Perspectives: Time for Community Colleges To Lead on Diversifying Faculty - Higher Education
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Perspectives: Time for Community Colleges To Lead on Diversifying Faculty

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by Pauline E. Kayes and Yvonne Singley

Community colleges like to tout the fact that so many culturally diverse and minority students are enrolled in our institutions. Something else we are proud of is our mission, so succinctly described by Dr. George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, in a 2009 Community College Journal article: “Among America’s institutions of higher education, community colleges have the greatest potential to advance true egalitarianism and to prepare the country’s future educated work force.”

So, given our talking points about the value of diversity in community colleges, why aren’t we doing a better job of diversifying our faculty? Minority faculty hiring has not kept pace with increases in minority student enrollment at public two-year colleges. While underrepresented minorities make up 39 percent of community college student enrollment, just 16.3 percent of faculty are of color, according to 2009 Digest of Education statistics. In spite of a variety of initiatives and programs to improve diverse hiring, why has the percentage of minority faculty at these institutions remained relatively unchanged over the past 10 years?

The answer can be found in examining the cultural biases still permeating our search committees and our institutional cultures, both of which impact our ability to recruit, hire, and keep diverse faculty. Frankly, many community college cultures are still characterized by a resistance to diverse hiring at the same time our college catalogs are publicizing our diverse student demographics. As one African-American faculty member we interviewed for our video, “New Paradigms for Diversifying Faculty in Higher Education,” describes, “Our colleges may be interested in aesthetic diversity but are still threatened by the real change that diverse faculty represent.” This resistance can be found on search committees in the form of the mistaken belief that academic degrees, achievements and reputations make search committee decisions unbiased. 

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In reality, though, we know that search committee deliberations are often rife with misperceptions, assumptions, biases, stereotypes and racism. As Dr. Caroline Turner, author of Diversifying Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees, points out, “An example of dysconscious racism includes the predisposition of search committees to look for and favor candidates like themselves. … One might say that search committees, without intending to, look for Afro-Saxons or Hispanic-Saxons.”

Another crucial factor in the lack of diverse faculty hiring is that search committees are still regarded in community colleges as the sacrosanct nexus of the hiring process, guarding that mythical ivory tower where those who are “let in” are always assumed to be the “most qualified” and the “best fit.” As a result, search committees may be given guidance on personnel policies or cajoled by affirmative action officers on “what to do or not do.” Most, however, are not given any professional development on how inadvertent biases and assumptions can shape the search and hiring process.

Those culturally diverse and minority faculty who are hired often face hostile environments, which fuel the “revolving door” that undermines retention of diverse faculty in community colleges. A Hispanic faculty member we interviewed explained her feelings of exclusion: “As soon as I walked through the door of this college, I realized that they didn’t really want me, and the part they didn’t want was my identity as a Mexican-American woman.” To prevent regular turnover of minority faculty, community colleges need to act on minority-faculty concerns and issues often voiced in campus climate surveys and focus groups.

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Many of the significant educational issues facing community colleges revolve around diversity. First, retention and graduation gaps for minority students continue to be problematic at many campuses. Second, work-force training must prepare students to negotiate intercultural differences in the most diverse workplace in our history. Finally, higher education organizations and agencies are all puzzling over how to reduce the marginalization of African-American and Hispanic-American male students. At the center of all these issues is diversifying faculty, for, as so much research demonstrates, both minority student achievement and intercultural knowledge and understanding increase when all students learn from culturally diverse and minority faculty. Isn’t it time that community colleges hold themselves more accountable for the success and achievement of their diverse students and become models of diverse faculty hiring?

Dr. James Bennett, vice president of Equity and Pluralism at Bellevue College, told us in an interview: “The bottom line is what change institutions are willing to undergo to improve the chances and opportunities for all of their students. We can no longer ignore or minimize the importance of a multicultural faculty in addressing the learning needs of an increasingly diverse student body.” 

 — Pauline E. Kayes is professor emeritus of English at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Yvonne Singley has more than 20 years of experience in community college administration, mostly at the Illinois Community College Board. They are president and vice president, respectively, of DiversityWorks Inc., a coalition of educators providing diversity education for educators. For more information, see diversityworksinc.net.

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