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Mary Ann Danowitz Sagaria - An Exploratory Model of Filtering In Administrative Searches: Toward Counter-Hegemonic Discourses - The Journal of Higher Education 73:6 The Journal of Higher Education 73.6 (2002) 677-710

An Exploratory Model of Filtering In Administrative Searches
Toward Counter-Hegemonic Discourses

Mary Ann Danowitz Sagaria

In the three decades during which predominately white institutions of higher education have been desegregated, some important gains have been made, although in regards to matters of race, serious problems and difficulties continue to exist. One important index of progress is the elevation of African Americans to significant positions within the hierarchy of administrative structures at predominately white colleges and universities (Harvey, 1999, p. 1).

White people continue to dominate the administrative group of colleges and universities. In 1997 white men held 47% of the more than 151,000 executive, administrative, and managerial staff positions. White women accounted for 38% of the positions, black men accounted for 4% of the positions and black women held 5% of the positions. Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders held another 5% of the positions (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). However, evidence suggests that during the past decade and a half, gains have slowed (Glazer-Raymo, 1999), or there has been a constant or widening numerical gap between the number of positions held by white men and other groups (Slaughter, 1993). There are graphic differences among different racial groups (Lindsay, 1997; Harvey, 1999) [End Page 677] and persistent differences between gender groups (Clark, Nelson, Higonnet, & Katrak, 1996; Kolodny, 1998) in their experiences seeking and holding administrative positions. This information raises important but ignored questions about administrator selection. For the past three decades predominately white universities have claimed to pay attention to diversifying their administrative groups, but why is it then that hiring outcomes do not seem to bear that out? Or, in regards to matters of race, why do serious problems or difficulties still exist in administrative selection?

The purpose of this article is to describe administrator search processes at a predominately white university in order to explore whether searches may be a cause for the limited success in diversifying administrative groups. The search processes were reconstructed with the perspectives of black female, black male, white female, and white male candidates and white search chairs (hiring officials and/or search committee chairpersons). There were not enough Hispanics and Asian Americans and there were no Native Americans to share their perspectives as candidates. The data for this study were gathered at the Ohio State University in 1989 and 1990. 1 Since then there have been fewer blacks in executive, administrative, managerial and professional positions at the University. Between 1991 and 1999 the representation of black women decreased from 4.3% (36) to 3.6% (32) and that of black men from 3.8% (34) to 1.8% (16), whereas the representation of white women increased from 36.7% (327) to 37.6 % (333) and that of white men decreased from 53.3% (475) to 51.1% (452). There were slight gains among Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans and Pacific Islanders (Office of Human Resources, 2000). The shrinking number of newly hired black administrators at the University means that now there are too few to participate in a similar study to determine if search processes have changed.

I begin this study of administrative searches with a review of the research on administrative and managerial selection, particularly those studies from higher education. Most of this research focuses on the organizational process and search chairs' accounts and ignores the experiences of the candidates. I then reconstruct administrator searches from the perspective of individual participants, each of whom has partial, located, and critical knowledge (Haraway, 1988). Drawing upon search process participants' interviews, I propose a model of filtering that explains the reproduction of patterns of privilege and subordination. Lastly, I consider the implications of the analysis and findings for making administrator searches less racist and sexist. [End Page 678]

A Review of Administrator Selection

Administrator and management selection has been studied from two approaches—rational and representational. The rational approach treats selection as objective, logical, linear, and predictable and focuses on quantifiable job and candidate characteristics such as years of work experience and salary. The dominant tendency has been to envision selection processes as a series of clearly defined steps beginning with advertising a position and ending with extending a job offer. For example, Kaplowitz (1986) enumerates 24 steps with a flow chart detailing the university search process. Researchers have used various methods to delineate selection processes, but most frequently they have surveyed hiring officials or human resource managers. A second tendency has been to concentrate on the use and evaluation of candidate and job characteristics and their influence on search outcomes (Taylor & Bergman, 1987). Recruitment activities and position attributes such as high salary, responsible and challenging work, and desirable co-workers have also been studied to determine employers' preferences and applicants' choices (Cox, Schlueter, Moore, & Sullivan, 1989; Lutz, 1979; McLaughlin & Riesman, 1985; Reid & Rogers, 1981; Rynes, Heneman & Schwab, 1980; Sagaria, 1986; Wade & Kinicki, 1995). These kinds of studies also have considered how hiring officials treat gender (Futoran & Wyer, 1986; Heilman, Martell, & Simon, 1988; Hitt & Barr, 1989) and race (McIntyre, Moberg, & Posner, 1980; Parsons & Liden, 1984; Prewett-Livingston, Field, Veres, & Lewis, 1996) when selecting employees.

Perry, Davis-Blake, and Kulik's work (1994) focuses on the logical and predictable characteristics of rational studies and their influences on employment practices. They analyzed more than 100 studies from the cognitive process (gender-role attitudes) research and labor market literature to identify conditions contributing to gender-biased rather than gender-neutral selection decisions. Their work is most relevant for understanding selection processes for its conclusion that employers' power, the roles employers play, and their organizational context are responsible for segregation in organizations. Focusing on one aspect of the selection, the interview, Cesare reviewed 13 studies on race and gender effects in employment interviews. He calls for removing the effects of bias by redirecting attention from a generic decision-making strategy to isolating "the distinct judgments, errors, and bias made by a particular interviewer" (Cesare, 1996, p. 301).

The collective research from the rational approach conclusively indicates [End Page 679] that search chairs' gender, race, attitudes (including biases), and actions influence hiring decisions. Surprisingly, however, both the scholarly and professional literatures have insufficiently considered how search chairs' attitudes and actions actually enter into and influence selection. This is especially so in the higher education professional practice literature. For example, The Search Committee Handbook (Marchese, 1987) continues to be a useful guide for conducting effective searches. The author argues that good affirmative action processes are inseparable from good personnel practices, including equal treatment of candidates and a focus on job-related issues. However, by not directly addressing racism or sexism or strategies for dealing with them, the handbook implicitly diminishes their importance.

The second approach in administrative and management selection literature, the representational view, encompasses studies that interpret hiring as symbolic or somewhat unpredictable processes (Birnbaum, 1988; Kerr, Dunlop, Harbison, & Meyers, 1960; McLaughlin & Riesman, 1985). Birnbaum (1988), in writing about higher education presidential selection processes and the involvement of search committees, describes search committees as symbols that permit various constituencies to display or enhance their status within the organization. Another example of the representational view has been to interpret searches as complex and changing decision-making processes (Olsen, 1976; Twombly, 1992; WoodBrooks, 1991). Olsen (1976) reconstituted a nine-month selection process for a dean using observation, interview, and documentary data. In contrast to assumptions of rational views, he concluded that predetermined goals for the search had limited value for predicting behavior of actors in the search. At each phase of the process the actors demonstrated preferences and strong feelings with few attempts to provide explanations or interpretations consistent with predetermined goals. Twombly (1992) also attempted to understand selection process decision making by interviewing committee members from three searches for deans. After concluding that there were elements of both structured and anarchic decision processes in the searches and that the screening process was largely ritual, she advocated that in order to improve academic searches, the values and premises upon which decisions are based must be identified and acknowledged. Olsen (1976) and Twombly (1992) provide insights into the life cycles and irregularities of selection processes. Unfortunately, however, they do not mention candidates' views on gender, race, class, or sexual orientation on the selection processes.

Most writers associated with rational and representational approaches have not considered administrative selection as an integral part of the [End Page 680] power relations of an organization. Similarly, they have not acknowledged their power as researchers and the consequences of the choice of the lens through which they look at selection processes. By describing a selection process from the vantage of hiring officials and selection committee members only, those accounts are given credibility and the views of candidates are dismissed.

