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In the Name of Diversity

In the Name of Diversity
The departure of a popular Hispanic professor at Stanford spurs debate on whether universities should offer extra incentives to retain minority faculty.

By Veronica Mendoza

When word spread around campus that Dr. Luis R. Fraga, a 15-year associate professor in Stanford University’s political science department, was considering a job offer at another university, students circulated a petition to retain the popular Hispanic professor. In December, students and alumni presented the “Keep Professor Fraga at Stanford” petition, with 1,000 signatures, to university administrators, urging them to offer him incentives to stay.

“It is important to have a Latino professor,” says Stanford alum Lizet Ocampo. “When you see someone like you who has achieved so much, it does help students who are Latino.”

An article in the school newspaper about the petition sparked  debate about whether institutions should offer retention incentives to prominent minority faculty like Fraga. According to Stanford’s Web site, approximately 3 percent of its faculty are Hispanic.

“It is both racist and insulting the way some people pushing the ‘Keep Fraga’ petition regularly cite the fact that Prof. Fraga is non-White as a primary reason why the university should do everything it can to make sure he stays at Stanford,” wrote one student in an online forum.

Some students argued that offering incentives for Fraga was tantamount to providing him special treatment because of his minority status. The debate illustrates a dilemma facing higher education institutions: how to ensure faculty diversity without the types of race-conscious preferential treatment that have come under scrutiny in admissions policies.

Dr. William B. Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity at the University of Virginia, says offering incentives to minority faculty is no different than offering extra incentives to any other valued faculty member. 

“I would think they would want to keep him, not just because he is Latino, but because he is outstanding,” Harvey says of Fraga.

Outstanding is exactly how many of his current and former students describe Fraga. He encompasses everything a good professor should be, Ocampo says.

Despite the show of support from the Stanford students and alumni, Fraga recently accepted a job offer from the University of Washington, which doubled his salary. Retention efforts, Fraga says, often involve the university, in this case Stanford, matching or exceeding another institution’s offer. He says he gave Stanford a copy of UW’s five-page offer letter last summer; Stanford says it made Fraga a “competitive offer.” This summer, however, Fraga begins his new position as associate vice provost for faculty advancement at UW, where he will also serve as director of the Diversity Research Institute and as a political science professor.

Dr. Anthony Antonio, an associate professor of education at Stanford who has done research on faculty diversity, echoes Harvey’s opinion and says incentives given to minority faculty are no different than incentives given to retain other faculty who are valuable to an institution. 

He says incentives for minority faculty are warranted because universities recognize the value of diversity on campus.

According to a recent study published by the James Irvine Foundation, colleges and universities have been fairly successful hiring minority faculty in recent years. Keeping them at the institution, though, has been another matter, says the April 2006 study, “The Revolving Door for Underrepresented Minority Faculty in Higher Education.” Turnover of minority faculty has contributed to the persistent lack of diversity on campuses. Approximately three out of every five minority faculty who were hired were simply replacing other minorities who had left the institution, the study found.

Instead of offering extra incentives, some researchers say colleges and universities can retain minority faculty by offering them support based on some of the unique challenges they face.

For instance, Antonio says, the lack of community at many institutions,both personally and professionally, leaves some minority faculty unfulfilled.

Harvey says minorities are often interested in conducting research relevant to their own racial or ethnic groups, but that research is not always valued as highly as research conducted on White populations.
“We should give it the same value as mainstream research, which is research on White populations,” he says.

In Fraga’s new position at UW, one of his main responsibilities will be to recruit and retain minority faculty. He says he intends to meet that objective by offering minority faculty the same things all faculty members want.

“What many faculty of color look for is what every faculty member looks for, support for research and support for innovation in teaching,” Fraga says.

He adds that he’s excited to be heading to UW because the university has a record of appointing minorities to meaningful positions.

“Every institution says they want to support faculty of color, but talk is cheap,” he says. “When universities don’t appoint certain people, they also send certain messages.” 

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