In this case the cat is Randy Cohen, the NY Times columnist. Asked about equitable ways to determine who gets what offices in a university department, Cohen in his Ethicist column says:
It is tempting to favor job title or seniority as criteria for distributing these goodies: rank has its privileges, and reasonably so in a meritocracy. Alas, to use either assumes a more egalitarian world than ours and risks further rewarding the beneficiaries of past discrimination: older, whiter, manlier men who began their careers in an era when many colleges were reluctant to hire or promote women and African-Americans, for example.
Initially this looks like a delightful thought. However, I’m not sure whether I agree finally, or more to the point, what the principle is. So please add your clarifying ideas.
For starters, is the principle “If X occupies an academic position because of beneficial discrimination against others, then they are not entitled to the privileges accruing to the position”?
This would seem to mean that making base merit pay a percentage of one’s salary is wrong. There’s no reason why a senior person who doesn’t publish should get more merit pay than a beginning faculty member who is earning tends of thousands less. Or does the principle not imply that? Or are there other overriding principles?
What do you think?