Universities Say They Want More Diverse Faculties. So Why Is Academia Still So White?

When she was appointed professor at Harvard University in 2013, Lorgia García Peña was the only black Latina with tenure track in the university’s faculty of arts and sciences. But it has 2019 the term of office was denied even though her professor and two deans had told her to apply for early employment. Her tenure committee also unanimously recommended that she be promoted, and another committee on top agreed to his recommendation. About two years later, the famous professor and public intellectual Cornel West announced that he, too, would be leaving Harvard after college refused to give him a term. And of course we learned this spring that Pulitzer Prize-winning MacArthur Fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones the term of office was denied from the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees – after the University of Journalism School recruited her as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. That decision was later reversed, but at this point in time it was too late to persuade them to stay.

These stories hit the headlines and sparked outrage, especially among academics, in part because they were some of the largest no-brainer tenure cases – these three scholars are among the most famous and respected in their respective fields. Denying them tenure is functionally equivalent to having MVP-caliber athletes on your roster but sending them to play for another team.

But the other reason these cases sparked outrage is because they shed light on a bigger problem lurking beneath the surface of science. It’s a problem that science, like the rest of American society, is reluctant to acknowledge: Science has a problem with race.

This is one of the most insidious secrets in higher education. Science is a place where, to use the language of the sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without racists. By that we mean that although most people prefer to think that it is them or their co-workers good people who would not deliberately discriminate, there is ample evidence that racism plays an important role in the structure and function of academic institutions. It affects what is researched and taught in courses, the Methods that are used to do this research, and the topic we will mainly focus on today: the people who are included – or excluded – from academic institutions first of all.

Let’s start with a look at academic institution demographics. The National Center for Education Statistics keeps detailed records in the Integrated data system for post-secondary education (IPEDS). This database provides demographic breakdowns of students and faculty working at colleges and universities in the United States that can be compared to the demographic composition of the entire US population.

One of the things that you can see when looking at this database is that black, Hispanic, Native American, and mutiracial faculty members are underrepresented in the faculty ranks, not only compared to their proportion of the US population, but also compared to the student body of colleges and universities.

But these statistics, while worrying in themselves, actually mask a bigger problem when you consider how the American academic system is organized. The word “faculty” is an umbrella term that obscures some important hierarchical divisions, including the difference between tenure-track and tenured professors versus permanent professors. It’s a pretty important distinction, too. According to American Association of University Professors, only 21 percent of the faculty are committed.

Tenure is an unusual term in most professions, but it is an important characteristic of science: Tenure positions are open-ended appointments that are intended to secure academic freedom. To use the AAUP language:

“When faculty members lose their positions because of their speeches, publications, or research, they cannot properly perform their core tasks of promoting and imparting knowledge. Tenure provides the faculties with the conditions to conduct research and innovation and to draw evidence-based conclusions that are free from corporate or political pressure. “

In other words, it protects faculties like Hannah-Jones when they’re pursuing questions and projects (like the 1619 project) that political actors could find reprehensible. The ability to pursue knowledge freely is one of the hallmarks of our higher education system. So it is worth asking who has the opportunity – and who not – to fill the coveted tenure-track and tenured positions at American universities. The answer to this question is even more sobering than the statistics we just shared.

Over the past decade, Colleges and universities are discussing the need to diversify their faculty: in particular, they have tried to increase the proportion of black, Hispanic, and indigenous faculty that all have historically underrepresented in the faculty ranks. Faculty diversity initiatives can be seen at universities across the country, including Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. But despite all the talk about increasing diversity, the universities don’t seem to have made much headway – at least when it comes to the variety of tenure-track and tenure faculties.

According to the IPEDS database, underrepresented minority faculties (URM) made up about 11 percent of tenure-track or tenured faculties in 2013 and rose to just 12 percent of tenure-track or tenured faculties in 2019. The numbers weren’t much better for universities looking to increase the gender diversity of their tenure track or tenure faculties. During the same period, the proportion of women in tenure-track or tenure-track faculties rose from around 41 percent to 43 percent.

