To the Editor:
Regarding the Commentary by Donald G. Nicolas titled “Why We Need More Black Men in Teaching” (Feb. 26, 2014): It should be borne in mind that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to weigh race in employment decisions, and this includes hiring teachers. What’s more, for public employment, the U.S. Constitution likewise makes it presumptively illegal to make decisions on the basis of race.
The federal courts have never recognized a “diversity” exception for Title VII. In addition, in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly rejected the “role model” justification in the employment context for teachers, in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education.
A decade before that, in Hazelwood School District v. United States, the court had similarly noted that a school district could not point to the racial makeup of its student body as a justification for the racial makeup of its faculty. This is not only the law. It also makes perfect sense.
As Justice Lewis Powell wrote in Wygant, “Carried to its logical extreme, the idea that black students are better off with black teachers could lead to the very system the court rejected in Brown v. Board of Education.”
There is no reason why students cannot have as role models people who do not share their skin color.
Schools should, in any event, hire the best-qualified individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. Anything less is a disservice to the students and the community, besides being unfair to the applicants.
President and General Counsel
Center for Equal Opportunity
Falls Church, Va.
A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 2014 edition of Education Week as Essay Prompts Caveat: It Is Illegal To Hire, Fire Based on Race