When Dr. John Brooks Slaughter was being recruited as president of Occidental College, he asked one professor on the search committee how many African-Americans were on the faculty. He vividly recalls her answer: “You’re looking at 50 percent of them.”
Slaughter took the job and went to work building a more diverse faculty. The college sought out promising candidates and brought them to campus even before they had finished their doctorates. During his 11-year tenure, Occidental hired 74 tenure-track faculty — half of them minorities and half women. The lesson: diversity can happen with diligent effort and strong will.
“The truth of the matter is that the proverbial pipeline that many institutions say is the only thing keeping them from diversifying their faculty is much fuller than these institutions are willing to admit,” says Slaughter, a former director of the National Science Foundation and now president and CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. “The only thing they need is the resolve to tap into it. Forming a diverse faculty will not happen by chance. It requires permanent and proactive measures.”
About 350 people gathered last month to learn such lessons at the University of Minnesota’s fourth Keeping Our Faculties conference. “It’s a national problem that’s been persistent for quite a long time — the under-representation of people of color in higher education, primarily in faculty positions,” says Dr. Robert Jones, the senior vice president for system academic administration at the University of Minnesota and one of the founders of the event. “If you want to have a diverse student body on your campus, you need a diverse faculty as well. We just think it’s absolutely critical to the future of higher education and the future of our national competitiveness.”
Despite gains in recent years, the percentage of minority faculty still lags behind the overall population and the percentage of minority students. According to the American Council on Education, minorities account for less than 20 percent of full-time faculty at U.S. colleges.
“This is an issue that all higher education institutions face, regardless if you’re a two-year community college, a state university, a private college or a big research university like Minnesota,” says Jones. “All of our institutions in one way or another are very challenged by this issue.”
The Keeping Our Faculties conference represents a unique effort to address faculty diversity. Breakout sessions focused on areas such as faculty-driven diversity efforts, mentoring for academic writing, the experience of Black women on engineering faculties and coping with the stress of being the sole faculty member of an under-represented group.
“All too often, when we start these initiatives we act like we’re starting from ground zero, when in fact there’s been a lot of changes because of diversity work,” says Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló, the vice president and vice provost at UM and a co-founder of the conference. “I’m going to be able to take a lot of what we’ve heard here and figure out how to apply it to our work.”
But diversifying the faculty, adds Barceló, requires efforts well beyond the traditional job search. “If you look at the pipeline, it’s really kind of dismal,” she says. “Part of what we need to address here is the notion of how we’re promoting graduate education so we can have this diverse pool of faculty in the future.”
Many attendees voiced concerns about a political countermovement that has stymied diversity efforts, including Proposition 209 in California and the recently approved Proposal 2 in Michigan.
Such initiatives have had a chilling effect on efforts to diversify campuses. Slaughter notes that the University of California, Los Angeles and UC-Berkeley enrolled 209 Black students out of a total class of 7,350 in 2004 — less than half as many as a decade earlier, before Proposition 209.
Of those 209 students, only 83 were Black men, and half of them were athletes. Similarly, Slaughter says, faculty appointments of Blacks at the University of California are under 3 percent.
“I sometimes wish that colleges and universities were as committed to increasing their faculty diversity as they are to being included in the U.S. News & World Report top 25 list or NCAA Final Four,” Slaughter told the audience during the conference. “If they did, we wouldn’t be having this conference.”
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