Thoughts on "Slow Going on Faculty Diversity"



This morning I read an article on Inside Higher Ed’s website entitled “Slow Going on Faculty Diversity”. The findings presented in said article are, sadly enough, not all that surprising:

“Despite more universities placing an emphasis on attempting to diversify their faculty ranks, a new study shows very little progress, particularly at research universities. And much of the success in faculty diversity has been in untenured positions.

According to the study, which was published by the Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy from the South Texas College of Law, Houston, colleges in recent years have not seen substantial growth in racial diversity among faculty members.”

From my personal experiences working in higher ed as well as the insights I’ve gleaned from folx who have worked in higher ed for decades with a focus on equity and inclusion this study is mirroring a lot of what has always felt anecdotal to many white folx in higher ed. From the article:

“Diversity issues were shown to be particularly prevalent at doctoral-status institutions, a category representing universities with the heaviest research focus, where the number of black tenured faculty members grew by only one-tenth of a percent from 2013 to 2017, to comprise 4 percent of the total tenured faculty. The number of Hispanic and Latino tenured faculty members also grew by less than 1 percent (0.65 percent) in that time, and in 2017 was 4.6 percent of tenured faculty. Faculty positions filled by Asian Americans saw the largest amount of growth at doctoral-status institutions, with a 1.2 percent increase to make up 12.8 percent of all tenured faculty.

At master’s-level institutions, black faculty members made up a larger percentage at 5.6 percent of tenured faculty. But the group saw smaller growth during the years studied, with an increase of less than a tenth of a percent (0.07 percent). Hispanics and Latinos, who were 5 percent of tenured faculty at these institutions, in 2017 saw a 0.64 percent increase.”

It is supremely hard to push initiatives for diversity and inclusion in higher ed. Think about it: institutions of higher learning are steeped in decades, often over a century, of white patriarchal processes that are consciously and unconsciously discriminatory and exclusionary. It’s a daunting wall to scale, especially when your goal is to help the decision makers understand the value of having a diverse faculty and staff in support of an institution’s students. It's even harder to to move an institution forward once the understanding of the value of equitable and inclusive hiring practices is established and the necessity for inclusive and equitable work environments and cultures come into play. Real talk? There's just so much fear around doing "the wrong thing" by the white folx leading these institutions, a fear that affects the view of making mistakes from the top of institutions downward. Add to that the notion that even if those at the top of colleges and universities - a structure of well-established power and privilege that is still predominantly white, cisgender, male, and struggling to desperately maintain said power and privilege as if their personal standing were "in danger" - still have a great deal of discomfort when it comes to admitting their institutions are connected to ongoing systemic oppression and white supremacy and you have a recipe for little to no progress.

An interesting snippet from the article that made me check my social justice arrogance:

“Despite concerted efforts, we really haven’t moved the needle that much in terms of ethno-racial and gender diversity,” Vasquez Heilig said. “Especially when you consider the growing population of communities of color in the United States, you haven’t resultantly seen the growth in faculty especially at the doctoral levels. Many institutions that are making the most noise -- the brand-name institutions -- have had some of the worst progress.”

That observation, and the data supporting it, confirms so many of the feelings I carry with me to work everyday. In essence it feels like a “duh” - and it’s very easy to go there with it - but it’s not a “duh”. It’s more of a form of dysfunction within a system that is already somewhat dysfunctional and it is not a “soap box” moment. It’s problematic and kinda ridiculous that faculty hiring is still so entrenched in white supremacy when you factor in how the United States population is shifting away from being predominantly white. White power and privilege still holds all the cards. At this point in our collective histories white supremacy and white societal norms dictating the paths to education and those who are given opportunities to shape minds is outdated and needs to be taken out back and put out of its misery, for lack of a better term. It’s even more disheartening when you factor in how poorly the “brand name” institutions are doing with handling this disparity in faculty hiring and tenure, especially when they all seemingly go out of their way to make sure the public believes their making efforts to improve.

Begrudgingly I think we all need to accept that those of us working in higher ed right now are likely not going to be seeing the needle move much in our tenures in education. This might be a task the next generation has to add to their “to do” list. I hate adding something else to your plate, next gen, seeing how the generation before mine did the same thing to me, but we just don’t have enough pull right now to make it happen. The thing that gives me some faith is that so many of the members of the younger generation understand the issues at hand at an age way younger than previous generations. I think y’all will make these needles move. We collectively as a society need these needles to move because we need one major message to be sent to all people seeking education in the United States:

Education ain’t just for white folx.