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Report: Faculty of Color in Psychology Face Structural Hurdles in Academia

The presence and success of faculty of color in higher ed continues to come up short, as these faculty members continue to face countless obstacles as they attempt to progress in their careers, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association.Dr. Michelle Y. MartinDr. Michelle Y. Martin

APA Task Force Report on Promotion, Tenure and Retention of Faculty of Color in Psychology details the many obstacles that psychological science faculty from underrepresented groups face, including being tasked with additional responsibilities, hostile work environments, and biased evaluations.  The report provides recommendations to address them.

Despite people of color comprising more than 40% of the general U.S. population – according to 2020 U.S. Census data – only 24.6% of tenure-track faculty as of fall 2021 were self-identified faculty of color, the majority being assistant professors.

Researchers found observable disparities between white faculty and faculty of color that worsened with rank. White faculty made up over 60% of assistant professors, 70% of tenure-track associate professors, and almost 76% of full professors with tenure.

Meanwhile, despite totaling over 30% of the U.S. population, Black and Hispanic faculty made up only around 11% of assistant and associate professor positions, and approximately 8% of tenured full professors.

“Despite the increasing diversity of the U.S. population and workforce, the same cannot be said for academic institutions,” said Dr. Margarita Azmitia, a psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz and co-chair of the APA Task Force. “The professoriate continues to be largely white, largely male. And that gap in underrepresented people and majoritized people increases from assistant, to associate, to full professor, with some assistant, associate, and full professors of color deciding to withdraw from the university because of the lack of attention to diversity issues and the high tax on their own careers and personal lives."

Key issues include the small number of people of color becoming faculty despite the increased number of people of color completing doctoral degrees, retention of faculty of color, and barriers in career progression, the report noted. 

Many faculty members of color face racial discrimination in the workplace, such as racially hostile treatment and racist questions about professional qualifications. This comes alongside cultural and social isolation and tokenism that these professors may feel as a result of being the only one of their racial-ethnic background in their department, the report stated.

According to the report, faculty of color can be subject to several “taxes” in academia. Two such taxes encountered by Black faculty are a “credibility tax” – wherein those doing social justice research have to work harder for their work to be recognized – and an “identity tax” – where faculty of color are obligated to serve as educators, representatives, and mentors on racial and ethnic matters, at the expense of their time, career advancement, and well-being.

“Faculty of color are hyper-aware that they are often automatic role models for students of color and, as such, feel a greater obligation to support them,” the report said. “Turning down the requests can in and of itself be stressful.”

Many faculty of color engage in long-term, community-based research that involves years of building trust and relationships. But that type of research isn’t conducive to beating the tenure clock, the probationary period when tenure-track faculty are supposed to garner accomplishments to prove they deserve tenure, said Dr. Michelle Y. Martin, professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and co-chair of the task force.

Though the period varies from  school-to-school and position-to-position, the typical duration is no longer than six years.

"What you're telling faculty of color is: ‘Don't do your research now, until you get tenure. Because otherwise, you're going to not get tenure,’” Azmitia said. “And so, what you have to do is other stuff, put yourself in a holding pattern, don't teach controversial courses. That's not a message that people who are privilege get.”

The report makes a number of recommendations. These include stronger intraracial/intracultural mentoring and networking opportunities; changes to promotion and tenure evaluation metrics susceptible to implicit biases, such as the vague, subjective concept of collegiality; and expansion of what constitutes scholarly excellent work to include public good contributions.

“Regarding scholarship, research conducted by faculty of color is often evaluated with bias,” the report noted. “Citation bias and authorship inequities arise in the use of bibliometrics such as the h-index, citation counts, and impact factors, as these metrics fail to accurately capture long-term impact or predict future contributions.”

Schools should also educate its leaders about invisible labor and the identity tax, and have them factor in the work such responsibilities entail when evaluating the performances of faculty of color for promotion and tenure, the report suggested.

“It's going to be to take a very multi-level approach to addressing this issue,” Martin said. “It's not going to be fixed or solved by trying to address it on one level. ... We need to look at the system-level influences and structures that make it difficult for faculty of color to thrive in academia."











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