New audio reveals whistleblower prof's efforts to resist race-based hiring practices

A department at the University of Washington was accused of a potentially discriminatory hiring practice that might have violated a state referendum and a Supreme Court decision.

‘I personally am in favor of affirmative action, but we are legally not allowed to do it. . . . it is illegal and has been democratically decided to be illegal by the taxpayers,’ said the professor.

A professor at the University of Washington protested against her department’s potentially discriminatory hiring process for a candidate, a recent audio recording showed. 

This January, Newsweek acquired an audio recording from a March 16, 2023 meeting at UW in which Professor Ione Fine of the Department of Psychology spoke out against the department’s undervaluing of two candidates, allegedly on the basis of race, the paper reported.

The Department of Psychology allegedly preferred a Black candidate over a White candidate and an Asian candidate, despite the higher ranking of the latter two, an action that could have potentially gone against a 1998 Washington state referendum that prohibits hiring a candidate because of their race, Newsweek claimed.

Following the controversy surrounding the department’s decision, UW instituted a temporary prohibition on those involved in the matter, stopping them from hiring candidates for tenure-track positions, wrote Newsweek

[RELATED: Maryland to consider guaranteeing college admission to top 10% of each high school in response to affirmative action ban]

Campus Reform previously reported on the matter in November, though Fine’s recording was not yet available at that point. The Washington referendum in question states that “[t]he state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” 

Before the Black candidate was hired, the hiring system was changed to give lower-ranked candidates a potential leg up over their higher-placed competitors, said Newsweek.

Fine spoke out against the fact that she and others were given only a brief 15-minute window of time to consider and approve the hiring policy, and said: “I think it should be something that we discuss as a faculty, not something that is decided by the planning committee,” continued Newsweek

The paper related that Fine said: “I personally am in favor of affirmative action, but we are legally not allowed to do it. I actually think we do owe the taxpayers who pay our salaries—the fact that it is illegal and has been democratically decided to be illegal by the taxpayers,” and continued: “So can you explain how we are respecting taxpayers? How are we not doing a round around on what we are legally supposed to do?” continued Newsweek

Despite Fine’s resistance, the Black candidate was chosen following pressure from the Diversity Advisory Committee, whose website page lists some of the group’s goals as “[s]upporting members of the Psychology Department with marginalized identities and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for them,” and “[i]ncreasing diversity, equity, and inclusion within the field of psychology as a whole by conducting outreach efforts with underrepresented minority groups.”

Some faculty were also blamed for trying to “think our way around” last year’s Supreme Court decision prohibiting affirmative action in colleges and universities, wrote Newsweek

[RELATED: UNC to pay Students for Fair Admissions $4.8 million after pivotal SCOTUS affirmative action decision]

Fine told Campus Reform that “my original whistleblowing complaint was that the Associate Vice Provost was giving our department poor legal advice and our department was, in good faith, following his guidance. I provided the UW Attorney General with documentary evidence for my complaint and I am surprised that this evidence isn’t referenced in [a university report regarding the matter]. Our department is still following the guidance of the upper administration. This guidance is (I’m not a lawyer) in my opinion now clearly compatible with the law as regards affirmative action.”

A university official also told Campus Reform: “The audio [from the Fine meeting] was included and considered in the University’s proactive review of this hiring process. It is not new or recent. As noted in our October 31 news release, the outcome of that review was placing a two-year ban on hiring in the psychology department, re-training of the department’s faculty on hiring processes, and updating institutional hiring policies and guidance to specifically address areas where efforts to address bias may lead to violations of laws or policy.”