Within the literature on administrative selection only a few studies consider the search process from candidates' perspectives. McLaughlin and Riesman (1985) describe the encounters of candidates in presidential searches; however, they focus primarily on candidates' experiences with confidentiality and disclosure. Furthermore, the few studies from candidates' perspectives tend to include only individuals who have accepted a job offer, withdrawn from a selection process, or turned down an offer (Lutz, 1979; Reid & Rogers, 1981; Sagaria, 1986). Only two studies were located that viewed selection processes from both successful and unsuccessful candidates' perspectives.

WoodBrooks (1991) described black women's presentations of themselves as candidates for administrative positions in a predominately white university. These candidates' narratives and the interpretations of them present the university selection process as a contradictory set of expectations created by a microcosm of white racist society reproducing tensions and conflicts for black women in a setting that is hostile to them. De la Luz Reyes and Halcón's (1988) descriptions of the experiences of Chicano candidates in faculty and administrative selection processes illustrate the existence of discriminatory practices and other manifestations of racism. Their ethnographic work of more than a decade ago demonstrated that "Chicano academics are generally experiencing many of the same kinds of racial prejudices experienced by those who preceded them in the academy a generation ago" (p. 80). According to these authors, five prevalent manifestations of racism in job selection: typecasting, practices of tokenism, limiting minority hiring, devaluing of minority research, and hairsplitting (a decision made on an arbitrary, hairline difference favoring a white candidate) ensure that the number of Chicanos in the academy remains limited. The WoodBrooks (1991) and de la Luz Reyes and Halcón (1988) research shows the consequences of race and gender biases in hiring at predominately white institutions and suggests that there is a need to focus on the experiences of candidates.

Furthermore, when researchers consider only the experiences of hiring officials and successful candidates, they overlook unsuccessful candidates. Individuals not offered jobs could add a rich source of information about searches. As outsiders, after a position has been filled, they have different experiences and are likely to have different knowledge [End Page 681] than those who were hired. The current study examines successful and unsuccessful candidates' experiences and the function of race and gender to more fully describe administrative searches.

An Alternative Research Perspective

In this study I reconstruct administrative searches from the accounts of candidates—black women, black men, white women, white men, and search chairs to consider different attitudes, actions, and experiences among participants. This approach is premised on the idea that there are partial, located, critical knowledge sources that collectively form webs of meaning about selection processes. The emergent collective perspectives of the various groups then form a collage or an exploratory model for search processes.

The analysis of multiple voices is intended to provide an opportunity for candidates to speak from their own experiences, to give authority to the diversity, richness, and power of their experiences (Collins, 1990), and to allow for the intersection of race and gender. 2 This approach challenges most mainstream higher education and managerial studies that tend to confer power on hiring officials only to describe hiring and promotion processes.

In essence, multiple perspectives are presented as interpretations of a particular group's experiences derived from group participants. They are not a common point of view or a uniform gender or race experience. What is common, however, are the patterns of social relations that have accompanied their exclusion or subordination or inclusion or advantaged position which are present in a collective experience but not fully present in any one individual's everyday experience (Smith, 1987). Thus, applying multiple perspectives to describe selection processes suggests that truths about selection processes are mediated by multiple factors related to an individual's particular role, characteristics and social political formulations at a specific point in time (Bensimon & Marshall, 1997).

For example, I consider candidates (outsiders) as well as search chairs (insiders) to describe their roles and interaction in the search process. I also categorize responses by black women and black men participants to describe administrative searches in a predominately white university. As groups, they have been absent, excluded and disadvantaged in a white society, whereas white men and to a lesser degree, white women participants, as groups, have been present, included, and advantaged.

In so doing, I use perspectives as technical devices to construct an account of processes that can be used to work for more satisfactory or improved [End Page 682] selection of diverse administrators. Furthermore, to contribute to alternative discourses, the reported experiences and activities of search chairs are discussed in relationship to intended and unintended consequences of selection processes.


Information from interviews and documents was used to reconstruct the search processes. Individual in-depth interviews were conducted with successful and unsuccessful candidates and search chairs. University documents and personnel records were analyzed to determine how position vacancies were publicized, how candidates were formally recruited, and the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of a final pool of candidates.


The sampling frame consisted of 147 administrative and professional positions, of which 10 were externally filled department chairpersons positions. 3 The searches for all the positions met the University's affirmative action standards. 4

We, the research team, purposefully chose positions in different administrative units and across position levels. Of the 13 positions studied, 3 were academic administration positions, and 10 were in administrative and professional positions in academic affairs, student affairs, business, development, and athletics. The 13 searches studied were for dean of a college, department chair (2 positions), senior computer specialist, associate director of counseling services (2 positions), director of building services, associate director of human resources, senior development officer, and head coach. At least one black man, black woman, or white women had been interviewed on campus for each search. 5 In order to preserve the anonymity of the participants the race and gender of candidates' narratives is not identified with the particular position for which they were a candidate.

Once the positions to be studied were chosen, the names of all candidates interviewed, the hiring official, the chair of the selection committee, and the employing supervisor were identified. In 10 of the positions filled, the hiring official or the employing supervisor chaired the selection committees. In 3 searches for academic appointments, the committee chairperson was not the hiring official. Affirmative action officers were not interviewed because liaisons were not designated for each position vacancy, and affirmative action officers' involvement varied from having no direct knowledge of a selection process to providing consultation. [End Page 683]

Data Collection

A team of two researchers interviewed 32 participants involved in 13 searches. Participants included 11 search chairs (two filled two positions each) —9 white men and 2 white women (whose racial identity was established during the interview process). Fifteen successful candidates—3 white men, 4 white women (1 who rejected a job offer), 4 black men (1 rejected the job offer), and 4 black women were interviewed. Five unsuccessful candidates—2 white men, 2 white women, and 1 black woman also were interviewed. There were no unsuccessful black male candidates to interview. Complete data from institutional records were not available on race and gender of applicant pools or on search committee members. 6 This lack of institutional documentation about the search process, along with our decision to draw a purposeful sample, principally for the diverse representation of candidates and positions, limited our capability to systematically identify and interview additional minority faculty and staff who interviewed, screened, and recommended candidates.

We used two semistructured interview protocols to obtain information about experiences in the search process. One guide was for candidates and one was for search chairs. 7 Through semistructured, in-depth interviews participants were asked to reconstruct their experiences and perspectives. We also asked participants to talk about their thoughts, feelings, views, and opinions about the interview process.

All participants living in the local area at the time of the study were interviewed in person; others were interviewed by telephone. The interviews were audio-taped and transcribed. In the few instances in which participants preferred not to be taped, analyses are based on extensive field notes taken during the interview. Twenty of the 21 candidates contacted were interviewed, 8 and 10 of the 11 search chairs were interviewed. One search chair reluctantly declined to be interviewed because of a serious illness. Candidates' interviews ranged from one to two hours, and search committee chairs' interviews ranged from thirty minutes to one and one-half hours.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

An analytic inductive process (Miles & Huberman, 1984) was used to organize and interpret the participants' descriptions and stories. We triangulated the data for each search by comparing the information from personnel records with information from search chairs and candidates. As expected, perceptions differed because individuals experienced the search process differently. Each person's narrative was interpreted as an [End Page 684] authentic form of self-expression and an equally valid account of what happened from his or her own biographical perspective (Richardson, 1989). 9 In analyzing the data we looked especially closely at those parts of the narratives focused on the search and screening processes, such as the descriptions of guidelines and procedures of each of the search committees and the communication and interaction between a candidate and search chair or committee member.


An Exploratory Model of Filtering

As we coded and interpreted the data, actions and words emerged that described how candidates were excluded or included in the searches. Candidates' accounts also communicated feelings of advantage and disadvantage, even in searches where there appeared to be a pervasive commitment to equity. From these data and the data from search chair interviews, I propose four filters—normative, valuative, personal, and debasement—that constitute screening devices in administrative searches. The four were present in some searches, and some filters were present in all searches. The filters were not applied sequentially or linearly; rather, they emerged at different times from many different activities. In reality the filters intersect. They are not additive or hierarchical because, like the intersection of gender and race, they cannot be dissected (Smith, 1987). To dissect them would obfuscate the experiences of black women and inappropriately place their experiences as an amalgamation of the experiences of black men and white women (WoodBrooks, 1991). It is, however, feasible analytically—although artificially—to separate the four filters by showing how candidates experience them and, therefore, to illustrate points of domination and potential actions to confront racism, sexism, and privilege (Frankenberg, 1993). It is on this that I will now focus.

