Even though colleges and universities for years have stated their intent to hire more Black faculty members, very few institutions have made any significant progress on that front, according to data analyzed by The Hechinger Report. Just 6.6 percent of annual faculty hires in 2016 were Black, which actually represented a slight decrease from 7 percent 10 years earlier. Approximately 5 percent of faculty are Black, while 12 percent of students are Black, even though studies show that non-white students are more likely to succeed when taught by faculty members who look like them.
Why so little progress?
While acknowledging that it can be difficult for certain colleges and universities—especially public institutions—to compete with better-funded private schools for Black faculty, some diversity scholars challenge the well-worn excuse that there just aren’t that many Black people (and other people of color) working toward a doctoral degree. At most community colleges, for instance, faculty members need only a master’s degree to instruct students, and even still, the proportion of nonwhite faculty members is rarely representative of the student population.
On top of that, Black faculty who did not attend certain schools can’t even get in the door, according to Abigail Stewart, a University of Michigan professor of psychology and women’s studies. “It’s actually not that easy for faculty to get past hiring people from prestige universities,” she told The Hechinger Report. “They are very accustomed to being able to size up people who went to those institutions. It creates an artificially small labor market.”
Uncomfortable campus environments hamper retention
Retention is also a challenge, says The Hechinger Report, outlining the many ways colleges make Black faculty feel unwelcome on campus or hasten their departure for another school. “Microaggressions,” or small everyday slights, are significant deterrents. Whether they’re constantly being called by the wrong name, or asked to lead diversity workshops, or tapped to mentor Black students, Black professors on a predominately white campus can shoulder an overwhelming burden. “In any work environment, if you bring someone in and they’re not treated well, they’re going to leave,” Marybeth Gasman, a University of Pennsylvania education professor, said.