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Communication tipsAchieving Faculty Diversity: Debunking the Myths

Efforts to diversify the faculty continue to be one of the least successful components of the campus diversity agenda. The labor market for all those seeking faculty positions remains extremely tight. Critics of campus efforts to diversify faculty have suggested that people of color are in high demand and therefore the subject of competitive bidding wars. Further, they suggest that being a white heterosexual male may actually be a hindrance to finding an academic position in today's climate.

These claims and other myths about the labor market for women and people of color seeking faculty positions are refuted in a recent Association of American Colleges and Universities report by Daryl Smith, Achieving Faculty Diversity: Debunking the Myths.

The study examined the employment experiences of 393 white men and women and minority Ph.D's who were recipients of prestigious Ford, Mellon, and Spencer fellowships. The study found that claims that faculty of color are in great demand and the recipients of bidding wars are grossly exaggerated. The difficulties of the current faculty job market and limited options diminished career opportunities for all of these highly select doctoral recipients. This research is particularly important because one might expect that the pool of doctoral recipients studied should have had the best experiences in the job market because they had been previously "labeled" as particularly successful and elite.

The pool studied can be seen as an elite group because of their status as prestigious fellowship recipients, but they also attended relatively prestigious graduate schools. Ninety-three percent of the participants attended Research I institutions. Overwhelmingly, these were the elite Research institutions such as the Ivy League schools, Stanford University, the University of California–Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of California–Los Angeles. Indeed, almost one-third got their doctorates at Ivy League institutions.

Even among this elite group, only 11 percent of scholars of color were actually actively sought after by several institutions simultaneously, which means 89 percent of scholars of color were not the subject of competitive bidding wars as frequently ascribed. Twenty-four percent of white men, 27 percent of white women, 26 percent of men of color, and 25 percent of women of color were among those in the study who had the most job options. This suggests a rather even distribution of access between men and women and across race, and again undercuts widely circulated beliefs that if you are a person of color--especially a woman of color--you have a double advantage on the job market.

The study found that claims that faculty of color are in great demand and the recipients of bidding wars are grossly exaggerated.

Contradicting the notion that campuses are so focused on diversifying faculty that heterosexual white males have no chance, white men had a variety of experiences--from the 20 percent who were underutilized to the 24 percent who had a favorable result in the labor market. Interestingly, white men who had expertise related to diversity had a significant advantage on the job market.

While focusing primarily on experiences with the job search itself, the study did confirm that the climate for faculty of color in institutions remains uncomfortable and difficult, regardless of the circumstances under which the individual was hired (see pages 5 and 6).

Authors conclude the study by noting that, "There are some faculty who are sought out and who negotiate their positions, but there are also many more for whom a single offer [or none at all] was typical....What is imperative is that institutions must not fall back on the myths--they are untrue, they are damaging, and they misname the problem and the potential solutions."

To order Achieving Faculty Diversity, contact AAC&U publications desk, 202/387-3760; (pub_desk@aacu.nw.dc.us).

Communication tips

Most new research--particularly research that debunks myths or challenges common perceptions--will have news value, especially if it relates to an issue that is currently in the news. If you develop new data on "hot" issues like faculty diversity, ethnic housing, or curricular change, consider seeking help from your public information office to issue a news release, book yourself on a talk show, or set up a meeting with a columnist or editorial writer. If that doesn't work, keep an eye out for an article that will present an opportunity for you to write a letter-to-the-editor or an op/ed piece to share the new research. Be pro-active with new data; it gives you more influence in shaping (rather than just responding to) news stories.

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