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The Value of Representation

Carlos HeadshotCarlos Galan 

Institution: University of California, Riverside 
Graduate Program:Ph.D., Higher Education Administration and Policy 
Education:M.Ed., Educational Counseling, University of Southern California, BA, History, with a minor in Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles Mentors:Dr. William Tierney, University of Southern California; Dr. Zoe Corwin, University of Southern California; Dr. Raquel Rall, University of California, Riverside; Dr. Mike Rose, University of California, Los Angeles 

The course of Carlos Galan’s academic career was changed by a single question from a high school student. It was 2021, and Galan was working in a summer bridge program, supporting teenagers who were applying to college. A Latino student researching a university department observed that hardly any of the faculty had backgrounds similar to his own.

“I cannot believe everyone is white,” the student said. “Why?”

The question made Galan reflect on his own college journey, which started just three years after he arrived in America from El Salvador, knowing little English.

“I was afforded opportunities to navigate higher education because of the presence of faculty of color, because of the presence of Latino faculty,” Galan said. “Just being able to see a faculty member in those spaces validating me, encouraging me to complete my first semester, to seek out research opportunities. Those are places where we find hope, where we find a safe haven to sustain our work and to navigate academia.”

It sparked an idea for Galan’s research at the University of California, Riverside.

“I want to know how my superheroes, who have given me so much in the academy, are doing with the tenure and promotion journey,” he said.

Galan’s dissertation, which he is scheduled to defend this summer, features interviews with 30 Latinx faculty on their experiences navigating tenure and promotion at a Hispanic Serving Institution. What he has found has helped answer his student’s question: Latinx people find the professoriate almost by happenstance.

“I cannot recall any faculty member who had a clear path and said, from the moment I was in high school or the moment I was in college, I wanted to be a faculty member,” said Galan. “It was more of, along the way, these folks found mentorship, they found pipeline programs, and they found research opportunities. Together those experiences kind of gave them the tools to see themselves as professors.”

On top of this, Galan found that Latinx professors are often given high teaching loads and tasked with many service projects, limiting their time for research. They deal with this while also enduring microaggressions and trying to meet tenure standards that are often ambiguous, contradictory, or vague.

“That’s what creates the biggest attrition of faculty members — you are given really contradictory feedback,” Galan said. “But on top of that, aspects of your work are being devalued and underappreciated by the department.”

Galan said he hopes that department chairs and deans can use his research to figure out how to improve the experiences of Latinx professors, but in the meantime, he’s doing everything that he can to serve the Latinx scholars around him. He mentors first-generation and low-income college-bound student athletes, as well as undergraduates and Ph.D. students.

“I could never pay [back] the mentoring that faculty of color have given me as I have navigated higher education,” he said. “But I can pay it forward by making sure that higher education remains accessible to the people who have the most to gain.”

Dr. Raquel Rall, faculty chair of the School of Education at UC Riverside, said that Galan is still in touch with students that he mentored in previous summers as high schoolers, helping them navigate graduate school or the working world. She describes him as a “genuinely amazing human being” who “cares about everyone.”

“Carlos is genuinely earnest in wanting to make the academy, wanting to make the world, a better place,” she said.

Exactly how Galan will do that after his dissertation defense is yet to be decided. He will look for a tenure-track faculty position and dreams of being president of an HSI or leading philanthropic efforts to improve educational outcomes for underrepresented groups.

Rall said that the sky is the limit.

“I think he’s going to be a great faculty member, but I could also see him being a college president or a chancellor,” she said. “He has so many skills and he can make such an impact in myriad ways. He really could do anything that he wants.”   

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