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Diversity in the Professoriate: When are We Going to Get Serious?!


Often I hear faculty colleagues at my institution and across the nation talking about the need to diversify the professoriate. People say, “I wish we could find more applicants of color” or “It would be great to have more faculty of color here” or “I wonder how other institutions recruit faculty of color” or my favorite, “Applicants of color don’t want to come to our institution.” Well, I’m frustrated!

Aside from all of the strategies noted in faculty recruitment handbooks and common-sense ways to recruit faculty of color (duh!), I’ll tell you where the problem is, exactly where the research says it is — in the pipeline. We can’t recruit more faculty of color if we don’t recruit more doctoral students of color into Ph.D. programs. 

Every year, I hear faculty talk about increasing diversity while maintaining quality in doctoral admissions. Why are these two words always in the same sentence?  Why is there an assumption that increased diversity will lower quality? And what does quality mean anyway? Does it mean a student has a high test score? Does it mean they attended a good undergraduate institution? I think that’s what people mean when they say quality.

I wonder, do we ever consider the students’ experiences when making doctoral admissions decisions and how these experiences will add to the classroom and fellow students? Do we think about which individuals might make good faculty — meaning those who do excellent research, but also those who will be great teachers and mentors? 

Do we consider the changing demographics of the country and thus the changing student population? Do we think about the young students of color who rarely see someone who looks like them teaching them in the classroom?  Do we ever consider how we are perpetuating privilege rather than expanding opportunity? 

I don’t think we as faculty ask ourselves these questions often enough but we should.

During this doctoral admission season, I urge those faculty members making admissions decisions to think about something more than institutional prestige, rankings and test scores. Instead, consider how doctoral students of color can contribute to the academic climate and challenge traditional ways of thinking.  Perhaps we should think about the world as it will be instead of the world as it has been. I urge you to break free from traditional notions of quality and to think broadly about intelligence, preparation and talent.

And for those of you wondering, I am not anti-standardized test. I am against using these tests as the sole measure of quality. Humans are complicated and nuanced; intelligence is diverse and not easily defined. We need to remember to look at the entire person when making decisions about quality and the future of the professoriate. 

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

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