Faculty of Color Reconsidered: Reassessing Contributions to Scholarship

By Antonio, Anthony Lising | Journal of Higher Education, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview
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Faculty of Color Reconsidered: Reassessing Contributions to Scholarship


Antonio, Anthony Lising, Journal of Higher Education


The status of faculty of color (1) has been of concern to many in American higher education since the 1960s. The consciousness provided by the Civil Rights movement of that decade led to efforts to diversify higher education at all levels, from the student body to the faculty ranks. In the proceeding decades, we have witnessed steady growth in the racial and ethnic diversity of the college student population, and recent trends illustrate unprecedented rates of growth. At the University of California, for example, just 70% of all undergraduates were white in 1984, and six years later this proportion had dropped further to less than 60% (University of California, 1991). Nationwide, college enrollments are currently 11.0% African American, 8.7% Latino, 6.1% Asian American, 1.0% American Indian, and 73.1% white (2) (Snyder & Hoffman, 2000). Similar trends of diversification among college faculty, unfortunately, have not materialized. For example, in 1983 whites still composed approximately 91% of all full-time fa culty. Ten years later the representation of white faculty had decreased by just 3 percentage points, to 88% (Carter & Wilson, 1997).

The slow progress being made by higher education to diversify its faculty has been widely recognized, and much research and debate have been focused on the factors that may be stifling efforts for increasing minority representation. These factors include: a small and decreasing pool of minority PhDs (Jackson, 1991; Mickelson & Oliver, 1991; Solmon & Wingard, 1991; Turner, Myers, Jr., & Creswell, 1999; Washington & Harvey, 1989); disproportionate tenure rates and rates of pretenure departure (Finkelstein, 1984; Menges & Exum, 1983); the persistence of racist perceptions on institutional and individual levels that restrict access and impede the professional progress of faculty of color (de la Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1991; Harvey & Scott-Jones, 1985; Jackson, 1991; Turner & Myers, Jr., 2000); the devaluation of the qualifications of minority PhDs not trained in the most elite, prestigious colleges (Mickelson & Oliver, 1991); and the difficulties of surviving in a predominantly white academy due to poor mentoring, di sproportionate advising and service loads stemming from frequently being the only faculty of color in a department, an isolating work environment, and the lack of scholarly recognition given to research focusing on ethnic minority populations (de la Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1991; Frierson, 1990; Garza, 1988; Tack & Patitu, 1992; Turner & Myers, Jr., 2000; Turner, Myers, Jr., & Creswell, 1999; Washington & Harvey, 1989).

Unlike these issues of recruitment and retention, which primarily focus on barriers and obstacles to faculty diversity, the value of faculty of color to higher education has not been subject to the same volume of research and debate. How do faculty of color uniquely contribute to the enterprise of American higher education? Some scholars contend that faculty of color are essential for higher education, because they provide students with diverse role models, assist in providing more effective mentoring to minority students, are supportive of minority-related and other areas of nontraditional areas of scholarship, and give minorities a greater voice in the governance of the nation's colleges and universities (de la Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1991; Green, 1989; Mickelson & Oliver, 1991; Washington & Harvey, 1989). Others view the full representation and participation of faculty of color in the academy as essential to creating diverse and pluralistic colleges and universities (Green, 1989; Turner & Myers, Jr., 2000). Wh ile contributions to mentoring, role modeling, and governance are important to note and document, continued slow growth in the proportional representation of faculty of color in an era witnessing the dismantling of race-based affirmative action in higher education suggests that their contributions need to be reconsidered from a new perspective.

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