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Hide and Seek: Diversity in the Ivy League

By Dr. Yolanda Pierce

The New York Times recently published an article titled “Little Advance Is Seen in Ivies’ Hiring of Minorities and Women.” The article leaves the reader with two distinct impressions: First, the pool of qualified minority scholars is just too small. And second, domestic issues make these high-powered jobs unattractive to female scholars. There is no doubt that the pool of minority doctoral recipients is small indeed. And the work versus family debate is a real issue for tenure-track faculty, both male and female. Yet, the article fails to address some of the most pressing reasons why, for instance, African Americans make up only 3 percent of the tenured and tenure-track faculty at Ivy League institutions.

The Ivy League represents one of the remaining bastions of elite privilege. Who you know is as important as what you know. The article fails to address the influence of personal networking regarding the hiring of Ivy League faculty, as protégées of famous scholars receive many of those coveted tenure-track jobs. At these schools, “getting your foot in the door” too often means being on a first-name basis with the “doorkeeper.” This particularly works to the detriment of minority female scholars, as most senior positions are still occupied by White men.

These schools must not recognize that their own practices discourage women and minorities from pursuing the few tenure-track positions available. If it is clear from the institutions’ own statistics that the majority of junior faculty are not tenured at the end of their probationary period, what is the incentive to take a job where the odds are already stacked against you? Why give six or seven years of your academic career to a school that prides itself on how few junior scholars it actually tenures? Given the tremendous burdens minority faculty members already face, junior scholars of color may be reluctant to apply for a job at an institution that will not seriously consider them as viable candidates for tenure and promotion.

The Times article, as well as the larger academic community, fails to acknowledge how the oversupply of doctorates in the academic market also significantly impacts minority and female scholars. An advertised position in an Ivy League or research institution can receive hundreds of applications. The Ivy League’s tenure-track positions are decreasing even as the overall applicant pool has increased. The Times article notes that even in the Ivy League, up to 45 percent of faculty jobs are non-tenure track, a 108 percent increase between 1993-2003. So it should come as no surprise that there are many well-qualified unemployed and underemployed minority and female scholars left out in the cold.

Consequently, I wonder about this reported “lack” of a viable job pool for these tenured and tenure-track positions at Ivy League institutions. Are these administrations checking their own policies to ensure these positions are viable options for minority faculty? Are there resources to retain faculty once they are recruited? Are candidates who lack the “star” connection being given an opportunity to compete for these jobs? Viable job candidates are not hiding under rocks. Perhaps the Ivies need to search a little deeper for answers concerning their lack of progress in recruiting and retaining women and minority faculty members.

— Dr. Yolanda Pierce is an assistant professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Kentucky.

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