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At Diversifying Colleges Tenure Still a Hurdle for Women, Minorities


Educators gathered for the workshop on promoting faculty diversity at the National Education Association: American Federation of Teachers (NEA-AFT) conference held in Washington last week, heard from higher education officials about not only achieving a racially diverse faculty, but achieving a diversity, which also includes women and people with disabilities.

Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), said historically Black colleges and universities have a successful model to achieve a diverse professoriate.

Close to 48 percent of HBCU faculty come from diverse racial backgrounds, said Baskerville, adding that approximately 52 percent of the faculty at HBCUs are Black, 33 percent are White, 7 percent are Asian American and 3 percent are Hispanic.

Baskerville recommended putting pressure on state and federal legislatures to shift funding away from colleges and universities that are not giving priority to diversifying their faculties and allocating these funds to institutions, such as HBCUs, that have diverse faculties.

However, although HBCUs by their very nature have diverse student bodies and faculties, the pipeline to the professorship for women and minorities is not working, said Dr. Catherine Hill, director of research for the American Association of University Women.

Women, said Hill, have made significant headway over the past 40 years but they, like minorities, still face discrimination in the tenure process.

“What we found was that tenure seems to be a very important stumbling block,” she said.

Hill added that confidentiality in the evaluation process prohibits minorities from knowing how they are being evaluated for tenure and whether they are being treated fairly during the tenure process.

“There are times when some confidentiality is needed, but how do we balance that with the rights of individuals to know why they are not being promoted?” Hill asked.

She also suggested that each higher education institution have concrete criteria for granting tenure, such as a certain number of published peer-reviewed articles or classes taught by the instructor. She also noted that college faculties are not properly trained to carry out the tenure evaluation process.

In addition, professors with disabilities also fear bias in the tenure review process.

In 2006, about 45,000 people received their doctorate in the United States, yet a little over 600 of those recipients were classified as having a disability, said Dr. David Du Bois, co-chair of the Disability Rights and Concerns Committee for United University Professors, the union for staff at the State University of New York. Discrimination in academia is keeping many disabled citizens from obtaining tenure, forcing those who don’t have visible physical disabilities to hide their afflictions in fear of bias in the tenure process.

“The concern is clearly there. If they disclose [their disability] they fear that it will come up and be held against them,” Du Bois said.

Before he was tenured, Du Bois said he refused to use his walking cane on campus and would arrive much earlier than other faculty so they would not see him struggle to walk. During a 2002 UUP survey, Du Bois concluded that many disabled faculty “felt very much that they were on the front line of a firing line, in terms of prejudice.”

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