Scholar Says Research Universities Not Serious About
by Arelis Hernandez June 10, 2010
- To Dr. M. Cookie Newsom, director for
diversity education and assessment at the , there's no delicate way of
describing the lack of commitment she believes many top
research universities demonstrate as they allegedly
seek to diversify their faculties.
"The dismal truth is academe doesn't really want a
racially-diverse faculty," Newsom said during a faculty
diversity presentation at the ' (AAUP) annual national
conference in Washington, D.C. "It's totally a myth."
Newsom said she based her conclusion on research and
statistics she collected showing that, while have documented plans to retain
and advance minority faculty, the outcomes detail
nothing more than lip service.
"If you are an African-American, American Indian or
Latina/o with a Ph.D., your odds of ever receiving
tenure at a Research I (school) are between slim and
none," she said. "Of course, there are always
Using an unscientific sample of nine Research I
institutions, Newsom aggregated data about the sample
schools' minority faculty hiring, finding consistent
and, in her opinion, mortifying patterns. In those
surveyed schools, the proportion of faculty of color is
woefully smaller than the proportion of minority
populations in the states where the schools are
"There are an insufficient number of people of color at
the heads of classrooms where students of color are
increasingly the majority," she said.
Between 2001 and 2007, Black professors consistently
represented just 3 percent or less of tenured or
tenure-track faculty year after year at , Ohio State University, University of
Berkeley, University of Illinois, University of Texas,
Stanford University and the University of North
Carolina, according to National Center for Education
Statistics data cited by Newsom.
Even among Asian American faculty, who have seen their
numbers increase at majority White institutions, most
are hired into science and health disciplines, where
they often see limited advancement opportunities,
Newsom said. Latino faculty prospects for advancement
are even slimmer, she added.
Overall, faculty of color consist of only 16 percent of
all full-time professors in the U.S., according to
After working at a progressive college in Ohio, Newsom
said she moved south to UNC to accept a position in the
school's diversity and multicultural affairs office.
Tasked with conducting an assessment and designing a
diversity plan, Newsom oversaw strategies that required
administrative and academic units to outline diversity
efforts and submit progress reports annually.
But after three years in her position, Newsom's initial
excitement was extinguished by the absence of progress
and the reverberation of excuses from deans and
committees for why so few underrepresented minorities
were hired and retained in the faculty ranks.
The usual defenses Newsom said she's heard from
decision-makers are: 1) There are not enough qualified
candidates of color; 2) There is no need to interview
them because they are in high demand from other
institutions; and 3) They are too expensive.
Underlying the excuses is an insidious presumption of
inferiority, Newsom said, recalling an instance at UNC
where a Black female faculty candidate was disqualified
because she didn't "fit well" and because she "spoke
too loudly." Much of the diversity research literature,
she said, has not focused on examining the inner
workings of the tenure process in committees where most
of the biases emerge.
"It's racial discrimination," she said
unapologetically. "We know what's wrong, there is
inherent bias in committees and negative perceptions
based on race."
Apart from institutional racism, Newsom reiterated what
scholars have found are barriers for junior faculty,
including overburdening service work, undervalued
qualifications, and the lack of mentorship and support
from senior faculty.
In a subsequent session on faculty diversity, George
Mason University's Dr. L. Earle Reybold, who has
published on ethics in higher education, said she has
interviewed several faculty of color on their
experiences. She concluded that, to break the impulse
to re-create themselves, White professors need to
participate and engage faculty of color and avoid
"If you're White, you have to ask yourself if you've
ever been to a conference on minority issues, attended
the presentation of a colleague of color, or supported
the work of faculty of color," she said. "That's what
we need to be doing."
The AAUP is one of the largest faculty organizations in
the U.S., and its annual conference provides a
significant forum for scholars, such as Newsom and
Reybold, reporting on faculty trends and developments.
In his opening remarks at the conference, AAUP
president Cary Nelson said the current budget crisis
offers the ideal opportunity for faculty to forge
community against the onslaught of forthcoming
"We have to try to stand together. We have to try to
protect our most vulnerable colleagues," Nelson said
about non-tenured faculty. "Otherwise we're just going
to go down."