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New Study: Gender Matters on Black College Campuses


Female faculty at public historically Black colleges seem to fare better in terms of ratings, salaries and tenure numbers when the president or chief academic officer is also female, according to a new study released Thursday by the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. This was just one of many findings in the study, which examines the role that gender issues play in the success rates of students and faculty at public HBCUs.

Funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation, “Understanding Gender at Public Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” details how gender impacts faculty ratings, salaries and tenure as well as student recruitment, retention, achievement and graduation. It is the first study of its kind focusing exclusively on public HBCUs.

Dr. Shirley Geiger, the study’s principal investigator and chair of the Department of Political Science, Public Administration and Urban Studies at Savannah State University in Georgia, says the study can be the first of many research collaborations among public HBCUs.

“Certainly, the findings … suggest that gender issues should be high on that list,” she says. “I am equally convinced that the study’s findings demonstrate that there is a strong need for a Joint HBCU Center for Gender Studies.”

The proposed center would help address attitudinal barriers, including the assumption that women’s studies are not critical to students’ studies and the reluctance of female students to be associated with anything related to feminism. The center would also offer scholars the opportunity to engage in research about issues facing women of African heritage throughout the diaspora.

According to the study, the majority of students enrolled at TMSF’s 45 public HBCUs are female (63 percent), but females hold a minority of the faculty positions at those institutions (45 percent). Average salary gaps between male and female faculty exist across all professorship ranks — full, associate and assistant.

“This study re-confirms that gender does matter and, therefore, the entire campus climate is affected by gender issues,” says Dr. Mary Evans Sias, president of Kentucky State University. “We must close the gap if we want to improve the quality of educational experiences for female faculty and students.”

Dr. Carolyn Mahoney, president of Lincoln University adds, “‘Understanding Gender’ underscores the need for heightened awareness of gender issues on campuses in order for the implications of the differences to be properly addressed.” 

The report also reveals a continuing bias against female faculty when students rate faculty members, which can impact the likelihood of being offered tenure. Sixty-one percent of male and female faculty saw the need for a women’s center at their institution and 48 percent saw a need for a women’s studies program.

The study also shows that 92 percent of students aren’t concerned with the gender of their professors, although 31 percent of Black male students prefer having a Black male teacher. In addition, the race of professors did not appear to be an issue for students in the survey, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.

Equally deserving of further study is the chilly climate students and faculty perceive toward homosexuals at public HBCUs, the report says. It also suggests reviewing institutional data and comparing the professional experiences of males and females. Other recommendations include the full disclosure of institutional salary data, especially for female faculty and the creation of productive venues for the telling and hearing of faculty stories.

“We conducted this study to uncover the compelling implications of gender differences at our member institutions. We believe that discovery will lay the foundation for dialogue and solutions,” says Dwayne Ashley, president and CEO of TMSF. “It is our intent that … [the report] can serve as a guidepost for leading changes to improve the educational environment at HBCUs and other institutions for faculty, staff, students and communities.”

The study can be viewed at

Diverse staff reports


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