One year ago, Black Issues began a column designed to give advice to help you advance or just to develop more expertise as you start or continue your career in higher education. Through this first year, we have received insightful and helpful information for both faculty and administrators.
What has made it so valuable is that it has come from you, the practitioners out there who know what it’s like in the halls of academia. We thank you for the input and encourage you to keep the questions as well as the answers coming.
For this year’s special report on Careers, we decided to reprint a few highlights from the past year.
— Joan Morgan
Nov. 12, 1998:
Question: I am contemplating accepting a position as a minority affairs coordinator at a traditionally White institution. It is rumored that such positions can be dead-end career busters. Are there conditions or considerations that I should insist on before accepting the position?
Dr. Charles Moody Sr.
Vice Provost Emeritus
University of Michigan
National Alliance of Black School Educators
Any position has the potential of being a dead-end career buster. Your effectiveness in any position and the development of a constituency base will do more to advance your career than the position itself.
However, some questions you may want to ask include: Are you viewed as a gatekeeper or a gate opener? Are you to justify the actions of the institution in dealing with issues of equity and diversity or are you an advocate for people of color?
It also is important to understand the principles of planned change because you will be an agent of change. Change is painful and part of the job will involve changing the institutional culture.
Finally, you should never become more concerned with keeping the job or “moving up” than you are with doing the job.
Beth J. Wilson
American Association for Affirmative Action
Although you should have one major career path, you always should foster alternative routes that can move you in a somewhat different direction.
In negotiating the terms of your responsibilities and working conditions, discuss support for professional training and development including travel.
Keep good records of all you do.
Assistant Affirmative Action Officer
Indiana University-Purdue University
These don’t have to be dead-end jobs. I’ve seen smart, ambitious people move from minority programs into student affairs, community relations, business management and myriad other areas. Your future options depend primarily on the initiative and energy you bring to the job, and how you master it.
Finally, take time to assess the general environment into which you will be going. If the entire institution demonstrates a vibrant commitment to enhancing diversity, you are more likely to find open doors when the time comes to move to new pastures.
Dec. 10, 1998:
Question: For years, I’ve been teaching courses in which the issue of race was virtually irrelevant. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in working the matter of race and culture into my courses, but I fear that by doing so, I’ll be marginalized by my colleagues on the faculty. Should I even bother, and if I do, how should I handle it?
Dr. Billy Joe Evans
Professor of Chemistry
University of Michigan
It is critical that the inclusion of issues of race has a sound intellectual basis for being a part of the course. One’s approach must be disinterested, incisive, and not one of simple advocacy. You must present the students with perspectives and resources that they could not generate and access by themselves.
Leave no stone unturned in knowing the literature, from the earliest publications to the most recent.
Of course, this stance should be true of any instructional activity. It is especially critical in matters of race. Everyone “knows” something about race and the classroom discussions must be well above such “folk knowledge.”
Dr. Isaac M. Colbert
Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
First, you should be clear about your intentions. Do you intend to make the issue a genuine part of your course, illustrating its relevance to the topics at hand and exploring implications? Or do you intend to make race the central focus of your course largely because of your personal views? Given the former, your perspectives can enrich and enliven your courses — provided that you have some compelling observations, materials and insights that support your case. Given the latter, however, you run the risk of alienating both your students and your colleagues with what will probably be viewed as your personal agenda.
On the other hand, if you’re more concerned about what other — presumably hostile — faculty will say about pushing forward the boundaries of legitimate discourse in your classes, then you’re not prepared to accept the risks of having unpopular or unconventional perspectives.
Feb. 18, 1999:
Question: How do I get my colleagues to respect the research/work that I do on African American issues?
Dr. Freddie Sandipher
Assistant Professor of English
University of Cincinnati
The National Council on Black American Affairs
We are fortunate that the research of many of our colleagues has been well received. We are not breaking new ground. The essence of gaining respect for one’s work on African American issues is to uncover the truth, write it well and let your colleagues know about it. There are some strategies that will assist your efforts.