Normative filter. Qualifications such as education, administrative experience, credentials, academic accomplishments or technical expertise were used to evaluate all candidates. This standardized information, often established a priori to both recruitment and assessment, was explicitly defined by indicators such as degrees earned or numbers of publications.

Ten of the 11 search chairs expressed a desire to have a diverse final pool of candidates in terms of race and gender. In each of the searches studied, at least one black woman, white woman, or black man was interviewed. White men, however, represented approximately two-fifths to three-fourths of the finalists in each of the 13 searches. Even among [End Page 685] organizational units historically dominated by women, candidate pools included only one woman. Although race and gender data were not available for all persons in the candidate pools, this numerical dominance of white men and white women is consistent with de la Luz Reyes and Halcón's (1988) one minority-per-pot syndrome associated with Chicano candidates in administrative and faculty selection processes.

It is not surprising that during the "paper" review of résumés or curriculum vitae and letters of application, search chairs described various procedures used to sort applications and select finalists. Some used a formal rating process, such as a Likert scale, and averaged the results to select a group of individuals for preliminary interviews. After interviews had taken place, candidates were once again ranked for their overall ability to "do the job." In other searches, committees established criteria and then had a series of screenings guided by those criteria. Typically, after each step, committees analyzed their criteria to determine whether it was a form of institutional racism or sexism. A search chair described a process intended to recalibrate criteria used by his committee as follows:

We decided as a group that at each step in the process . . . an appointed three person group would review carefully all applicants and identify them again, to the extent possible . . . this is the gender breakout, this is the race breakout, and decide if this was an acceptable pool. . . . One of the members of the committee spent a lot of time in the library doing research on the number of terminal degrees that were awarded within the last ten years in the fields that we had identified as being appropriate to serving in a [position of this level] role, and how many of those were awarded to [minority] individuals. . . . Once we decided that we could accept the initial pool, then when each subsequent cut was made, . . . we looked at . . . the breakout of the statistics . . . and were able to determine at each point if something in that step of the process had created an inherent bias that, for example, may have cut out all the women or may have cut out all of the black candidates. And that happened a couple times when suddenly we went from step A to step B and we realized that in doing so that we had gone from this percentage . . . to either a significantly lower percentage or zero. We then went back to the process and said, "Okay, now, . . . what is it in this step of the process that caused that major shift in the percentage of candidates?" And one time it was based on taking a look at the publications and realizing that, for example, the women in the field, who for the most part have been in the field a shorter period of time, had fewer publications. And so we went back and modified to accommodate for that. One of the times when we found ourselves cutting out all the black candidates, we found again it was that the black candidates tended to be in upper level administrative positions a shorter period of time. And by having . . . a five-year expectation as opposed to a three-year, it cut [all minority candidates] out. So we went back and were able to identify [End Page 686] in those really short steps what systems created an inherent bias, and were able to make corrections for that. Not for the individual, but rather for the . . . subgroup.

In applying the normative filter, search chairs attempted to apply criteria that would not exclude any group, but no efforts were reported to recalibrate criteria for their relevance to future job performance. Therefore, it is not known whether modifying the preliminary screening variables would have delayed excluding underrepresented candidates in more subtle ways later in the searches.

During the paper screening, when the normative filter was used, there was a strong commitment and sensitivity to equity and diversity. Search chairs associated a commitment to equity as a need to be "objective," and eliminate institutional discrimination and personal bias. However, during the second phase of the screening process, the direct review stage, candidates who had passed through the normative filter were judged with additional standardized criteria as well as with criteria identified by a search committee, such as experience at a land-grant university. This review phase usually began with reference checks and contacts within a defined professional network. It often included informal face-to-face interviews with candidates during professional conferences and telephone interviews. In one search, the direct review began with off-site interviews, in which search committee members met with prospective candidates in a hotel at a conference site. The committee interviewed individuals who, as one candidate put it, "lined up in the hall, waiting their turn."

Valuative filter. Candidates were screened for professional behavior, leadership and decision-making style, as well as their fit and image within the administrative unit and/or university. This filter evolved throughout searches as thresholds were established for all candidates or when one candidate exhibited characteristics or behaviors judged desirable by a search chair or committee member.

The standards applied were often vague, value-laden, class-, culture-, or ideologically based. Seldom was the accuracy or reliability of the perceptions or observations assessed. A candidate's familiarity with search committee members or their colleagues was also considered.

As one hiring official explained,

When you're looking for someone in research or teaching, the vita will tell you a whole lot about what you want to know especially about research, because you can see what the person's published, where it was published, et cetera. But when you're looking for an administrator, you're looking for qualities of character. Now I don't mean you don't want researchers with good character. . . . Nevertheless, you don't get too picky about their [End Page 687] character. But when they're an administrator, they've got to be somebody with the quality that you call organizational judgment and political common sense. . . . Well, that's the kind of thing that does not come through on a vita. . . . You want to know how the . . . people in the system perceived this person's leadership. Is the person fair . . . open? . . . How does the person behave when people get mad at him or her? Supposing the administrator makes a mistake, and they all make mistakes, because anyone who is paid to make decisions is bound to make mistakes. . . . How does the person behave? Does he say, "Well, I'm sorry. I made a mistake." Or does the person try to conceal it? Well, these are the kind of things you can only find out by phone calls.

During the on-campus interview, standardized criteria, such as educational and professional experiences, continued to be important, but they were often overshadowed by more personally defined criteria. Three items challenged the commitment to diversity. One was familiarity, the ability of search chairs to gather information about candidates from people they knew. The second was fit, a candidate's acceptability or suitability to the hiring administrative unit and to her or his prospective peers across campus and, where applicable, within a broader professional or geographic community. The third was image, a candidate's visual representation, form, or appearance.

Search chairs described formal and informal background checks they made of candidates through people known to themselves, colleagues and other committee members. Formal reference checks and informal network checks were used to determine if an individual was known and safe. One search chair stressed that subjective judgment of one's peers was more important than objective criteria.

I think the most important [part of the evaluation process] is the personal evaluation of individuals [within the professional world] of the candidates . . . who really know the person well, who give you an honest evaluation; and that's not always possible. As a matter of fact,. . . no matter what great pains you go to in trying to be objective, democratic, . . . all of that, I think, is really window dressing. The substantive part of the search is if I know you are an honest, respectable individual in the field who knows another person, I think your view of that person is the most important one. Obviously there are some quantifiable things which we cannot dismiss. If the person has published a hundred papers or two papers, that's very quantifiable. I'm not talking about that. But aside from these things, I think a person's leadership and administrative skills. . . tend to be difficult to quantify on a piece of paper. You need to rely on human subjective evaluation.

When the valuative filter was applied, either as a preliminary filter, or later, in tandem with the normative filter, search chairs and committees tended to rely heavily on information from known sources and to make judgments based on personal preferences or biases. Search chairs were [End Page 688] reluctant to accept information as factual and complete unless they knew the reference or informant. By privileging information from known sources, search committees effectively limited the range of information they were willing to consider valid. In relying on a candidate's reputation among known persons, candidates with networks different than those of the search committee members were disadvantaged. Furthermore, search chairs' reluctance to rely on information from references provided by the candidate, but unknown to search committee members, may be more of a liability for black women, black men, and white women, who are likely to have different networks than those of white men (Lindsay, 1997). This reliance on personal judgment, early in searches, may eliminate qualified candidates from the pool and undermine efforts to diversify an administrative group.

