Thursday, March 2, 2017

How do we get more faculty of color?

By Sasha Pierre-Louis

We are indeed becoming a diverse nation in that the United States is estimated to have a minority-majority population by 2044 according to census data. With the rise of the minority population, it is critical to sustain dialogs of cultural awareness and understanding as part of organizational climate. During a time where race relations are becoming strained in the aftermath of a divisive election cycle, there is great danger in becoming complacent with a work environment that does not fully guard and is inclusive of all protected groups.

            Organizations and individuals are fiercely advocating to diversify the pipeline of company leadership with universities being no different. With increased student activism, universities and colleges are compelled to understand that diversity among faculty is imperative for student success. The call to action has become a ripple effect for student activists across America demanding that at the forefront of the university 

            At the end of 2015, at least three institutions publicly announced that they will spend millions of dollars on initiatives to increase faculty diversity. Institutions must stay committed to not only recruitment but faculty retention efforts. High turnover and attrition rates 1among minority faculty do not reflect progression of increased diversity in faculty appointments but rather that universities “dont want them.” The question then becomes is academia a welcoming place for all?

It is only in the last fifteen to twenty years that universities have started to collect data and produce diversity specific strategic goals to upturn minority faculty recruitment. Because of the national media’s pressure to recruit more minority faculty, a 2008 study by theAmerican Council on Education reported that while student diversity is on the rise, the rate at which faculty of color are hired is not. 

            The current state of faculty diversity does not accurately reflect today’s student demographics and this is the problem. Without faculty diversity, students are not able to gain an amalgam of perspectives on current issues and research nor are they able to interact and have visible role models that have-or do not have- similar backgrounds, cultures or upbringing. 

            It is critical that universities understand that in order to fully embody diversity there must be institutional change so that there is an inclusive learning environment and not simply the meeting of student demands. This, in turn, will create a world class institution. Diversity and inclusion efforts do not solely rely on recruitment but must include faculty retention.

In instances where faculty of color are not earning tenure track positions or their scholarship is not valued, many faculty of color do not feel connected or supported by their institution which consequently leads to being systemically pushed out or leaving for other career opportunities. A hostile work environment does not promote organizational outcomes; in this case, it is faculty and student success.

Although there is a growing pipeline of doctorates of color, they are not being hired into faculty positions that are visible and supportive of students. This is important to note because the lack of support and visibility for people of color is not unique to higher education. Racial minorities only hold 4.8 percent of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies in comparison to their white colleagues. It is imperative that students, advocates and faculty stay vigilant in voicing their concerns for a representative faculty that reflects the populations it serves. Increased success with faculty recruitment must start by communicating with current faculty on the climate of their department and institution without fear of retaliation.

Understanding the reasons for faculty of color attrition and poor retention potentially engenders organizational and cultural shifts that support retaining faculty of color. The insight from current faculty can focus the diversity recruitment and retention efforts led by university officials. Delineating a strategic plan must happen to maintain the development of institutional diversity. It not only allows for accountability and transparency in retaining faculty of color and increasing campus diversity but also sets a precedent for an inclusive workplace environment.

Change in faculty diversity will not happen overnight but there are some steps in which departments and institutions can take to be successful in minority faculty recruitment and retention.

Be intentional in recruitment.
When seeking out diverse candidates, outreach is one key aspect to consider. A strategic plan that explicitly states the intended recruitment goals and outcomes will keep accountability for university leadership as well as enact a plan of action for the years to come. With the strategic plan in place, it is critical that the search for faculty begin well before the need for new faculty.

For example, recruiting should begin with outreach at the undergraduate and graduate level. As supported by university recruitment research, this creates a pool of talent that may be interested in faculty positions in the future. Not only should universities reach out to undergraduate and graduate students but also consider collaborating with minority serving institutions as a way to gain more exposure to students with different college experiences.

Highlight the Benefits.
During the hiring process, the search committee must be aware of the implicit biases they may have toward people of color versus other candidates. Search committee individuals may unintentionally highlight the cons of the work environment rather than underscore the pros. The pros of the job are typically what would influence all candidates to not only work but live in the local university community.

An example of highlighting the cons would be the lack of minority population and activities in the local community rather than the opportunity for further professional development and a great school system for families. While both may be equally important to the candidate, it should be explicitly up to the candidate on the deciding factor of accepting a faculty position.

Mentor new faculty.
The benefit of pairing new faculty with older faculty can create an organizational culture of support for development. It would provide faculty with opportunities to build a working relationship with other faculty as well as gain access to professional resources and understand the underlining culture of the department.

One reason faculty of color are not as successful as their white counterparts is lack of access to resources and capital. Clewell and Anderson emphasize in their research that minorities, specifically African Americans, were extremely limited to college access for decades thus resulting in navigational barriers to higher education and eventually professorship. To counter the access gap, the resources and knowledge that current faculty can share with new faculty of color could be the difference between being successful as a faculty member or not. Having a mentor to guide one through a new university setting can be very beneficial to a new faculty member. They can serve as an ally or a sponsor during difficult workplace situations.

Find meaning and value in their work.
Faculty of color and minorities add invaluable experiences, insights and scholarship to an institution and department. Although not all, it is likely that faculty of color are conducting and presenting research that revolves around their marginalized identity. At the start of the new millennium, Daufins study found that some of the main causes for low job satisfaction among faculty of color was because of undertones of discrimination and lack of support or understanding within their department. Departments must support their work in the same way as they would other faculty members by providing constructive feedback, opportunities for research grants and collaborating with other scholars in the field.

On average faculty of color spend more time developing students than their white counterpart by mentoring and advising students in ways that others do not. A diverse faculty workforce brings unique insights into the class room and are sometimes able to better relate to students and their needs. Minority faculty must be recognized and supported for their efforts in going beyond faculty expectations because this part of their job often goes unrewarded.

Diversity must be valued by everyone within an institution and viewed as an asset that increases the value of the university. Though the United States is becoming more diverse and have made legislative progress in equity, it is apparent that companies and institutions of higher education are in a deficit of a diverse workforce that accurately represent the people in which it serves. Increased diversity cannot successfully happen in a year; it takes time, effort and strategy.

For full list of references or further comments or questions please contact Sasha at

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