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Two women of color in the audience of listeners at the Keeping Our Faculties conference.

More than 300 participants from 115 different institutions attended the conference in Minneapolis.

Great minds do not think alike

U hosts national discussion on recruiting, retaining, and supporting faculty of color

By Ami Berger

May 1, 2007

In the world of academia, there are few issues on which everyone agrees. But no one can disagree with the fact that, despite 30 years of affirmative action and hard work, the ranks of faculty of color in higher education remain frustratingly small.

In 2003 (the most recent year for which data are available) the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that less than 12 percent of full professors in America were people of color: 6 percent Asian, 3 percent African-American, 2 percent Hispanic, and .3 percent American Indian. And for female faculty of color, the numbers are even more dismal: in 2003 only 1.2 percent of full professors were African-American women, 1 percent were Asian women, .5 percent were Hispanic women, and .1 percent were American Indian.

Closer to home, the outlook isn't much brighter. The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which represents the Big Ten institutions and the University of Chicago, reports that in 2005, the CIC school with the highest percentage of full-time tenured faculty of color was the University of Michigan, with 8 percent. The University of Minnesota reported that 4 percent of its full-time tenured faculty was faculty of color that year, the same percentage as the University of Iowa, Purdue University, and the University of Chicago.

According to Nancy "Rusty" Barcel?, the University of Minnesota's vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity, those low numbers reflect the academy's need for entirely new models in the faculty recruitment process. "Our advertising, our position postings, our mission statements, our compacts--all of our institutional documents and actions need to reflect that diversity is a core value in everything we do," Barcel? says.

"...Academia will not be able to keep up with the global economy and the educational needs of our students if we don't have all our minds--the minds of women, of racial and ethnic minorities, of all underrepresented groups--at the table and in the classroom." --Caroline Turner

Faculty diversity at the University of Minnesota is at the heart of the U's "Keeping Our Faculties: Recruiting, Retaining, and Advancing Faculty of Color" symposium. Held at the University four times since 1998, Keeping Our Faculties is the nation's only conference focused entirely on increasing faculty of color in colleges and universities.

The 2007 conference, held April 12-14, attracted over 300 participants and presenters from 115 different institutions, including Harvard, Columbia, Villanova, and New York Universities; the Universities of California-Berkeley, Massachusetts-Amherst, and Virginia; Smith, Carleton, and Macalester Colleges; and every institution in the Big Ten.

Nancy (Rusty) Barcelo at the podium
Nancy "Rusty" BarcelÓ--one of many speakers at the symposium--is the U's first vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity.

Keeping Our Faculties addresses issues which are multilayered and overlapping: How do we develop effective pipelines for undergraduate and graduate students of color? How can tenured faculty mentor junior faculty and graduate students of color effectively? And how can we redefine the merit-based system of faculty hiring and promotion to value the different kinds of contributions that faculty of color may bring?

"The idea of merit is so ingrained into the culture of higher education, but who's deciding what is 'meritorious'?" asks Caroline Turner, who originated the idea of the faculty-of-color discussion while an assistant professor at the U and is now a professor at Arizona State University. "If we're going to increase the numbers of faculty of color, we need to redefine merit to include more than just these academic journals or only those graduate schools," she says. "The lens has to be widened."

One notable success story in the effort to diversify the faculty is the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, nine-week summer research apprenticeships for undergraduates who are first-generation, low-income, or part of groups who are underrepresented in graduate programs. These research apprenticeships, which are directed by a faculty mentor, are designed to increase the rate of doctoral program completion by these students.

Hundreds of colleges and universities, including the University of Minnesota, participate in the program, which has shown significant success in building a "pipeline" of students of color into graduate school. In 2003-04 more than 2,100 students participated in the program, and of those students, more than 56 percent enrolled in graduate school in the fall of 2004.

Robert Jones at the podium
U senior vice president for system academic administration Robert Jones was early in recognizing that a campus issue called for a national conversation. He played a leading role in establishing the Keeping Our Faculties symposium series.

The importance of mentoring graduate students and junior faculty of color was a common concern of symposium attendees. "If there was one theme I heard repeated throughout the conference, it was the need to provide mentoring for faculty of color," notes Barcel?. A number of breakout sessions focused on mentoring programs at institutions including the University of Georgia, Creighton University, and Indiana University, which have found some measure of success in retaining faculty of color.

Symposium attendee Frederik Palm, an assistant dean at Columbia University's school of engineering, was happy to see Keeping Our Faculties focusing on the diversity problems within the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Palm calls Keeping Our Faculties 2007 "the best conference I have been to in a very long time," and laments the "tremendous waste of intelligence if we do not include all kinds of people in the dialogue of academia."

"I remember seeing a magazine ad years ago that said 'Great minds don't think alike'," adds Turner, "and I thought to myself, 'Wow, they've got it right!' Academia will not be able to keep up with the global economy and the educational needs of our students if we don't have all our minds--the minds of women, of racial and ethnic minorities, of all underrepresented groups--at the table and in the classroom."

Ami Berger is director of communications in the Office for Equity and Diversity.