Search committee chairs' accounts indicate that the valuative filter was often first manifested in informal preliminary interviews at professional meetings or in formal telephone interviews. These preliminary interviews were intended to be opportunities to "size up" candidates by asking about qualifications or information from the vita and making intuitive judgments. As one search chair said,

There's no substitute for seeing the creature in the flesh. And what you learn there depends on how good you are at the intuitive. [It's] a word I use to mean, it's so many variables you can't possibly quantify them all—intuitive cues that include body language, all kinds of these things that give you clues to character. . . . And after we interviewed them, ah yes! Then I was able to interpret better this, that and the other on the vita.

In this example, the search chair attributes "variables" such as body language to character, without recognizing the cultural components of these variables or the biased nature of these judgments.

A good fit was, at times, operationally defined as a philosophy and administrative style compatible with those of search chairs and being able to work well with others. Also, intuitively it meant that the candidate would not "rock the boat" or embarrass the employing unit or university. Both black women and white women spoke about fit. A black woman explained she was more aware of fit after her on-campus interview and a discussion she had had with a friend of hers, the first choice candidate, a black man. She wondered whether her gender was influencing her "fit":

I found out a lot of things that transpired after my interview that made me aware of the concern for my fitting in. I knew the first choice candidate. We were aware that each other was applying and he kept me informed of his progress. I know that I was really the only one qualified for the job because I was the only one who had run a program like theirs. He had run a very different kind of program. But, he was a man. [End Page 689]

A white woman said,

I think they were really looking for someone that would be acceptable to the university. I think, in general, the [unit] is extremely inbred. Outsiders are not welcome, and I think they were just trying to make sure that there wasn't going to be any boat rocking.

Fit also included a sense that others within the university and sometimes beyond the university would accept the candidate. A search chair went so far to explicitly name fit as a consideration in search committee meetings,

I think some of the committee's discussions focused on the fact that some of [the candidates] had a stronger set of research credentials and some had more substantive administrative experience. After the interview process when the search committee met to give their collective assessment of those we interviewed, . . . there were . . . some discussions as to. . . seeing [a particular candidate] interacting across campus with [administrators at that level] or with university administrators or faculty members in general. . . . I think when that's picked up then you get a sense for how they fit.

Fit was not a replacement for competence or a high level of academic and professional achievement. Rather, it became an added requirement that was judged by individual internally defined criteria, such as comfort with a candidate and a projection about how acceptable that individual would be to others in the university. Consequently, if judgments are influenced by individual cultural lenses such as those likely to be held by white men, then they may well be disadvantageous to black females, white females, and black males.

Candidates who did not know search committee members or the chair described being evaluated for their ability to fit within the university and administrative unit. In contrast, in a selection process to fill two positions, a candidate who was well known within the unit said that he did not believe he was evaluated for fit. Another candidate, in that same search, unknown to those in the unit said that the search chair asked, "I know you can do the job, but how do I know you'll fit?"

A white male candidate described his experiences with a telephone interview and an informal meeting with a search chair before he was invited for a formal on-campus interview. Regarding the telephone interview he said,

I don't remember all the content. It wasn't offensive; . . . [the conversation] was about some of the stuff I had written, a little clarification here and there, and elaboration. . . . I guess they just wanted to see how I sounded and whether there was something I might have said that would make [the committee member] worry [and] that she would then report back to the committee. [End Page 690]

Later, another committee member approached him at a professional conference. Of that meeting he said,

It was mainly social. I think it was, is this somebody we could live with? From her perspective . . . can he talk? I mean, do I enjoy even talking to him? You know . . . put a person to this [résumé]. What are his values?

Asked if he thought the person was in any way concerned with fit, he replied,

Yea, I think it was definitely on her agenda. I think her agenda was should she vote for me to be interviewed? And in her opinion, would I be a good person [for that position] and also a colleague, somebody that had a style that would gel with the chemistry of the [unit] or would I be out in left field?

Fit was also a code word for appropriate cultural capital and the expectation that a candidate's language, presentation, appearance, and style of social interaction were the kind search chairs valued and felt comfortable with. For example, a white male search chair referring to the style and demeanor of two black male candidates explained,

[The first candidate] came in and was a totally different personality than was [the second candidate]. [The second candidate] is what I'd call very sophisticated. . . . You know, [the second candidate] would walk in and you'd say, "My God! That guy's got a Ph.D.," and he'd talk to you one minute. . . . [The first candidate] comes in and his style is totally different. [He's] more likely to give you the impression that he's [a televangelist]. . . . I could conceive of him, and [others involved in the hiring process] could conceive of [him] being in situations within the university where people would misinterpret his style . . . and maybe even think that his style indicated a lack of experience or sophistication or whatever you want to call it.

The second candidate presented himself in a manner consistent with the search chair's expectations for appropriate behavior within white cultural norms. By invoking a stereotypical image of a black televangelist, the search chair diminished the candidate's credibility. According to the search chair, his assessment was corroborated by a black male interviewer who expressed difficulty in communicating with the "televangelist" candidate. By demonstrating his affiliation with a black colleague, the search chair attempted to validate his stereotyped notions of appropriateness. The search chair reported that the interviewer said, "It's a cultural difference, . . . and we weren't sure [the first candidate] would fit." The "cultural difference" was something the "sophisticated" candidate did not encounter. Perhaps the black interviewer, as portrayed by the search chair, and the "sophisticated" candidate had learned to operate effectively within the white cultural norms of the university.

Just as the white search chair ensured continuity of university norms, [End Page 691] the black interviewer also acted as a gatekeeper by excluding a candidate whose behavior was not consistent with these norms. Both committee members ranked these candidates as highly qualified to do the job; the deciding factor in this search, as in others, was style and demeanor. These characteristics affected how candidates were evaluated for fit, as well as the appropriateness of the image they would project to the university.

In an even clearer example of how white cultural norms are replicated, a black male candidate explained how a search consultant, employed by the university, coached him to fit in and conform by toning down his personal style and dress for his interview.

The consultant said, remember now, you're dealing with a bunch of bankers. And bankers are basically conservative. The message, which was a good message, was, come on boy, you know, this is how we do it here. Wear the dark blue suit, white shirt and tie. That's how most of us in [the administrative specialty] look. . . . I am so happy the guy said it. . . . That isn't my strength.

The candidate's style of dressing may reflect his socialization and cultural background, and the consultant's suggestions underscore the importance of appearing to conform to the norms of white university culture. Cultural capital, such as language, modes of social interaction, and meaning, reflects the dominant white ideology and is a basis for excluding candidates. Because cultural capital has less defined naming or markings in the United States than race and gender, its intrinsic link to power and privilege may be more difficult to detect, but it may also be more enduring.

Personal filter. Candidates were screened for their personality, character traits, attitudes, habits, family composition, and sexual orientation. This filter evolved throughout searches beginning either before or after the paper screening, during telephone reference checks. It was most evident during and after the campus interviews.

Criteria were applied stringently to black men, black women, and white women. White men did not indicate they were subjected to offensive or invasive questions. In contrast, black women, black men, and white women were subjected to close scrutiny and were offended by probing personal questions.

In 7 of the 13 searches, chairs evaluated candidates with valuative and personal filters before applying the normative filter. In 3 of those 7 searches normative criteria were then tailored to the credentials and capabilities of a particular candidate. From the onset of one such search, the normative filter was created largely from the characteristics of an individual whom a search chair considered a desirable candidate. [End Page 692]

Typically, candidates were not allowed to pass through the valuative and personal filters without being highly qualified, but as one search chair said, "If it's a good minority candidate whose deficiencies are something that can be corrected with training, then I make every effort to bring that person on board." This kind of emphasis on potential is appropriate if a similar normative filter is applied to all people. But if it is applied only to those who first pass through the valuative and personal filters, a form of cultural privileging takes place. In contrast, when normative criteria are applied first, it might be expected that individuals of different backgrounds might be likely to have an opportunity to compete.

