Friday, February 22, 2019

De-biasing academic hiring?

This is the season when new Ph.D.'s in Economics are hired as assistant professors. More senior professors are hired throughout the year. A constant source of concern is how to promote a diverse professoriate.  But because academics are very different from one another, we have to get to know potential candidates reasonably well before we hire them. Just for example, they have papers that have to be read, and they typically give a seminar before the whole faculty once they get far enough in the process.

So...along with learning about what they have studied and written about, we also learn their race and gender, and where they studied and with whom, and what the senior scholars in their field think about them, and a host of other things that could influence our collective decision when it comes time to vote who to hire.

Here are two stories, from Britain and Finland, about efforts to design the faculty hiring process to remove "extraneous" considerations.  I am very skeptical that we can learn all that we need to know about candidates without learning extraneous things, so I would be astonished if these proposals gain traction.

Both articles, linked below from Inside Higher Ed,  appeared in Times Higher Education.

From Britain:

Trying to ‘De-Bias’ Faculty Recruiting
Can a shift in the way candidates are evaluated eliminate bias based on gender, race and background?
By John Morgan for Times Higher Education  January 31, 2019

"CVs and interviews are being removed from university hiring processes under a new approach to “de-bias” academic recruitment being pioneered in Britain.

"The Recruiting for Difference approach, billed as an attempt to address biases around gender, ethnicity and university background, is led by the recruitment firm Diversity by Design, co-founded by the writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe, former chair of council at the University of Sussex.

"Fanshawe, a founder of the LGBT equality charity Stonewall, said the aim was to “de-bias” to the greatest extent possible, explaining that, under this approach, “what you don’t use in the short-listing process at all is CVs.” He argued that stripping out CVs allowed universities to see the true qualities of the people they were considering for jobs.

"The application process allows applicants to state which journals they have published in and the roles they played in these papers. But candidates’ names do not figure in the short-listing process -- thus their gender and ethnicity are not revealed -- and at no stage of the hiring process is it disclosed at which universities candidates have worked or studied."

From Finland:
U of Helsinki Tries Anonymized Academic Hiring--Pilot project seeks to eliminate bias.
By Rachael Pells for Times Higher Education  December 20, 2018

"Finland’s leading university is trying the use of anonymized applications for academic roles as part of a nationwide push toward greater equality in hiring practices.

"The University of Helsinki confirmed that it was conducting two pilot programs focused on academic recruitment, in which applications were stripped of candidates’ names, dates of birth, ethnicities and genders.

"Universities are increasingly experimenting with name-blind student recruitment, and advocates of its use in the hiring process argue that it could help to limit the impact of unconscious biases that penalize women and minorities.

"However, there are questions over whether it could catch on in academic departments, in which recruitment decisions are closely tied to a researcher’s publication record and scholarly reputation."

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