ACE Speaker Shares Approach to Uncovering Bias in Tenure, Promotion - Higher Education
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ACE Speaker Shares Approach to Uncovering Bias in Tenure, Promotion

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

WASHINGTON — When Stephen Jordan, president at Metropolitan State University of Denver, had his institution examine why Black and Hispanic faculty weren’t being granted tenure at rates comparable to their White counterparts, he decided to look deeper into the reasons why.

At the time, Whites were getting tenure at a rate of 95 percent, but Blacks and Hispanics were getting tenure at a rate of 65 and 47 percent, respectively.

Stephen Jordan is president at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“That doesn’t solve the problem,” Jordan said of the disparities. “That means we need to start asking why. Why is that happening?

Jordan had his staff take a closer look at the tenure process four or five years ago.

“We began to see that I would receive the dossiers for promotion from assistant to associate, we would see situations in which faculty of color were denied tenure for similar situations in which White faculty were getting tenure,” Jordan said. “We began to recognize that there were some biases happening in the tenure process.”

In order to put that theory to the test, Jordan set up a separate process in his office for cases in which there was a mixed recommendation for a faculty member of color.

More specifically, Jordan had his assistant for diversity and inclusion and his director for equal employment opportunity find a case in which a White faculty member was granted tenure despite having the same situation for which the faculty member of color in question was denied tenure, put the cases side by side, and then make their independent recommendations.

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“You’ve got to do those things if you’re serious about changing what happens,” Jordan said, who said he has since overridden decisions to deny tenure to faculty of color.

Consequently, he said, all groups — Blacks, Hispanics and Whites — are now tenured at MSU Denver at rates of between 92 and 95 percent, Jordan said.

“It’s not enough to hire diverse faculty,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to get them to promotion and tenure.”

Jordan made those remarks to applause Monday during a workshop on diversifying faculty at the 99th Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education (ACE).

The annual conference brings approximately 2,000 higher education leaders from around the country to what one ACE official said was politically one of the most critical times ever for higher education in the United States.

“This is so outside the mainstream of American political norms that all of us in Washington are trying to figure out how to make sense of it, let alone make sense of it to others,” Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at ACE, said in reference to the uncertainty that has ensued since President Donald J. Trump assumed office.

Beyond the dampening effect that Hartle says Trump’s executive orders on immigration — the first and revised travel bans — have had on international enrollment, Hartle listed a series of “vulnerabilities” for higher education under the Trump administration.

A proposed increase of $54 billion in defense spending could spell doom for scientific research and Pell Grant funding, Hartle said in listing Trump’s as-of-yet unknown budget for fiscal 2018. At the same time, he said, the proposed increase in military spending could represent an opportunity for those who do research in the area of defense.

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Hartle also noted the slow pace at which the Trump administration is filling its presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed positions. He said, at the latest count, only 18 of the 553 such positions had been filled, with another 23 named or nominated.

Unclear, Hartle said, is whether the Education Department will have an undersecretary to deal specifically with higher education.

“There’s no one to talk to, and that’s not a good situation,” Hartle said.

He said the Education Department seems more focused on school vouchers and school choice.

“You may not see very much going on in higher ed,” Hartle said. But he said it depends on the formation of a higher education advisory task force to be headed by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. Reports indicate the task force will likely focus on pairing back regulations seen as burdensome.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at jabdul-alim@diverseeducation.com or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.

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