Discrimination

I viewed with mixed feelings the recent passage of Proposition 06-2 in Michigan.  Although I personally voted against it, I understand very well the feelings of those who voted for it as something that would ban what they perceive as reverse discrimination in the name of "affirmative action" in the hiring of employees in the state government or state institutions.

I understand their feelings because I believe that I was once the victim of such reverse discrimination myself.  It was some thirty years ago, not too long after I had finished grad school with a double doctorate in philosophy and theology --with my specialty being in the area of science and religion. I had, as a rather successful, but only part-time and somewhat over-qualified (hiring Ph.Ds full-time cost them too much) community college teacher been attempting to land a full-time position at any one of several state universities. But the job situation, especially back then, when it came to the areas of both philosophy and religious studies, had become very tight.

At one point, however, a department head at a certain state university told me that I was perfect for filling an opening that had just presented itself. But there was one major problem -- he was under pressure to hire a woman for the job. In other words, no matter what my academic qualifications were, I was of the wrong sex.

I suppose I could have sued for sexual discrimination, but I did not, partly because I suspected that there was something else here at work. A few years before, an immensely popular Catholic priest had been dismissed from a similar position at another public university in Michigan after he made the mistake of using his success as a teacher--even by-passing the local university chaplain--to make his own converts to the Church. So while being interviewed at still another state university it became rather clear that from this point on the real problem was that I was still a priest who was somewhat active in ministry -- even if only on weekends.  So I chose not to fight, even though I suppose I could have sued on the basis of both sexual as well as religious discrimination, at least on the basis of what I was being told.

In the years that followed, I have occasionally asked myself why I was so accepting of the situation and did not instead assert what I felt should have been my equal rights to compete for that job on the basis of my academic qualifications alone. It was, I think, because I even back then realized several things. 

First, it was because I knew that in university teaching, just as in many other professions in the USA , white males predominated far beyond their proportion in the population at large, or even on campus, where nearly half the students were women.  

Second, I had been around academia long enough to realize that university faculties were still predominantly an "old boys network" where hiring was done more on the basis of not what you know but who you know.  Since I had almost been hired partly on that basis, I realized that, in the end, political pressures would rule the day.

But, third, I also knew deep down that if the discriminatory practices that still exist in America are to be overcome, a price, which may seem at times to be reverse discrimination, has to be paid. And I could see no reason why I shouldn't be one of those who had to pay it.

R W Kropf   11/8/06                         Discrim.doc  590 words  06-11-08.html