Academic Alleges Discriminatory Hiring Practices

February 8, 2016

Are many academic job ads discriminatory to people with disabilities? That’s what David Perry, a professor of history at Dominican University, alleges in a new op-ed in Al Jazeera called “Disabled People Need Not Apply.” Perry argues that academe, despite its focus on inclusion, is a regular offender when it comes to job ads that exclude large groups of people. “I found around 60 current advertisements, including faculty, staff and administrative positions, at diverse types of universities,” Perry wrote of the analysis on which his piece was based. “At many institutions, every job posting receives one of these clauses, despite many positions being perfectly suited to individuals with all types of bodies, senses and minds.”

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for example, regularly inserts the following clause into job ads (including one for a professor of French), Perry wrote: “Sedentary Work -- Exerting 10 pounds: Occasionally, Kneeling: Occasionally, Climbing (Stairs, Ladders, etc.): Occasionally, Lifting 10-25 lbs.: Occasionally, Carrying 5-10 lbs.: Occasionally, Pushing/pulling 5-10 lbs.: Occasionally, Sitting for long periods of time: Occasionally, Standing for long periods of time: Occasionally, Speaking; Essential, Hearing: Essential, Vision: Ability to distinguish similar colors, depth perception, close vision: Essential, Walking -- Short Distances: Frequently.”

Even the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Tarrant County College District, an office that includes oversight over disability issues, must be able to meet “physical demands” such as the need to “sit; use hands to finger, handle or feel objects, tools or controls; reach with hands and arms; and talk or hear,” Perry wrote. “What’s more, the employee is ‘occasionally required to stand; walk; climb or balance; stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; and taste or smell,’ as well as ‘frequently lift and/or move up to 10 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds.’ And ‘Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, distance vision, color vision, peripheral vision, depth perception and the ability to adjust focus.’”

Sam Crane, director of public policy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and a disability rights lawyer, told Perry that some of the ads were likely illegal, and that an employer cannot simply list categories that exclude wide swaths of disabled Americans without a very strong reason.

Perry said he was hoping to start a conversation about hiring best practices. “Unintentional discrimination is still discrimination,” he wrote. “Boilerplate clauses keep disabled people from even applying for jobs. ‘Requirement creep,’ likely put in place by [human resources] professionals eager to avoid trouble, exacerbates discrimination and could, if someone had the time and money, lead to legal trouble.” Without deliberate change, he wrote, “unemployment will continue to be the biggest problem facing Americans with disabilities. It’s time for employers to take a hard look at their hiring practices.”

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