In applying a personal filter, committees assessed a candidate's personality, family situation, and sexual orientation. The criteria for the valuative and personal filters differed. The valuative filter referred to expected professional behavior or conduct and leadership or decision-making style. In contrast, the personal filter encompassed public demeanor and personal life. Judgment about the latter focused on white women, black women, and black men candidates.

In some searches chairs used personality as a significant criterion. Personality was at times perceived as a problem, regardless of the kind of position being filled, when black women, white women, and black men were evaluated. Several chairs expressed reservations that these candidates might be too aggressive or argumentative. For example, a male hiring official described a white woman in this manner:

We had heard . . . that she got into arguments with the influential persons in the state. So we had to spend some time being sure that she was doing it for the right purpose and just not being contentious. . . . I asked colleagues who worked with her, a leader [of a professional association to which she belonged] who happened to be a friend of the university. I called and asked him for his views.

Black women, black men and white women expressed concern about chairs' evaluations of their personality and a sense that they were considered too confrontational. A black man noted,

After our phone interview, I found out from my references that [the search chair] was asking a lot of personal questions about me. I guess they thought I was too aggressive. He told my references that aggressive behavior would not be a good fit for the organization. I don't know if he was intimidated by me or what.

Another black man attributed being outspoken as the reason he had been twice bypassed for a position. He was promoted to that position when a newly appointed superordinate chaired the search. [End Page 693]

I am very outspoken as a black person. I think that this system is not always accommodating to black students, faculty, and staff . . . [or that] this system is always fair to me. And so I became an advocate across campus. . . . I don't think my activism weighted in the initial decisions to hire someone else. . . . I was brought here to develop an outreach program to black students because black students basically were not coming to the [administrative unit]. I was able to affect that program and as a result, we have a good percentage of blacks coming here. I think what was not okay, was my challenging things that I felt were detrimental from a psychological view, especially the treatment of black staff members, especially myself. So I think that . . . sometimes the way I worded things could have been felt as offensive to him [the previous search chair]. . . . I remember one time he told me I had to conform to something at work or some ass would roll. Then he left my office. [I then went to his office] and I told him I'm not sure whose ass you're talking about, because I'm not here to have you address me that way.

Black women and white women also found that the actions they took in order to be suitable and not to be overlooked tended to be judged by a white male decision maker's perspective as too aggressive. As one black woman explained, "I don't want to fit in. I deliberately do not just fit in because when you fit in, you're forgotten." Doing something that is not expected may be a form of resistance, and being irrepressible may be an important source of countering attacks on one's dignity and self-worth (Collins, 1990). She further described her career strategy of taking on difficult tasks so that her competence would be visible, and spoke about different and conflicting expectations to advance professionally in the university.

When I came to the university, I took a low-level position just to get into the system. They promised they would move me up fast; actually, they lied. But I did move up faster than my peers because I always looked for and took on the impossible task. The university has this rigid system in place for promotions, but I was always looking for someone who was slipping through the process and bringing it to the supervisor's attention. I wanted everyone to know I wasn't stupid and did notice things. I made a lot of noise and caused a lot of trouble. Then, when this position came open, my supervisor [a white man] encouraged me to apply. He said, "It's newly created and suicidal." . . . I'm sure people are thinking how audacious I am. I never thought people were going to like me anyway. . . . When [the search chair] asked me if I would fit in, I felt like saying "I don't need you," but I didn't. I have to get along with the higher ups. The reality is they do not have to get along with me. . . . Nobody likes a yeller and a screamer.

In all the search chairs' accounts, only one expressed a reservation about the behavior of a white man. In that case, a white female expressed concerns that a white male candidate was too aggressive for the unit. As she said, [End Page 694]

He was extremely aggressive . . . [and] there were . . . people that were very turned off and offended by him; I thought that he would probably step on other people's faces to get where he wanted to go.

Search chairs expressed reservations about personality characteristics, behaviors, and dress only when the candidate's race, gender, or both differed from his or hers.

Some search chairs' construction of a candidate's suitability included personal life—family situation and sexual orientation. In order to ascertain a candidate's lifestyle, search chairs turned the personal or intimate sphere into one of public scrutiny. They probed candidates' personal lives, gathering data about candidates from their professional and personal networks, and in one case, a search chair visited the home of a single woman candidate.

When inquiries were made about candidates' personal lives, the questions asked white men and black men centered around their willingness to relocate or accept a certain salary in relationship to their current family circumstances. Although search chairs asked black and white men similar questions, the latter did not feel that such inquiries were intrusive or offensive. As one white male candidate explained,

Oh yeah, we talked about wife and children, how you live. Yes, he did ask me [personal questions]. . . . I thought it was fine. I think they would've been delinquent or derelict if they didn't.

White women and black women often believed that they were being scrutinized about their personal lifestyle as part of the evaluation of their ability to do the job. They were asked questions about their ability to do the job within the context of presumed conflicts women might have between home life and work. Asked if there was anything about herself that she did not want disclosed during the interview, one black woman replied,

Yes, I did not want them to ask about my husband and children. . . . I had planned on telling them that my children were grown and that they would not interfere with my ability to do the job. But it disappointed me that they brought that up, because it's illegal and they know that.

Black men perceived questions about their personal lives as invasive, but accepted those questions as necessary to gauge the likelihood that they would accept a job offer rather than their ability to perform adequately if hired. In one search, a black man was considering a position that the search chair perceived as a lateral move. Rather than accepting the candidate's decision to consider the position at face value, the search chair probed into the candidate's personal life in order to discover his rationale. Only by ascertaining that the candidate's reasons for applying [End Page 695] for the position followed the search chair's own logic, was the search chair satisfied with the candidate's decision making.

In general, black men as well as white men perceived personal questions as a means to determine their willingness to accept a job and/or to relocate. Of the men interviewed who would have had to relocate if they were hired, all cited events within the family, such as the graduation of children from high school, as influencing their decision to make a career move. In contrast, most of the women interviewed had family situations different than the men. More were single and childless. Those who were married with children emphasized to search chairs that their families would not interfere with their commitment to the job.

Seldom in the interviews was there a separation between a candidate's employment and personal life. Single women's lives were especially likely to be scrutinized. Although no candidates were asked or identified themselves as gay men or lesbians, and the researchers did not ask the search chairs about sexual orientation, two search chairs conveyed a notion of compulsory heterosexuality with divergent views about what was appropriate behavior for a gay male or lesbian candidate. In one search image was important, and there was a preference for silence about homosexuality. A search chair explained,

In this [unit sexual orientation] was something we had to deal with and we had to talk about very openly. Very frankly, I did not ask any of the candidates what their sexual orientation might be. And very frankly and to this day, I don't know. That's because I don't think that's my business so long as we can carry out our job responsibilities and not let it interfere. . . . The final factor that I have to take into consideration is . . . the honesty, the integrity, the caring, and the image.

Search chairs relied on their networks to acquire information about candidates' personal lives and experiences, including lifestyle. One chair considered omission of a topic by colleagues as a warning signal. Further he interpreted silence as a liability and considered a gay lifestyle a problem like substance abuse.

Sometimes in those telephone conversations there are things so obviously left out that you begin to sense there may be a problem. It may be a matter of lifestyle and having caused problems for that department within that community because the individual was not discrete. . . . It might be lesbianism, it might be substance abuse, it might be, you know, alcohol or drugs, or it might just be mannerisms and the way the individual dresses and where he or she goes for entertainment.

At times personal questions were nestled in the context of caring about the candidate and his or her happiness in a traditional white family. A search chair explained, [End Page 696]

I approach it from the standpoint that I'm concerned about the growth of that individual in the job and what that person's expectations are. . . . Again, just by saying, you know, are you married and do you have children and do you have concerns with that? Yes, I'm looking for a person to fill a job, but obviously I think I have to let them know that I am also interested in what happens at home. Because my approach to a job is what the job does, it gives you the means to do what you really want to do. And that is, when you leave here at night and you've got a family or you have other activities that you want to do, that's what you're really working for. So I put an emphasis on that. And I expect maybe that's why I have a good rapport with my folks.

