Readers often ask us, “What is virtue-signalling?” Wikipedia reports:

Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person’s standing within a social group.

Consider a concrete example:


This is a retweet from tenured William Economics Professor Sarah Jacobson. Now, to be fair, retweets are not necessarily endorsements, but one does not need to perform a close textual analysis on Jacobson’s twitter feed to know that she agrees with the sentiment expressed.

Here is the Williams economics department:


Jacobson is on the left. Questions:

1) When was the last time that the economics department hired a tenured or tenure track professor that was a URM? (In economics, neither Asian nor Indian would count under this designation. The department has had plenty of both over the years, especially the latter.) The main focus of URM hiring, at least in economics, is African-American. The department had one such member in the 80’s and, more recently, Kaye Husbands Fealing (pdf), who left in 2009. (Was there a backstory on that departure? I have a vague recollection that it was a family issue.)

2) Hispanics are, as always, harder to count. The department’s webpage suggests no obvious candidates, but, since all you need is a great-grandmother who was born in Spain, there is no simple way of determining who is Hispanic and who is not. I certainly can’t recall any discussion of Hispanics in the department. Pointers?

3) If this is really a correct summary of Fealing’s CV in the 90’s, then the only reason she got tenure at Williams was affirmative action:


I can’t even remember the last economics professor tenured at Williams with so few (any?) meaningful publications. Maybe in the 50s?

4) Jacobson, although tenured, is still a junior member in a department dominated by non-URM men. So, perhaps she is fighting the good fight from the inside and should not be accused of empty virtue-signalling. Department gossip is always welcome on EphBlog! My sense is that Economics takes demonstrated research quality even more seriously in making hiring decisions than most Williams departments and is, therefore, less likely to be swayed by the diversity apparatchiks in the Administration. Contrary opinions welcome.

5) Consider the CVs of two junior professors (neither white men) in the department: here and here. Trying to find an African-American with similarly excellent credentials (and willing to come to Williams) is about as difficult as finding a white man qualified to play cornerback in the NFL.

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