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Communications tipsMoving Beyond Myths: New Book Examines Faculty of Color in the Academy
Debra Humphreys, Director of Programs, AAC&U, and Editor, Diversity Digest

In their forthcoming book, Bittersweet Success: Faculty of Color in Academe, (Allyn & Bacon, Spring, 1999), Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner and Samuel L. Myers, Jr. draw on scores of existing studies and their own qualitative and quantitative research to document the realities of the current job market and working conditions for faculty of color in higher education.

The authors aim "to examine the status and learn from the experiences of faculty of color who...are currently employed in predominantly white colleges and research universities." They chose to focus on research universities because they "educate the faculties and set the cultural climate for the rest of the academic enterprise." Their findings and recommended solutions, however, will be useful to leaders of all colleges and universities.

Bittersweet Success addresses three fundamental questions: 1) To what extent is there underrepresentation of faculty of color? 2) What factors contribute to this underrepresentation? and 3) What do we know about possible solutions to the underrepresentation of faculty of color in higher education? The authors attempt to answer these questions through an econometrics analysis, individual and group interviews with faculty of color, a study of exemplary programs, and institutional surveys.

Documenting Underrepresentation

Turner and Myers begin with a useful introduction to the historical legacy--the many institutional barriers and discriminatory practices that, over most of this century, have prevented people of color from becoming faculty members. They review existing data and document the nature and extent of minority faculty underrepresentation.

They conclude that, no matter how the data is interpreted, there is substantial underrepresentation of African Americans and American Indians, significant underrepresentation of Latinos in certain states, and no apparent underrepresentation among Asian/Pacific Islanders. They also document that progress continues to be slow in increasing the representation especially of African American faculty members.

The Chilly Climate

The most powerful part of this book is the chapters in which the authors review the findings from their own study of faculty of color at institutions in eight Midwestern states.

Their findings reveal "the persistence and the personal and professional effects of a decidedly chilly work environment." Their study suggests that "once hired, faculty of color continue to experience exclusion, isolation, alienation, and racism in uncomfortable work environments in predominantly white university settings." In particular, academic climates are plagued by assumptions that minority faculty members are hired without the appropriate credentials or qualifications and that they should only occupy minority-related positions. At the same time, if a minority scholar studies a topic associated with his or her own racial/ethnic group, then his or her research interests are often dismissed as minor or self-serving.

While most of the faculty members they interviewed were tenured, most still "say that they continue to be plagued by racial and ethnic biases in the process of performing their duties as faculty members....Issues commonly cited involve feelings of isolation, lack of information about tenure and promotion, unsupportive work environments, gender bias, language/accent bias barriers, lack of mentorship, and lack of support from superiors."

Affirmative Action and Obstacles to Diversifying Faculty

In addition to their qualitative research, authors also provide the results of several quantitative studies examining affirmative action policies and perceptions about the obstacles to minority faculty recruitment. Their research reveals some surprising facts debunking myths about affirmative action and explanations for the underrepresentation of faculty of color.

Turner and Myers found that, in the sample of 486 institutions they surveyed, for every minority hired, three whites were hired over a three year period from 1991 to 1994. They also found that while some schools did provide resources to support minority hiring and faculty development programs, these initiatives did not appear to take away from majority programs or services. They conclude that, "There appears to be very little 'special treatment' of minority faculty in the form of travel money, purchase of equipment, curriculum improvements or sabbaticals." In addition, almost two-thirds of the institutions surveyed (62 percent) did not have articulated goals for minority hiring over the next five years.

Some of the book's most important findings have to do with assumptions about turnover of minority faculty and pipeline issues. The statistics they collected suggest that common assumptions "grossly oversimplify the nature of turnover.... There is less of a revolving door for minorities than for whites....At the lower ranks, minority faculty turnover mirrors that of majority faculty, and at the higher ranks there is less turnover for minorities than whites."

