Occidental removes Affirmative Action language from hiring process

Shilpa Bhongir

The college’s General Counsel Carl Botterud removed language about affirmative action hiring from the college’s webpage this summer, since the college is not technically an Affirmative Action institution. 

In place of language about Affirmative Action, the college’s Affirmative Action committee is working to articulate a more refined policy of the college’s commitment towards diverse hiring, which will be available for review by spring 2013. The committee will use the policy to aid in the search for five new faculty members in the Politics, Economics, History, Spanish Language and Geology departments. 

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Compliance Manual, affirmative action is defined as “actions appropriate to overcome the effects of past or present practice, policies, or other barriers to equal employment opportunity.”

“It’s kind of a legal semantics game whether or not we are an affirmative action institution,” Chair of the Affirmative Action Committee Linda Besemer said. 

Since the college does not have specific research on what groups are traditionally underrepresented, nor a clear policy of how it would hire more affirmatively, it cannot be considered an official affirmative action institution. 

“In order to adopt a true affirmative action program voluntarily there would need to be research that establishes a cohort where there is a traditional disparity that we want to mitigate,” Botterud said. 

The college identifies itself as an equal opportunity employer for both non-academic and academic hiring. This means potential candidates will not be discriminated against due to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin. 

“We are not giving preference to people because of these protected characteristics, but we are looking to make sure that we have a diverse workforce and diverse faculty,” Botterud said. “Race may be a factor to the extent that it helps the college gather an intellectually diverse academic experience for its students.”

The new policy will help articulate the college’s stance on equal employment hiring and how it differs from affirmative action. 

The policy will better articulate which groups are underrepresented, the relationship between the Affirmative Action committee and the college’s overall mission, and the obligations of the search committee members when finding new staff. 

“I don’t see it as an undermining but a shoring up of what can we do, what do we do, and what are our strengths and to literally lay it on the line, even to the extent that we will name what diversity means,” Besemer said. 

Currently, the college policy aims at creating diverse pool of candidates in order to bring more minorities into the work force. “We want to try and cast a net into the community as wide and far as we can,” Ledwin said.

This means that in addition to posting jobs on the college website for all candidates to see, the college advertises in specific locations to encourage various minority groups to apply. “If there is a National Hispanic Engineers group, or a college that might have a historically black population, we can place ads there, encouraging applications to come in,” Ledwin said.

Botterud elaborated on the role that diversity currently plays in the evaluation of candidates. “All else equal, if a professor has the same academic credentials…and one person represents a group that isn’t fairly represented in the department…we are going to give the nod to the person who is going to add to our goal of a more diverse background,” Botterud said.

With the college’s prioritizing refining and maintaining of its current policies, it is unlikely that it will move in the direction of an official affirmative action institution. 

“I think everyone agrees it is a laudable goal. The question is do we have the time and resources to do the work necessary to make it happen. Is it a priority given all the other priorities of the college?” Botterud said. “Because if you are going to do it, you have to do it right.”

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