Thursday, April 15, 2021

Minority faculty rates increasing, but not for black community

January 11, 2018
Graduate student AJ Rice talks with President Lou Anna K. Simon about the concerns of the African American community on campus during a protest on Nov. 18, 2015, at the Kellogg Center. The group of students gathered for National Blackout Day and then protested on Harrison Avenue and in the Kellogg Center for the university to address their concerns about their safety and about racism on campus.
Graduate student AJ Rice talks with President Lou Anna K. Simon about the concerns of the African American community on campus during a protest on Nov. 18, 2015, at the Kellogg Center. The group of students gathered for National Blackout Day and then protested on Harrison Avenue and in the Kellogg Center for the university to address their concerns about their safety and about racism on campus. —
Photo by State News File Photo | The State News

The MSU Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives’ website boasts that “over the last 10 years, the number of minorities in the tenure system has increased year over year.”

On a general level, this is true. The total number of tenure system faculty remained relatively the same, but Asian and Hispanic/Latino faculty began to take up a greater portion of tenured staff, their numbers increasing by 54 percent and 80 percent, respectively, through a decade’s time.

However, black faculty have not seen these increases. From 2006-16, the number of black tenure stream faculty fell from 105 to 86, according to Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives’ Annual Report on Diversity and Inclusion.

For non-tenured faculty, every demographic with the exception of American Indian/Alaskan Native grew by 2016, as nearly 800 positions were added. However, of the minority demographics that saw gains, black non-tenured faculty grew the slowest. While the number of non-tenured black faculty grew by 14 percent, Asian and Hispanic/Latino faculty grew by 52 and 64 percent, respectively.

“Whenever you see a decline in participation of underrepresented minorities on campus, particularly within our tenure system faculty, it is reason for us to take a closer look at what is making a result of that,” Paulette Granberry Russell, director of MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, said.

“Clearly, (there is) more work to be done.”

As of 2016, most demographics are relatively near or exceeding their percentage of MSU’s total tenure stream faculty in relation to the population demographics of MSU’s student body and the state of Michigan.

Black faculty is a different story. As of 2016, tenure stream and non-tenured black faculty equate to 4.3 and 5.8 percent of the total faculty in their respective categories. Comparatively, black students make up 7.8 percent of MSU’s domestic student population and black citizens comprise 14 percent of Michigan’s population.


An issue long proclaimed

The perceived lack of black faculty at MSU has been a central issue to protests for decades.

Liberate MSU, a group that advocated for administrative action on issues facing black students in 2015, made increasing black faculty one of their central issues. Liberate MSU burst onto the scene when they disrupted a speech by Bill Clinton at Kellogg Center in a flash protest, leading to dialogue with MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon that night and on occasion afterward.

Doctoral candidate AJ Rice said black faculty rates, the establishment of an African American and African Studies department, black/Latino student enrollment increases and a freestanding multicultural center were issues Liberate MSU first rallied around. Rice played an active role in the group. 

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Alumnus Darius Peyton previously said the group’s demands were similar if not identical to ones articulated during a 1989 protest for which he served as spokesperson. 

“None of these issues were really new issues, these were issues that African-American students, Latino students and students of all walks of life have been fighting for,” Rice said. “At least (for) the past decade, actually I know even longer.”

MSU geography professor Joe Darden arrived on campus in 1972 and has been faculty at MSU ever since, becoming a full professor in 1980. Darden said there have been ups and downs for black faculty in his time at MSU, but overall not much has changed through roughly 45 years.

“When I arrived here in ‘72, there were efforts to increase the black faculty, it was constant pressure on university administration to do that during the early ‘70s,” Darden said. “Pressure does work in some sense, because it focuses more on action and it gets the administration in a mode to try to deliver on that.”

Black faculty increased slightly in the early 1970s in a national trend of affirmative action, Darden said, with popular sentiment of fixing underrepresentation. However, rates started to stagnate, then decline until three trends further eroded momentum to create more faculty.

The first was a decline in activism among African-American students, who became less interested in pressuring the university.

“Students do matter, I wrote an article years ago that there’s a correlation between African-American activity and the university’s response in terms of hiring more black faculty, but if the students don’t demand it, it often does not happen,” Darden said. “Students have to actively demand more black faculty. That was happening much more during the 1970’s up to a certain point, and the university did deliver on that. That happened.”

The second was expanding efforts to hire minority faculty to include Asian and Latino populations. Darden said this introduced competition and shifted focus, making African-American faculty less of a priority. Those two demographics have steadily grown their faculty rates since, while black faculty began to lag behind. The focus was further diluted later by the inclusion of white women, who Darden said have received the most advantages from the process of recruiting from underrepresented demographics.

"It’s really not necessarily appropriate for the university (to) just talk about minority increase, you have to disaggregate the data because you can have minority increase of one group while other groups can be declining,” Darden said. 

The third was the “Michigan Civil Rights Amendment” ballot initiative passed in 2006, known as "Proposal 2", which  banned “preferential treatment” on the basis of race, gender or other factors in the hiring and admissions processes. The amendment contributed to the continued decline of black faculty rates since its passing, Darden said, which coincidentally lines up with the period of time measured in the Annual Report.

