Berkeley Struggles As the Faculty Looks Elsewhere
BERKELEY, Calif. — Issues of race and racism are swirling about the University of California at Berkeley, stirred up by the imminent departures of two professors of color and ongoing concern over the future of the ethnic studies department.
At issue: Is prestigious Berkeley’s ivory tower a bastion for only White professors?
Some on campus think things are headed that way — nearly nine out of 10 tenured faculty are White, and Black and Latino student admissions have dropped with the implementation of new anti-affirmative action policies.
“Berkeley has changed and it’s a dismal place for faculty and students of color,” says Dr. Carlos Muñoz, a 60-year-old ethnic studies professor who cites a lack of diversity as one of the reasons he’s retiring next spring.
But Chancellor Bob Berdahl says Berkeley is far from homogeneous, noting that Black and Hispanic admissions rebounded some this year, the second without affirmative action. Asian students make up the majority of the freshman class.
“It is true that the impact of Proposition 209 has been felt at Berkeley, but to suggest that Berkeley is no longer a place of diverse viewpoints and multicultural experiences is quite wrong,” Berdahl said through a spokeswoman. “We are doing everything that can be done within the law to retain and enhance the diversity of our faculty and students.”
Another professor of color who has chosen to leave the university is Dr. Pedro Noguera, 40, who will be going to Harvard next year (see Black Issues, Dec. 9, 1999).
Noguera and Muñoz are among 39 Latinos who make up about 3 percent of Berkeley’s 1,261 tenured faculty. Latinos comprise nearly 30 percent of the state’s total population.
Noguera, who won Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997, calls those figures a sad reflection. “Unless something is done about it, California runs the risk of being both the most diverse state in the country but also an apartheid state, a place where power is held by White and Asian people.”
Why are there so few minority professors at an institution perceived by many as a petri dish for progressive movements?
Higher education experts say the reality is that Berkeley’s figures aren’t so unusual for a premier institution.
Nationally, Latinos made up 1.6 percent of full professors and 2.1 percent of associate professors, according to a 1997-98 report from the American Council on Education that was based on an Education Department survey of nearly 3,500 schools. Overall, minorities comprised 9.6 percent of full professors and 11.9 percent of associate professors.
“The numbers of faculty of color are just dismal at that level,” says Deborah Wilds, deputy director of ACE’s office of minorities in higher education.
Muñoz was one of only two Mexican Americans on the Berkeley faculty when he was hired 30 years ago. He says the student rebellions of the 1960s — against the Vietnam War, for Free Speech and Third World studies — masked, but didn’t change, Berkeley’s essentially conservative nature.
“The door was never opened widely, it was just like a crack that we kind of slipped through real quick,” he said.
In 1989, 89 percent of Berkeley’s tenured professors were White; in 1999, the figure is 86.5 percent.
Ward Connerly, the UC regent who led the movement to abandon affirmative action, says the low numbers reflect a small pool of minority candidates, not an institutional bias: “Do you really believe that Berkeley is discriminating? I don’t think so.”
But Wilds says the pool isn’t that small.
Nearly 13 percent of doctorates awarded in 1996 — 3,542 out of 27,741 — went to minorities, based on National Research Council data reported by ACE.
“There’s no question that we need to increase the pipeline and the pool. But beyond that, there are some issues in terms of perceptions among institutions about who they want to recruit and who they want to select,” she says.
Once on campus, minorities may face subtle hurdles, says Jonathan Alger, counsel to the American Association of University Professors.
For instance, he says, minorities are likely to be tapped by multiple committees, all anxious to boast a minority member. They also serve as mentors, work that doesn’t necessarily translate into tenure-fodder.
Meanwhile, some in higher education, “particularly those who have been around a long time,” define merit based on personal experiences, he said. “What it means is that people who look and seem the most like them seem the most meritorious.”
Harvard, where Noguera is going, is on par with Berkeley, listing 37 Hispanic full and associate professors, just under 3 percent of its total of 1,256 nonmedical faculty.
But Noguera believes Harvard has the freedom and the will to improve diversity, unlike Berkeley, which is bound by the UC Board of Regents 1995 vote to stop considering race in hiring and admissions and Californians’ 1996 endorsement of Proposition 209, which did much the same thing in all branches of public life.
This fall, Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians made up 13.6 percent of freshman enrollment. That was up from last year’s total of 11.2 percent but down from the affirmative action level of 21.5 percent in 1997. Forty-five percent of the class is Asian; 31 percent White.
In November, Berkeley admissions director Bob Laird, 60, retired. He listed a number of reasons, including a desire to spend more time with his family, but also said Proposition 209 had made a difficult job more so.
Along with the departures came debate over a resolution proposed in the Academic Senate that was critical of Berdahl’s decision to end a hunger strike last spring by agreeing to fill three vacancies in the ethnic studies department and add five positions.
The resolution failed, but not before a special, two-hour meeting of the faculty body.
Watching the race debates unfold, graduate student Sara Kaplan sees the second shoe dropping in the post-affirmative action era.
“First, people got angry,” said Kaplan, who helped organized the ethnic studies protests last spring. “I think this fall you’re seeing some people saying, ‘We’re tired and we don’t know what else to do.'”
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