The enrollment of Hispanic students at Florida colleges and universities has ballooned spectacularly in recent years, prompting many Hispanic professors to question why their numbers aren’t growing at a corresponding pace.
Hispanic professors and administrators at Sunshine State institutions don’t necessarily agree why hiring hasn’t kept pace with the increase among the Hispanic student body, and they aren’t on the same page about how to address the situation.
Hispanic student attendance has increased at least 300 percent in the past 15 years at the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University, according to the state’s board of governors. Overall, Hispanic college attendance jumped 174 percent at Florida’s public universities from 1990 to 2005.
“I know so many Latino lawyers who would love to be law professors,” says Juan F. Perea, who became UF’s first Hispanic law professor in 1990. “It’s not a supply problem. Administrators always say, ‘This is a supply problem, it’s a supply problem!’ That’s nonsense.”
The U.S. Census Bureau put Florida’s Hispanic population at 3.3 million in 2004, an increase of almost 600,000 since 2000. Correspondingly, full-time freshmen enrollment at all Florida colleges increased 53 percent from 1996 to 2001, according the Pew Hispanic Center. That jump is the largest surge in Hispanic students experienced by any state.
These statistics prompt Perea, part of a loose coalition of Hispanic professors around the state monitoring the situation, to question why only 3.8 percent of the full-time faculty at Florida’s flagship institution, UF, is Hispanic, considering its Hispanic student population stands at just under 5,500. This is despite having hired 60 full-time Hispanic professors between 2000 and 2005, bringing the total to 167.
Adrian Jones, UF’s assistant dean for diversity and community relations, says Hispanics, along with Black and American Indian faculty, are sorely under-represented on the campus.
“We at Florida are trying to attack from a number of different levels. We have a diverse group of faculty who are on our faculty search committee. We’re very sensitive to making sure that qualified candidates at least have an opportunity to interview,” Jones says. “There are legal restraints that prevent us from using race as a primary factory for hiring.”
As increasing numbers of Hispanic students arrive on campus, they are rarely being met by Hispanic professors, but the trend isn’t unique to Florida. Nationwide, the percentage of Hispanic faculty members at degree-granting institutions rose from 3 percent in 1995 to 4 percent in 2003, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
Hispanic students, who had comprised 8 percent of all college students in 1995, had jumped to 12 percent by 2003, according to data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
— By Blair S. Walker
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