Thursday, November 01, 2007

No Diversity among Kentucky's Education Commissioner Finalists. Should we care?

At the risk of inciting the anti-diversity police:

The good news about the selection of Barbara Erwin was always that she would have become Kentucky's first female Education Commissioner. Granted, Alice McDonald preceded her as an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in the early 1980s, before KERA. As it turned out, both women ended their associations with Kentucky education in disgrace, of one kind or another. But I'm relatively certain that being a woman had nothing to do with the related foibles, shortcomings or crimes. Perhaps the board felt differently.

Of course, it doesn't really matter if the education commissioner is a man or woman - except for this one fact.

In a field that has historically been dominated by men - first by white male Protestant ministers, and later by white males of broader descriptions - it's good to think that the best person for a given job will always be selected. It is only a problem when particular identifiable classes of persons are systematically excluded time and time and time again; either through lack of equal opportunity, or by systematic political manipulation.

That makes an interest in diversity important for Kentucky - right up to the time when it isn't anymore; when we can point to ample examples of folks being selected for top positions from both sexes and various races.

So how did our board of education do with their selection
of the finalists for Kentucky's Education Commissioner?

Well, we don't really know.

OK. There is the obvious. The finalists are four white guys; so we're not going to break any new ground this time around.

But I say that we really don't know how the board did because we don't know who the other applicants were. We don't know their qualifications; how they interviewed; what they would do in the position... We know some names that have been "out there:" Marcum, Sanders, Snodgrass, Winters...but that's all.

We just have to trust the judgment of Governor Fletcher's appointed board of education that they have selected the four best qualified candidates for the job. Maybe it will all work out fine. But following the Erwin mess, and now with the board's hurry-up offense on the field, it gives me the willies.

Another aspect of selecting a diverse set of candidates has to do with the diversity of the applicants. No applicants of color - no women: no diversity.

A KSN&C reader from The ville told me the other day that the "old girls" noticed. So I asked Kentucky Department of Education Communications Director Lisa Gross to do a little digging. She got some personnel folks to pull the applications and do the best they could to describe the field of candidates the board had to choose from among.

I say, "do the best they could" because this is not quite as easy as one might suspect. The applications do not specifically ask for a person's gender - as sex is a Constitutionally protected class. So how do you know if an applicant is a boy named Sue, or if Sam is short for Samantha?

Lisa says, "Here's what we know:

48 total applicants:
28 males (58.3%)
15 females (31.2%)
5 unknown (10.4%)

Similarly, although the applications do provide a place to indicate ethnicity, it is completely voluntary and a notation on the application says so. Apparently, everybody read the notation.

1 African American
4 Caucasians
43 unknown
Maybe the board got what it wanted. If you start out looking for a candidate from Kentucky, the 8th whitest state in the nation last time I looked, you're pretty likely to get a white candidate.
Now as far as the woman thing goes...there are more old gals out there than there are old guys....but for some reason, none made the cut.


Anonymous said...

How many of the finalists are Republicans?

The Principal said...

Nice rhetorical question, but we won't learn the answer to that one either. Applicants were not required to divulge political affiliations.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

I'd prefer to see an education professor focus on the intellectual diversity of the candidates.

Unless, of course, you prefer to consider the leaders by what's in their DNA instead of who they are and what they've accomplished.

The Principal said...


Thanks for stopping by to state your preferences.

But the vague ineundo was confusing. Unfortunately, it left me a bit unclear as to where you were coming from.

When you suggest that I should consider leaders according to "who they are," what do you mean? Historically, that has been a referrence to the social elite. And surely, race and gender are part of who one is.

I'm not privvy to any special insight into who a person really is. And it didn't seem to help President Bush much when he looked into the soul of Vladimir Putin. Heck. I'd be afraid to try it.

I'd rather just look at the record. And in this case, the candidates all have records; and the Board of Education has a record, too.

The record for this field suggests that there isn't a lot of discernable intellectual diversity among this group of 60ish, white school men.

The one that might depart is Warford. He carried political water for Jeb Bush and promoted some establishment of religion through the public schools in florida until he abruptly quit.

Hughes ran a fairly large district but is described by some as a guy with foot-in-mouth disease.

Vick and Draud are likely the best of the bunch and neither has run an organization approaching the size and complexity of KDE.

Draud's work in the House of Representatives may be the thing that separates him from the rest of the field, and in my opinion, it would be a shame to lose his moderate Republican voice in the General Assembly.

I agree that leaders should be considered according to "their accomplishments." I'm a believer in expertise and competence.

Our slate of finalists is not what I'd call stellar. Given our board's record, I fully expect them to claim it is.

Now, if you're suggesting that women's issues or issues related to minorities are not worth a professor's time - then say so.

If you're suggesting there couldn't possibly be any politics at work in Kentucky, may want to study up.

And as you know, one of the best things about blogging is the editorial control. I think I'll keep it a little longer.

Congratulations on your successes, and good luck with your Internet campaign to be named Weblogs Best Education Blog.


KSN&C readers can help Matthew here: