Protecting the Monocultural Status Quo: Is the Desire for a Racially Diverse Faculty a Myth?
By Dr. M. Cookie Newsom
Note: The footnotes and references and tables and graphs I left out. If you want a copy of the entire article email me. I will send you the full text. 🙂
If one does a search for the topic “faculty diversity” on any online database you can pull up dozens, if not hundreds of papers and articles on the subject. They range from analytical papers full of statistics to interviews with minority faculty to accounts of so-called best practices in recruiting and retaining minority faculty. Noticeably lacking, however, is any general acknowledgement that whatever presidents and chancellors at Research 1 universities are doing to lead the charge in the recruitment and retention of minority tenured faculty—particularly Black faculty, it is not working. When the subject is recruiting Black, American Indian or Hispanic faculty it seems that the term best practices may be inaccurate, perhaps best attempts would be closer to the truth, best rationale for not being able to racially diversify the faculty would be the most accurate. There are articles that decry the lack of presence of Blacks and other minorities in tenured faculty ranks, but they all too frequently come to the same conclusion: “We are trying, but it is difficult, and it is not our fault if we are not succeeding.” Exactly whose fault it is depends on who you ask, there is plenty of temporizing about the reasons for the lack of results.
I hope to encourage those in higher education to turn a lens of inquiry onto the state of racial and ethnic diversity in higher education tenured faculty ranks. And perhaps actually see if they can stop making excuses and make progress instead. Specifically I am interested in encouraging an analysis of why those of us in academe, despite our frequent, sometimes strident, claims that we want a diverse faculty, seem to be unable to hire Black, American Indian and Latino/a professors in tenure and tenure track faculty positions in representative numbers. In order to accomplish this I plan to examine the facts, offer some observations and recommendations in four sections: Section I looks at what Is, looking at the racial and ethnic demographics of ten Research 1 institutions; Section II attempts to explain some of the reasons for why what Is, is, why is this problem so persistent despite stated efforts to diversify the professorate; Section III offers some ideas and strategies for possibly changing what Is, garnered from a literature review, personal experience and conversations with colleagues who are faculty of color at Research institutions ; and Section IV provides a summary of the three previous sections and calls for more research on the subject of faculty diversity, or lack thereof.
Section I: What Is
I came to higher education later in life, having taught high school until my children were old enough to require less of my time. After transitioning to higher education, I came to realize that I had an inaccurate view of higher education. I have been an adjunct professor, assistant professor, program manager, and director at both small regional colleges and at a Research 1 University. At each institution, I observed forms of racial bias and truncated opportunities although I was rarely personally the object of the oppression.
I had frequent access to colleges and universities as a child; my mother was the president’s secretary at a historically Black university in Ohio which was next to another historically black university . Spending a lot of time on at least these two campuses, I had bought into the idea–the myth of—an academic meritocracy almost hook, line, and sinker. I presumed academics were appreciated, given access to what they needed to succeed, and limited only by their intelligence and work ethic. My experiences while working in higher education are not, however, congruent with my former belief in the system. I have seen favoritism, nepotism, subtle and overt racism, and a general disregard for fairness. It is also obvious that I am not the only one to have noticed the inequities seemingly inherent in being a person of color in academe. It is not difficult to find journal articles that chronicle the macro and micro aggressions that faculty of color frequently have to endure. People who are favored with promotions, raises and increased opportunities are those who do not cause “problems”, i.e. those who support or at least stay mute concerning the status quo. This is particularly true for employees of color.
In 2002 a southern Research 1 university contacted me to interview for an administrative position in diversity affairs. Although I had some reservations about moving to the South, and leaving the professorate for administration, I hoped that my observations of inequity were limited to the experiences of minority academics at small regional colleges. I decided to take a chance in order to redeem my beliefs in , a community that valued the life of the mind, and rewarded those willing to put in the thought, scholarship, and work to contribute significantly to this community.
One of my first duties in the new job was to plan and conduct, with the help of some other campus leaders, the university’s first diversity assessment. A Task Force of thirty-six faculty, staff, and students was formed to create a survey. The Task Force recommended the university create a university-wide diversity plan and adopt five diversity goals. I next served as the co-chair of the committee charged with designing the university’s inaugural diversity plan. I appreciated this appointment and presumed I was now in a place where I could make a difference, e. g. bringing some level of accountability to the management of diversity on the campus. One of the major components of the diversity plan was the requirement that each administrative and academic unit on campus submit a report to our office every spring that outlined its diversity efforts for the past year and described the projected diversity efforts for the next year in support of one or more of the five adopted university diversity goals.
In the first three years of the report, more than 90% of the units identified Goal 2 as a priority: “Achieve the critical masses of underrepresented populations necessary to ensure the educational benefits of diversity in faculty, staff, students and executive, administrative and managerial positions.” Several of the reports specifically mentioned wanting to racially and ethnically diversify their faculty. Despite this articulated desire, the number of faculty of color, except for Asian Americans, did not seem to ever increase significantly. After the third year of receiving reports from units that professed an interest in increasing faculty ethnic and racial diversity I began to question why the change in Black faculty, American Indian faculty, and Latino/a faculty continued to be so small. My university has some of the best minds in all of academe, if all of these units were really trying to recruit and retain more tenure and tenure-track faculty from these populations, why weren’t they able to do so?
I began to look at statistics from other peer institutions and immediately noticed a disturbing trend. Although theoretically higher education institutions specifically pursue Blacks, Latinos and American Indians, these pursuits are not reflected in the numbers of these groups in tenure track faculty positions at virtually any institution. Therefore I decided to select some Research 1 institutions like my own to do a little more investigation. I selected nine Research 1 universities in different areas of the country to see if I could find a trend in faculty tenure-track hiring of Blacks, Latinos and American Indians. The universities were selected based on three criteria, that they were Research 1 universities, that they were in different parts of the country, with more institutions selected from the large population centers on the two coasts, and that I had a colleague who was an administrator or professor at the institution who could answer more in-depth questions if necessary.
I selected the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Florida, Harvard University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Illinois, Stanford University, Berkeley, The Ohio State University, and the University of Virginia. Looking at the statistics it quickly became clear that there is a pattern to minority hires, or lack thereof. Simply put, Blacks, American Indians and Latino/as are not being employed as tenure or tenure track faculty in representative numbers at any of the above campuses, stated differently the number of tenure/tenure track faculty members hired by the institutions in those states is not congruent with the population demographics.
Blacks, for example, make up 6.7% of the population in California, 15% in Illinois, 19.1% in Virginia, 5.3% in Massachusetts, 14% in Florida, 11% in Texas and 20% in North Carolina. Of states in the sample, Florida, Texas, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio all rank in the top 15 demographically in terms of Black population. Yet, Black faculty does not account for more than around 3% of the faculty at any of these Research 1 institutions. Three states, California, Texas and Florida all have Hispanic populations of 20% or more, yet the largest percentage of Hispanics in the tenure and tenure track faulty in the sample is the 5% of UCLA. Please see Table 1 in the appendix.
So the question immediately arises: Why are the faculties so monocultural at both public and private institutions of higher learning in these racially diverse states? During and after my doctoral studies, I had the opportunity to work on a major research project that involved the achievement gap. I had seen some of the K-12 educational disparities up close during field research, but now I had to wonder if perhaps those disparities were being continued even into the college experience. Certainly one of the myths that plague Black K-12 students could potentially be a problem for Black faculty, e.g. the common idea held by some white people in American society that Blacks are not as intelligent as whites. This, like the achievement gap itself, is frequently based on the disparate average scores achieved by whites and Blacks on standardized tests. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that those who do not score well on the tests are not intelligent, or at least not as intelligent as those who do. However, as one article points out, the only way that a negative correlation can be drawn between diversity and merit is when merit is strictly defined as high test scores. If the concept that Blacks are less scholarly than whites and some other minorities is prevalent on college campuses as well based, at least in part, on disparate test scores on standardized tests like the GRE, then the difficulties of hiring Black faculty at selective universities could be exacerbated by that stereotype. There is also a bias in favor of people who graduate from elite universities, elite in the fact that they reject more students than they admit and are lauded for that fact. These institutions are not generally that friendly to people of color unless they can jump high or run fast.
Unfortunately, whatever the reason given it seems that if you are an African American, American Indian or Latino/a with a Ph.D. your odds of receiving tenure at a Research 1 university are between slim and none. There are those that do, of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Historically, Blacks and American Indians were denied access to higher education and the impact of that is still an issue today, as evidenced by the continuing achievement gap. Today, battles are still being waged in some areas over both Hispanic access to education and the de facto re-segregation of public schools. As recently as 2008, 31% of whites over twenty-five years old held college and advanced degrees while only 18.5% of Blacks held such degrees. Even with that disparity, however, in 2004 Blacks made up 7.1% of all Americans receiving a Ph.D an increase of 9% over the previous year. Despite these increases in degree attainment relatively few Blacks holding a terminal degree are tenure or tenure-track professors at Research 1 institutions. According to Uma Jayakumar et al., “a report issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics stated that in the last four decades (1976-2004), the number of black graduate students has increased dramatically from 78,000 to 220,000.” It is worth noting–again, however, that there has been no concomitant dramatic increase in Blacks in the professorate.
Table 2 ,see appendix, shows the lack of progress between 2001 and 2007 in increases in employment of Black tenure-track faculty. Most Blacks in the professorate continue to teach at historically Black universities, whose faculties are generally 75 percent Black, compared to 13 percent at majority white colleges. In fact, if the HBCU Black faculty members are removed from the statistics the numbers become dismal indeed. While there is certainly no one factor that can be identified to account for this failure, there are some things that need to be considered that might help give university leadership and researchers on the topic at least a starting point for further inquiry.
First, there is a striking similarity in the numbers of Black tenure/tenure track faculty at the institutions chosen for this paper. There was no design manipulation; I did not select Research 1 institutions that had similar numbers of black faculty. After compiling the numbers it was impossible to ignore the surprising consistency of the representation of blacks in the faculty ranks at all of the institutions chosen. The range of the presence of Black faculty shown in Table 2 was quite small, ranging from3.9% at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to 2.4% at Harvard, or a difference of only 1.5 percent. All of the colleges reported that Blacks make up either 2% or 3% of their Black faculty ranks.
In addition none of the institutions managed to add even a single percentage point to their Black faculty numbers between 2001 and 2007. It is difficult to accept that these extremely consistent figures of the percentages of Black tenure and tenure track faculty at the selected Research 1 institutions are the result of coincidence. If all of these institutions consistently have Blacks represent similar numbers of their tenured or tenure track faculty, could this reflect a pattern of just having enough Black faculty to be in compliance with your peers? I have noticed in my tenure at a Research I an unfortunate propensity to look at peers to determine the efficacy of institutional progress rather than setting one’s own goals and priorities. I have frequently raised the question of how progress is made if the standard used is to be doing as well as everyone else, rather than striving to achieve the optimum result even if that is not being attained by other peer institutions.
The static nature of the hiring of some faculty of color has not been true for all populations. In the same time period, 2001-2007 another minority, Asian American tenure and tenure track faculty, experienced a very different pattern. While BlacksHispanics and American Indians showed a virtually flat increase in faculty appointments, in nine of the ten selected universities (90%), Asian-American faculty presence has grown by at least one percent; in four universities it has grown more than two percent during the time period.See Table 3 in the appendix. There are, it must be noted, slightly more Blacks holding advanced degrees than Asian Americans, 1.4 million to 1.3 million. However, demographically there are almost three times as many Blacks as those identified as Asian American in America according to the Census. Unfortunately, however, educational attainment in the two groups is not equivalent. Only 17% of Blacks in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree or greater. In contrast, 47.2% of Asian Americans in the U.S. have earned a bachelor’s degree or better. The reasons for that will be the topic of another article addressing historic racism against Blacks, the disparate educational opportunities based on both race and income, and the role of teacher expectations, among a teaching force that is overwhelmingly white, in K-12 school systems that are frequently based on racial stereotypes. .
I want to make a point that I am not suggesting that we indulge in the Oppression Olympics, with its common tactic of pitting one minority against another. I am simply pointing out some statistics that university leadership needs to consider if they want a truly racially and ethnically diverse faculty and are not simply trying hiring people of color without consideration of equitable hiring of the different groups that make up that category. In order to achieve academic excellence and provide an environment where a diverse student body can thrive and achieve representative faculty of color from all of the groups identified as minorities needs to be recruited, hired and retained.
In America today faculty of color (Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and American Indians) make up only 16% of all full time employed professors. Only 5.3% of full professors, not associate or assistant, in the United States are of color. Although I have used the term “faculty of color” generally, the primary subject of this article is Historically Underrepresented Minorities or HURMs. HURMs are generally defined as Blacks, American Indians and, more recently, Hispanics. ADD Citation
In summary, HURMs are not doing very well in achieving the status of tenured faculty at our Research I majority institutions as shown in the above statistics. This raises several questions. Are there not enough of the HURMs receiving Ph.D.s to provide candidates for the positions? Are the HURMs who achieve a Ph.D. not interested in the professorate? Are those who do hold a doctorate and are interested in being a professor not sufficiently scholarly or academically skilled to warrant a position at a Research 1 institution? Where is the process lacking? In other words, at what stage of the three-part process necessary to hire a faculty member do the HURMs disappear? Are they not applying, not being selected for interviews or inclusion in final hiring pools, not being hired? Or are they being hired and not being retained?
Obviously much more research to examine the above questions is required if academia is truly interested in achieving racial diversity in the professorate. There are a few scholars who have already ventured into that territory. The explorations have been, for the most part, spotty and disjointed—looking at such diverse issues as debt, climate and mentorship. There is little doubt that any or all of these factors may have an impact on hiring and retaining HURMS, but I think there is a more fundamental problem. Few, if any of this scholarship delves extensively into the role and impact of bias and racism, and none of them took a systemic look at the different stages required for hiring faculty of color, from pipeline development to tenure. I did not find any national studies of the reasons behind the dearth of racial and ethnic diversity in the ranks of tenured professors. MIT has recently compiled a very impressive report on the issues that institution faces dealing with the issue of faculty diversity, however, the report is very specific to MIT. While it is quite possible that the conclusions reached and the suggestions made to ameliorate the problems inherent in racially and ethnically diversifying their faculty may be extrapolated to apply to other institutions, it is obvious that a broader sample needs to be examined in order to truly make systemic and institutional recommendations.
With the pressure to publish in academia, why is there not a huge body of literature on the subject? It would seem to be a valued addition to the literature considering the number of universities that profess a desire to achieve more racial and ethnic faculty diversity. Could it be that nobody is actually that interested? Perhaps, considering the scarcity of faculty of color, it is too much to ask of white faculty to wonder why their colleagues, or potential colleagues, of color are absent. Or, could it be that they are afraid of what they will discover? In Section II I will suggest some reasons for the dearth of racial diversity in our Research I faculties. I am certain there are variables that I am unaware of, however, I am hopeful that at least some of my observations may be of use in developing a framework for further exploration by university leadership and researchers.
Section II: Why what is, Is
Why are there so few Blacks, American Indians, and Hispanics among the ranks of the tenured faculty? As noted in the previous section, HURMs are attending college and going on to graduate school in record numbers. Yet, the number of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian professors, particularly at Research I institutions remains small and unchanged from year to year. This begs for an examination of why there are so few faculty of color. In my experience there seem to be several offered explanations, three of which are fairly standard responses when I have asked the question of college administrators. The first explanation for the dearth of HURM faculty is that there simply are not enough Black, American Indian and Hispanic holders of terminal degrees. The above statistics suggest that among Blacks and Hispanic that is not true. American Indian populations are, admittedly, small. However, between 1985 and 2003, 9,950 American Indians were awarded PhDs.
The second reason offered is that even if HURMs hold a Ph.D., they are not necessarily sufficiently: scholarly, published, or articulate. In none of the many instances when I have been offered this excuse from various college provosts, administrators and faculty members has there been any expression of a need to engage in examination of exactly why they are not (see list) or, even more importantly, if the fact that they are considered not to be is subject to interpretation or perhaps is being interpreted thusly due to cultural bias. As Angela Onwuachi-Willig describes this phenomenon:
1. There were no, or hardly any, applications from qualified minority candidates to consider. 2. There was no point in even trying to interview the few, qualified minority candidates on the market because they would never accept an offer from the department. These candidates are in such demand that there will be many bidding wars between institutions over them.
The third, and final defense, offered only if the other two have failed to be accepted, is, as noted in the citation above, even if they do hold a PhD and are clean and articulate and agreeable, quiet and scholarly and published, we cannot afford them. Note that this is usually said before an offer has been made. The myth that quality PhD. holders of color, particularly HURMs are frantically sought after and offered obscene amounts of money has been a common one for at least two decades. I have found absolutely no literature to support this perception, no studies to demonstrate that universities have tried to hire Black, Hispanic or American Indian faculty only to be outbid by other institutions on a regular basis. There are always isolated cases that can be cited, but a national study that examines data from a large sample of institutions and statistically documented how many times an HURM has been offered a tenure-track faculty position and been lured away by the offer of a lot more money from another institution would be a welcome addition to the discussion.
One of the issues that both feeds this misconception, and in some ironic ways validates it, is the propensity of majority institutions to go after minority “star” faculty, those who are already well established and attempt to lure them from their home institution to the new university. This does nothing to improve the overall numbers of minority faculty, but does, I suppose make certain stellar minorities very expensive to pursue.
One of the underlying societal misconceptions that continues to lend this myth traction is that there can only be a limited number of quality HURM faculty available to begin with and that the laws of supply and demand would require that they would be highly sought after and offered large salaries. As suggested earlier in the article the concept that Blacks in particular are not as intelligent as whites has long been an issue in the area of the professorate. If an institution is lucky enough to identify one of the presumably rare intelligent blacks, then it is incumbent upon them to try to hire him or her.
As Donnetrice Allison states:
With regard to some specific stereotypes, related to Black professors in particular, the notion that Blacks are not intellectually capable remains common. For instance, students at PWI(Predominantly White Institutions) regularly question the credibility of Black professors and hold them to more stringent standards than they do White professors.
Certainly institutions of higher learning, particularly Research I institutions are aware of the issue raised about white student perception of Black professors. To keep from having this problem arise it is quite possibly deemed prudent by Research I deans and provosts to hire a Black scholar whose academic pedigree is unimpeachable. If there is a presumption among search committee members that Blacks or other minorities are inherently intellectually inferior there is little doubt that in order to be a successful candidate the HURM would have to be not just “qualified,” but exemplary in order to debunk the perception. Just as all white faculty members are not exemplary, neither are all HURM faculty or potential faculty. That does not mean that HURM potential faculty members could not be highly effective, contributing members of a Research I faculty.
Finding out why candidates are not successful is a difficult endeavor. Very few search committee members would admit to having rejected a minority faculty candidate because of his or her race or ethnicity. Adding even more difficulty is the fact that many raced based biases are so normative in American society that the members of the search committee may not be aware that they hold them.
If the search committee makes an offer to an HURM and the offer is rejected it is often difficult determine why the HURM declined to accept. Most minorities have a fine tuned ability to sense hostile or unwelcoming environments, but how do you report that in an exit interview or inquiry as to why you turned down a position. Additionally, in my experience (and I have been told this by two Equal Employment Oportunity directors as well), follow-up interviews with candidates asking them why they turned down a position at an institution, if they are solicited at all, tend to be inconsistent at best. How honest do you suppose a person of color would be with an institution they may one day need, if they turned down your job, not because of salary or other employment issues but because of cultural issues that indicated it was not a good place for people of color? Who would want that to go either on the record or along the networks that connect higher education institutions? Higher education is in many ways an inbred, closed society. Due to the nature of the professorate and administrative jobs almost all of us know people at many other institutions. What is said on one campus can travel at amazing speeds to other campuses, and ergo to other search committees. It would be difficult to express the feeling that the environment of the institution making the offer might be a hostile environment for people from your ethnic or racial group without sounding either hyper sensitive or paranoid. Certainly it would be unprofessional to report having been told of problems for HURMs at the institution, either by current or former employees.
I suspect some of the presumed too expensive minorities are assigned that category when they have turned down an offered position at an institution. After all, not having sufficient budget to hire an impressively credentialed HURM puts responsibility on the funding source rather than the search committee, chair or dean. It is by far the easiest and most harmless explanation for why you were unable to seal the deal.If, on the other hand either overt or covert racism were to blame the institution would have to take a serious look at itself, its staff and its practices. But, that is the last thing anyone wants to engage in, preferring to blame the failure to hire the HURM on some other variable, such as being too expensive. It is the rare institution that asks coherent, logical questions about its racial climate or reputation in regard to being a place where minorities can thrive.
In much of America today we have managed to shift the onus from being racist to pointing out racism. The “troublemaker” is not deemed the person or persons creating a hostile environment for faculty or potential faculty of color, it is the faculty of color who point it out. In fact, one has to carefully examine statements from search committees that declare one of the reasons a candidate was not chosen was “fit.” Institutions must learn to ask incisive questions about what exactly did not fit, especially when the candidate is an HURM.
What is rarely discussed in polite academic society is whether or not it is possible that the members of the search committee hold views that are biased at best or racist at worst. Inclusion on a search committee, as far as I have seen, does not come with any vetting of the social justice pedigree of the members. If having a racially and ethnically diverse faculty is as important as many institutions profess it is then why are the search committee members seemingly taken on faith as being unbiased?
As Yolanda Moses states:
The first observation is that folk beliefs about the fixed, immutable nature of biological ‘race’ are alive and well in American culture today. Anthropologists have made pronouncements that there is no such thing as biological race, that and that race is socially and culturally constructed. But I contend that recent academic policies and or/state initiatives (for example in California and Washington State) that in effect restrict access by people of color, women and poor whites to higher education are not logical from an educational, quality-of-life, or economic perspective. They neither correlate with national polls on diversity nor do they correlate necessarily with the values of the presidents, faculties and staffs on campuses across the country that must enforce these policies. Something else is going on. I am concerned that well-meaning educators may unwittingly buy into social Darwinist theories, which will then be used by those who want to keep ‘the other’ (minorities and women) in their place.
The adoption, either overtly or discreetly, of the idea that the fact HURMs are not represented in the faculties of higher education is due to some personal deficiency does, indeed, lend credence to the charge that a form of Social Darwinism is being embraced by some of those in positions to hire or influence the hiring of HURMs. It also conveniently removes any burden from the institution to take action to ameliorate the deficiency. If the candidate is deemed unworthy due to some inherent flaw it is not the fault of the institution that he or she does not measure up.
Of course, even if the HURM candidate makes it through the interview and selection process and is offered the job, it does not mean the relationship is going to last. Achieving tenure is a dicey business for anyone, but particularly for HURM faculty. The best way to navigate the tenure process is with a senior faculty mentor. Lacking that advantage and the varying, and sometimes capricious, nature of the tenure process makes the lot of those so deprived rather dire. Besides the frequent lack of senior faculty mentors, there are other issues at play that make the landscape of academe in general and tenure in particular more fraught with peril for HURMs than for majority faculty.
For example, before HURMs even begin their jobs they are often confronted with financial barriers involved in moving to the location of the institution where they have been offered a position and in obtaining housing. When compared with white candidates, HURMs often lack inherited wealth and owe more money in student loans. Thus, HURMs are confronted with more than just deciding where to live, they might be confronted with how to live where they are going to be teaching. Coming to a majority white institution as a HURM, it is highly unlikely you would be willing to bare your financial issues early in your relationship with the institution. I have personally seen junior faculty of color fail to get tenure because they could not fund their research sufficiently to publish in time to beat the ticking tenure clock, and lacked mentors to help them navigate the ways to raise the money they needed.
Other problems confront HURMs with partners or children. If they are married to a fellow academic the issue of being able to have a spouse offered a job at the same or a nearby institution may be an impediment. HURMs with children seek a school environment that will provide a good education where their child will not be marginalized, due to lack of other people of color or by being relegated to “basic” classes upon the presumption of being viewed as less than academically capable..
Presuming they negotiate the hiring process, find affordable housing, are not living hand to mouth, find a decent school for the kids, and are not having difficulty funding research, there are still problems to overcome. Being interested in race or other minority-focused issues such as institutional racism, is often considered a subject not worthy of scholarship. As Christine Stanley states, “Therefore, research on the experiences of faculty of color is sometimes viewed by traditional, often white scholars as lacking in rigor.” I was on a dissertation committee three years ago for a young black woman. She wanted to examine the dual role of black female administrators, what is demanded of them beyond administration, e.g., advocacy and social justice championship, and how it adds to the complexity of their duties. The chair of her committee, a white female, was not in favor of this proposal and wanted it expanded to include all women administrators, which was not feasible. As the only person of color on the committee I worried that I would have to raise an objection to this untenable suggested change, another instance of the type of challenges faced by people of color in the academy, representing a viewpoint that might not occur to or concur with our white colleagues. That did not prove to be the case this time, however, it was the consensus of the rest of the committee that the original proposal should be retained. The chair eventually agreed with the rest of the committee but the young lady ended up having to do two literature reviews before we could correct the situation, which resulted in the requirement of her completing another semester.
Anthony Antonio , Assistant Director of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research , includes the lack of respect for research focusing on issues of race in his list of difficulties facing potential and current faculty of color:::
The slow progress being made by higher education to diversify its faculty has been widely recognized, and much research and debate have been focused on the factors that may be stifling efforts for increased minority representation. These factors include a small and decreasing pool of minority Ph.D.s, the persistence of racist perceptions on institutional and individual levels that restrict access and impede the professional progress of faculty of color, the devaluation of the qualifications of minority Ph.D.s not trained in the most elite, prestigious colleges and the difficulties of surviving in a predominantly white academy due to poor mentoring, disproportionate advising and service loads stemming from frequently being the only faculty of color in a department, an isolating work environment, and the lack of scholarly recognition given to research focusing on ethnic minority populations.
In addition to the commentary concerning the disdain with which much of academe views research focusing on minority population issues, the citation above points out yet another obstacle facing many HURM faculty aspirants. The topic of , graduation from elite institutions, is a good one to further explore. There seems to be a presumption that if you went to an elite institution you are smarter than those who did not. Opportunity, income, race and geography are all contributing variables that seem to be ignored. People in higher education who would clutch their chests in horror at being labeled elitist will still favor candidates who have one of the holy of holies in higher education on their vitae. If America is a true meritocracy that practice makes sense. If any smart kid can graduate from Harvard or Yale (as all of our Supreme Court Justices did) then certainly let’s reward our best with the best jobs. If, however, some animals are still considered to be more equal than others in America, across a broad spectrum of differences, race and ethnicity only constituting one, then presuming someone who graduated from Snakes’ Navel State College must be intellectually inferior is hardly fair.
To pronounce someone inferior because they did not attend an elite college is a common and unfortunate practice in higher education. Like many Blacks I completed my education in stages, most of my degrees were earned after I was the mother of three children. My options for institutions definitely had to be limited to those universities within driving distance. My husband is not an academic and his job was not transferable to other locales. When historic inequitable economic factors that impact HURMs are considered it also becomes apparent that attending an elite college is not necessarily congruent with the resources of many minorities.
Once again we have to confront the myth of the academic meritocracy, that any bright student can get a full scholarship to an Ivy League institution and all of his or her financial aid needs will be met. Even if we accept that faulty premise and presume that this intelligent child of color was somehow fortunate enough to attend a high school where upper level math and science courses were offered, and if offered were taught by instructors who actually majored in the subjects, there are still enormous economic barriers to overcome for lower middle class and poor Black, American Indian and Hispanic students.
If the HURM PhD does manage to amass a sufficiently impressive vita to pass muster in the application phase of the process, they still have to be prepared to deal with misconceptions, stereotypes and biases, which may emerge, at any point in the hiring process. To address another point raised by Antonio, it is well known that once the HURM faculty member is ensconced he/she will be tapped for every committee, task force and board that needs a person of color to provide the point of view of whatever minority they represent. This practice ignores the fact, of course, that service is frequently the least valued part of the triad of teaching, research/publishing, and service. If a faculty member is require to be on several different committees to provide “diversity,” then they have less time for research and publishing. As Bryan Brayboy says:
Faculty (or scholars) of color are required to implement diversity through hidden service agendas and curricula that do not necessarily exist for white faculty. Indeed, specific forms of service are performed by faculty (or scholars) of color and –in doing so—they encounter implicit and explicit forms of racism in their work. They also view themselves as being taken for granted in the work they do. If faculty of color just teach big classes, serve as a barometer for diversity in a department, assuage white people’s guilt, mentor the students of color and the radical white students interested in race, serve on committees as a diversity member, and address any other diversity issues, they are only doing their job.
In addition to all that, sometimes the evaluations by white students of faculty of color are not positive for a variety of reasons, including either their discomfort with the difference of their professor, with some of the subjects broached by the professor, or the manner in which they are broached by the professor of color. Disabusing white students of what they have always thought was correct may result in poor class evaluations. Either the students presume that the professor does not know what he or she is talking about, lending support to the stereotype of some people of color being less academically or intellectually skilled than whites, or the white student may resent being confronted with facts, particularly about race or ethnicity, that they would rather not have to deal with and that are not congruent with their own world view.
Contributing to the problem of hiring a diverse faculty is the dearth of minorities in decision-making positions such as provost or department chair. . In order for diversifying the faculty racially to be considered a priority by search committees, it must be an expressed priority by those who the members of the search committee report to. If upper level administrators truly do not care about diversity it is no wonder progress is being not being made. One certainly does not have to be a person of color to care about racial diversity, however, it is fairly well documented that people of color are far more race conscious and think about race in far more contexts than white people. The percentage of full time administrative positions in higher education held by whites was 87.6, see Table 4 in the appendix.
So, the arena of academe is full of unique pitfalls for the HURM faculty member. Getting hired, getting settled, getting tenure, all while representing my entire ethnic and racial group, and negotiating the environment that provides me with less than stellar resources and support. If the HURM also happens to be female we can add representing one’s gender to the laundry list of responsibilities. Currently, with our sparse number of HURM professors, members of that population frequently find themselves overwhelmed with the need to mentor, role model, serve on committees to give the minority point of view, and to help their white colleagues with everything from learning cultural taboos to strategies for diversifying their curriculum.
Having pointed out at least some of the obstacles facing HURM faculty and potential faculty, let us begin an examination of how some of it can be addressed, changed and improved based upon systemic, research driven strategic planning.
Section III: How to change what Is
The need to address several of the issues raised in the first two sections of this article is obvious. The issues need to be addressed and changed in order to facilitate racial diversity in higher education’s faculties. Put simply the issues are:
Making a true institutional commitment to faculty diversity and insisting that those involved in interviewing and hiring faculty members understand the seriousness of the commitment. Expressing a desire is not sufficient, issuing a mandate is much more likely to produce results.
Make certain that the commitment is not only clearly stated and supported by upper level administration (President/Chancellor and Provost) but also has appropriate metrics to permit objective evaluation of both the results and those charged with getting results. No, we are not talking quotas here, but if a dean has been made aware that his/her department lacks ethnic/racial diversity in its faculty, and that this is unacceptable to the institution, some measures of accountability are appropriate. There should be no difference in the consequences of failing to diversify one’s faculty and those associated with failing to accomplish some other strategic institutional or administrative goals.
Facilitate whatever research is necessary to see where the hiring process is flawed. Are minorities not being reached via advertisements? Not choosing to apply? Not being chosen to interview? Not being hired? Not being granted tenure? Wherever the process appears to have broken down, dissect the problem and correct it. Each of the suggested areas of failure above require specific actions to ameliorate.
Hand in hand with recruitment must go efforts at retention of those already employed, and attention to their progress. Of course, looking at demographics it must be noted that there are always going to be fewer HURMs available than white PhDs for faculty positions. This means that in order to build a diverse faculty the institution has to make a commitment to keep the faculty of color already employed as well as recruit and hire additional Black, American Indian and Hispanic tenure and tenure track faculty. Because it is both expensive and disruptive to replace faculty members who leave for reasons that may involve hostile work environments or disparate treatment, more attention must be paid to making certain the minority faculty member is not left to his or her own devices, without sufficient support and mentoring. Detaching from the faculty member once they are hired may lead them to feel isolated or marginalized. To keep the HURM faculty member from feeling marginalized includes the establishment of policies making certain that the faculty member is not overburdened with being asked too frequently to represent his or her race and ethnicity on committees and other service category endeavors, Recruiting and retaining more faculty of color will also help prevent this well documented issue as there will be more faculty of color to tap for service. Other retention strategies include helping newly hired faculty of color find a senior faculty mentor, paying attention to subtle and not so subtle incidents of racism or insensitivity in the institutional climate, making certain that the faculty and administration of the institution do not view research interests that focus on diversity issues as less scholarly than other topics, reviewing the tenure process and those charged with conducting it to make certain both are as free of racial/ethnic bias as possible. This last item requires developing some level of sophistication in determining when bias is demonstrated. Unfortunately, many white people do not understand how demoralizing and upsetting overt actions and micro-aggressions of racism can be and the cumulative effect they have on the ability of the faculty member of color to navigate the tenure process. Far too many individuals and practices at majority institutions tend to blame the victim for being too sensitive rather than address the legitimate complaints of the person offended. Non-group members are standing on shaky ground when they attempt to assess whether or not someone from a certain group should be offended. The history of the group, cultural taboos, and language all need to be taken into account and there are frequently nuances that non-group members may not be aware of. Here it should be noted that no one is suggesting special treatment. The ability to thrive and achieve without artificial barriers erected due to someone else’s bias should be the right of every faculty member, not just certain ones. The above recommendations are summarized in a chart in Appendix II.
