The University of Oregon is taking issue with an economics professor’s claim that a program developed to recruit more minority faculty members is illegal.
Provost Linda Brady and general counsel Melinda Grier said the program, which helps new minority faculty set up an office or lab, is legal and needed to help attract minority faculty in a competitive market.
Economics professor Bill Harbaugh has challenged the program, known as the Underrepresented Minority Recruitment Program, in e-mails to UO President Dave Frohnmayer. He calls it an “obvious violation” of the Constitution and Civil Rights Act.
Harbaugh declined to comment further.
The program provides as much as $30,000 a year for three years to reimburse departments and colleges for the cost of “startup packages” used attract new minority faculty members.
They also can support other incentives, depending on the professor’s field.
The university spends about $500,000 a year on the program, part of its diversity initiatives that cost about $4 million a year.
Efforts to meet the university’s own broad diversity goals have triggered sharp debate over how to go about it.
Among them were debates over whether special treatment or incentives were justified to help attract more minority students, faculty and managers.
Harbaugh has criticized the diversity efforts and says efforts should concentrate instead on helping more low-income children prepare for college and ultimately increase minority scholars in the academic job pool.
An American Association of University Professors survey found the only related court decision, at the University of Vermont, ruled the practice legal if the availability of the money was not used in hiring decisions.
Grier said that doesn’t happen at UO.
The funds come into play after a selection committee has chosen a candidate and made an initial job offer. The funds then can be used to negotiate a final contract, she said.
The money goes to the professor’s department, not to the professor, she said.
“Dollars aren’t allocated based on race,” she said. “Departments get reimbursed for costs.”
Some opponents of affirmative action aren’t impressed.
Linda Chavez, chairwoman of the nonprofit Center for Equal Opportunity, said the fact that the program allocates money based solely on race makes it illegal.