be lower for these particular identity groups. Other arguments offered in Provost Hackemer’s memo strongly imply that any P&T committee not promoting a female or minority faculty member would be opening itself up to charges of being “implicitly biased” (i.e., racist or sexist) itself.

The memo raises some other dubious claims, including the idea that female and minority faculty members are pressured to engage in a disproportionate amount of student mentoring and other forms of service work that go unrecognized. This claim, which has become something of a Social Justice meme nationally, is highly questionable. All professors are expected to do teaching and service work like mentoring. They are asked to carefully document all such work so they can be given credit for it in promotion and tenure decisions. So, there is no clear reason why women’s and faculty of color’s work as mentors or serving on committees would not be counted toward their promotion and tenure, as part of the normal course of business. It is also widely understood that faculty members have the responsibility to say no if invited to do more service work than they have time for. If, somehow, female and minority professors at USD are literally being forced into doing extra work that they cannot turn down and receive no credit for doing, then the problem should be carefully documented. It should not be assumed that the claim is true simply because campus activists have repeated it over and over again.

Throughout, the Provost’s memo presents itself as rooted in rigorous scientific research when in fact it is not. The memo repeatedly invokes the idea of “implicit bias” from psychological research, as though it proves that discrimination against women and minorities is everywhere. This is not true. Years of research and comprehensive reviews have shown that the test supposedly used to measure “implicit bias” (the “implicit association test”) does not predict discriminatory behavior well at all.[2] This is part of the reason why the United Kingdom recently prohibited the use of implicit bias training within the U.K. government. In other words, the concept of “implicit bias” invoked in the Provost’s memo has very weak scientific foundations. It is not a good concept on which to base policy decisions, and referencing the idea of “implicit bias” certainly doesn’t prove that actual discrimination against female and minority faculty members is widespread.

Is this really how the University should be making major policy decisions? Shouldn’t USD be taking reasonable steps to address well-defined problems, rather than institutionalizing preferential treatment for select groups based on what appears to be Woke ideology?   

The memo issued by the Provost’s Office also appears to violate SD Board of Regents (BOR) policy on plagiarism.[3] Here is a passage from a “strategic intervention brief” put out by gender equity advocates in 2014:

“The literature suggests that women scholars may be more likely to pursue applied, interdisciplinary, or community-based scholarship; they may publish fewer but more significant papers compared to male peers (Rhoten & Pfirman, 2007; Demb & Wade, 2012; Duch et al., 2012).”[4]  

Here is a passage from the memo put out by the Office of USD Provost Hackemer:

“Women scholars may be more likely to pursue applied, interdisciplinary, or community-based scholarship. Notably, women and faculty of color may publish fewer papers in number—but more significant in impact—as compared to male, white colleagues (Rhoten & Pfirman, 2007; Demb & Wade, 2012; Duch et al., 2012).”

The two passages are not identical, but they are close to it. The memo issued by the Provost’s Office appears to reproduce the sentence from the “strategic intervention brief,” with some light tweaking and paraphrasing. But the source from which the sentence came is not cited.[5] Passing off someone else’s work as your own original research – which is what the memorandum appears to do – would be a violation of BOR policy on plagiarism. In addition, the sources cited in the original “strategic intervention brief” (i.e., Rhoten & Pfirman, 2007, etc.) were copied directly into the Works Cited section of the Provost’s own memorandum, as though the author of the memo had directly consulted them himself. Unless the author actually read those sources – which seems doubtful based on the overall nature of the memo – this, too, would be a deceptive act and would count as plagiarism.[6]

Unfortunately, Woke ideology, which sees racism and sexism at every turn, is also being used to drive other, similar policy changes at USD. We will return to this topic in a later article.

[1] See the “Implicit Bias and the Promotion and Tenure Process” document in this website’s library.

[2] See, for example: Frederick et al. (2013). “Predicting ethnic and racial discrimination: A meta-analysis of IAT criterion studies.” Blanton (2009). “Strong claims and weak evidence: reassessing the predictive validity of the IAT.” Greenwald et al. (2009). “Understanding and using the Implicit Association Test: III. Meta-analysis of predictive validity.” Forscher et al. (2019). “A meta-analysis of procedures to change implicit measures.”

[3] See: https://www.sdbor.edu/policy/Documents/3-4.pdf.

[4] See: Laursen, S. L., & Austin, A. E. (2014). “Strategic Intervention Brief #6: Equitable Processes of Tenure and Promotion,” https://www.colorado.edu/eer/content/6tenure-promotion-brief-123015.

[5] The research brief is cited later in the Provost’s memo, but the passage discussed here is never attributed to that source.

[6] Assuming that the three citations copied from the “strategic research brief” (and another citation copied elsewhere in the Provost’s memo) were not directly consulted by the author, the Provost’s memo is based on only four sources, three of which include an unpublished presentation, the “strategic intervention brief” written by gender equity advocates, and the previously mentioned article from the Seattle Journal for Social Justice.

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