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Published Feb. 18, 2008

Q: I teach at a state university that offers financial incentives to hire minority candidates. A department receives $1,000 for completing a tenure-track hire but $5,000 if it hires a minority candidate. I'm concerned that colleagues will make recommendations based on the financial reward rather than pursue the "best" candidate.

A: There's nothing discreditable or unusual about using incentives to prompt estimable conduct. Governments use tax codes to promote desired activities. Businesses offer bonuses to encourage certain kinds of job performance. (Full disclosure: I have a financial incentive to write this column. It's called a paycheck.)

It is admirable of your school to acknowledge that some minorities are underrepresented, that this is unjust in itself and that it subverts the school's mission: It is important for students to encounter professors (and fellow students) of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. In pursuit of this goal, the school may try various things. There might be other ways to expand faculty diversity, but until such methods are on the table, and unless the danger you worry about actually emerges, financial incentives are worth a try.

Be comforted that hiring a new faculty member involves so many layers of scrutiny, so many opportunities for colleagues to weigh in, that the hazard you invoke is minimal. This tactic is not meant to lower hiring standards but to broaden the pool of people considered for the job.

Ticket to ride

Q: My husband's company provides him with a business-class airplane ticket for trips to China. His 70-year-old father is joining him on his next business trip. Due to cost (and the assumption that my husband would likely offer his seat), he plans to buy an economy ticket for the flight. Would it be wrong for my husband to give his father his business-class seat?

A: I admire your husband's generosity, but, alas, he is being generous with the company's money. Presumably the company does not shoehorn him into coach but pays for a more expensive business-class seat so that he will arrive tan, rested and ready to conduct brilliantly the company's business.

Similarly, if it provides him with a laptop computer rather than pad and pencil, it's to make him a more efficient operative. By giving his seat to his father, your husband is sacrificing company efficiency for a family member's comfort. I don't suppose the company would let your husband trade in the business-class seat for a coach seat (or pawn his laptop) and pocket the difference in the fares. But there's an easy way your husband can determine if this swap is permissible: Ask the boss.

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