Increasing power, not just numbers – senior-level African American administrators - Higher Education

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Increasing power, not just numbers – senior-level African American administrators

by Walter A. Brown

Since the late 1960s, there has been a substantial increase in the
number of senior-level African American administrators at traditionally
White institutions. However, I contend that this increase conveys a
partly false perception, and that perception leads one to believe that
a goal of higher education — racial equalization — has been achieved.

There are more African American administrators, but they tend to be
in positions that lack power and authority. Their job titles — such as
manager or director of minority affairs — and responsibilities have
exclusively concentrated on monitoring the academic progress of
minority students. These positions have often been outside the
periphery of traditional administrative power and opportunity, and have
been classified as “staff” rather than “line” positions (managerial
positions that are part of the formal administrative hierarchy of the
university). Although staff positions have carried no real power and
authority, their responsibilities still are vital to minority students
and most affairs of governance.

In a recent study conducted at George Washington University in
Washington, D.C., titled Roles and Activities of Senior [ever African
American Administrators at Majority Institutions, the type of positions
and job responsibilities held by African American administrators are
carefully reviewed, categorized, and delineated.

The study reports that eighty percent of the senior-level
administrative positions held by African Americans (in the more than
200 traditionally White institutions contacted) are in student or
multicultural and minority affairs. The remaining 20 percent include
vice presidents for academic affairs, human resources, research and
technology, and graduate studies; and deans of schools of liberal and
fine arts, and education. There were no African American administrators
listed as senior financial officers.

Findings from this study give the perception that in ascending to
the levels of vice president of student and multicultural affairs,
African Americans have substantially advanced their standing from the
mid-level program managers of the 1960s and 1970s. However, they are
still recipients of problems and issues generated from managing
minority affairs. But as line officers, they are in an advantageous
position to advocate for the recruitment and retention of minority
students and faculty.

African American administrators in the study see themselves as
having both a formal and informal role in the recruitment of minority
faculty. The formal role involves membership on search committees and
advising minority associations. Informally, these administrators meet
with prospective minority faculty candidates to give their personal
perspectives on campus life. And they believed that their impact on
recruitment and retention of minority students was more significant.
They felt that they have made a difference by increasing the enrollment
percentages of minority students, through the control of admissions and
financial aid offices, budgets for recruitment programs, and
memberships on student recruitment.

However, the evidence from the study creates a paradox. Although
there appears to be a larger percentage of African American
administrators who hold senior-level positions with line authority, the
majority of those positions are in areas of student and multicultural
affairs. And the study confirms that although their impact has grown to
accommodate “diversity pressure,” in real terms their influence remains

According to study participants who hold positions as vice
presidents of student and multicultural affairs, they: have minimal
control over university financial resources; have limited opportunities
for advancement; are excluded from committees that are responsible for
finance and planning oversight; and lack opportunities for senior-level
career development.

So how can this be remedied?

* First, African Americans who are seeking positions in central
administration at traditionally White institutions should — regardless
of their academic background — seek training in areas of management,
budget finance, decision making, resource allocation, and strategic

* Second, traditionally White institutions should develop training
programs with two objectives — to enhance the skills of senior level
minority administrators in student and multicultural affairs in an
effort to increase their qualifications for positions as deans and vice
presidents of academic affairs, and to attract lower-level
administrators and faculty to central administration. This will ensure
that the administrator possesses the needed skills prior to assuming
the senior-level position, and point to the commitment of institutions
to hire from within and to diversify central administration.

* Finally, African Americans seeking senior-level positions need to
be more focused and direct in their career pursuits. They must be aware
of the most efficient routes to traditional positions of power (vice
president, provost, president) and not settle for the traditional
positions offered to minorities that appear to be limited in
career-growth opportunities.

Dr. Walter A. Brown Assistant Professor of Higher Education
Administration, Department of Educational Leadership, Graduate School
of Education and Human Development, George Washington University

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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