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Academic Calling

Dr. Heather Tarleton wants to be a tenured teacher, administrator and researcher. She had earned a doctorate from Princeton, but what she also really needed was a mentor to help guide her through the academy.

Two career moves after earning her doctorate, including a nontenuretrack teaching position, Tarleton found mentors and learned that she needs a postdoctoral fellowship to help get her in contention for the tenure-track position she still aspires to occupy.

There was a better, less roundabout way but Tarleton’s experience isn’t all that unusual for Black women trying to make their way in the academy. In “Self-Navigating the Terrain,” by contributing editor Hilary Hurd Anyaso, Black women at traditionally White institutions talk about the unique challenges they face — lack of mentors, feelings of isolation and lack of respect sometimes from students and colleagues.

“I see a lot of students of color just becoming so disheartened by the idea of going tenure-track faculty. I spend a lot of time mentoring as I’m trying to push myself,” says Tarleton, diversity programs director at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Graduate Division. “Some of my students are just tired. My concern is that we’re losing a lot of talented scholars because they don’t have the support they need.”

This story and others in our annual “Careers In Higher Education” edition address the spectrum of professional issues in academe, from research assistants’ struggles for better pay and benefits to the difficulty women face in earning tenure while raising small children.

Staff writer Michelle Nealy reports about the dearth of tenure-track scholars in the pipeline to replace retiring baby boomers. It isn’t the stress of having to balance research interests with educating students and publishing demands that’s turning away young scholars. Colleges are relying more heavily on low-paid contingent faculty, which makes it more difficult for aspiring scholars with heavy teaching loads and little chance to do research. Read more in “Who Will Fill Their Shoes?”

Also in this edition, Diverse contributing editor Lydia Lum talks to a former health care executive, two lawyers and two accountants about the unconventional paths they took to become college presidents. University boards of trustees and presidential search committees are seeking out nonacademics with executive management experience to manage multimillion dollar budgets, lobby legislators and take their institutions to the next level.

While management experience is valued, you’ll read in “Under New Management” that credentials still matter, especially when leading a community of academics. Before taking the helm at Texas Southern University, John Rudley managed the finances for TSU and served as the University of Houston’s vice president for administration and finance. It didn’t seem to matter to faculty. “I got sick of them assuming the quality of information I had wasn’t worth listening to,” says Rudley, who decided to earn an Ed.D. Now, Rudley says, “everyone relaxes when I come into the room because now I’m one of them, as they see it.”

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