Pitzer College faculty met Saturday with legal counsel to talk about the college’s affirmative action policy for hiring faculty. Faculty members discussed affirmative action for more than two hours with the college’s legal counsel directly, rather than going through the administration.
The affirmative action policy has come under question in the last few years, and the college has been working with legal counsel to establish what practices are legally allowed.
Affirmative action is meant to redress inconsistencies between a workplace and the demographics of the local labor market. Because Pitzer’s policy has been in place for years, the college’s faculty is no longer inconsistent with the labor market of Los Angeles county.
“Pitzer’s success meant that there were questions about whether some aspects of our policy were any longer going to be defendable,” said Pitzer Professor and Faculty Chair Dan Segal, who organized the retreat. “We knew we needed to have a better conversation with college legal counsel.”
Typically, when faculty have legal questions, they pass them on to the administration. The administration talks with lawyers and then responds to the faculty. However, Pitzer faculty felt that the affirmative action issue was too complicated for this sort of back-and-forth.
“What we achieved was—it’s actually very rare in higher education—we got a situation where legal counsel was brought to a meeting of the faculty,” Segal said. “We spent about two plus hours in a direct conversation with legal counsel. I actually have never heard of it happening in higher education.”
“We had some time to talk with a labor lawyer from a local firm about the legalities of certain practices,” said Hale Shaw PZ ’11, a member of the Pitzer Appointments, Promotion and Tenure (APT) Committee, which also took part in the discussion. “What is a local labor market? Do we compare it to just LA county? Do we compare it to LA county people with PhDs? Can we compare to Southern California? Can we compare it to the world?”
“The answer was: the LA county labor market,” Shaw said. “That was sort of disappointing, I think, to some of the faculty members.”
The discussion also revolved around aspects of diversity currently not covered by college policy that some faculty members felt should be.
“[Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] categories involve protection for starkly underrepresented minorities and gender. What about sexuality?” Segal said. “If you want that diversity as part of your faculty, you have to think about how to remove those barriers.”
Pitzer faculty are not making a decision on the policy anytime soon. The meeting on Saturday was meant to explore the issues involved, and Segal said he is still mulling it over.
“I don’t understand everything the lawyer said yet; I know I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been in conversations,” he said. “We’re at an intermediate stage.”
“We wanted to learn better what the legal environment was, and we also wanted to learn better what our values were, and to hear each other talk about difficult issues,” he added.