The faculties of the universities have not become much more diverse

How the proportion of tenure track and tenure faculties at American universities changed by race from 2013 to 2019

Tenure track Term of office
run 2013 2019 various 2013 2019 various
Asian 11.04% 11.87% +0.83 8.64 10.97 +2.33
Spanish or Latino 5.05 6.18 +1.13 5.08 5.73 +0.65
unknown 3.52 4.53 +1.01 1.59 1.91 +0.32
Multiracial 0.80 1.34 +0.54 0.57 0.79 +0.22
Black or African American 6.24 6.51 +0.28 4.69 4.83 +0.14
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 0.19 0.17 -0.02 0.15 0.16 +0.01
Indians or Native Americans 0.42 0.39 -0.03 0.39 0.35 -0.04
White 66.18 60.50 -5.67 77.78 73.88 -3.90

Source: Integrated Data System for Post-Secondary Education

Why have colleges and universities struggled to diversify the upper echelons of their faculty despite having spoken publicly about increasing faculty diversity, and in some cases even Approved funding Faculty diversity initiatives? One of the main reasons is that many universities are still struggling to withheld the women and people of color they hire through these initiatives.

For example at Cornell University, where two of us work, a new one Task force report on the university’s faculty diversity efforts, noted that the university hired 37 professors with URM backgrounds and 97 female professors from 2011 to 2018. Despite this increase in recruitment, the university was also able to retain 19 URM and 64 female professors during the same period. These retention battles help explain why Cornell, despite being the “every person, every study“University has so few Black women with permanent teachers.

There are, of course, many reasons why faculties leave institutions. Sometimes they get better offers from other institutions. Sometimes they move for family or other personal reasons. But there is a third set of reasons that go back to the examples we started with: While many academic institutions claim want to have a diverse faculty, many of them engaging in practices that ultimately push this faculty out.

First, think about who can make the rules. Permanent scholars, who, as already mentioned, are predominantly white and male, largely lay down the rules that determine who else can join the ranks of permanent employees. It is about what sociologists “Frontier work“Or the practice of a group making rules to determine who is good enough to join. And as such, many of the rules that have been put in place for tenure over the years work very well for white scientists, however do not capture sufficiently the contributions of color scientists. For example, employment often requires a combination of evidence of excellence in research (as measured by publication metrics and funding) and in teaching (as measured by teaching evaluations). It turns out, however, that the subjects that color scientists often explore are less likely to receive research funding and are at least in some areas less likely to be included in the magazines that are valued for promotion. Color scientists are too less likely than white scientists to be cited in publishing their work. And on the teaching front Women and people of color are often rated lower as white men, even if they teach identical content.

All of this leads to the fact that colleges and universities that invite colored scholars to join their ranks and increase the diversity of their faculties are inviting them to play a game that set up so they lose. The Faculty of Color comes to an institution that wants to teach gifted students and do innovative research. Instead, they are often faced with hostile work environments where their intellectual contribution is underestimated. Even among the color faculties that deserve a job, negative experiences are repeatedly made Ask them to look for jobs at various institutions.

This creates an academic mess with universities convincing the few professors of color to change institutions rather than supporting more professors of color to get them tenure. And some color professors – both permanent and permanent – are leaving science entirely. Inside Higher Ed reported earlier this year that a number of professors of colorwomen, especially women of color, have left their universities and cited racism as the main motivator. We saw this at the UNC with the Hannah-Jones tenure case, in which at least five women of color who were full professors or board members leave the university.

So where do we go from here? Universities say they want to increase diversity in their faculties, but as we discussed in this article, they have very little to show for that purpose. Fortunately, many color researchers have detailed about Ways to recruit and retain people of color in the academic field. For example, we know that higher education needs to be clear and transparent about qualifications for employment and apply the rules fairly. We also know that hiring just a handful of color faculties isn’t enough for universities: they need to hire enough professors to create a welcoming environment for color scholars, especially in geographic areas that may not offer social support outside of university life. And perhaps most importantly, colleges and universities need to appreciate the color faculty beyond its contribution to achieving the university’s diversity goals.

Higher education cannot rely on the Color Faculty to do the heavy lifting of racial justice and do their job. Otherwise, as we see in the trends above, nothing will change.

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