Taking Steps to Improve a Shadowy Presence - Higher Education

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Taking Steps to Improve a Shadowy Presence

by Black Issues

Taking Steps to Improve a Shadowy Presence

“I’m Black, I’m a woman, and I exist in shadow,” said a friend of mine who is a Yale University and Duke University graduate.
A study done by the American Council on Education — the 15th Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, 1996-97 by Drs. Deborah J. Carter and Reginald Wilson — revealed that of 533,770 faculty, only 65,000 (approximately 12 percent) are of color — a shadowy presence at best. Apparently, institutions of higher learning — especially predominately White institutions — are still struggling with finding and keeping Black professors. This matter is particularly frightful in light of the anticipated increase of minorities in America and their increased participation in postsecondary education. The “Browning” of America is indeed inevitable.
Given the tragedy that is Proposition 209, its recent backlashes, rampant affirmative action media assaults, and the lack of support from institutions across the country, how can higher education officials go about creating a diverse faculty on their campuses? The model proposed here can assist in increasing the percentage of minority faculty in institutions of higher education by providing a comprehensive plan.
An effective recruitment strategy consists of two separate, but related, concepts: increase the applicant pool and show a commitment to diversity. The double-headed arrow between the two concepts, as well as the broken line that constitutes the oval shape of each concept, emphasizes the recruitment process as continuous and cyclical. The blocks, connected to their respective concepts, are strategies for bringing the concept to fruition. Research, literature, and opinion are inharmonious concerning whether a “shallow pool” of qualified applicants actually exists.  Whatever the perceived or statistical truth, Blacks still make-up an alarmingly small portion of doctorate holders in the United States.
As most conventional efforts have failed, colleges and universities are experiencing some success by grooming students and administrators in their own backyard for faculty positions — a grow-your-own approach. Students are exhorted to pursue the professorate via verbal and financial support while administrators are selected to teach on an adjunct basis. Networking outside the institution, as indicated by the outward pointing arrows, has also been successful; the goal is to network with as many people as possible, from varied pockets of society, in order to reach a vast number of professor prospects.
It hardly suffices to adopt the stance of commitment to diversity and expect this to draw minority applicants to your campus in droves. The greatest oversight minority recruitment enthusiasts have made is to draw potential minority faculty to their institutions, only to let efforts wane by not providing sustained support for them once they have been hired.
Who can forget Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.’s role as the Moses of a mass exodus in the early 1990’s from Duke University? As bell hooks, a former professor at Yale, noted in a scathing indictment of her former institution in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, a lack of effort to strive toward heterogeneity in experience and perspectives on the campus “promote[d] an atmosphere of demoralization, alienation, and despair among concerned, aware students and faculty — especially Black students and faculty.” Institutions must demonstrate a commitment to diversity or faculty will go play in someone else’s more accommodating sandbox.
A commitment to diversity must be unabashed and apparent. Institutions who have successfully hired and retained Black faculty have a single commonality among them: they had the support of its crucial leaders, namely the president and board members. Not only do these leaders set the tone for the institution, they also can enlist the support of others and financially prioritize recruitment programs.
Make no mistake, money matters. Perhaps no tune is louder than the one sung with monetary backing. Funds are not only needed to advertise faculty openings creatively and widely, but to run programs aimed at faculty retention and student incentives to teach. Competitive salaries and fellowships, and handsome package offerings, assist in snagging those faculty and students who would otherwise venture into the business sector or other more financially lucrative positions. Without columns for support, a building will crumble — as will efforts in minority recruitment when support is not made available to minority faculty.
Mentors have a long, beneficial history of providing role models, as well as emotional and social support. Imparting the importance of diversity — through mandatory training, aggressive minority student recruitment, and the cancellation of searches devoid of a diversified pool — are a few strategies for heightening awareness among faculty, staff, and administrators.
Although simple, this model graphically depicts a plan of attack for recruiting and retaining minority faculty. To “exist in a shadow” is neither savory nor acceptable. Strides must be made on behalf of higher education to bring the diversification of faculty from the dark of the shadows to the light of the forefront. 

— Kate Temoney
is a Master’s of Education candidate
 in higher education administration at
the College of William and Mary

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