Posted on January 25, 2024

University Confronted About Illegal Hiring on Racial Lines in Leaked Audio

Sean O'Driscoll, Newsweek, January 22, 2024

A psychology professor has warned that hiring based on race alone was illegal, even as the University of Washington (UW) psychology department was downgrading white and Asian candidates, an audio recording obtained by Newsweek has shown.

The university later banned the faculty from hiring tenure-track employees for two years after finding major discrimination in hiring practices.

In an audio recording of a meeting on March 16, 2023, psychology professor Ione Fine objected to the hiring process in which the first- and second-ranked candidates, who were white and Asian American, respectively, got overlooked in favor of the third-ranked hopeful, who was Black.

For that to be achieved, a new “threshold” system was introduced in which any candidate could be chosen once they reached a certain level, circumventing the previous practice of hiring the highest-ranking candidate.

In 1998, Washington state passed a referendum banning race-based hiring in universities, which appears to have been ignored by the psychology department.

At the meeting, Fine objected to staff only having a 15-minute meeting to approve the decision of the selection committee.

“I feel like this idea that we are just deciding on candidates above threshold is a huge change in what we are looking at as a department and I think it should be something that we discuss as a faculty, not something that is decided by the planning committee,” Fine told the meeting.

She added: “I personally am in favor of affirmative action, but we are legally not allowed to do it. I actually think we do owe the taxpayers who pay our salaries—the fact that it is illegal and has been democratically decided to be illegal by the taxpayers.”

“So can you explain how we are respecting taxpayers? How are we not doing a round around on what we are legally supposed to do?” she asked.

In response, a member of the selection committee denied that they were hiring based on race alone.


Members of the department involved in the selection process denied that the selection criteria that were being used were illegal. At the meeting, they cited guidance from a senior college administrator, who was advising the faculty on hiring policy. One selection committee member told Fine they took the question to a senior college administrator and he made it “very clear that we are not in a situation where we’re being in any way illegal.”

Fine’s objections came one month before the Black candidate was hired after some Diversity Advisory Committee members urged that she be hired over the white candidate, who was then downgraded from first to third in the rankings.