Regardless of the search chair's intentions, the actual words convey an expectation of conformity to a heterosexual norm and suggest that there is not a neutral view about lifestyle. Therefore, gay male and lesbian candidates may face a liability regardless of whether they choose to disclose or not disclose their sexual orientation.

Taken together, closer scrutiny of black women, black men, and white women reflect embedded racism and sexism, and the expectation of compulsory heterosexuality contributes to maintaining dominance. For example, candidates who would bring racial or gender diversity to the university and who search chairs thought could best be entrusted with maintaining their institutional culture were those who most closely emulated the culture, values, and behaviors of the search chairs. In studies of private sector managers, Kanter (1977) described this phenomenon as homosocial reproduction (individuals hiring those most like themselves). The presence of homosocial reproduction in this study makes it plausible to postulate that the filtering process reflects the desire to achieve racial and gender diversity only when it does not challenge the status quo of the university.

Debasement filter. Black women and black men were scrutinized through a fourth filter. Debasement, a form of racism, occurred in four forms. First, some search chairs doubted the seriousness or genuineness of black men and women's interest in a position. A second form of debasement was the chairs' perceptions of professional invisibility. The third form was the devaluing of experiences and competencies. The fourth form was essentializing being black and expecting blacks to respond to black issues.

Internal black candidates described their experiences of being overlooked for promotion and the need to be aware of unfair promotion practices including decisions based on white racist assumptions. A black man told the following story about being prejudged and nearly excluded from consideration for a position:

I really don't think [the search chair] could justify naming someone other than myself [to the position] since I had more tenure and I had been very [End Page 697] instrumental in helping to create the structure of [the administrative unit]. So in my view, I felt that I deserved the position. . . . I had been away [on business] and when I came back I found out [the position had been vacated], and I thought we had a good working relationship and I just assumed that I would be the next person in line for the position. And so I asked him about it, and I'm glad I did because he told me whom he was thinking of. He said he didn't think I had the interest. And I asked him, "Why would you think I would not have the interest?" [He responded], "Well you seem so busy and caught up in some other kinds of things." And so I said, "Well I think that's a typical racist answer, that as a black male I would not be interested in being promoted."

Although this candidate had been instrumental in creating and operating the administrative unit in which he had worked for more than twenty years and had more tenure than the candidate first selected for the position, he was initially overlooked for promotion. The "other kinds of things [he was] caught up in" were programs to increase black student retention. The racist overtones of several white search chairs also seemed to affect black women and black men working with diversity programs or people of color. Those white search chairs decided that black candidates would prefer to continue working with minority populations rather than the broader university community.

Black women and black men candidates risked being excluded from a position because they were invisible or unknown to search chairs. Some search chairs lacked awareness of internal black candidates' professional activities and accomplishments. This occurred most often when black men and women had been involved in minority programs that typically were in units with which white chairs had little familiarity. Also, black candidates and chairs tended to have different social and professional networks. Therefore, it was not uncommon that a black candidate was unknown to a search chair. Furthermore, at times skills working with a minority student group or experiences at a historically black institution were not considered transferable to a predominately white group or a predominately white institution. A female candidate spoke directly about feeling that her experience from a historically black institution had been devalued:

Not so much at this interview, but I certainly have had this experience before. There are a lot of questions about my working at an historically black institution and how those skills may or may not transfer to a white institution. They may say things like, "well your institution is so small and how do you think you will adapt to such a large institution such as ours." They may also say, "Well you're a high level administrator now at a small school, and how will you be able to give up that place of authority if you take a lesser title here?" Thinking back it's not so much what they said, it's how they said [End Page 698] it. They imply that I don't know a lot about my field and give me all this information that they assume I don't know. I get the message that I'm okay, but just not for them.

Thus, some search chairs tended to denigrate black candidates' functional expertise or dismiss the transferability of skills such as managing a budget or supervising a staff. This diminution of administrative skills is similar to de la Luz Reyes and Halcón's (1988) "Brown on Brown" research taboo in which white academics perceive minority-related topics as not constituting academic scholarship or dismiss it as peripheral or self-serving.

A couple of black candidates expressed reluctance to become involved in positions where an added expectation was placed upon a black candidate to be an advocate for "black causes" when whites did not take on similar responsibilities. A black man who rejected a job offer described his experiences and anger about the racism and the unspoken expectation to assume roles and responsibilities because of his being a black in a predominately white university:

[During the interview] I was trying to get a feeling as to whether I was going to come in and have to be like the black disciple, you know, or the black point person, when it was time to [advance] black causes. Was I going to have to be accountable for suddenly raising funds for black programs and activities, and if [the funds were not raised] then I would not be successful? I wanted to get a feeling of that because I know that happens on some campuses, and my feeling is that I wanted to be a part of the mainstream. Not that I did not want to take on that aspect of it, but I find that becomes counterproductive with institutions that do that. It is far better for them to have everybody have . . . a piece of the pie of [advancing the cause] for any activity, rather than just one person do it all, especially if it's along a color line. [In other universities] I found that some of the things they were saying were [they needed] to recruit minorities, youngsters, and to raise funds but they weren't. . . . Or they would ask, "What do you say to a company to get money from them to give to a minority person?" . . . My feeling is you say the same damn thing to anyone else. We have youngsters who need money . . . and it just so happens that they happen to be black.

Even when career experiences of black candidates did not reflect a focus on minority issues or groups, some men and women perceived racism in the form of having different criteria applied to them. A black male candidate spoke about how he felt about the racism of a white search chair who had not promoted him, despite the fact that he had done superior work that was relevant for a vacant position.

The worse part for me was to realize that I was being judged by a different standard [than whites]. I had received excellent evaluations and I was not going to be rewarded for all the work I had done. [End Page 699]

Another form of debasement occurred when a search was viewed as an "Affirmative Action" hiring process. The white search chair described aspects of his conversation with a black male candidate,

I didn't want him to feel that he was being singled out as somebody different. . . . And I didn't try to mask the fact that I knew the person was a minority. And in fact, one of the reasons why I was drawn to him initially is I knew that he was a minority. . . . So I was quite above board with him in that regard. But as I told him, I didn't pick you because you are a minority,. . . you were clearly the best candidate.

The accounts of the two unsuccessful white male candidates 9 who were under the supervision of the recent black male hire presented a contrasting view to the account of the search chair. One describes a situation in which they are called to act to prevent the hiring of the black male candidate. Another explains that the positions at the university are no longer protected for whites because of institutional expectations to hire a minority candidate. One said,

Just prior to going into the interview [the search chair] basically said, "I don't know what you guys can do. We have a minority candidate. Because of university policies, it's more work for us not to hire him than it is to hire him. . . . We have to put in additional information about why he's not hirable, because he is a minority and this is a high level position. . . . If you do not like this guy, you tell me exactly why. I have problems [with university expectations], but I'm not going to be able to resolve those. It has to be you telling me the reasons why not [to hire him].

The other white candidate said, "The minority thing came up during my interview. . . . [It was explained to me that] the above forces were placing heavy burdens on people to fill positions with minorities or women if the job had traditionally been held by men. He thought it was not the search chair who felt this way but [more senior administrators]. The search chair had told him there was a push for minorities and they would win out every time with every other aspect being equal. Both white male candidates expressed the view that the successful candidate was hired because of his race. 10

The successful black man was the most highly educated candidate interviewed in the search. He also had considerable experience in both management and technology that were important job qualifications. When he spoke about the search he described a racial tension he had felt. He had accepted racism as a reality in the United States, in the search, and in his current unit. He explained that as far as being a minority, he has come to accept what he feels is a tension in society and the work place. "It becomes a way of life after a while. I'm used to it. . . . It's a problem of [white] society." He described the racism he experienced as [End Page 700] subtle on the part of some [white] people who interviewed him and whom he did not expect to accept him because he was black.

