Another Legacy to Overcome:
Achieving a Diverse Administrative Body
Dr. Deneese L. JonesToday, with race-conscious scholarships under scrutiny, affirmative action being tested, and efforts to achieve student and faculty diversity in higher education under siege, yet another theme of urgency emerges: Faculty of color are still not evenly distributed or represented across institutional types, disciplines and academic ranks.
And although many would say that gone are the days of overt racism and exclusionary practices that barred the door to a diverse faculty entrance in academia, there does exist a “chilly climate” in higher education for faculty of color. The White-male-dominated institutional culture can subtly undervalue and undermine the contributions of diverse faculty or the presence of people of color with false notions of objective decision-making related to promotion within the institution. It is not surprising that many of these faculty members describe a lack of respect, lack of publication opportunities and a lack of recognition for their scholarship, which can minimize even the opportunity to obtain an administrative rank in higher education.
Certainly the arguments for administrative diversity in the form of race and ethnic difference in higher education are as compelling as the need for student and faculty diversity. A diverse administrative body means that issues of access and success for all students can be addressed from multiple perceptions. Additionally, the impact of diverse leadership for creating genuine academic communities can make a critical difference in the way institutions effectively educate and prepare future faculty and students to occupy their positions in the larger society. Hence, along with the need to value the scholarship of faculty of color, there is an urgency to recognize, nurture and capitalize on the potential administrator of color.
For me, a mid-career faculty member, the journey toward higher education administration began with a mixture of excitement, emotional misgivings and strong apprehension. I knew from the literature that while half of all university presidents reported on-going leadership development activities at their institutions, only 39 percent reported activities specifically designed to develop the leadership of women. And I knew that even with present-day rhetoric for greater inclusion, many Black men and women have found the road to administration inside the academy to be fraught with numerous contradictions and dilemmas.
With a strong conviction, I moved from the informal process to a formal process of acceptance into a national fellowship program. Propelled by the camaraderie and group discussions of the other selected fellows — for whom several were persons of color, I involved myself in a year of carefully contrived experiences. And with the continued financial support by my home institution, I was able to apprentice at another comparable institution. While away, I acquired a network of effective administrative mentors who continue to be a resource for me on this journey. But, key to this experience, I was provided with an opportunity to re-evaluate, reassess, and rethink my skills and abilities without distrustful scrutiny in a different setting that nourished my thinking while challenging my administrative expertise.
Perhaps, this is what it will take for higher education to realize the urgency of erasing its legacy for lack of diversity in administration. Faculty of color will need the “space” to mentally prepare for the issues they will inevitably face on the journey while obtaining the administrative skills.
— Dr. Deneese L. Jones is an associate professor at the University of Kentucky. She has just completed an American Council on Education Fellowship for the year 2002-2003.
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