Bill changes interview process for new coaches

The Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill June 23 requiring all Oregon University System schools to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring for an open head coaching or athletic director position, making Oregon the first state with such a requirement. Passing with a 52 to zero vote, the bill could decrease the racial gap between players and coaches by providing previously near-unattainable opportunities for social minorities in collegiate athletic departments.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, the principal supporter of the bill, sees the guideline change as a progressive and rewarding move for the state. “The passage of HB 3118 will create a more level playing field for Oregon’s top sports jobs,” he said.

While many question the necessity of this bill, others judge its potential success on the success of its predecessor, the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, enacted in 2003. The NFL’s rule follows the same interviewing principles as Oregon’s bill. It substantially raised the number of minority coaches in the league from six to 22 percent. The NFL has shown widespread support for Oregon’s current similar bill, with Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell writing a letter supporting the bill.

Although the Rooney Rule has made an impact on the NFL, some question whether it could have the same effect at the university system’s level. “The NFL is a private corporation, unlike Oregon universities, therefore it has the right to use any hiring method,” University senior and College Republican Demic Tipitino said. “The state of Oregon already has a larger percentage of minority coaches than the NFL. It’s not necessary for the government to do this.”

Kari Herinckx, a University of Oregon graduate student and member of the Oregon Students of Color Coalition, foresees the new bill being more successful than the NFL’s model. “There are many more professional opportunities available within collegiate athletics than on the professional level,” Herinckx wrote in an e-mail. The Oregon Students of Color Coalition voted to unanimously support HB 3118 when it was first presented.

The bill appears to attest to the fact that minorities require an extra boost when competing against white interviewees. Tipitino believes that this bill is sending the wrong message – that the personnel who hire university athletic coaches are racist. “After this bill is in effect, minorities who are selected for the job will never know if it’s truly deserved,” Tipitino continued. “It will be hard to not see themselves as simply the token candidate.”

“Underrepresented individuals are not receiving special privileges with the passing of this bill,” Herinckx said. “It is more so an issue of inclusion and equality.” Although the regulation assists minority applicants to be treated the same as the majority, it does not give them any additional benefits, she said.

While some, like Tipitino, see the bill as wholly unnecessary, others, such as University economics professor Bill Harbaugh, agree that the bill is important but could have been avoided if university systems followed their own guidelines.

“The University of Oregon’s athletic department does not follow the normal Affirmative Action hiring rules for the top jobs,” Harbaugh said via e-mail. “These rules require the University to have an annually updated affirmative action plan, to advertise openings publicly, accept applications from all qualified candidates, and make hiring decisions using a transparent process with as little opportunity for discrimination as possible.”

University of Oregon’s current Affirmative Action Plan, traditionally revised every year, has not been updated since January 1, 2008, meaning that the ruling has been void for over six months.

“These laws benefit every qualified candidate,” Harbaugh continued. “They don’t give any special preferences, they just insist that everyone gets a fair shot.” Harbaugh would rather see the issue addressed by requiring all Oregon universities follow the normal affirmative action hiring processes, instead of establishing a law to enforce equality, but accepts the bill as a “reasonable substitute.”

According to the recently passed bill, a “minority” is defined as any person of Hispanic, black, Asian, or American Indian background. Both Tipitino and Herinckx agree that women should also be included in this law.

“There are far fewer women coaches in athletics than minorities,” Tipitino said. “Women should be included along with people of color to provide total minority equality.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski’s signature is the last step in finalizing the bill, solidifying it as a state law. Kulongoski has already mentioned his approval of this bill, which would come into operation on January 2, 2020.

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