Faculty of color are severely underrepresented in American higher education; they make up
just over 10 percent of full-time undergraduate professors. Many in academe are familiar with this statistic and know that progress in increasing the presence of faculty of color on U.S. campuses has been slow. They are also aware, however, that students of color have made significant strides in gaining access to higher education over the last twenty years—progress so great that white students are no longer the majority on many campuses.
White students, for example, account for only 38 percent of the undergraduates enrolled in the nine University of California campuses; at the University of Texas-El Paso, Latino students make up the majority. Although the current trend against affirmative action threatens the level of diversity in the student body, demographic change will continue to increase diversity across the nation's campuses. This growing diversity among students only highlights the lack of progress in the faculty ranks.
Legal challenges to affirmative action in college admissions, while threatening to erode diversity at the most elite schools, have had the beneficial side effect of focusing national attention on the educational benefits or detriments of a diverse student body. People from all parts of society are weighing in on the "diversity issue"—on editorial pages, on talk shows, and sometimes in stump speeches.
And perhaps more significant, social scientists are responding to the
challenges and conducting research on the benefits of student diversity in
higher education. The admission of social science evidence into the record in
the most important Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action in higher
education in recent history—the two cases decided in June 2003 at the
University of Michigan—mobilized many researchers, organizations, and
dollars toward investigating how diversity enhances the education of our
It is striking, however, that despite the increasing diversity among students, we have yet to develop a serious understanding of how a diverse student body affects the faculty. Researchers such as Sylvia Hurtado of the University of Michigan and Daryl Smith of Claremont Graduate University have admonished us to consider the entire campus community-faculty, staff, students, and administration—when addressing the effects of diversity and multiculturalism in higher education.
Indeed, racial and ethnic diversity influences an entire campus, including its culture, its values, and eventually its ethos. As we look at possible strategies to diversify the professoriate and retain faculty of color, let us remember that the faculty and student worlds are not separate—each one influences the other. Faculty interact with students almost daily, walk through a campus where students dominate the social landscape, and develop hundreds of relationships with students, both casual and close.
The recent flurry of research on students reveals that a diverse student body confers benefits ranging from the development of students' intellectual and social self-confidence, to exposure to different ideas and viewpoints, to cognitive development and academic achievement. We are beginning to understand how diversity actually "looks," from surface appearances on campus to the friendships students develop in a diverse environment. We are also beginning to comprehend how diversity works, through the coordinated management of structural diversity (the enrollment of a diverse student body), the campus climate (the promotion of cross-cultural interaction), and a multicultural curriculum. And we are beginning to understand how diversity evolves, from intergroup competition for scarce campus resources to mutual learning through vulnerability, border crossing, integrity, and trust.
Our focus on student diversity provides a valuable opportunity to redouble our efforts to increase the representation of faculty of color in academe. In this article, I offer four proposals related to the potential benefits of a diverse student body for faculty of color. The propositions encourage us to ask the following questions: Do initiatives to diversify the student body also help institutions recruit and retain diverse faculty? Are these dual objectives complementary? Can they be conceived of as two parts of a broader strategy for institutions to increase and manage diversity on their campuses?
It is incontrovertible that retaining faculty of color is important for higher education. Yet recent research on the experiences of faculty of color—for example, that described by sociologist Adalberto Aguirre in his 2000 study "Women and Minority Faculty in the Academic Workplace: Recruitment, Retention, and Academic Culture," published in the ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report—points squarely to an entrenched academic culture that questions the place of faculty of color in the academy, devalues their scholarly work, and sets up structural barriers to tenure and promotion. In their 2000 book, Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success, education scholar C. S. Turner and economist S. L. Myers, Jr., cite seven major factors that contribute to a "chilly" climate for faculty of color in academe: (1) being denied tenure or promotion because of race or ethnicity; (2) being expected to work harder than white faculty; (3) having color or ethnicity given more attention than one's credentials; (4) being treated as a token; (5) not receiving support or validation for research on minority issues; (6) being expected to handle minority affairs; and (7) having too few minorities on campus.