First, discuss with your colleagues the research you intend to pursue. A second possible strategy is a collaborative project with others who have established reputations in the field. Use the informal opportunities within your institution to present your work to your colleagues. Colloquia, brown bag lunches and faculty seminars are regular institutional opportunities.
The real key to gaining respect for your work is to do the excellent work you set out to do.
Dr. Anthony C. Ihunnah
Assistant Professor of Special Education
The style of writing and presentation of the research on the issues must, of course, project a true understanding of the issues, but also, and perhaps most importantly, be easy to read and comprehend. Your review of the literature must show a respectable pool of references who are credible experts on the issues.
I also have found it helpful to include, in the analysis section of my work, the implications and applications of such research/work on the lives of people. My research/work ideas are usually shared and discussed by a pool of mutually interested and experienced professionals and friends who would be encouraged to review, edit and offer critical ideas or contributions to the work.
There also is a need to ensure that your research has a broad appeal within its targeted audience.
April 1, 1999
Question: I am an African American male with a master’s degree and 20 years experience in higher education. My question is: How does an African American male become a chief financial officer at a predominantly White institution? On its face, this question seem simple, but a deeper analysis indicates other things impacting the outcome. For example, there is a long-held view that Blacks cannot handle finances. In light of the numerous financial scandals at HBCUs reported in your publication, what path can an African American who aspires to be a CFO at a predominantly White institution take to reach their career goal?
Pathways to Success Program
St. Vincent College
Continue to attend the Central Officers annual meeting. This is where you need to be in order to network and market yourself. Maybe while at the conference in the Chicago area, you can talk to those vice presidents, controllers, directors, etc., about what they look for in a chief financial officer.
In regards to the long-held view, it is just a stereotype. There are some people who can handle finances and some who can’t. Race has nothing to do with how well someone handles finances.
Leroy Summers Jr.
Vice President of Business and Fiscal Affairs
Florida Memorial College
Essentially, the CFO responsibilities are the same regardless of the institution’s orientation. … The educational requirements are extremely important and should be one’s top priority. The individual should develop effective written oral and interpersonal skills as well as analytical and computer skills.
A prospective CFO should be very selective in accepting entry, mid- and upper-level positions. As one journeys through the career path, each position should provide a different kind of experience that places you closer to your goal of becoming a CFO. Acquire as much hand- on experience as possible in the various fiscal areas within the division of business and finance, particularly in the areas involving data processing and management information systems.
July 22, 1999:
Question: Is there a glass ceiling in higher education? And if so, what are the political issues for people of color and how do you deal with them?
Dr. Raymond C. Bowen
City University of New York-
La Guardia Community College
As with most institutions in America, higher education has a glass ceiling for minorities and women. However, that should not discourage you from achieving in this system.
Despite my powerless position, I learned the politics of the university — which vice president or dean had the ear of the president, who were the real leaders on the faculty, which community groups or business executives had the most influence on the mayor.
Concentrating on racism alone could cloud your reason for being where you are. Politics exist everywhere. To succeed, you must understand the politics — both within and outside of the institution — if you are to ascend the academic ladder.
Dr. Hattie Jackson
Academic Support Services and Continuing Education
St. Louis Community College
One of the first issues people of color face in career advancement are the perceptions related to the previous occupants of those positions. Being the first person of color to hold a position that has been historically held by Whites can be especially challenging.
Communicating your competence should be approached in such a way that there is no question about it. Do it as early as possible during the interview. Make sure you have a good grasp of the job and be sure to fully engage the committee.
Be aware of the politics of the customized job — a job whose qualifications and duties are written for a specific individual. But doing your homework is an even better strategy than managing an already decided committee.
Individuals are more likely to take a risk at hiring you if they feel comfortable with you. Raising comfort zones with the diversity you bring will be one of the critical factors in whether or not you trek up the career ladder or remain where you are. n
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com