In assessing specific affirmative action policies, Turner and Myers reveal that high minority faculty development budgets, excellent campus diversity efforts, and increased funding for minority recruitment efforts all have significant positive affects on minority hiring rates. Perceptions that minority hiring is adequate, however, has a negative affect on hiring rates (See Figure 1).

Figure 1

Turner and Myers' chapter on the pipeline issue may be their most significant since it suggests a shift in priorities for funders and institutions truly committed to increasing minority faculty recruitment and retention. Their research reveals that "an under-supply of minority Ph.D.'s has a statistically significant but tiny impact on minority faculty representation. Market wages exert a far greater influence on the underrepresentation of minority faculty in higher education."

Charting a New Course

Given their overall findings, Turner and Myers make several useful recommendations for remedying the problem of underrepresentation of faculty of color in the academy. They argue that there is a greater need for mentoring, networking, and research support for faculty of color, and that institutions need to pursue alternatives to pipeline projects.

Positive workplace experiences clearly strengthen the commitment of faculty of color to stay at institutions. Faculty of color consistently emphasize the importance of mentors and of being part of academic communities of color. Turner and Myers also recommend pursuing a variety of projects to assist minority faculty in increasing their research productivity along with renewed commitment to truly valuing service and teaching activities, since the academy tends to value original research more than these other activities (See page 6).

Finally, while they acknowledge limitations to current affirmative action policies, they argue that, "to dismantle affirmative action without confronting the issues it was meant to address would be to abandon the progress--however small--we have made. The focus should be improvement, not retreat."

Turner and Myers' analysis ultimately points to the need for comprehensive organizational change--in both attitudes and structures. They suggest that, "To achieve campus cultures that are truly inclusive...institutions must emphasize cooperation, collaboration and community...[and] establish institutional rewards for contributing to collaborative and community-building activities."

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Facts about Faculty Diversity

  • While 29.3 percent of undergraduate students are now minorities, the percentage of full-time minority faculty is 12.2. Only 9.2 percent of full professors are people of color.

  • Around 1900, the proportion of women on college faculties was 20 percent. Their numbers increased to 25 percent by 1940. By the 1960s, their numbers had decreased to only 22 percent.

  • While more than half the current college undergraduate student population are women, only 33.6 percent of full-time faculty are women.

  • One third of full-time undergraduate faculty were full professors during the 1995-96 academic year. While 34.6 percent of white faculty were full professors, only 23 percent of faculty of color had attained full professor status.

  • More than 40 percent of all male faculty members held the rank of full professor in the 1995-96 academic year. This rate was more than double the 17.5 percent of female faculty who attained this position.

  • In 1992, white men were 47.5 percent of assistant professors but only 44.1 percent of instructors and 29.6 percent of lecturers. African Americans were only 5.8 percent of assistant professors, but 6.9 percent of instructors and 6.3 percent of lecturers. Women of all ethnic groups were 42.5 percent of assistant professors, 47.7 percent of instructors and 61.9 percent of lecturers.

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Communications tips

This kind of book, which includes new research, provides an opportunity to promote book reviews and to localize news stories by encouraging journalists to interview faculty of color at predominantly white colleges and research universities in your state or community.

When the book is released, consider doing some or all of the following to generate news coverage:

  • Call editors at local newspapers and encourage them to assign someone to review the new book. Stress that the data and information it contains is relevant to your institution.
  • Encourage editors at student newspapers and alumni magazines to write about the book, and encourage faculty newsletter editors to promote it.
  • Write an op/ed piece citing the book's conclusions. Faculty of color who are willing to write about their personal experiences, and use them to reinforce or challenge the messages in Bittersweet Success, may be able to write especially powerful pieces that are likely to be published.
  • Consider finding the appropriate venue to bring one or both authors to campus to give a speech or lead a discussion on their new book. Then promote the event with local media.
  • Book appearances on radio and television talk or public affairs programs to discuss the issues addressed in the book.
  • Ask your college or university president to mention the book in speeches and public addresses.

In all this work, the communications expert or public information officer on your campus may be able to help.

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