Over the years, I’ve noticed a steady increase in the number of minority students in my classes, which is great…but strangely, there hasn’t been any increase in the percentage of minority faculty over the same period. One possible explanation is that since the tenure of faculty is so much longer than the tenure of students, student numbers are going to be more responsive to current demographics. But I can’t help but feel that there’s more going on. That we current faculty are not doing our part to create a professoriate that reflects our culture.
Here’s a blunt assessment of the problem. Why don’t we hire more faculty of color? Because we don’t want them. The author lists a whole series of excuses we white faculty make, and I’ve heard them all.
First, the word “quality” is used to dismiss people of color who are otherwise competitive for faculty positions. Even those people on search committees that appear to be dedicated to access and equity will point to “quality” or lack of “quality” as a reason for not hiring a person of color.
Typically, “quality” means that the person didn’t go to an elite institution for their Ph.D. or wasn’t mentored by a prominent person in the field. What people forget is that attending the elite institutions and being mentored by prominent people is linked to social capital and systemic racism ensures that people of color have less of it.
This is slightly less of a problem in my current liberal arts, teaching-focused institution, but boy, I heard a lot of it in the big state schools I worked at before. I knew faculty who went through job applications looking only at the name of the institution/faculty member they worked with on the first pass, and if they didn’t come from a Name university or worked with a Name scientist, they were round-filed.
Second, the most common excuse I hear is “there aren’t enough people of color in the faculty pipeline.”
It is accurate that there are fewer people of color in some disciplines such as engineering or physics. However, there are great numbers of Ph.D.’s of color in the humanities and education and we still don’t have great diversity on these faculties.
In biology, we have a reasonable number of minority faculty applying for jobs — there are historically black colleges, like Howard University, that have excellent biology programs and turn out a good number of well-qualified black biologists. We just don’t hire them.
Third, I have learned that faculty will bend rules, knock down walls, and build bridges to hire those they really want (often white colleagues) but when it comes to hiring faculty of color, they have to “play by the rules” and get angry when any exceptions are made.
Let me tell you a secret – exceptions are made for white people constantly in the academy; exceptions are the rule in academe.
Oh man yes. Faculty tend to resent rules — this is a job that encourages independent thinking — and are accustomed to using the rules to get what they want. There is a kind of adversarial relationship between faculty and administration, and I suspect deans have all kinds of stories about how faculty try to work the system.
Fourth, faculty search committees are part of the problem.
They are not trained in recruitment, are rarely diverse in makeup, and are often more interested in hiring people just like them rather than expanding the diversity of their department.
True confession: I’m on the search committee for a tenure track cell/molecular biologist this year — we meet with our human resources person next week for the mandatory diversity training, which I have been through several times now. We still tend to hire our fellow white people every time. I will try to pay more attention to minority applicants, and will avoid insisting that faculty at UMM must fit the Lake Wobegon stereotype.
Fifth, if majority colleges and universities are truly serious about increasing faculty diversity, why don’t they visit Minority Serving Institutions — institutions with great student and faculty diversity — and ask them how they recruit a diverse faculty.
Now that is a really good idea. We should be sending out our job ad specifically to minority serving institutions with strong graduate programs in biology, which would also enrich our applicant pool significantly. Please do suggest such places in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them to our mailing list.
Of course, once we hire a diverse faculty, there’s the next problem: community and university attitudes. Science just ran an article on doing science while black.
But my experiences with the larger scientific community still made me feel like I didn’t belong. A few years after becoming a professor, for example, I went to a social event at a society meeting with an international, multiracial group of colleagues. I was the only black researcher among them. When we walked into the room, the crowd fell completely silent, apparently uncomfortable with my presence. I considered myself a scientist with great potential, but that experience made me feel that, to others, my skin color was more important than the quality of my work. The next year, as I was starting a sabbatical in a lab at another institution, I asked one of the researchers in the group whether the PI was in. “Are you delivering a package?” he asked. “I can pass it on to him.” These and other encounters imply that, no matter how productive my research is or how professionally I present myself, I and other black scientists do not belong in academia’s hallowed halls.
Ouch. That’s going to be another difficulty here in the blindingly white Minnesota farm country.
Oh, hey, the other committee I’ve been assigned this year is to serve on the multi-ethnic experience committee, which works to promote “campus-wide understanding of racial and ethnic minorities”, despite the fact that I am made of doughy Wonder Bread and was raised in the same kind of Scandinavian-American household that just about everyone grew up in around here. You might notice that I’m trying hard to educate myself on these phenomena.