The chilly climate experienced by minority faculty contributes to their feeling isolated and dissatisfied, which can affect their research productivity, campus citizenship, and, ultimately, commitment to the profession. To improve the climate for faculty of color, researchers commonly focus on the policies and practices of department chairs and deans and the behavior and attitudes of white faculty colleagues. Rarely are students cited as contributors to the campus climate and academic culture, or as potential benefactors of faculty of color.
Research on faculty retention also documents the unique contributions that faculty of color make to academe. I argued, for example, in "Faculty of Color Reconsidered: Retaining Scholars for the Future," published in 2000 in the Journal of Higher Education, that faculty of color are playing a leading role in broadening our conceptions of scholarship. They are doing so through greater engagement in activities that reflect the four conceptions of scholarship proposed by the late Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: discovery (basic research), teaching, integration of knowledge across disciplines, and the application of knowledge to social problems.
Similarly, Daryl Smith, in her 1989 book, The Challenge of Diversity: Involvement or Alienation in the Academy? contends that a diverse faculty and staff benefit a campus, particularly its students of color, by (a) providing support to students from diverse backgrounds; (b) serving as symbols of the interest the institution has in people of color; (c) creating a comfortable environment for students of color; (d) broadening the range of what is taught and how; (e) developing opportunities for collaboration and sharing of new ideas and pedagogies; and (f) ensuring that faculty play more than a token or symbolic role in institutional change.
The research on faculty diversity suggests that faculty of color who work at institutions with diverse student bodies are more comfortable with the academic and social culture of their campuses and more satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts who teach at less diverse institutions. My own research indicates that this effect is particularly strong in research universities and doctoral institutions.
Based on the foregoing discussion, I would like to advance four propositions about the relationship between student diversity and the experiences of faculty of color.
Proposition One. Racial diversity in the student body reduces the isolation experienced by faculty of color. Sylvia Hurtado and others point out in "Enhancing Campus Climates for Racial/Ethnic Diversity: Educational Policy and Practice," published in 1998 in the Review of Higher Education, that the climate for diversity is a function of institutional policy and history and, of course, racial and ethnic diversity among the faculty, staff, and students. Resistance to diversity in less diverse environments contributes to an inhospitable climate for faculty of color. Diversity in the student body not only forces institutions to improve the climate for diversity, but it also gives a minority faculty member some sense of membership in a community and provides opportunities for mentoring and role modeling. As one of my colleagues told me, "Because there are so few black students here, I feel guilty, like I'm somehow going to waste because I'm giving up opportunities to mentor students by not being at a diverse institution."
Adalberto Aguirre reports in "Women and Minority Faculty in the American Workplace: Recruitment, Retention, and Academic Culture" that a predominantly white student body may contribute to loneliness and isolation by sending faculty of color subtle but constant messages that they do not belong on campus—that they are "affirmative action hires." In the eyes of many white students, faculty of color are beneficiaries of affirmative action and are therefore illegitimate members of the faculty. Consequently, the students may not seek out faculty of color despite their interest in the faculty member's research. They may avoid that faculty member's classes, especially those with racial content. And they may steer clear of any advising relationships with faculty of color. Thus, "whiter" student bodies may contribute to the chilly climate for faculty of color by fostering a culture that questions the legitimacy of minorities as faculty members on their campus.
A diverse student body contributes to a positive campus climate for diversity, helping to create a more comfortable environment for faculty of color. Such a student body also sends faculty of color the message that their institution cares about diversity, including the diversity they themselves contribute to the community.
Proposition Two. Diversity in the student body helps to broaden the range of what is taught and how, and to develop opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of new ideas and pedagogies. The two most significant changes in course catalogs and curricular requirements in the past thirty years—the development of ethnic studies and multiculturalism—would not have occurred without student diversity.
The development of ethnic studies began in the late 1960s largely because of the efforts of students of color. Most of us can recall the student strike at San Francisco State University and the Third World Coalition at the University of California, Berkeley, that ushered into the academy the new disciplines of Asian American, Afro-American, Chicano, and Native American studies. Evelyn Hu-DeHart, in an article published in the September-October 2000 issue of Academe, emphasizes this point clearly in writing about the wave of student activism in the late 1990s for ethnic studies: "When students of color organize politically to press for ethnic studies, they usually do not do so at the behest of faculty members in ethnic studies; indeed, such faculty members are almost nonexistent on some of the campuses that have witnessed the loudest demonstrations."
