Exploring Underrepresentation: The Case of Faculty of Color in the Midwest
Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 70, No. 1 (January-February 1999), pp. 27-59
34 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2014
Date Written: February 1, 1999
On the brink of the twenty-first century, our nation continues to struggle with the challenge of becoming a multicultural society. Although our society takes pride in the opportunities for mobility offered to its citizens, inequities based on racial and ethnic differences continue to exist. This study focuses on continuing inequities for professors n higher education. Today, with race-based scholarships under scrutiny, affirmative action losing support, and efforts to achieve diversity and equity in higher education contested, there is an urgent need to rexamine the issues of successful recruitment, retention, and development of faculty of color in the academic workplace.
Myths about minorities in academia abound. Among those noted by Wilson (1987), Olivas (1988), Nakanishi (1993), and Smith, Wolf, and Busenberg (1996) are: the Asian American experience in academia is "exemplary" and devoid of any racial/ethnic bias; minority women are "prime hires"; because of high demand/low supply, minority PhDs are flooded with job offers; there are no qualified minorities; and minoritiespossess unexceptional credentials. Wilson (1987) laments: "Myths die hard, even in the face of incontrovertible data...Americans do not like to admit that some intractable problems resist solution because we do not want to solve them or, perhaps worse, because we hope they will go away" (p. 13). Statistics detail dismal participation and completion rates for African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in the American educational system. Low representation rates for people of color among tenure-track and tenured faculty ranks follow this pattern. Even though the record appears far better for the Asian Pacific American population, they reported exclusion as a fact of their working lives in this study, a finding that echoes reports in other published work. This article presents a comprehensive study of African American, Asian Pacific American, Native American, and Latino faculty in eight states that were members of the Midwestern Higher Education Commission (MHEC) from 1993 to 1995: Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, and Minnesota. We present critical perspectives that emerge from our data with the hope of contributing to a comprehensive understanding of successful recruitment, retention, and development of faculty of color in higher education. These perspectives come from interviews with faculty of color themselves, from statistical data collected for our study, and from a comprehensive analysis of data presented in the literature. A thorough examination of these data reveals not only the continued underrepresentationo f faculty of color in the nation's colleges and universities but, equally significantly if more subtly, the persistence-and the personal and professional effects of a decidedly chilly work environment. Challenges to the successful recruitment, retention, and development of faculty of color include significant barriers within academia itself that discourage people of color from becoming productive and satisfied members of the professoriate. Our findings and analysis show that the predominant barrier is a pervasive racial and ethnic bias that contributes to unwelcoming and unsupportive work environments for faculty of color. However, it is important to note that ours is a study of successes. We interviewed faculty of color who currently have faculty positions. Despite the high probability of failure facing students of color who prepare for the professoriate, all faculty interviewed for this study, as well as faculty quoted in the literature, have earned tenure-track and tenured positions in higher education. Many are administrators. They have not left higher education. Positive workplace experiences strengthen the commitment of faculty of color to remain in academe. Their achievement is Exploring Underrepresentation 29 reason for pride; yet the fact is that this elite and successful group of scholars, even among those who are not only tenured but who also hold high-level, high-profile academic appointments, still experience continued exclusion and isolation. This sobering fact must check any premature optimism about the distance yet to travel toward equality in American higher education.
Keywords: faculty of color, mid-west, underrepresentation
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