Education Without Representation The national debate about the overproduction of doctorates dangerously ignores the underproduction of African American doctorates within the academy and the crucial role these scholars play in promoting further success of African American students.
In Four Decades of Progress … and Decline: An Assessment of African American Educational Attainment, Dr. Antoine M. Garibaldi reminds us that though the proportion of African American high school graduates who were enrolled in college increased by almost 2 percentage points, to 34.4 percent, from 1975 to 1995, compared with a national average that increased by 6 percentage points, to 42 percent, this increase is not reflected in the number of African Americans who attained the doctorate.
The small numbers of African Americans earning the doctorate should serve as a wake-up call for policy-makers inside and outside the academy. These numbers pose a serious threat to Black higher education and to the push for more diversity in the academy. The quiet consensus to limit access to graduate programs is an ethnically and socially irresponsible position when viewed from the perspective of the underproduction of African American doctorates. If minority students do not enter the educational pipeline in large numbers, then the national push to diversify college faculties will be put on academic life support. The shares of all bachelor’s degrees earned by both African Americans and Latinos are fewer than half their corresponding shares of the college-age population.
In a nation of 30 million Blacks, we do not produce annually one Black American Ph.D. in language and literature for each of the country’s more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities, not to mention the more than 3,000 other institutions of higher education that are in need of African American faculty members. By any measure, this situation constitutes a nation at risk as we enter the 21st century. If the flow through the educational pipeline is reduced to a trickle, will there be a sufficient number of African Americans earning the terminal degree and returning to the HBCUs and serving as the teachers of prospective lawyers, doctors, architects and teachers? What are the public policy implications of what would then be education without representation? What role can the Black professoriat play in the advancement of knowledge?
I am particularly concerned about the shortage of African American doctorates in the humanities, the social sciences and the arts. Teachers in these areas preserve and enlarge our understanding of the history and scope of human thought and the human condition and transmit knowledge to succeeding generations. Without the Black teacher, the academic eye will be blurred, thereby impairing vision for all students. The lens through which the student sees American history and, indeed, world history will be severely distorted. The absence of African American scholars will have a deleterious impact on knowledge production, as those of African descent will continue to be misrepresented. Black students, in particular, will not see themselves as actors in history.
Yet, even more importantly, Black students need to see someone who looks like them and is authorized to speak with authority on the great issues that confront all of humanity. — Dr. Dolan Hubbard is chairman of the Department of English and Language Arts at Morgan State University. This article is excerpted from “Democratizing the Academy: The Black Professoriat in the Twenty-First Century,” which originally appeared in the Modern Language Association ADE Bulletin, No. 130, Winter 2002.
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