Economists Change Stance on Job Notices

January 8, 2007

The American Economic Association -- facing criticism over its commitment to diversity -- has revised a policy that prevented colleges from indicating in job announcements that they welcomed applications from women or members of minority groups.

Such announcements are common in colleges' job ads and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (despite objections from some conservative groups) says that they are legal. But the economics association has barred colleges from indicating that they welcome specific groups, saying that such a policy is tantamount to helping colleges discriminate. (The association permitted general statements on equal opportunity or affirmative action, provided no groups were named.)

The economists' policy was not widely known until last year, when it rejected the welcoming language included by the University of Vermont in a notice it submitted for the association's job list. Upon finding out about the incident, many economists -- especially feminist economics and scholars working on diversifying the discipline -- called for the association to change its policy.

And that's what the association did at its annual meeting, in Chicago over the weekend.

Its Executive Committee approved a policy that would allow colleges to indicate that they welcome applicants from certain groups provided that the group is underrepresented and that affirmative action for that group would be legal under U.S. law. The association will keep its policy of not allowing colleges to post notices that indicated that one needs to be a member of a specific group to be hired.

John Siegfried, secretary-treasurer of the group and an economist at Vanderbilt University, said of the new policy: "This was an attempt to better balance the goals of not helping anyone to discriminate in
hiring while not impeding efforts to implement legal affirmative action."

George A. Akerlof, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley who is president of the association, said he had been surprised by the controversy over the rule, but pleased with the outcome of the discussions on what he described as "clarifying" a policy.

He also said that professors should not read into the debate any lack of support for efforts to recruit more female and minority economists. "We're definitely quite committed to diversity," he said.

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