Elusive Quest to Boost Minorities in Academia

John H. Bunzel, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 6

For the past 35 years, one of the issues confronting higher education has been how to increase the number of black and other minority group faculty members. It has proved to be a discouraging task.

College and universities across the country have tried many different ways to change the ethnic and racial composition of their faculties.

Officials were aware it was impermissible to deny opportunities for a faculty appointment on the basis of race or color, but they also knew deliberate efforts had to be made to include women and minorities in the pool of candidates.

Their initiatives were joined by the federal government, which wanted quick results. But even the most aggressive methods to hire more racial minorities did not produce the desired results.

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In the 1970s, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, seeking what it called “equalized results,” informed the 19 campus presidents of the California State University system that faculty positions were to be left unfilled if there were no minority applicants, even if qualified white applicants were available. (The plan was eventually abandoned because of challenges to the legality of the “set-asides.”)

In language that struck the college presidents as even more ill-considered, the commission recommended that because only a few black and other minority candidates had Ph.D.s, the requirement of the doctorate should be dropped, and black candidates with only a master’s degree should be considered in the same way that white candidates with a Ph.D. would be considered.

Today, the shortage of black (and other minority group) professors remains a problem of supply, not demand.

By 2001, black Americans earned only 6 percent of the 40,744 doctorates nationwide. They represent 5 percent of all full-time faculty members, and half of them work at historically black institutions.

The proportion of black faculty members at predominantly white institutions is the same as it was 20 years ago: 2.3 percent.

A just-published five-year study, “Increasing Faculty Diversity,” reveals a root problem of why so few minority undergraduates pursue a doctorate and become professors.

The prime reason given by minority students was lower undergraduate grades. In the sample of 1,518 African American students, only 65 selected the academic profession as their intended career—and they were the ones with excellent grades.

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