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Bringing More Than Skin Color to the Party Faculty of color realize their market value

by Black Issues

Bringing More Than Skin Color to the Party Faculty of color realize their market valueDr. Tom Smith is a world-renowned expert in polymer sciences. And though he has impeccable academic credentials — he got his Ph.D. in 1973 from the University of Michigan, is a former president of the Rochester chapter of the American Chemical Society, has countless publications, and has co-advised dissertation projects — he has just taken his first academic job.
For the past year, he’s been teaching in the Rochester Institute of Technology’s chemistry department at the rank of full professor, with three year’s credit toward tenure.
Across the country, in Los Angeles, Dr. Gail Washington is entering the second year of her first tenure-track job, too. But her Ph.D., like this direction for her life, is a new one — she’s defending next month.
“I don’t have an extensive résumé or a long list of publications,” she admits. But she has something that the Nursing Department at California State University-Los Angeles probably found to be just as attractive: 10 years’ experience as the nurse manager for emergency services at Oconee County Hospital in Seneca, S.C.
Back at RIT, Tina Chapman, an assistant professor in the Golisano School of Computer and Information Sciences, doesn’t have a Ph.D.— indeed, her field, information technology, is so new that there isn’t even a Ph.D. offered in it yet.
But Chapman brings top-flight credentials to the table — 11 years of wide-ranging systems experience with IBM and four with her own firm, Chapman Consulting. Chapman has worked with firms throughout the United States, Canada and even the Virgin Islands.
“That’s one of the nice things about RIT,” she says. “We have a component that is academically and research-based and another that’s applied. I’m a corporate hire, but they value that on the same level as they do the academic, especially in the IT department which is dynamic, changing so quickly” that it’s difficult for universities to keep up.
 And thereby hangs a tale.
Among the many new minority hires by RIT and CSULA, there are many who look like Dr. James Ford, a new assistant professor in Cal State’s music department. He’s 31; his Ph.D. is from one of the top music programs in the country, renowned North Texas State University; and his subspecialty is in music and medicine, one of the hottest growth areas in his field.
But there are many others who don’t have this traditional profile. And that’s an important factor for diversity-minded universities to take into account.
“You have to understand, when you come from a minority background, you weren’t ever ‘supposed’ to end up here,” Smith says. “So our pathways into the academy are more varied. We have different experiences. We bring different kinds of strengths. That’s a good thing.”
Indeed, an analysis by Dr. Manning Marable of Columbia University provides a bit of historical perspective. As late as 1950, he says, there were fewer than 100 African American faculty in the nation — outside of historically Black institutions, that is. As late as 1960, three-quarters of all Black students attended HBCUs and 90 percent of Black faculty taught there.
“From a historical perspective, 40 years is a short period of time,” Marable adds. “The system never was designed to accommodate minorities. It had to be forced to by the civil rights and Black Power movements. We shouldn’t be surprised that the effects linger.”
Studies have yet to be completed on this newest cohort of minority hires. But anecdotal evidence suggests that many are older than traditional candidates. And even where they’re similar in age to traditional candidates, they seem far more likely to have “real world” experience.
Take Dr. Ramon Castillo, for example, a new assistant professor in the Cal State-LA economics department.
After getting his Ph.D. from the University of California-Irvine in 2000, Castillo bypassed the job market to work at the Central Bank in Mexico City. He says he loved the work, which revolved solely around research and publication. But after a few years he found himself longing to return to the United States.
So last December, he decided to go on the economics job market and found there was “a high degree of interest” in candidates with a background in Latin American economies. Castillo found himself torn among offers from Mexican universities, Cal State and Connecticut College. But it was Cal State-LA that offered him the flexibility in his teaching assignments that would allow him to continue his research.
“For an economist, your professional growth is measured in publication. So I had to hold out for that,” Castillo says, adding that he was also attracted by “the socioeconomic composition of the student body. I felt I could make a contribution.”
And that is one thing all these new hires have in common —  the ability to make a contribution.
As Smith says, “You got to bring more than skin color to the party. You have to bring ways to contribute to the strategic direction of the university and the department. Otherwise, it’s a hollow thing you’re doing.”
And Smith should know. On the day he “signed on the dotted line” with RIT, he learned Dartmouth had awarded him, and a colleague from Virginia Commonwealth University, a $500,000 research grant.
RIT’s share of the money, used to purchase equipment and fund postdoctoral fellows, was a cool $200,000.  —— By Kendra Hamilton



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