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The Rooney Rule

January 24, 2011

If you’re a football fan then you already know The Rooney Rule (the RR). I will explain for the uninitiated. The National Football League enacted RR back in 2003. It requires teams to interview a minority candidate for head coaching (and a few other senior) positions. The idea being that forced interviewing of minority candidates leads to more serious consideration and hiring of said candidates.

Did it work? Maybe1. The percent of minority coaches has gone from 6% to 22% since the rule went into place. Some of them are quite successful (especially that Omar Epps fellow). Perhaps that is a coincidence and the numbers would have gone up anyway. After all the percentage of minority quarterbacks seems to have reached the point where it is no longer surprising (and constantly commented on) when a QB is black. There was no quarterback Rooney Rule (that I know of).

Obvious this is a pretty blunt instrument and not without detractors. At least one team has skipped the process claiming that they needed to hire their first choice quickly, lest they be ‘scooped’ by other teams. There are also claims that teams barely pay attention to their required interviewee because they already know who they want to hire. Minds have been made up, the best person for the job is known pre-interview.

The point of this rule, in a broad sense, is to force wider consideration of who may be qualified for such positions and perhaps an examination of how various stages of the hiring process actually work. When left to their own devices teams relied on a combination old-boys-network and some vague, not necessarily accurate, assessment of future success. Pro-football was (and is) known for a very tight old-boys network when it comes to management positions. That context is important in evaluating the rule.

What does this have to do with academic hiring and admissions? I’ve heard of institutional rules that seem vaguely Rooney-esque. Funding that the department can only use to hire an “underrepresented minority” candidate, or the department gets some sort of bonus additional tenure line. Or perhaps something much softer like an off-the-record effort to push such applicants past the initial cuts. Though that may devolve into guessing based on names. Ok, everyone try to find a candidate that sounds ethnic. Maybe there are more effective methods out there that I am not aware of.

It would likely be overkill to implement a true Rooney Rule in academia. I’m not sure it even could be done since those EOE forms are confidential. Perhaps the hiring system works fine enough and the focus should be on broader issues, such as increased educational attainment, which would in turn shift the demographics the applicant pool2.

Academia is far away from the situation the NFL was in regarding a closed “only if you know the right people” hiring network. Though of course I do know of at least two professors who got jobs at a prestigious R1s with zero publications and just a ‘call from their advisor’. Granted this was a decade or two ago and we’re come a long way since then. Right?

1. A recent view of the rule here. For more academic analysis just Google Scholar “Rooney Rule”. I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly read any articles as of yet.
2. OR not. I’m not sure I’d assume this to automatically happen. More on that later.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 11:04 am

    I recently heard a dean say that all positions above the section chief level at his medical school utilized search firms which increased the diversity of the applicant pool. Sometimes if you rely on the old boys network, you don’t get an old boy; you get a young (generally white) boy.

  2. January 25, 2011 11:38 am

    Many academic institutions have formal or informal rules of this sort. The informal variety is the Dean saying “uh, no, Department of -ology, I’m not signing off on your hire unless you short list at least one woman/minority/etc”

    You are right that as with the Rooney Rule this can be a kabuki dance of negligible impact. But every once in awhile it results in a hire that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

    Of course many academic hires still occur because of who knows who. Don’t be ridiculous. Even with supposed open searches…c’mon.

    Black quarterbacks? Don’t make me hurl. The problem did not magically fix itself. Nor did the problem of white-only MLB. The fact that the extreme of a formal rule like the Rooney rule was never in play is of no consideration. It was necessary for people to note the discrimination in public and private and to complain for a loooooooong time. Occasional excellent QBs still did not totally overcome the practice of making good black QBs from highschool switch to some other position. Maybe now it has finally evened out but it was a recent phenomenon. Warren Moon had to spend half a career in the CFL, Damon Allen his whole career.

  3. January 25, 2011 11:52 am

    My institution had an unofficial Rooney Rule last faculty search but wasn’t overt about it but you could pick out who the candidates were. They didn’t come from prestigious labs, have a great training pedigree, or have the requisite number of glamour pubs or fellowships. And these folks gave great job talks and got serious consideration for the faculty positions they probably otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. I don’t think the rule could be applied across the board in academia, but keeping an eye out for diversity has its merits.

