Differences in Perceptions of African American Women and Men Faculty and Administrators

Article excerpt

This article maintains that African American women face dual burdens of racism and sexism in institutions of higher education and thus confront special challenges. It reports on a study that investigated gender differences in the perceptions of 413 African American women and men college faculty and administrators in critical areas such as promotion, tenure, institutional climate, and professional life. The study data indicate significant differences by gender in response to items assessing respondent views about these issues, with women noting lower satisfaction with their professional lives, a greater sense of isolation on campus, and differential and more negative treatment by colleagues. Recommendations are offered to address the concerns raised by African American women faculty and administrators in higher education.

INTRODUCTION

Gender and race equity are major issues facing higher education in the United States. Despite two decades of efforts on the part of the nation's postsecondary institutions, women and minorities still face special problems navigating their careers in academe. Women faculty and administrators are promoted at slower rates, and their earnings are lower compared to their male colleagues (Johnsrud & DesJarlais, 1994). Minority faculty and administrators are not only underrepresented in academic institutions, but their retention also poses a problem (Menges & Exum, 1983; Silver, Dennis, & Spikes, 1989). Despite heightened concern in higher education about retaining women and minorities in professional positions and nurturing faculty diversity, few studies have focused on the experiences and perceptions of African American women faculty and administrators in particular. When earlier studies have examined the concerns and perspectives of African Americans in the college professoriate and administration, they have treated them as one monolithic group (Bjork & Thompson, 1989; Blackwell, 1989; Brown, 1987, 1988). Most have looked at the special problems that minority faculty face as a group, ignoring the gender-based differences. Studies that focus on women faculty and administrators have also examined them as one group and have not examined differences based on race (Ekstrom, 1979).

The result is a serious dearth of studies on African American women in academe, whose concerns and perspectives have remained largely unexamined and unaddressed. Our search to locate studies on gender differences among African American faculty and administrators yielded no empirical studies, yet anecdotal evidence suggests that African American women faculty and administrators face dual burdens of sexism and racism and confront special challenges in promotion and tenure (Sandler, 1986). Furthermore, the literature confirms that the rate of promotion and tenure among African American women is slower than that of either African American men or White women (Moses, 1989).

It is important to document the perspectives of African American women faculty and administrators in order to develop strategies that address their concerns. Although many earlier studies have examined the actual rates of tenure/promotion and salary differences among men and women, the present study focuses on the differences in opinions and perceptions African American women and men faculty and administrators hold about such variables as the promotion and tenure process, professional environment, and institutional climate. Specifically, it examines three research questions:

(1) Do differences exist in the professional characteristics of African American women and men faculty and administrators?

(2) Do differences exist between these two groups in their perceptions of and views on the tenure and promotion process?

(3) Do differences exist in the two groups' perceptions of the professional environment and institutional climate in academe, and if so, do these differences in perceptions hinder or facilitate professional development and promotion opportunities for African American women? …