Diversity Lacking Among Professoriate’s Elite Positions - Higher Education
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Diversity Lacking Among Professoriate’s Elite Positions

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim


When Dr. Nicholas Daniel Hartlep decided to examine the demographics of distinguished professors (DPs) and endowed chairs (ECs) within schools of education, he discovered that Asians represent less than 3 percent of all such positions.

While calls to diversify the professoriate are common, the finding led Hartlep to proclaim the need for transformation of this elite niche within American academe.

“Specifically, we were concerned that although EC and DP positions may be put into place to advance a given discipline, true advancement may not take place if such positions are not occupied by a diverse group of scholars,” Hartlep, an assistant professor of educational foundations at Illinois State University, wrote in a paper called “A National Analysis of Endowed Chairs and Distinguished Professors in the Field of Education.” The paper was published recently in Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association.

“Today, the importance of diversity in higher education is widely recognized: We argue that this diversity must extend all the way to the top — to EC and DP positions — if higher education is to become truly diversified,” the paper states.

The finding not only prompted Hartlep to offer up a few solutions for how to diversify this elite niche of the professoriate — solutions that include more and earlier mentoring by distinguished professors and those who hold endowed chairs — it also gave him the idea for one of his next books.

“I’ve interviewed a handful of them and I’m working on a book about their mentoring,” Hartlep said of the few Asians who hold endowed chairs or distinguished professorships in schools of education.

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“Each professor will be a chapter,” he revealed to Diverse recently at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Washington, D.C.

Racial gap

It wouldn’t be hard to include in such a book every Asian faculty member who holds a distinguished professorship or endowed chair in a school of education.

­That’s because only nine Asians hold one of 381 endowed chairs in schools of education, and only two hold one of the 113 distinguished professorships in schools of education, according to Hartlep’s paper.

­The paper found that race, gender and prestige of a faculty member’s doctoral alma mater were all significant predictors of securing a distinguished professorship or an endowed chair. Universities have rewarded outstanding professors with such positions for the past 150 or so years to give them recognition through additional compensation, funds for travel, and, depending on the discipline, other amenities, such as equipment, labs and assistants, the paper states.

According to his research, the vast majority of endowed chairs and distinguished professorships have gone to White men who went to elite institutions.

Specifically, the paper found that:

  • 308 of the 381 endowed chairs in schools of education are held by Whites.
  • 97 of the 113 distinguished professorships in schools of education are held by Whites.
  • Men held 232, or 58 percent, of all endowed chairs in schools of education, compared to women, who held 168, or 42 percent.
  • Men held 71, or 60.7 percent, of all distinguished professorships in schools of education, compared to women, who held 47 distinguished professorships, or 39.5 percent.

Hartlep also found that faculty members who earned their doctoral degrees from an elite institution of higher education held the highest proportion of endowed chairs or professorships — 195 or 48.9 percent, to be exact.

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Dr. Pedro A. Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education at UCLA, says the findings are not surprising but are nevertheless important, particularly for schools of education.

“We have known for some time that change in the highest rungs of academia occurs slowly, and that power and prestige continue to reside with the groups that have traditionally held it: older White men at elite institutions,” Noguera says. “However, in the field of education, the need for change is perhaps greater than in any other field given the dramatic changes occurring in the demographic composition of U.S. society.

“Hopefully, the release of this study will be a wake-up call to those who presently hold the power that they must play an active role in facilitating a change of the guard.”

Social skills

To explain why most DPs and ECs went to White men, Hartlep used social network theory.

“Social network theory argues that the composition of one’s social circle has real and measurable impacts on one’s life,” the paper explains. “Social network theory is interested in the extent and nature of interactions between group members, and how these interactions impact everything from socioeconomic status, to employment, to the racial makeup of friendship groups.”

Since networks tend to reproduce themselves, Hartlep said it’s important for institutional leaders and the faculty who hold DPs and ECs to start mentoring students from diverse backgrounds earlier in their academic careers in order to orient them toward the factors that will lead them to secure these elite faculty posts.

“­The system reproduces itself so, if the pipeline is highly White, we can’t expect that to change overnight,” Hartlep said. “­The only way to change the pipeline is to begin earlier.”

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Hartlep expounds on that idea in his paper.

“Diversity in higher education is critically important. We cannot wait for ECs and DPs who are White to retire their prestigious positions because, as our data show, these very same individuals will have mentored and trained up the next generation of ECs and DPs in their own image: White, male, and from elite colleges/universities,” Hartlep’s paper states. “Instead, a more pragmatic practice would be early intervention.”

­The paper suggests that current ECs and DPs could mentor and encourage undergraduates to continue their studies in graduate school.

“­This practice of early intervention may allow students who attend less prestigious colleges/universities to work with and be socialized by ECs and DPs who may work at a prestigious institution of higher learning and/or have an elite pedigree.

“By socializing with ECs and DPs who may be alums of elite colleges and universities, students of diverse educational backgrounds can begin to acquire the mindsets, skills, attitudes, and abilities that will enable them to become eminent scholars in the field of education,” the paper continues. “EC and DP positions could (and should) be used as tools for diversifying institutions of higher education, especially within colleges and schools of education.”

Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at jabdul-alim@diverseeducation.com.

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