Beyond these recommendations, however, there is a more important imperative. Insitutions of higher learning must commit themselves to helping improve the kindergarten-12th grade experience for many HURMs. The result of twelve years of inferior education cannot be fixed by any student services program on a college campus. As long as students who attend certain schools have a less than fifty percent chance of being taught math or science by a person who majored in those fields inequities in preparation will continue. Universities have a duty to stop viewing potential students as having,come into existence at the junior level in high school . If there is ever to be a true commitment to having a racially and ethnically diverse faculty it has to start with pipeline issues Some of thse pipeline issues include socio-economic status, geographic location of populations, unfamiliarity with the process of going to college, and most importantly, inferior kindergarten-12th grade education. If a student receives poor instruction beginning in kindergarten, by the time he or she is in fifth grade the die is cast for his/her academic future in almost all cases. If students do not finish high school they cannot go to college. If they do not go to college they cannot go to graduate school, if they do not go to graduate school they cannot become professors. Ergo, if institutions of higher learning truly want a racially and ethnically diverse faculty they have to begin the process of examining not only what parts of the hiring process are failing, but what parts of the pipeline are hemorrhaging potentially gifted future professors. University schools of education in particular should be charged to help improve the educational opportunities of students from historically underrepresented populations.
Section IV: Conclusion and call for more research
Race and ethnicity remain one of the final unexplored frontiers for higher education as for the rest of the institutions in the country. Very few institutions are skilled in providing guidance in ways to talk about race, ethnicity, power and privilege coherently, or how to reach decisions and establish institutional protocols to deal with difference. Despite claims of this being a post-racial world with its accompanying presumption of a level playing field as long as good decisions are made by the individual, there is no doubt that disparities, biases and racism still exist. It is not just the bane of a few toothless, backwoods dwellers that are of no importance; exposure to some form of bias is a daily experience for most minorities. As previously noted, however, the lingering persistence of racism has resulted in a growing impatience with the entire topic on the part of many of the majority culture. In attempts to downplay or ignore incidents that are evidence of bias or racism many universities and university employees declare the minority who is offended to be overly sensitive, defensive or simply a troublemaker. As the frustration level of the faculty member grows and their complaints become more strident the labels change to aggressive, angry and difficult.
Research must be supported to find out why faculty diversity goals are not being realized, if those goals are genuine. This needs to be as broad as possible and include some exploration of biases and prejudices that might be impacting the searches at any point. Trying to shift the reasons for failing to have an ethnically diverse faculty onto the faculty of color—they do not apply, they do not measure up, they are too expensive—is simply smoke and mirrors.
In order to actually compose a racially and ethnically diverse faculty colleges and universities have to:
Have unequivocal and consistent support from upper level administration to accomplish the goal of a racially and ethnically diverse faculty.
Have racial and ethnic minority representation in higher level, decision-making positions, not just relegated to diversity offices which rarely have any power in faculty hiring.
Examine their advertising policies and check them for efficacy.
Hold those responsible for hiring faculty accountable, truly accountable for hiring racially and ethnically diverse faculty, or for developing a measurable timeline with specific action steps and evaluation methods for hiring a racially diverse faculty.
Train search committee chairs and members to be aware of their own cultural biases and misconceptions about minorities.
Not abandon the employee once they are hired, develop effective retention practices and programs.
Provide resources and staffing to conduct research on each phase of the process and to monitor results and provide an annual report on the progress or lack thereof that is available to the campus community.
Form alliances with local school districts to improve the future pipeline.
If a racially and ethnically diverse faulty is a true goal for institutions of higher learning they have to approach achieving it as they would any other strategic goal, with resources, personnel and evaluation methods. Saying you want something is not the same as taking the necessary steps to make something happen. If colleges and universities value an ethnically and racially diverse faculty they will make a true commitment rather than just stating their goals without providing any concomitant actions to achieve them. The title of this paper asks if the desire for a racially diverse faculty is a true goal or a myth. At the moment I am afraid the evidence points to the latter rather than the former. I hope in the near future to be proven wrong.