Hiring and “Unofficial” Information

The recent story about East Carolina’s offer to Colin McGinn has generated a variety of reactions, some of which concern what kinds of information it’s permissible for academic employers to take into account in deciding whether to make someone an offer. Of particular concern here is the status of information about a candidate’s past behavior that could be categorized as sexual harassment, sexual assault, or otherwise threatening. Must there have been an official institutional or legal finding confirming a candidate’s problematic behavior for potential employers to take such behavior into account? That might protect against the impact of false accusations, but it ignores the fact that some problem cases are “resolved” by informally pressuring the offender to seek employment elsewhere, or with confidentially agreements forbidding the disclosure of relevant information. There are, of course, worries about “mere” accusations and rumors ruining people’s careers. Yet there are also, I’ve learned, vast differences between who knows what about who has done what, and what seem like mere rumors to some seem like well-confirmed facts to others. Do hiring departments have a duty to investigate the “climate impact” of potential hires? If so, how could they go about doing so ethically?

There are a variety of legal and moral issues here, which readers are welcome to discuss. I would strongly prefer that we stick to hypotheticals and general statements, and avoid mentioning specific cases and persons.

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