When discussing diversity at the University, the percentage of underrepresented minorities admitted each year is considered the key indicator of whether this campus is an accepting and welcoming one. However, the University is made up of more than just students. As a new report from the Committee for a Multicultural University details, recruiting, maintaining and retaining faculty members from underrepresented minority groups is an area where progress has been sporadic and underwhelming. The University must recognize the importance of these findings and improve its record.

Tom Haynes

Released last month by the Committee for a Multicultural University, the report titled “Trends in Minority Faculty Participation” focuses on the trends in hiring and retaining minority professors since the committee last issued a similar report in 1994-1995. The report concluded that the overall number of minority faculty has increased since 1994, the last time such a survey was done. However, the percentage of black and Hispanic assistant professors has fallen since 2001 – a discouraging statistic considering the position is often used as a stepping-stone for those aiming to become tenured professors.

More troubling, the report found that the limited progress that has been made is uneven. In eight schools or colleges at the University, the percentage of full-time, tenure-track black faculty has decreased since 1994. There is no black faculty in the school of Public Policy, no Hispanic faculty in the School of Art & Design or the Law School and no Asian faculty in the School of Education. Lastly, black members of the faculty have tended to leave their positions at a higher rate than other groups.

The report might not be a damning account of a university failing its commitment to diversity, but it should be a call to action. Minority faculty members are integral to the University’s mission. Besides offering new perspectives to students who grew up in closed communities, minority instructors serve as mentors for new students. This latter function can prove particularly helpful in reinforcing a climate at the University that is welcoming and accepting.

Understandably, hiring and promoting more faculty members from underrepresented minority groups is complicated. Even when minority assistant and associate professors enter the tenure track system, the process to gain full professorship is riddled with complexity, including reviews of many aspects of a professor’s work at multiple levels. When discrimination is raised as a concern – as it was recently in the case of Andrea Smith, who is a women’s studies and American culture instructor who was denied tenure – it is difficult to pinpoint it as a problem.

The complexity of hiring and retaining professors shouldn’t be an excuse, though. In its report, the Committee for a Multicultural University made many tangible recommendations that the University should implement. Requiring each department to produce an annual diversity report and creating a task force to assess how welcoming the University is to minority faculty were among the most promising recommendations. Overall, though, the report illustrates one simple thing: The University needs to refocus its efforts.

As the University continues to look for ways to implement diversity in its student population, it must also look to the people who are teaching those students.

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