Of the 1.5 million full-time faculty teaching in 2013 at degree-granting postsecondary colleges and universities, six percent were black, four percent Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian/Pacific Islander. The number of male faculty continues to outnumber female faculty, 58 to 41 percent, and female professors earn an average 12 percent less than their male counterparts.
To say there’s still work to do in increasing diversity in higher education would be an understatement.
“Our institutions are not doing well in terms of having a diverse faculty and providing an environment of equity and inclusion,” says John Brooks Slaughter, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.
Slaughter, the first African-American director of the National Science Foundation and former president of Occidental College, no longer views diversity as his end goal.
“Diversity alone does not mean a university is inclusive,” he says. “You need to do more than have a diverse group of people to make it an equitable and inclusive environment.”
Renée Smith-Maddox, clinical associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, agrees. She believes that diversity needs to be coupled with inclusion and equity; faculty members and students need access to the same resources and experiences to maximize their potential.
“When we say ‘diversity,’ what do we really mean?” Smith-Maddox asks. “Is it a black and white issue, or is it the promise of really creating an environment, a system, and a school where we have diverse people representing diverse perspectives?”
Building and Fostering a Diverse Faculty
Asians are now the nation’s fastest-growing racial group, according to the Census Bureau, while Latinos accounted for 54 percent of total U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2014. As our student bodies become more diverse, the people standing at the front of the classroom are not always representative of that shift.
“Universities need to be more proactive in building their faculties and increasing graduate students because faculty derive from graduate students,” Slaughter says. “We need more PhD students from minority and marginalized groups so that a diverse student body sees a diverse faculty, who can be role models and mentors.”
Patricia Matthew, an associate English professor at Montclair State University and editor of “Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure,” views mentorship as a powerful tool for fostering diversity — not just on the student level, but on the faculty level as well.
“My sense is that people like diversity and think it’s a good thing, but that they don’t put a lot of planning or material resources into maintaining it,” Matthew says. “I think the focus is more on hiring and recruitment than on retention and career advancement.”
Mentorship, something Matthew admits was missing from her tenure experience, is a way colleges and universities can more effectively retain diverse faculty members and invest in their professional success.
“We need more of that network,” Matthew says, “so that people don’t fall through the cracks.”
Individuals spearheading that work should be rewarded, adds Matthew, who uses UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity as an example. The $10,000 award acknowledges faculty who’ve demonstrated a commitment to creating an inclusive environment on a state and local level, whether through leadership, public service, or scholarly research.
“Administrators need to recognize that work is already being done on their campuses and reward the people who are doing that work,” Matthew says. “I would bet money that faculty have ideas, and even a plan or strategy, and people have ignored them.”
One way to foster those ideas is to create what some academics call “brave spaces,” according to Smith-Maddox — places in which students and faculty can challenge each other’s perspectives, question their own, and engage in difficult dialogues around diversity, inclusion, and social justice. By having these brave spaces, faculty can recognize their biases and better understand how those biases influence their decisions, such as whom they choose to call on in class or how they integrate current events into their coursework.
“One has to realize the power and influence they have, and faculty members are in a privileged position,” Smith-Maddox says. “We all can contribute to this in our own unique way for the better.”
Senior leadership is in the most privileged position of all, and for diversity to be prioritized at a college or university, the conversations and support need to start from the top. Slaughter, who’s recognized for turning Occidental into one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, notes it was the support from senior administrators and faculty leaders that helped him make that difference.
“You have to convey the message that diversity is important,” Slaughter says. “Decisions that are made from a diverse population are better decisions because they have so many more points of view coming from different experiences and backgrounds. You need to get people to understand that message, and sometimes that takes sitting down one-on-one with those who question that.”
Slaughter has done that. He was “fortunate,” however, in that he didn’t need to have those conversations alone. Other senior leaders supported him.
For every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on a senior executive team, a company’s earnings increase an average of 0.8 percent, according to McKinsey. Diversity is also known to drive economic growth and improve creativity. In a 2011 Forbes study, 85 percent of global enterprises surveyed said diversity is crucial to driving innovation.
That data shouldn’t be reserved for corporations; it should be reflected in higher ed. Diversity can only make an institution stronger.
“An institution that has a rich and diverse faculty is a university that has an opportunity to explore a wide range of ideas and areas of study,” Slaughter says. “If everyone is the same, you don’t get that benefit. A heterogeneous faculty, student body, and staff is what universities need to strive for.”