I cannot believe that Obama has nominated someone for the supreme court who may not be perfect. That’s a typical revolutionary tactic, is it not? (See Glen Beck on how the current crop of revolutionaries have already done away with the old America where everyone got along and supported each other.)
But of course some imperfections are more imperfect than others. One has been raised that is hard for us to ignore. And that is the concern that the hiring at Harvard Law School while she was dean continued a bias against diversity. Here’s one statement of the problem from Salon:
When Kagan was dean of Harvard Law School, four-out-of-every five hires to its faculty were white men. She did not hire a single African American, Latino, or Native American tenured or tenure track academic law professor. She hired 25 men, all of whom were white, and seven women, six of whom were white and one Asian American. Just 3 percent of her hires were non-white — a statistic that should raise eyebrows in the 21st Century.
FiveThirtyEight makes an interesting but problematic point:
I think a lot of people in Kagan’s position — whether or not they held an affirmative goal of increasing the diversity of the faculty — would tend to become self-conscious about their low number of minority hires after some time. After they’d hired 12 or 13 white people in a row — some point at which the trend had become conspicuous — they’d bend over backward to hire a minority candidate or two, perhaps bypassing more qualified candidates in the process. … In other words, I doubt that very many people, especially in academia, would truly make their hiring decisions independently of one another.
This evidently wasn’t a problem for Kagan — and unless you do want to accuse her of discrimination, it arguably speaks to certain kind of fair-mindedness. That is, she was treating every decision that came before her on a case-by-case basis, rather than behaving like the bad referee who calls a penalty on the next play to make up for a miscall on the previous one. To me, that potentially speaks to someone who has a strong ability to evaluate the evidence objectively and without regard to politics — qualities I’d generally find desirable in a candidate for the Supreme Court.
That may be a worrying defense of Kagan. It appears that the initial point is something like this: Administrators who are consistently finding the best candidates are white men will eventually make (small?) sacrifices in quality to get diversity. And, of course, the problem is that if you have a profession very seriously shaped by implicit bias, you have to query the accuracy of the claims about the best candidates. According to whom? And in light of what?
I’m not keen on judging Kagan’s record, because I don’t know enough about what was going on. Deans often have very considerable power to recruit excellent candidates, but they may not have the ability to overrule hiring committee decisions. If anyone has any better understanding of Harvard’s Law School, it would be great to hear.
A related factor is that apparently the law school was in great disarray when she took over as dean, and she got it fairly well sorted out. I suspect that starting off in that situation by announcing that they would aim for diversity in hiring would have finished her off pretty quickly. But perhaps she could have turned to diversity as more of a goal later in her deanship. Or perhaps she did, and still in a profession marked by years of bias, it was much harder to make more diverse hires.**
538 points out that Harvard is very close to the other top law school in diversity, with a lead over Yale in the hiring of women that makes one wonder about Yale.
So there are lot of unanswered questions, I think. What do you think?
O, and just not to miss out on the discussions going on. She is very successful single woman. That is, SINGLE! You know you can read her sexuality off of that fact alone. Yes! The first openly gay appointment to SCOTUS. Except the White House says no. Too bad.
**A reader objected to this comment in private communication. Given that I’d certainly question any comparable statement about philosophy, I now think this was an unfortunate conjecture. That said, let me note that it was a conjecture about the possible effectiveness of discriminatory forces in a field, and not about the abilities or preferences of underrepresented groups.