In early March 2015, an eMail by a female German professor apparently rejecting a male Indian applicant due to the 'rape problem' in India made news. (The issue is a bit more complex. There is some discussion whether the eMails were selectively quoted and the professor has since apologized.)

What bugs me however is the following paragraph (which may or may not be what the professor has written, and which seems to be ignored by the news media):

"Many female professors in Germany decided to no longer accept male Indian students for these reasons, and currently other European female association are joining."

Is this a thing in Academia? Has anyone heard about hiring bans, either formal or informal ones, based on sex/gender and/or nationality?

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    Reputable news outlets do not write about gossip, only reliable sources. Therefore your statement "which may or may not be what the professor has written" is the reason why no reputable source would cover such a statement, as doing so is clearly illegal in many countries (slander, liable etc.) Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 15:42
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    @WetLabStudent: It, and how it resulted in a letter by the German ambassador to India written to the professor, was covered in The Guardian, which is pretty reputable. I googled as I, too, thought it was possibly a manipulative attempt in a fight for admission; but there seems more to it, and the case unfortunately by and large correctly described. Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 15:52
  • I think it's more than gossip, but I'm skeptical about what was made public. That's why I wrote "apparently", "more complex", and "which may or may not be what the professor has written". The professor claims the mails were 'taken out of context', but the original mails have not been made public, nor was there an explanation for the quoted paragraph. If she has really written it, there seems to be a 'gentlewomen's agreement' about hiring practices. Which is ... disconcerting, as is the lack of transparency and follow up. But I'm more interested in the general issue. Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 16:16
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    I have heard first hand about an American journal rejecting a paper with a Cuban coauthor based on that alone.
    – Miguel
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 19:15
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    if you consider a cap on the amount of white males per admission then sure it is commonplace. western man disadvantages himself. Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 20:26

5 Answers 5


You are unlikely to get examples about formal hiring bans, in particular in western societies. It would not only be frowned upon, as in this case; it would also be against university policies, if not downright illegal. The only formal hiring bans I could think of are those implied by more general rules. The most obvious case coming to mind is that about 20 countries don't allow people with Israeli passport to enter, which means they cannot study or teach there either (about half a dozen or so countries extend this to people with other passports but evidence of a travel to Israel).

Unfortunately, it is possible that the professor was speaking a truth about what some consider in their hiring decisions...where usually they would only have the common sense to not explicitly admit the true reasons for their decisions. They would start where this professor is now: claiming that their labs are full. This is human nature, and academics are no better or worse than their fellow humans dealing with their fear and prejudice in regrettable ways.

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    Another example of hiring bans based on visa/legal constraints: since 2012, Iranian students can't be admitted to graduate nuclear engineering programs in the US
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 16:32
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    Research labs in multi-national organisations such as ESA, ECMWF, EUMETSAT may only hire nationals of member states.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 19:22
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    I get the issue of Iranian students and nuclear engineering, although -- really -- it shouldn't be a problem to just hire an accomplished but 'morally flexible' graduate. But in this case it seems as if some female professors just agreed on not hiring male Indian students. And that is outright discrimination on both race and sex/gender. Either we're for a fair and just world, or we're not. And Academia should lead by example. Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 21:19
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    This answer seems premature: theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/19/… Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:49
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    Whatever you want to call it, it does consist of an instance of female applicants as acceptable for a certain position with a rejection of male applicants. I also disagree that such consists of 'affirmative action gone amok'. Affirmative action deliberately gets used to change the percentage of people in certain positions, and the policy at Melbourne works that way also. That is not to say that such a policy is ever appropriate. Commented May 28, 2016 at 0:10

Some positions at the University of Melbourne (in a mathematics department) are currently only open to women.

The Australian National University has an astrophysics position only open to women.


There are bans rooted in funding and grants requirements. Its not only about Iranian and energy and aerospace.

ITAR, Export Control and Defense Budget or National Labs funding are limiting most non-US citizens. NATO citizens can be accepted in some cases but really outside of these two category, other scientists will face limitations at some point of their academic career.

During hiring for faculty positions, Departments are very interested to know about the funding prospects of candidates. In Engineering schools I have seen that the nationality and various Export Control and ITAR and unavailability of many federal(but defense or energy related) grants shortens the prospects on candidates and effectively removes them from the pool of candidates.

Some engineering schools among others are dependent on defense-based labs and collaboration and they seem to mention the area of research they are interested which in effect is a signal to save candidates time if they are very focused on defense funding. As of "ban" I have seen that candidates from certain sanctioned countries can not work on certain topics(energy, nuclear, nano-material and so on), also if you consider the visa processing as a part of hiring that needs to be done by university you can imagine the bans from department of state/homeland/treasury can play a role in university hiring. All these limitation on funding and visa can flow down to the level of students and can go up to the whole department level. Some professors do not want to get involved in possible complexities or limitation and you see them not accepting certain nationalities. or departments(e.g. aerospace, nuclear) do not accept students from certain countries. Last, but not least, and aside from funding, sometimes departments care about their alumni being able to work in sectors they are training for in the US, which also will not work out with many nationalities.


In the past I have heard of departments that have informally refused to accept students from particular countries if there were previous issues with cheating on admissions—but this was pre-Skype and Google Chat, when it would have been much easier to practice deception. (Usually, the issue was with phone interviews, where candidates with poor English skills would have a "stand-in" take part in the interview instead.)

Another reason for hiring restrictions is the issue of funding—in addition to the example cited by ff524 in gnometorule's answer, there is also the possibility that the funding agency which sponsors a given project may have additional restrictions on who can be funded. Often times the restriction is to exclude all foreign nationals.


My experience is from a higher education engineering department in the UK.

Formally, I've only heard of positive hiring initiatives. That is, the engineering departments are heavily male dominated so there is a push to increase the female percentage. This is in terms of subtle guidelines rather than fixed positions as other people mention. E.g., the position announcements are checked to make sure they are welcoming, parenting benefits are highlighted, at least 1 female member on the selection team, etc.

Informally, there have been some "nudges". For instance, our department is highly multicultural and international. At some point, there was a streak of hiring faculty from a specific nationality shifting the dynamics. In an upcoming hiring, more than 2/3 of our candidates were from that specific nationality. Only 1 of them made it to the shortlist and I believe it was a management decision.

I've also heard from young female colleagues that they had issues with male students of specific nationalities. The students did not respect and trust their mentoring and would seek to validate everything by internal or external older male advisors. This led to them not wanting to hire from those specific nationalities anymore. I've heard this from at least three colleagues. Again, nothing formal.

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