  4. January 25, 2011 12:35 pm

    In my institution we also had sort of an unofficial RR (actually, it may be somewhat official. I suspect that higher-ups might take notice if the shortlist did not reflect the applicant pool). There was real interest to make sure that we considered women and minorities, and this is reflected in our short list. At least I think it is – there was definitely some guessing based on names (which kind of sucks, but we had nothing else to go one). Finding women was easier because you could always determine gender from letters of rec.

  5. January 26, 2011 11:57 pm

    A RR existed for federal contracting, I believe to farmers. The Token Minorities fulfilled their jobs, had high ratings, good job satisfaction, and then the RR was removed and surprise, % of contracts handed to minorities plummeted to levels before the law was enacted. It’s always interesting to see so many people thinking things can even out ‘naturally’ when, many times, the only thing keeping things moving upwards is a foot up someone’s ass. I’ll try to find the link.

  6. January 27, 2011 9:42 am
  7. January 27, 2011 9:45 am

    Hmm not sure what happened to my comment. I’ll pull the link. Sorry if this posts twice.

    In my experience, a Rooney rule would probably help out a lot. Not necessarily because of being “forced” to interview a minority candidate, but because the applicant pools would be enhanced in underrepresented candidates by the obligation to find a qualified person to interview.

    I wrote about how advertising the position can impact the resulting applicant pool on my blog (link removed). A Rooney rule would force these types of strategies onto the places that are not serious about diversity. I’ve experienced a lot more “we don’t care about our privilege” sexism than overt misogyny (though I’ve experienced that too). It would not surprise me to find that there are more “I don’t care about diversity so I won’t try” people around than outright bigots. These are the people who would be reached by a Rooney rule.

    • January 27, 2011 10:46 am

      I am very curious about advertising for positions. Just from my initial foray into the market a few years ago I was surprised at how idiosyncratic the listing were. Some institutions posted everywhere, some only in the more general listing, some in only the very specific listings. When I asked my current department how they decided where to list I mostly got I dunno shrugs.

      • January 27, 2011 10:17 pm

        That is my experience as well–the search chair has complete control over where the ad is submitted (other than the main society journal for our field, which we always use). A search committee chair who is really interested in having a diverse pool has a lot of power to place the ad in places that would really encourage scientists underrepresented in our field to apply. I hope I remember this when my time comes!

  8. FCS permalink
    February 10, 2011 7:27 pm

    One thing also is the vibe a place gives off. Honesty their ad-wording and website says a lot about them, and whether they’re really serious or just talking the talk. “We are COMMITTED to having a diverse and inclusive faculty” — but all their faculty are older caucasian men, all of their students are young caucasian men, there are no SWE or NSBE or notes on their website about how people with disabilities are welcome and accommodated for in their department. There are no clearly defined policies in place for family leave. etc.

    As an optimist I’d love to believe these institutions truly are committed, but they don’t appear that way on the surface at all.

    (oops, meant this to be a reply to prodigal’s comment, but i fear it will not end up nested- sorry about that.)

  9. February 17, 2011 11:38 am

    Very interesting. Tangentially related- Last year, I led an effort to hire a tech in my lab, and the diversity paperwork that I had to fill out was very odd. It asked how many applicants were women, and how many were minorities. I only interviewed 4 out of the 40 or so applicants, so I really was guessing based on name. This apparently, was what they wanted me to do- guess. Made me feel very awkward.

  10. anonymous permalink
    March 1, 2011 5:45 pm

    I’m curious about advertising. I’d assumed that advertising in forums or publications targeted at under-represented groups would matter. However, one of the female faculty associated with out ADVANCE program did some research and found that, at least in the disciplines she studied, women and men were both looking at job ads in the same disciplinary publications, so (at least for this discipline) running a second ad in a publication or website targeted at women wouldn’t really widen the net. However, even if it doesn’t widen the net, I wonder if it would at least send a better message? Or would those advertising dollars be better spent on ways to somehow improve other aspects of the search?

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