“Once that happened the overall ability to recruit, especially African-American faculty, started to decline,” Darden said. 

Proposal 2 is a lingering concern with effects still being felt, Granberry Russell said. However, she said the amendment doesn’t prohibit action towards more diversity. Other action is taken that does not contradict the proposal, such as targeted recruitment of underrepresented faculty.

“I think that Prop. 2, certainly in the early years after its passage, had a chilling effect (on) how people might have viewed the State of Michigan as a place that is supportive of diversity,” Granberry Russell said. “Prop. 2 did not take away from us our responsibilities as a federal contractor. … We are a public university, we are expected to have an affirmative action program, which we do.”

Creating change

 Among other roadblocks contributing to underrepresentation, there are also fewer black doctoral graduates available to hire. Asian and Latino students are obtaining more doctorates than black students, Darden said.

Black doctoral students also tend to study education fields, Darden said, while Asian and Latino students tend to study from a wider range of fields, including more in-demand Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, fields.

“There’s a reduced pool of African-Americans compared to the other groups,” Darden said. “So when the hiring committees look at the applicant pool … they can pick some white women, they can pick some Latinos, they can pick some Asians and they can (pick some) African-Americans. Faced with that competition, it makes it very, very difficult for African-American faculty to get hired in the first place, and then to compete with those groups overall.”

Rice believes MSU has not strongly recruited faculty of color, and it would take a significant investment by the university to attract strong, competitive Black faculty, which Rice believes don’t want to come to MSU.

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“We go to specific groups, you’re looking at black faculty, if you’re looking at black student enrollment, not just the freshman class but general enrollment, these things haven’t gone up,” Rice said. “What that suggests is that the university is trying to embark on a program of increasing diversity, which the way in which they’ve defined it is by basically trying to recruit everyone but black folk and Native Americans.”

This gap in available applicants cause for concern, Granberry Russell said, and will require MSU to be more creative in their recruitment efforts to meet the growth of STEM positions on campus. When taking into account that most every other university is trying to increase their diversity, this becomes more difficult.

“When we do hire, whether it’s in STEM or non-STEM related fields, we’re going to have to be particularly aggressive in recruiting more African American faculty,” Granberry Russell said.

The work environment faced current MSU Black faculty also needs to be closely examined, Granberry Russell said. Inclusion engages MSU’s faculty on a daily basis to ensure they are given the tools they need to advance within their field, she said. The Academic Advancement Network and Diversity Research Network were founded for this purpose, to help provide support to underrepresented faculty. 

The DRN — launched in September 2016 — specifically provides support to minority tenure system faculty, creating connections between faculty and scholars to create “scholarly communities.”

"I believe that there’s always more that higher ed can do to attract, maintain and develop Black faculty,” Granberry Russell said. “That includes being more creative in the ways they nurture relationships with prospective black faculty, including those who are coming up through the professoriate … doing more to identify institutions that are graduating African American Ph.Ds in fields that we’re particularly interested in filling positions, and reaching out to those individuals and encouraging them to consider MSU because the reality is they’re going to be highly sought-after.” 

Impacts

The lack of black faculty at MSU has been an important issue to Rice for years. As a young student, Rice said he considered some of the black professors he met to be mentors. Some he credited with introducing him to new ways of thinking he might not necessarily agree with, but which broadened his academic horizons regardless.

Darden said African-Americans can be inspired by seeing African-Americans teaching classes, as they’re more likely to see them as role models and learn more in the classroom. 

But the benefits extend just beyond black students. Darden said he believes all students benefit from diversity of faculty because they will be exposed to different ideas and perspectives they’re taught by more types of people than just white men. 

"Otherwise, you get a very limited education, to a certain extent, because you get it from one group disproportionally," Darden said. "It is a possibility … that a student can go through the entire four years they’re here and never have a single faculty member here besides white men …
That’s a disadvantage to (students), because they come out of the situation, run into the world, they haven’t been exposed to it. And that does matter, based on my experience.”

Black faculty mentors inspired Rice to become a doctoral student and eventually a professor. However, like some of his mentors, he plans to venture outside MSU, ideally in a black studies or political science department.

Three black faculty members Rice considered mentors are no longer with the university — at least two having left for jobs at other universities, he said.

“Quite frankly, I’m not very optimistic with respect to Michigan State investing or taking the necessary steps to create a Black Studies department or to provide the program with the resources that it needs to be a top-tier Black Studies program, which it actually was at its founding,” Rice said. “It’s fallen far from that point.”

Darden said while he believes MSU is not doing enough, the issue is a nationwide problem and it is made worse by Michigan’s restrictions on affirmative action, which universities in other states might not be subject to.

“It’s a difficult problem for each of them under these restrictions they have,” Darden said. “It’s going to take much more progressive action to do it, and they have to really want to do it. If you don’t really want to do it, you can easily hide behind a situation … you can do all of that. If you really want to do it, you can do it.”

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