Marvin Thrash brought the suit after he was rejected for tenure. He had joined the public university in Ohio as an "opportunity hire" after he was a finalist, but not selected, for an open tenure-track position in paper science and engineering. He argued that his record was devalued because of bias against those hired with affirmative action.Roger Clegg asks the question Nobody in Polite Society dares ask. "Well, yes, it’s quite plausible that, if you are hired according to lower standards, some people will devalue your record."
During his first few years at Miami, Thrash was evaluated as a high-quality teacher, but one without enough of a research program. He was praised for his research efforts in his last year before the tenure review, and a departmental committee recommended him for tenure. But his chair and subsequent reviewers at the university were negative, based largely on what they said was a lack of a sufficient research program, and he was denied tenure.
Thrash claimed that his chair rejected all of the names he submitted who worked at historically black colleges, and a name submitted by another tenure candidate for an external review, from a historically black college, and that the chair said faculty members at historically black colleges couldn't be considered. The chair denied ever saying that. The 2-1 majority decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit noted that four of the six final members of the external committee were black.
These "opportunity hires" can be a good deal for a department, as Paper Science might have gotten its first choice and a second line, something that might matter in these times of tight budgets. That the opportunity hire budget might bind other departments to make do with adjunct lines is for another day.
Poor Miami of Ohio. Ten years ago, the university reacted to straitened circumstances by moving to the price and financial aid policies of an upscale institution. Incentives matter, but the outcome led to some soul-searching on the part of departing president James Garland, fearing Eternal Damnation for the sin of Successfully Becoming Too Upscale.
In the dismissal of Professor Thrash's suit is another reason for the Perpetually Aggrieved to be fretful. "The majority decision also endorsed the idea that judges should not try to judge the scholarly merit of tenure candidates." That's a task for another Diversity and Equity Task Force, one that can write language to undo the Cosmic Injustice that tenure dossiers be evaluated by faculty members, knowledgeable in the aspirant's area of specialization, professing at comparable or more highly regarded departments.