The search for faculty members of color has led one organization to recruit doctoral candidates from the business world
By Jamilah EvelynFour years ago, Dr. Alisa Mosley was working for Sprint Communications in Richardson, Texas, just outside of Dallas. She admits she had a good job where she met interesting people and was advancing at a steady pace. But one day she paused to reconsider the direction of her career.“There’s got to be more to this,” she remembers thinking. “I fell into that trap of being tired all the time. It was a task just to get up in the morning and go to work.”Today, she says she has a different outlook on her career.“When people see me now, they notice a big difference,” she says. “I move now with a purpose, knowing that what I do benefits society.”Mosley, 28, says she decided to change the course of her life when she saw an advertisement for a program called the Ph.D. Project that was seeking mid-career business professionals who had reached “the glass ceiling.”After researching the program and attending one of its conferences, she resigned from her lucrative job and enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Nebraska. Three and a half years later, with a doctorate in tow, she moved to Jackson, Miss., where she now teaches management in the business school at Jackson State University.And that’s exactly what officials at the Ph.D. Project are banking on.Established by the KPMG Peat Marwick Foundation in 1994, the project began with the aim of diversifying America’s corporate boardrooms by first diversifying the people in front of its classrooms.Their target: business professionals of color who are tired of the corporate world. People who want to give back to their communities through teaching—- a trend project officials are counting on to encourage more people of color to pursue business doctorates and better prepare all business students for multicultural work environments.While the Education Department reports that there are roughly 1,600 full-time Black business school professors nationwide, officials at the project note that a mere 388 minority business professors have doctoral degrees. That number, Ph.D. Project officials say, could nearly double as 374 minority students are currently enrolled in a program—- many thanks to the project’s efforts.Funded with $6 million in corporate sponsorship, the project’s program subsidizes students’ study with part of the money. The rest is used to run their doctoral student associations and to bring students and business school officials to their yearly conference.
A Sense of PurposeBernard J. “Bernie” Milano, director of the project, says project officials suspect that business school faculties were unlikely to achieve diversity without a dramatic, meaningful contribution from the corporate community. They base those suspicions on the low number of minority faculty members mentioned previously.So project officials decided to talk to some of the few minority doctoral candidates in the country. They wanted to find out why many of the students would give up well-paying jobs to get a terminal degree that wouldn’t really add much to their earning potential in the corporate world.“Many of them were simply not fulfilled,” Milano says. “They were doing this because they wanted to give back. Most of them could point to someone in an academic setting who had made a difference in their lives and they wanted to do the same for other students.”Salaries for business professors pale in comparison to what many Ph.D. Project participants were making before they left corporate America. Project officials note that participants were making anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 at their corporate jobs, whereas the average business professor’s salary ranges from $65,000 to $75,000.However, Dr. John Williams, chairman of the business and economics department at Morehouse College in Atlanta, says that professors with a breadth of corporate experience who also have a Ph.D. will generally make slightly more than their inexperienced counterparts.“They’ll still have to go through the academic ranks, but they will generally start out at a premium salary as opposed to starting at the bottom of the salary range,” he says.From his observations, most students get their Ph.D. immediately upon completion of an M.B.A. or undergraduate degree in business. The project’s strategy of recruiting minorities who have been successful in the corporate world goes against the classical approach.Williams does admit, however, that the tactic mirrors one that is being tried at Morehouse.“Even in Black business schools, it’s extremely difficult to recruit Black Ph.D.s,” he says. “At Morehouse, we have been successful a few times with bringing in hotshot M.B.A.s as visiting professors. If they work out in the classroom, we’ll help them find a school with a Ph.D. program and sponsor them through [The College Fund/UNCF] funds.”While there are similar programs that target and encourage minority students to get a doctorate in other disciplines like engineering or physics, Milano says that the specific goal of boosting minority faculty may not be as successful in those disciplines. “There’s a huge demand in the corporate world to hire Ph.D.s in those disciplines,” he says. “Not so with business. When you take the time to get a doctorate in business, you’re most likely doing it because you want to teach and research in an academic setting.” And many professors can supplement their salaries through consulting work on the side. In fact, many business schools require their faculty to maintain viable work experience.
Expressions of Appreciation Dr. Sybil Mobley, dean of the school of business and industry at Florida A&M University, says that she believes professors from industry bring an invaluable outlook to the classroom.“We believe that in order to teach, you have to have had experience,” she says, adding that they require most professors to find work during the summer.Helen Brown is currently working on her Ph.D. in accounting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A former employee at Bristol-Meyers Scribb in New York, she says her yearly salary fell from $120,000 to $20,000. She now wanders into stores and merely peruses over what she could have at one time afforded. Yet, once she made the decision to leave the corporate world, she never looked back.“I was at a point in my life where the money just wasn’t worth it anymore,” Brown says. “I was sick and tired of banging my head against the wall.”She says she took the leap because she didn’t have a high mortgage payment, she didn’t have any children, and most importantly, she no longer had the desire to play the corporate game.Neither her doctoral program, nor the greater Madison area offer much for her culturally, Brown says. But she finds strength from the Doctoral Students Association — discipline-based peer groups in accounting, information systems, finance, management, and marketing that project officials set up to combat the high attrition rate inherent among all business doctoral students.Milano notes that while nationwide, the dropout rate for all doctoral students is 25 percent. That compares with a less-than 5-percent rate for project participants.He says that more than 23,000 minorities have expressed interest in the Ph.D. Project to date. A select number of the respondents are invited to the project’s annual conference, where they hear from professors and current doctoral students about the pros and cons of such a dramatic career shift.For Mosley — the project’s first participant to complete her degree — the rewards come often.“Students look up to me. I can actually be a role model for hundreds of kids who come through my classroom,” she says. “I got all these gifts for Christmas from students who said they just wanted me to know they were glad I’m here.“That’s a satisfaction no corporate salary or high post position could ever bring me.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.