Friday, September 23, 2016

Hiring Faculty of Color and the "Five Things" Article

Today, this article came across my facebook page: :The five things no one will tell you about why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color" by Marybeth Gasman, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

In short, the article argues that institutions of higher education don't hire more faculty of color because "we don't want them.  We simply don't want them."

She then talks about the ways hiring works against faculty of color, starting with "quality," which she says is code for having gone to the right elite institution and worked with a prominent person in the field.

The second excuse she says hiring folks use is that there aren't enough people of color in the pipeline; she argues that schools using this excuse need to create their own pipelines, mentor people of color in their fields, and then, even if they don't hire their own graduates, cooperate with other elite institutions to hire from their pipelines.

Third, she says, is that faculty will bend rules to hire their preferred white candidates, and hold to rules to avoid hiring people of color.

Fourth, according to Gasman, is that faculty on search committees aren't trained in human resources areas, and too often look for "fit," which tends to mean that they hire candidates who feel comfortable, often because those candidates look like the members of the search committee, do similar work, and so forth.  Thus, a committee of white women would be more likely to hire another white woman than not.

And finally, Gasman says,
if majority colleges and universities are truly serious about increasing faculty diversity, why don’t they visit Minority Serving Institutions – institutions with great student and faculty diversity – and ask them how they recruit a diverse faculty. This isn’t hard. The answers are right in front of us. We need the will.
As I read this, I found myself nodding at times, and feeling irritated at times because she seems to be only thinking of elite institutions.

So, I want to ask, what about institutions such as my own? 

I've been on a lot of search committees, and I can't think of any time we've taken a candidate off a list because of where they got their degree or who they worked with.  I can, though, think of a time when one of the search committee members argued for a candidate based on a strong letter from a prominent scholar in the field.

I don't know what to make of the pipeline argument.  I've been on searches where we had a limited number of candidates apply (think of where I am), offered the job to the strongest candidate (on paper and in the interview process), who happened to be a person of color, but then had the candidate turn us down because they'd gotten a better offer.  To be honest, we often get turned down by our first two or even three top choices.

So I know we've made the pipeline complaint.

We don't have a graduate program turning out PhDs, so our only way of contributing to the pipeline is to work harder to attract and mentor students of color, and to send them up the pipeline, hoping they get into a strong PhD program.  We don't do nearly as much attracting and mentoring students of color as we should.  (I'm more ambivalent about anyone going on to a PhD in English these days, but I'd like to see real equity there.)  But the most elite PhD programs seem to mostly take students from their elite pals, leaving our students to get PhDs from strong state schools, which leaves them out of the elite candidate pools (but should make them great candidates for our own hiring, eventually).

I think the third and fourth reasons are closely related, and I think they're where our problems here come in.  From things I overhear, I know we hire for "fit" and that when we do, "fit" often means good old boys, or white folks, or people from the upper Midwest, especially more local, straight folks, and so on.

I'm intrigued by Gasman's fifth point, which seems more a suggestion than a reason why we fail to hire faculty of color: we should go visit institutions that do successfully hire faculty of color, institutions which are historically Minority Serving Institutions.  But even there, I'm a bit at a loss.

Say, I'm on a search committee right now.  And there are maybe 6 other search committees on campus right now, all separate, all in different fields.  Do we all independently send folks out to visit Minority Serving Institutions? 

And in this budget crunch, how do we do that?  And would a visit work?  There's got to be something here, but I think it might be sort of backwards.

What if we, as a campus, hired one or two deans from Minority Serving Institutions to come here and hold some workshops (say over two days, four workshops, afternoon, evening, morning, afternoon)?  And what if our administrators said that only departments whose chair and personnel committee chair both attended a workshop would be allowed to put in for a new hire in the following year?  And what if our administrators said that they'd look at requests for new hires more favorably from departments or programs who had a greater percentage of faculty attend workshops?

All our departments are pretty desperate for faculty (budget hell), and many faculty really do want to find ways to hire more colleagues of color.

We'd have a chance of making us more aware of our implicit biases, get ideas for increasing the diversity of our candidate pools, and have the potential to give a broad range of faculty some knowledge and tools to use in searches directly (as committee members) and indirectly (asking the right questions of search committees and such).

Could it work?  Would it work? 

(Of course, the next problem would be to retain our faculty of color, to help them feel welcome and comfortable here, to mentor them, and to not be jerks to them.)


  1. If you weren't aware of it, I think you might find this blog useful

  2. This is probably a variation on the "pipeline" argument, but I still think it's worth saying: getting a Ph.D., especially in the humanities (or any discipline in which a Ph.D. is primarily useful as a college-teaching credential) is a real gamble these days. I'd hesitate to encourage anyone to take that gamble, but least of all someone with larger undergraduate loans, and/or fewer family resources to fall back on (which obviously doesn't describe all potential Ph.D. candidates from historically-underrepresented groups, any more than it fails to describe all potential white Ph.D.-pursuers, but, given that race/ethnicity-associated inequality is an existing fact in this country, students of color are more likely to be more vulnerable economically).

    Granted, one probably won't have to borrow (as much?) money to pursue a Ph.D. as an M.B.A. or a J.D. or an M.D. (and the returns for those endeavors don't seem quite as guaranteed as they did in the early oughts), but it's still a gamble that involves considerable costs in time if not money, and no guarantees. That makes other options that lead more directly to stable, lucrative employment, such as a B.S. in a STEM field, very appealing to students who are both bright enough and versatile enough to consider both options (and that probably includes a lot of people who would also make good professors).

  3. My comment was going to say mostly what CC said ^^, so I'll mostly just say, yeah, what CC said, and add my experience with my (very few) major here in NW Arkansas who were black or brown.

    I encouraged all three of them to go on to graduate school, in one case telling the student specifically that the profession desperately needed black professors (which this student knew from their own experience, of being in our classroom and watching white professors teach literature by/about black people).

    In none of the cases did the students go on to graduate school (though I still have hopes in one case). The risk is too high, and the students all come from working class/relatively impoverished families, and families where the expectation is that you go to college to get a degree that will get you a job after four years -- not go to college to go to school for *more* years.

    My arguments that five or six more years of education, which might or might not get the a job somewhere halfway across the country, far from their families, for just a little more money than they could make working for this trucking company right here in town, did not cut much ice. :(