Bonus Criteria

As some searches unfolded, phenomena emerged in addition to racial and gender distinctions that profoundly influenced their outcomes.In three searches bonus criteria emerged through the valuative or personal filter. However, it could also occur with the application of the normative filter. Most frequently it first emerged during a campus visit. A bonus criterion was not listed as a requirement or preferred qualification in the job description, nor was it discussed as a desired characteristic until a person with such a characteristic or accomplishment arrived on campus. These criteria included being a super star, world class scholar, or a role model for an underrepresented student population. Such a bonus criterion then became a standard by which search chairs evaluated all candidates. For example, members of a search committee perceived one candidate's academic reputation and the anticipated response to the university successfully recruiting him as "icing on the cake." A search chair who appointed another candidate with a world class reputation said,

I have very high aspirations for the university. . . . And what I'm always looking for . . . is someone who, [those] at other universities, are going to say, "Oh God! You know they got old so-and-so to come to the university."

If a desire to hire a candidate with a bonus quality such as being an internationally regarded scientist emerges when the selection process is well under way then it may eclipse the importance of demonstrated administrative capabilities or other accomplishments initially identified as germane to position qualifications.


Administrative searches can be described as activities in which four screening devices are used to include and exclude candidates. Normative, valuative, personal, and debasement filters emerged from the accounts of search chairs and candidates to explain interactions within searches and how decisions were made about candidates. The normative, valuative, and personal filters were applied to all candidates, although there was evidence the valuative and personal filters were applied differently to different groups of candidates. For example, the personal filter was applied more stringently to black men, black women, and white [End Page 701] women than to white men. The debasement filter was applied to black women and black men only.

Although search chairs may have tried to bracket (leave at the door of the early search committee meetings), their biases or prejudices, sexism and racism crept into the process after the initial phase of the recruitment in some searches. These beliefs, regardless of the intentions involved, tend to advantage white men and to a lesser degree, white women. This phenomenon was evidenced most frequently under the guise of search chairs' perceived need to "project a favorable image" for the hiring unit and the university and to preserve equilibrium by minimizing differences from the norm. In other words, search chairs talked about the need to maintain the status quo—preserve what has been and maintain a comfort level. Both are predicated upon the construction and preservation of social power relations, namely race and gender with some dimensions of class and sexuality (Higginbotham, 1992). A consequence of pursing a desired image was to reproduce privilege and subordination under the mantle of neutrality or color-blindness (Fine, Weis, & Powell, 1997).

Black candidates' perceptions and experiences of racism poignantly illustrate how a few, but too many, white administrators discriminated against black men and women. Unsuccessful white candidates in one search also described a situation of institutional racism. They reported that the search chair thought Affirmative Action was inappropriately disadvantaging whiteness (Winant, 1997). In addition to that acrimonious example, the perspectives of white chairs and black female and black male candidates from several searches suggest that debasement of blacks is a reality of racism that effected searches and the lives of people, both black and white, in this predominantly white university.

Thus, regardless of search chairs' conscious intentions, some of their beliefs are based on the assumptions of white privilege. This can be explained by what King (1991) describes as dysconsciousness. Focusing on race, she describes dysconscious racism not as an absence of consciousness but an impaired or distorted way of thinking about racial inequality. Dysconscious racism accepts certain culturally sanctioned assumptions, myths, and beliefs that justify the social and economic advantage white people have as a result of subordinating others. This suggests that the ability to imagine a predominately white university reorganized without racial privilege necessitates a fundamental shift in the way white people think about their status and self-identities and their conception of black women and black men. For example, a white search chair, who prejudges that a black colleague who works with students of color does not possess the interest or skills for a promotion to work with [End Page 702] all students, is exerting his or her power to block career opportunitiesand also may be dysconsciously racist.

The perceptions and experiences of the various groups of candidates indicate that different racial and gender groups view searches differently as a result of racial and gender dynamics on campus. This finding closely corresponds with Lindsay's (1997) scholarship about the absence of African American Education deans and Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Petersen, and Allen's (1999) work on students indicating that different racial groups have very different views of the collegiate environment as a result of racial dynamics on campus. The perspective that administrative candidates of different racial and gender groups have diverse perceptions and experiences of searches differs from most research about searches that have defined search processes from a hegemonic perspective of search chairs and hiring officials. Furthermore, it follows that the interpretation of each person and group is valid because it has real consequences for the individual (Kanter, 1977; Tierney, 1994).

The filters are a scheme derived from candidates' and chairs' collective accounts. They represent more complex and multifaceted views of search processes than the hegemonic perspective of "insiders." This reconstruction of searches is valid only when as researchers or decision makers we are prepared to consider that the viewpoints of each group are important and legitimate. To do so calls for important shifts in thinking to disrupt assumptions of common perceptions about searches and to acknowledge that racial and gender groups have a wide range of experiences in society and in higher education institutions (Hurtado et al., 1999).

For example, in order to further diversify the administrative group in predominately white universities we must conceptualize searches in relation to racial/ethnic diversity in order to identify, comprehend, and bring to conscious awareness many white people's uncritical and constricted ways of thinking (King, 1991). We must expose social and power relations by calling attention to their powerful, all-encompassing effect on the construction and representation of race as well as culture, gender, class, and sexual orientation. This is necessary if we are to acknowledge, as the interview data do, that race is a highly contested representation of relations of power between social categories by which individuals are identified and identify themselves (Higginbotham, 1992). Exposing social and power relations can become a starting point for analyzing how whiteness or prowhiteness (Gaertner et al., 1997) is deeply cemented into conventional wisdom about every day life in predominately white universities. 11 Until that happens, "the power of white culture will continue to be taken for granted and being white will have [End Page 703] some sort of advantage, privilege, or quality rating, even if it is something as simple as not having a definition" (Frankenberg, 1993, p. 197). Similar approaches also should be taken to bring to conscious awareness many uncritical and constricted ways of thinking about women, working-class persons, and gay men and lesbians.

The filtering model shows that privilege and discrimination are not uniform across candidates. The experiences of candidates differ among racial and gender group as well as by class and sexual orientation. At the same time, the model can be a starting point for educating administrators about how their attitudes and values are woven into their decisions and when, where, and how racial, gender, class or heterosexual biases may emerge. If one believes that the circumstances of an individual, in part, affect his or her experiences (Hundleby, 1997), then search processes in predominately white universities are likely not ever to be free of racism and sexism. But the failure to deal directly with the pervasive practices of privilege allows white administrators, especially men, to indulge in an imagined inclusive or diverse university by imaging away any obstacles (Williams, 1997). In searches this operates when chairs make a concerted effort to have a racially diverse candidate pool but fail to recognize the obstacles that they create for white women or black men and black women candidates or any candidate who is different from the cultural norms of the university.

The findings also suggest that race and racism in this predominately white institution, mirror the racist dynamics of our larger U.S. society, are our defining cultural constructions, and contribute to oppression (Harvey, 1987). Thus, the social construction of gender and class become racialized (Higginbotham, 1992) by the debasement of black men and black women candidates and by the failure of whites to challenge those phenomena in the selection process.

The exclusivity practices of this university precluded studying individuals and perspectives such as those of Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. However, because these people of color are not dominant group members in this university or in the United States, it is likely that their perceptions as candidates might be similar to those of black men and women, although their specific experiences might differ. Furthermore, the powerful, albeit, limited data about class and heterosexual advantage portend other manifestations of discrimination that may be exacerbated because, unlike race and sex discrimination, there are few legal inducements for universities to change. They also call for further probing.

This reconstruction of search processes offers insights about why [End Page 704] there have been so few changes in the kinds of people hired into administrative positions, and, indeed, serious problems and difficulties continue to exist regarding matters of race. The data also suggest how the ideological and organizational constructed definitions and relationships produce expectations for administrative roles, such as fitting in a culture of whiteness, and why selection processes may be more rigorous and grueling for some candidates than others.