The multiculturalism movement of the 1980s surfaced largely because the humanities was evolving with the growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. student body and general population. At many institutions, multiculturalism led to the reform of general education programs. The reconstruction of general education often included the introduction of innovative pedagogies such as team teaching, service learning, learning communities, and first-year and sophomore seminars.
These curricular and pedagogical changes addressed the concerns of many faculty of color about institutional values that conflicted with their scholarship and their educational goals for students. Student diversity unquestionably played a role in helping to alleviate these concerns.
Proposition Three. A diverse student body reduces the possibility of denial of tenure or promotion because of race or ethnicity. In Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success, C. S. Turner and S. L. Myers, Jr., report that many faculty experience racial and ethnic bias in the workplace and perceive it as a significant challenge to tenure and promotion. The only way students are usually permitted to contribute to tenure and promotion reviews is by writing letters describing faculty teaching and advising, and the weight of these letters in tenure and promotion decisions is typically minimal.
Student activism can, however, play a pivotal role. In "Guerilla War at UCLA: Political and Legal Dimensions of the Tenure Battle," published in 1990 in Amerasia, Dale Minami describes the case of Don Nakanishi, professor of education and Asian American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. According to Minami, in a clearly political struggle between factions within the Graduate School of Education, supporters of Nakanishi pressured the chancellor to investigate his case and, ultimately, to grant him tenure. A key group of supporters was a coalition of Asian American, African American, Latino, and Native American undergraduates who mobilized students as well as local communities of color to apply pressure on the administration. After a lengthy campaign, the chancellor, himself an outspoken supporter of the racial diversity at UCLA, had no choice but to carefully revisit Nakanishi's case and reconsider Nakanishi's tenure decision.
Although the Nakanishi case may be exceptional, it illustrates the role students can have—one not unlike that of a similarly organized group of faculty—as members of a campus community concerned about faculty affairs. In the Nakanishi case, a diverse student body not only contributed to a successful tenure decision for a minority faculty member, but it also affected the parameters of the debate about research on minority populations and issues. Since Nakanishi's case, faculty diversity at UCLA has increased across the university, and many more faculty in Asian American studies have been recruited. Today, UCLA has the greatest number of tenured faculty in Asian American studies in the country.
Proposition Four. A diverse student body reduces expectations placed on faculty of color to handle minority affairs. The rapid diversification of the student population has pressured institutions to "manage their diversity." Administrative positions have been created to address diversity on some campuses, and existing programs have been expanded. At my own institution, we have a full-time multicultural educator in the dean of students' office, four ethnic community centers with full-time staff and directors at the assistant dean level, four ethnic theme houses, and various mentoring, tutoring, and advising programs that target underrepresented students. Most of these positions were established in the past ten to fifteen years in response to growing student diversity. Tommy Lee Woon, assistant dean of students and director of multicultural education, was hired to create his position just eight years ago. (Woon recently left Stanford for a similar position at Dartmouth.)
Each of my propositions argues for the interdependence of diversity objectives in higher education. What I have tried to show is that student diversity is connected to faculty diversity, staff diversity, and diversity of thought and knowledge. The diversity project in higher education, which encompasses each of these domains, remains unfinished until progress is made in all of these areas.
At a multicultural university, inquiry, teaching, and learning flourish by virtue of an interactive, interdependent diversity. Interactivity implies relationships, dialogue, and contact across a medium, which in a multicultural institution is cultural difference. Currently, that medium at U.S. colleges and universities is populated only by students, with the few faculty of color on the outside looking in. As faculty of color continue their struggle for self-preservation and self-determination in academe and as higher education continues to wrestle with the problem of recruiting and retaining faculty of color, let us keep in mind the larger project that is diversity.
This diversity project has within its core mission the recruitment and retention of faculty of color. Diversity in the student body is making race, ethnicity, and cultural difference salient wherever and with whomever students interact, and frequently their interactions are with faculty. A diverse student body can make demands for change that strike at the monocultural nature of the academy. Such changes, whether they relate to knowledge, curricula, or professional conduct, will inevitably affect the faculty.
In conclusion, retaining faculty of color requires cultural change in the academy, and for such change, we need to look to the evolutionary, and sometimes revolutionary, power of student diversity for help, guidance, and support.