The Rooney Rule
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.