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Perspectives: Diversity and the Future of the Professoriate – A Call to Action

In 1981, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 4.2 percent of full-time faculty positions in higher education were held by African-Americans. In 2003, more than two decades later, the numbers had increased slightly, to 5.6 percent. If this rate remains constant, it will take more than 180 years for the Black faculty percentage to reach parity with the Black percentage of the U.S. population. Compelled by these startling statistics, last November I convened the “Diversity and the Future of the Professoriate” conference at Princeton University’s Graduate School.

It was a call to action for those of us serving as faculty and staff in academia to re-commit ourselves to preparing, equipping and guiding the next generation of scholars. Furthermore, it created a forum for us to critically address questions such as: What does the future look like for the academy’s next generation of scholars? Is there a universal sense of commitment from institutions to promote opportunities for historically under-represented groups? Is it explicitly understood that diversity is synonymous with excellence, particularly as it relates to scholarly research?

Unfortunately, far too many institutions fail to avail themselves of resources completely within their reach. For example, traditionally White institutions that aspire to diversify Ph.D. programs and faculty must create and maintain innovative partnerships with historically Black universities, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. Outreach and recruiting must take place at professional conferences and meetings where there are diverse constituents. Hiring and admissions committees must be proactive about creating a diverse applicant pool that will result in a diverse academic landscape, including faculty, staff and students. It is important for every institution to identify leaders who can promote diversity, both internally and externally.

It is also imperative that we create sustained initiatives to achieve a critical mass of individuals, rather than efforts that yield minor results and leave graduate students or faculty of color feeling marginalized. The prevailing sentiment from senior scholars during our most recent conference was pessimism about the future if administrative leaders allow financial difficulties to weaken diversity initiatives.

A study by Cathy Trower and Richard Chait at Harvard University revealed that 94 percent of full professors in science and engineering are White. Of these, 90 percent are male. More than 90 percent of full professors at research universities are White, and more than three-fourths are male. Given these statistics, institutions must acknowledge how diversity (or the lack of) may impact scholarly inquiry, pedagogical approach, the climate of departments and institutional priorities.

While some Ph.D.’s have opted for careers in industry, government and the nonprofit realm, many choose to remain in academia. Conference attendees identified several significant barriers that these minority faculty experience, including:


• Isolation/alienation;

• Lack of an intellectual and social community (both on- and off-campus);

• Racism, prejudice and bias;

• Difficulty balancing teaching, scholarship and service;

• Lack of mentoring;

• Lack of departmental support or institutional commitment;

• Chilly or unwelcoming environment.


They also identified ways to address these challenges, which include such best practices as:


• Hosting annual, regional workshops that provide professional development opportunities for faculty;

• Evaluating how teaching, scholarship and service related to diversity initiatives factor into the tenure review and promotion process;

• Establishing departmental goals and creating action plans to recruit and retain underrepresented faculty and graduate students;

• Creating formal mentoring programs for graduate students in order to prepare, expose and encourage them to pursue an academic career;

• Allocating resources that support on-campus programming and  professional development for graduate students, faculty and staff.

Realizing the goal of diversity in the professoriate requires sustained commitment and daily proactive measures. More than ever, we need colleges and universities to maintain their commitment to diversity by designating resources, re-training and equipping faculty and staff to explore new approaches and consider new paradigms. In order to achieve diversity in the professoriate that mirrors the diversity we embody as a nation, we need every faculty and staff member to understand the crucial role they play in the process and envision their efforts as an opportunity to make a positive, transformative impact in higher education. D

Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver is associate dean for Academic Affairs and Diversity at Princeton University’s Graduate School and Director of the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (PSURE) program.

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