Psychology hiring postponement shines light on diversity issues and fear of retaliation

The hiring of a new psychology professor at Cosumnes River College has been postponed to fall semester following disagreement over the committee’s composition and a key member’s withdrawal from the committee, said radio, television and film production professor Robert “BJ” Snowden.

The disagreement began when psychology professor and department chair James Frazee was not invited to sit on the board. Snowden, who also serves as Academic Senate President and is in charge of deciding the final hiring committee, made changes to the recommendations given to him by the psychology department, which Frazee said violated district policy.

“The regulation says the president is to appoint three to five faculty members,” Frazee said. “The leader of our college, from the faculty standpoint, refused to put the required number of discipline faculty on the committee despite urgings from many different places.”

“His unilateral action to refuse to put me on the committee made the administration in a place where they couldn’t go through with the hiring, and that hurts the college. That hurts the students, that hurts our department, and that hurts our other faculty members who lack that person now to interact with, to bounce things off of, to be with,” Frazee said.

The original list of names given to Snowden included all three psychology professors from CRC: Jeanne Edman, Everett “Bud” Hannan and Frazee, as well as sociology Professor Paul Zisk and geography Professor Debra Sharkey, according to the Academic Senate’s meeting minutes from Feb. 27. Snowden chose to remove Frazee and Sharkey and replaced them with sociology Professor Donnisha Lugo and himself.

Shortly after Snowden released his final appointments to the hiring committee-to-be, Edman withdrew from the committee, Frazee said.

“While we were in the process, one of the department members who was already on the committee, a woman, stepped off the committee for personal reasons,” Snowden said. “The college itself, once that happened, decided to just postpone the hiring committee into the fall.”

Hannan, who has taught at CRC for 44 years, said he was “shocked” when he saw the final list of names and that he has “never been here before.”

“We got a kind of ‘thank you for your process and consultation, I’ve appointed myself,’” Hannan said. “He didn’t say ‘I didn’t appoint James Frazee,’ the only thing we had sent back to us was the list.”

Snowden cited diversity goals as the reason for the changes that he made to the list of names.

“It was a solid list. All content experts, all people who traditionally are great colleagues and would be fantastic on hiring committees,” Snowden said of the original list. “But it just wasn’t a diverse committee. It wasn’t diverse in perspective, it wasn’t diverse ethnically. It was a strong committee, but it didn’t meet one of my interests, and that is the diversification of faculty hiring committees.”

Specifically, Snowden said he wanted the diversity of the committee to reflect the diversity of the campus.

“So my goal was to take the core membership of that committee, which included two members of the department, and I wanted to add three other members,” Snowden said. “So I added a biology professor and I added a sociology professor, both women, one a woman of color, and I added myself as a male of color as an outside person on the committee, but someone who has a broader understanding of the campus.”

However, Snowden’s reasoning prompted Frazee to question how diversity was being measured.

“If anybody justifies my not being on the committee for a diversity issue, you have to ask the question, ‘well, what’s the metric by which they’re measuring diversity?’” Frazee said. “Who asked me about my diversity? Do you assume things when you look at people? Because if you do, that’s actually illegal, it’s called color discrimination.”

Frazee also said he should be on the committee because he teaches the specific classes the college would have been hiring for.

“What would your rationale be for excluding someone from a committee? Well, I’m the chair of the department, I’m the only who’s taught the classes we’re hiring for in the last seven years here on campus who is full-time faculty,” Frazee said. “I’m the only one who’s qualified really to do the assessment of whether or not they can teach in the long run from the faculty perspective … I’m the only one who’s taught them, and we’re hiring somebody to teach these classes, yet you’d keep me off the committee? That’s like hiring a Spanish teacher but only keeping teachers that teach German on the committee. It’s a terrible choice.”

And while some professors voiced their opinions about the issue, several refused or could not be reached for comment, which Frazee said was out of fear of retaliation.

“People aren’t willing to talk to you about it because, frankly, they’re scared of retaliation, and that may even be a bigger issue,” Frazee said. “That if they think that they want something and they speak out and say, ‘I don’t think what you’re doing is the correct thing,’ that somehow they’re going to be retaliated against or not given the correct thing. Or maybe they’ll take away a position from you. That scares people into not being authentic and not participating as professionals in this environment. I don’t stand for that, so I am going to speak my mind. I am going to tell you when I think you’re wrong.”

Frazee said he felt it was more important to speak about the problem than worry about the possibility of retaliation.

“I’m not afraid of what happened. I’m also not afraid of the implications of [what] it means because I’m gonna allow for us to grow as a community of faculty,” Frazee said. “We should constantly be challenging our own ideals and our own concepts because that’s how we move forward in intellectual inquiry, the academy grows. And so I’m not afraid to answer those questions, I’m not afraid of what it might be.”

So why should students really care about postponing the psychology hire?

“I think, from the students’ perspective, what they should be concerned with is there need to be more full-time faculty on campus, that we have the lowest ratio of full-time faculty to our students,” Frazee said. “And when we hurt that even more by not hiring somebody, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Hannan said he has mixed feelings about the postponement.

“I did make a statement in the senate meeting that I was supportive of that decision to pull the hire until next semester when we’ll have a new administrative team, we’ll be hiring a new president of the college, a new senate president,” Hannan said. “It made sense to pull the position, but it just doesn’t sit well that it even had to happen.”

Snowden said the postponement of the psychology hiring does have its upsides.

“Now we have an entire semester and summer to get it to every UC and CSU with a psych grad program, to get it to every list serve and job search area that are specifically for psychology organizations, minority groups in psychology, women in psychology,” Snowden said. “We can truly do a national search now because we have time. There’s no rush.”

Snowden also said that he stands by his decision.

“I’ve been here 13 years, not everything that I do makes everyone happy. But, at the same time, I’ve made a lot more people angry than I have in the last six months over my 13 years and we all seem to get along just fine,” Snowden said. “I look at the hiring committee as an opportunity to agree to disagree, and that’s how I’ve taken it and that’s how I’ll move forward with it.”