EAST LANSING – Michigan State University’s enrollment of black students has increased by 24 percent in the past decade, but the nation’s seventh-largest university has the same number of tenured black professors as it did in 1993.
Michigan State has 93 black faculty members in permanent teaching posts, the same number as a decade ago, though the number of black faculty hired on temporary contracts increased to 64 from 55 from 1993 to 2002.
Meanwhile, the university’s enrollment of black students jumped to 3,675 last year from 2,957 in 1993, the Lansing State Journal reported in a Sunday story.
The school’s black faculty members say their slim numbers hamper campus diversity and leave them overburdened with helping students and representing minorities on campus.
“The more you have students of color, the more they’re going to demand diversity,” said George Rowan, a Michigan State professor since 1974 and former head of the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association.
Rowan fears minority students are likely to leave the university if they do not see themselves represented in the faculty.
Black students already are among the most likely to leave the university. The graduation rate for black students was 54 percent in 2001, compared with 57 percent for Hispanics, 65 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders and 53 percent for American Indians.
“The university has to realize there’s going to be a backlash if they don’t hire more,” Rowan said. “This is more than just numbers for the sake of academics.”
Michigan State administrators say they are working to address a nationwide issue and point out that the number of tenured black faculty has remained the same, even as overall numbers have dropped because of belt-tightening and retirements.
“This is not a problem unique to MSU,” said Paulette Russell, a senior adviser to Michigan State University President Peter McPherson.
Russell also is a director in the affirmative action office, which works with individual departments on new ways to recruit minorities.
Despite the efforts, some students still see the lack of black professors as a glaring problem.
Michigan State senior Tahira Abdur-Rahim of Lansing, who is black, said when she started college, she often felt intimidated about approaching professors and would have liked more opportunities to turn to black instructors.
“If they are of a minority background, that can be comforting to students,” she said.
Administrators and recruiters say a slim candidate pool, stiff competition from corporations and other universities and budget crunches have made hiring more minorities difficult.
“We go out of the way to let people know these positions are open,” said William Strampel, dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, where one of the 60 tenured professors is black.
The college recruits in predominantly black areas, advertises openings in publications aimed at minorities and tries to attract recruits as early as high school, he said.
“It’s something we’ve been working on and struggling with for a very long time,” Strampel said.