Predominately white universities like Ohio State University can and must provide leadership and resources to improve search processes in at least three ways. First, it is necessary to educate those involved in searches in order to uncover dysconscious biases at the organization and individual levels, such as a tendency not to rely on unknown references as credible. This can be a starting point for creating fair search processes in which candidates' relevant skills and characteristics become the most important criteria in hiring and promotion decisions. Second, individuals with differing perspectives should be brought together to develop strategies to identify and negotiate differences. This is necessary to create multiple perspectives to challenge a hegemonic view of searches and the climate of a particular organizational unit and the university in general. For example, teams of former candidates from underrepresented groups and individuals who have chaired searches in which minority candidates were hired could be invited to assist committees in improving their processes both prior to and during recruitment and selection. Similarly, follow-up interviews should be done with candidates who were not offered a position or who turned down a position in order to understand what a university could do to more effectively recruit and promote more administrators of color and white women. Third, senior administrators as well as administrative units must be held accountable for the behavior of search committee members and the outcomes of searches. Until then, predominately white universities are not likely to change. Yet, these recommendations are the kinds that they cannot afford to ignore if they are to engage with students and with a larger society that are increasingly different from their current administrative group.


An earlier version of this article was presented at the "Transformations: Thinking Through Feminism" conference at the University of Lancaster, U.K., 17-19 July, 1997. This study was made possible through an Affirmative Action Grant from The Ohio State University. I wish to thank Patricia Gagne, Ann S. Pruitt, and Catherine WoodBrooks for their assistance with the research, and Estela Mara Bensimon, Dafina Lazarus Stewart, Antoinette Miranda, Diana Moyer, Melissa A. Rychener, Susan Twombly, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Mary Ann Danowitz Sagaria is an associate professor, Educational Policy and Leadership, The Ohio State University.


1. In 1985, four years before the study, the Faculty Senate Committee on Women and Minorities published a highly critical report, charging that "Whatever institutionwide advances we have made are primarily passive responses to imposed federal guidelines, and even these modest advances have virtually ceased." (Handley, 1985). Eight months later, the President's Committee on Affirmative Action released Affirmative Action Advocacy at the Ohio State University (1985), a five-year plan with specific policies and procedures including the hiring of affirmative action advisory officers. At the time of the study affirmative action advisory officers still were not working with hiring processes. In 1987 the University president named affirmative action the most pressing issue facing the institution and launched a program to increase the number of minority students and funded grants for programs to increase the numbers of minorities and women (Henly, 1987). In 1992 the Faculty Committee on Women and Minorities again criticized the university for its lack of progress toward equity and diversity "Across campus, it is widely believed that, to date, affirmative action has not worked as well as intended and that bold new initiates are needed if we are to attain a more open egalitarian community" (Doulin,1992).

2. Four perspectives in this article attend to the multidimensionality, variability, and subjectivity of racial and gender difference. I emphasize the process-oriented and relational character of racial meanings (Omi & Winant, 1993) and gender meanings. I do not treat the race and gender categories as independent variables or objective classifications.

3. According to the Handbook for Faculty Searches, which was the policy document for administrative and faculty searches, a unit must have been able to demonstrate that it had made a "good faith" effort to recruit women and minorities. Among the records that should have been retained to document such an effort are the following: a copy of the position description; a copy of all advertisements used to announce the position; a listing of where the position was posted; an indication of the extent to which nominations were solicited from colleagues and professional organizations; copies of sample letters used in the process; the core questions asked in the interview; a record of the efforts that were made to enlarge the pool of candidates; a summary evaluation for each candidate and whether they were rejected in the first screening or interviewed by the committee. A unit also was responsible for completing an "affirmative action data" form, which documented the disposition of candidates seriously considered (e.g., interviewed for a position) with specific job-related reasons given. It was also recommended that demographic information be kept on all members of search committees. In conducting this study we learned that the information kept varied from selection process to selection process; there was no central depository for this information, and there was no rigorous enforcement of relevant university policies and procedures. Goals for hiring minorities and female administrators and faculty were established each year (Ohio State University, 1991), however, there was no provision for administrative accountability to meet those goals. In this study the term "selection process" is used to emphasize the activity of choosing individuals to fill positions rather than recruiting.

4. The race and gender of each candidate appointed was known for these 137 administrative and professional positions, which constituted 83% of the 166 senior administrative and professional staff positions filled during that period. Internal chairperson appointments were excluded from consideration because these were expected to be less formal, at times based on a decision made in a departmental meeting rather than an organized search (Smelser & Content, 1980).

5. Forty-seven percent of the candidates were hired from outside the University, while others were promoted from within. Of the 137 administrative and professional appointments, white men filled 53% of them, white women filled 36%, black men 3%, and black women 2%. Hispanic and Asian American men and women filled another 5%. Native American women or men did not fill any senior administrative position during the two-year period sampled. A final consideration in the sampling was to select searches in which there had been a successful black male, black female, white male, or white female among the candidates in the final pool who were different by race and gender than the successful candidate. The small number of Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans interviewed and the total absence of Native Americans made it impossible to identify enough of those candidates to construct a group perspective of their search experiences.

6. Because search chairs were the only members of selection committees interviewed, it is unclear how other committee members, especially black women and black men, were involved in the selection process or how they interacted with candidates or other search committee members. Data gathered from interviews, however, indicate that minority administrators and faculty were involved in approximately one-third of the selection processes to fill positions. Also, it is not known how many candidates were eliminated in phases prior to the campus interview. Undoubtedly, collecting additional data regarding the experiences and participation of other interviewers, hiring officials, selection committee members and candidates would have influenced the selection processes and our understanding of selection and its outcomes.

7. The candidate interview guide included questions in a variety of categories, such as (1) how they became aware the position was open; (2) their formal and informal contacts regarding a position, both with individuals at the University as well as contacts within their own networks; (3) the information they sought from committee members and hiring officials, as well as the information provided to them; (4) how they prepared for the interview; (5) how an offer or rejection was for prepared for their duties; (6) qualifications and characteristics of desirable candidates; (7) the screening and interviewing process; (8) how interviews were scheduled, including information regarding accommodations and a comparison was communicated; and (9) the professional and personal background of the candidate. We asked decision makers about the following information: (1) how the position was created; (2) how the position was publicized; (3) the composition of the search committee and how it was formed, as well as how decision makers and members of the search committee were prepared for their responsibilities(4) the decision-making process used by the committee; (5) information routinely provided to candidates, and reactions to additional requests for information; and (6) the recommendation of the committee and the final decision of the hiring official. Unless there was compelling evidence that an account was erroneous (such as a decision maker reporting that an interview had not taken place when a candidate recounted a detailed campus visit and interview) we have interpreted the data from the multiple perspectives of the individuals who related it to us.

8. A black woman initially agreed to be interviewed, but later declined, stating that she was too angry about her experiences with the University to discuss them. From conversations with her, we learned that she withdrew from the selection process prior to a campus interview, when she learned that an internal white male candidate was rumored to have already been designated the appointee for the position. He was subsequently offered the position.

9. Where discrepancies regarding procedural matters emerged, we attempted to reconcile those differences by contacting the individuals involved in the discrepancy or interviewing an additional unsuccessful candidate. Furthermore, we attempted to enhance the credibility of our findings by encouraging participants to discuss what was important to them (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and then we interpreted those data as part of their narratives.

10. Interviews were not conducted with unsuccessful white candidates when a white candidate was hired to fill a position. Therefore, it was not known what reactions there might have been toward a successful candidate of the same race.

11. This manuscript evolved over several years. During that time I have publicly tried to identify dominant ideologies in the University to my colleagues and students. Through these experiences I became more aware of the difficulties and resistance encountered in trying to do so and of the need to change the behaviors of those who do not see inequities. I began this research with a feminist consciousness. In the process of putting my experiences as a white woman beside those of black women and black men, I became more aware of racism and its impact on me. As I have become more aware of my failure to see race privilege and how it has been normalized in my life (Frankenberg, 1993), I have attempted to deal with my dysconscious racism while realizing that my whiteness is normative in the United States and linked to domination.


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